WISCAR

The concept of WISCAR arose out of the growing realization of a deep societal need by its founder, Amina Oyagbola. She became increasingly aware that professional women in Africa generally and Nigeria in particular, have an urgent need for access to strategic guidance and support during their professional and corporate careers. The realization was borne out of her own experience in talking to and interacting with numerous young women at various stages of their professional careers and the constant barrage of questions and enquiries she and other corporate women in “senior positions” received from younger colleagues all over the country.

These encounters and discussions made it clear that most young career women in Africa do not have access to proper guidance or support at critical points in their professional careers. Yet such guidance and support is often desperately needed to enable them to understand the corporate terrain, avoid identifiable pitfalls and navigate their careers successfully.

As they climb up the corporate ladder, these young women find it more and more difficult to overcome the tangible and intangible obstacles in their way. Without any guidance and support they become confused, begin to feel isolated and suffer a loss of confidence in their ability to meet those challenges successfully. This either causes them to give up completely or just struggle along sub-optimally in relation to their true ability and potential. Access to strategic advice at those difficult moments could make a difference in maximizing their unrealized potential and helping them reach the top positions on the basis of merit.

There is also a wider angle to the problem. In a developing country like Nigeria, the larger society itself is struggling to cope with enormous socio-economic challenges which affect women more severely and reduce their ability to enjoy equal opportunities for advancement. These include low levels of primary school enrolment, low levels of economic empowerment and low levels of political representation. These factors exacerbate the gender problem and underscore the need for practical and effective solutions to be found.

Against such a background, it was clear that providing strategic career advice and support locally would be a way of contributing to national development. This is because at the macro-economic level such a programme would help the nation tap into a neglected and underutilized human resource endowment. This would be expected to have a commensurate positive impact on national development and GDP growth since women constitute about one half of Nigeria’s total population of 140 million!

In this vein, by helping to unleash the largely untapped potential of women WISCAR would be supporting existing efforts by the Nigerian Government under the NEEDS programme and multilateral initiatives such as NEPAD towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals.

At the individual level it would contribute to giving women equal opportunity to excel in the corporate world.

The difficult question however, was how to fill the gap in a systematic and practical way? It is in trying to address this question that the idea of setting up WISCAR emerged.

After much thought and consultation, the founder concluded that she could play her own part by establishing a mentoring network offering strategic guidance and support to young women. However, in order to make a real impact, it would have to be a mentoring network with a difference! It would have to combine personal and cultural sensitivity with international know-how. It would therefore have to create a strategic mentoring platform that would meet the highest international standards in terms of service delivery, best practice and the use of technology while remaining responsive to the individual needs of the young women and the socio-cultural context within which they live.

The emergence of an educated female class in Nigeria started in the early 1950’s, through the effort of mission schools, particularly in the southern part of the country. Before then, the education of women post-primary education was relatively rare, and the preserve of a few fortunate people from educated, enlightened families.

The 1950’s witnessed a crop of the first female professionals, who were often sent overseas to study “feminine” professions nursing, teaching and administrative/secretarial studies- traditionally low paid, and limited in terms of social mobility.

However, these beginnings opened the flood gates, as the beneficiaries of this early exposure encouraged their own daughters to pursue more ambitious educational and career goals.

Today, there are high ranking women in a growing number of professions and in business. They have achieved what would have been deemed almost impossible 50 years ago, and have given confidence to an even larger group who are rapidly coming up through the ranks.

Despite the above developments, there are still a number of environmental factors, which have entrenched the concept of a “glass ceiling”, for many aspiring women and affect female remuneration:

Despite the above developments, there are still a number of environmental factors, which have entrenched the concept of a “glass ceiling”, for many aspiring women and affect female remuneration:

  • Unlike their counterparts in western countries , Nigerian female professionals have the luxury of an extended family system, and domestic help, which should provide the opportunity for them to aggressively move ahead with their careers, unhindered by domestic burdens. But cultural beliefs about the place of women in the home persist, leaving many women with limited flexibility in spite of the apparent freedom from domesticity.

 

  • Many organisations still do not have gender friendly policies- this is in spite of growing evidence that female enrolment in schools in many parts of the country are now on the upswing, outperforming their male counterparts and that more women are gaining ground within many organizations.

 

  • Lack of understanding by young women of the required “savvy” or “edge” over and above hard work and competence that is required to move from middle management to executive management.

 

  • A void in the area of gender empowerment still exists. Many gender groups are in existence but do not appear to render assistance to women in the work place through practical, oneon-one advice, on a continuous basis by women with experience.