Experts give Strategies for Women Advancement at 1st International Women’s Conference
Keynote Speakers at the 1st International Women’s Multidisciplinary Conference, organised by the Covenant-Faculty Women’s Advance (FWA), have unequivocally declared that women in the academia and industry must multitask, be creative, step out of their comfort zone, and get involved in politics among others if they were to get the advancement desired.
At the conference, the Vice-President (Education), Living Faith Church Worldwide, Pastor (Mrs) Faith Oyedepo, who declared open the conference, which held between September 11-12, 2018, expressed hope that the theme of the conference, ‘Advancing Women in Academics and Industry: Strategy, Policies, and Emerging Issues in the 21st Century’, would be realised.
While stating that advancing the cause of women in academia and industry was not about competing with men but working as a team to bring the best in both, Pastor Oyedepo prescribed four strategies for anyone desirous of excellence. According to the FWA Matron, they were putting God first, moving out of one’s comfort zone, keeping the right company, and eschewing pride.
In his remarks, Professor AAA. Atayero, the Vice-Chancellor, Covenant and Chief Host of the conference, pointed out that there were systemic issues militating against the effective participation of women in all spheres of national life, particularly in playing leadership and decision-making roles. He stressed that as major stakeholders in the development project of any society, the prevailing low participation of women in leadership and decision-making roles should change.
Professor Atayero stated that Goal 5 of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which aimed at achieving gender equality and women’s empowerment, was not only of intrinsic value in itself, but the attainment of the other SDGs was vitally hinged on it. Thus, there was need for attitudinal change towards gender issues and enhancement of the capacity of development planners and other policy advocates to understand how gender relations work in their interface and at all levels.
Covenant, according to the Vice-Chancellor, had demonstrated responsiveness to gender related issues in her recruitment and staff welfare policies as well as in executive appointments because the University was committed to providing equal opportunity for all faculty and staff to aspire to the highest level of their career.
The first Keynote Speaker, Dr. Jeannice Fairrer Samani, the Chief Executive Officer of Fairrer Samani Group Consulting, Silicon Valley, USA, made a presentation tiled, ‘The Challenges of Research as a Woman in Academia and Industry’. She said women lost confidence in their pursuits due to one challenge or the other, adding that the number of women in research had, however, improved significantly, though they remained in the minority.
Dr. Samani averred that women had the ability to create and change the status quo, but there were challenges fundamental to women trying to progress in the academia, businesses and the boardroom. She highlighted the challenges as inflexible work arrangement, unconscious bias, access to international branding, sponsorship, and inclusion. “Creativity, curiousity, and connection could solve your challenges,” she enthused.
In her recommendations, Dr. Samani urged women researchers to connect with someone at the conference and hear her story. She asked them to identify a topic they could potentially collaborate on internationally to publish; collaborate across the academic and corporate sectors on research papers; attend an international conference or training; and get at least three mentors that could work toward sponsorship.
Speaking to the theme of the conference, the second keynote speaker, Dr. Patience Akpan-Obong, an Associate Professor from the College of Integrative Sciences and Arts, Arizona State University, said there were critical success factors and opportunities pertaining to women in the academia. She stated that a 2005 study identified family support and uniqueness of academic role or the market value of one’s research and teaching interests as critical factors for women’s success in academia.
Other factors, she noted, included Conducive Culture, which would ensure equal access, work-life balance, freedom from gender biases, and supportive leadership; Mentoring, which featured multiple, mixed gender mentoring; the Personal Factor, bordering on the drive, the hunger and commitment to excellence; and Research, Writing and Grant seeking.
Barr. Timipre Wolo, the Chief Executive Officer, TEN Energy Limited and Founder, Centre for Gender Equality, Education and Empowerment, who was the third keynote speaker, described the 21st Century woman as articulate, cosmopolitan, entrepreneurial, multitasking, confident, able to see the big picture, and helps to take care of the family.
She stated, however, that family responsibilities, psychological impact of cultural norms, employment legislation and policy, lack of information and training, fragmented approaches in identifying issues, and developing strategy to influence policy and legislation were barriers to the advancement of the average Nigerian woman.
Barr. Wolo posited that the issue of women advancement could not be discussed without talking about education as, according to the United Nations Children and Education Fund (UNICEF), out of the 10.5 million out of school children in Nigeria, 60% of them were girls. “If education is the weapon we need to change the world, girls must be given that weapon to change their world,” she affirmed.
Her strategy for advancement were Faith and Action. Women, she said, must have faith and should back their faith up with action. She added that women must get involved in politics and advocacy by using their voices as tool for pressing for progress in line with the International Women’s Day theme of the year.
Earlier in her welcome remarks, the Conference Host and Coordinator, Faculty Women Advance, Professor Aize Obayan, said the main objective of the FWA was to advance the cause of women in academia and other professions. “We are lending our voices to scientific findings, professional issues, proffering solutions and making sure the cause of women is being advanced. We appreciate the visioner and Chancellor, Covenant University, Dr. David Oyedepo, for giving us the platform to give expression to gender-responsive issues,” she stated.
Professor Obayan, the 3rd Vice-Chancellor of Covenant, explained that gender issues did not only concern women but the entire spectrum including all those generating solutions, particularly from the University context. While revealing that the idea of a multidisciplinary conference was mooted two years ago, the Director of African Leadership Development Centre (ALDC) said members first had to understand the objective of the FWA and also look at the vision of Covenant becoming one of the first 10 universities globally by the year 2022 as God gave it to the Chancellor. The multidisciplinary conference, she added, was one way that Covenant was taking steps to ensure the fulfilment of the vision.
Other participants at the conference were faculty from Covenant and other institutions across Nigeria, staff and students.