Young women and marriage: 3 conversations we keep having

She Hive Accra

Some days ago on a road trip to IITA Ibadan for my company’s annual retreat, there was this huge debate between what I have chosen to call the new school modern family values enthusiasts and the old school traditional family values enthusiasts, over married women and their career choices/decisions.

It was a long and interesting conversation, voices were raised, opinions flew back and forth, words were exchanged (although with no ill intents), feelings and sentiments were bruised, perspectives were vehemently challenged and even faith was questioned. At the end of the trip (and as such the conversation), there was no victor and no vanquished, proving (yet again) that:

Opinions are formed over time, experiences and the accumulation of a body of knowledge and it takes more than one heated conversation to get people to change those opinions.

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Back to the reason we are all gathered here today, I think that because of my age, most of the conversations I have with family, friends, acquaintances and even colleagues are pivoted around, you-guessed-right! Marriage. So, while we talk business, entrepreneurship, career and our shared ambition to take over the world, we should also take a moment to address the pink elephant in the room.

So, tag along while I attempt to dissect some of the concerns we  young women have when it comes to the institution of marriage.

The validity of aspiring to marriage

With Chimamanda Adichie’s 2013 TED talk (made even popular by Beyonce’s inclusion in the song, Flawless) finding its way into mainstream culture and conversations, we women are gradually being liberated from that flawed conviction that marriage is the gold standard and a ‘mark of success in life’.

While this can be called progress in some ways, it also has its downsides. Hold on, let me explain. The feminist-driven academic and journalistic culture celebrating today’s “liberated” women, also in some ways, seeks to suppress a natural need for family that most women have.

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In recent times, there has been a blizzard of anti-marriage sentiments shared vocally among the female folks especially across social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook. And this is largely because most of them do not want to be seen as aspiring to marriage but hand on heart – and this is quite controversial. I do not know of one woman who does not want to have her own husband and possibly children to come home to after a long day at work.

When discussing the issue in an open and public platform, most young women would be quick to put up an air of indifference with respect to marriage but get her alone and the story would be entirely different. There, I’ve said it! (But let’s not forget that this is an entirely unscientific view based only on my circle of friends, acquaintances and interactions with random people).

Therefore, my take on this issue is rather simple: as much as marriage is not the holy grail of womanhood, I think wanting to be married and subsequently aspiring to it, is valid! As such, you are allowed to be intentional about it, as you are with work/business. (For more on this please try reading this from Dr. Meg Jay). 

The dichotomy between marriage and work

In 2011, the COO of Facebook Sheryl Sandberg made a statement that went viral;

The most important career choice you’ll make is who you marry.”

I only came across this statement last year and it was insightful for me because it reaffirmed a conviction that I have always held and still hold; that the man I marry would take me one step closer to my biggest dreams. Before going further, I should clearly state that I have nothing against stay-at-home mums.  On the contrary, any woman who readily gives up the fancy skirt suits and board meetings for house cleaning and grocery shopping has my respect.
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However, I do not think that marriage and even motherhood has to be a stumbling block on a woman’s pathway to progress. Society typically expects the woman to lean back and make only those career moves that are convenient for her status as a married woman but that does not always have to be the case. Family is a collective and shared responsibility placed equally on both the man and the woman even though both have to function in different capacities. With proper planning, communication and understanding between partners, I believe it is possible for both to raise a decent family without anyone’s dreams or goals suffering for it.

This is where Sheryl’s statement becomes important. Because for this to happen and for this system to work, you need a man who acknowledges the validity of your dreams, believes in the weight of your ambitions and is ready and willing to support you towards reaching your goals regardless of what that ‘support’ might involve.

So yes, married or single, you are allowed to aspire to heights unimaginable in your personal and professional life and marriage if done right, would serve as a catalyst and not a distraction.

Knowing when enough is enough!

There are reports that say that every fourth Nigerian woman suffers some form of domestic violence in her life time. The worst forms of these are usually battering, trafficking, rape and homicide. And it seems only sensible that I lend my voice to this recurring social menace that is plaguing our society, the institution of marriage and women in particular. This is however not to say that men do not suffer domestic abuse or to disregard that possibility.

On this issue, there really isn’t so much I have to say that would be entirely new to you but this, LEAVE! If you unfortunately find yourself in an abusive relationship, before you consider any other solution or any form of therapy, get yourself out of that situation and environment. No man is allowed to hit you out of love or in an attempt to discipline you or for any other reason that you may want to let yourself believe.

Run A Way CampaignSo, for the young woman whose boyfriend angrily shoved her aside and slammed the door on his way out after she informed him of her decision to enroll for another master’s program, for the mother of 2 who got slapped because she scolded her son for spilling fruit juice all over his school uniform, my advice to you is simple. LEAVE!

I have to admit that this is definitely not the easiest thing to do especially with cultural and religious beliefs that advocate total submission and endurance of whatever treatment a woman gets from a man or her husband, as the case may be. But understand that submission as admirable as it is, should also not put you in danger or harm’s way. Many lives and dreams have been lost to domestic violence and yours should definitely not be one of those. Because if he hits you once he would hit you again, if he ever does hit you, please LEAVE!

I’d conclude by saying that as women, we cannot avoid all of the conversations around marriage but what we can do is carefully moderate that conversation in a way that encourages an exchange of perspectives that is beneficial to us all.

So what is your narrative?

  • Single and conflicted as to whether or not you should be actively seeking out a life partner?
  • Married and tempted to quit your job because someone thinks you are not capable of making both work?
  • In a relationship where your partner would rather dialogue with his fists than words?

This is my counsel to you

It is OK to want to be married.

Your dreams are valid.

And if he hits you, even one time, please leave!

So, what about you? What are the concerns you have with respect to women and the almighty marriage? Share your perspective and let’s get talking!

 

4 simple hacks for combining motherhood & entrepreneurship

Having been an entrepreneur running a market research firm for eight years, I did not give too much thought to how I would handle motherhood and work. Juggling, creating value, and keeping a keen eye on productivity were already familiar hurdles I had already crossed — or so I thought!

Very early into a somewhat complicated pregnancy, I knew that I would have to change certain aspects of my orientation if I was ever to be productive again; I don’t mean that as a hyperbole. Along with warmly welcoming motherhood, I was left wondering whether I could continue the business I had built. 

While it has been and still continues to be a wobbly journey to finding my footing as a CEO mommy, here are several tips I’ve picked up along the way, which can help to keep the lights on even as your little bub requires more and more from you.

1. Compartmentalize your life

Divide your days and hours into blocks and devote 100% of your time within any specific block to whatever task you’ve assigned it. One of the great things about being a business owner is the flexibility it allows — you are not restricted to a strict schedule of work.

If you have to make dinner by 6pm, play peek-a-boo with bubba till 8pm, and then hit that laptop till 11pm, then do it. Trying to answer emails while playing peek-a-boo is the key to being frustrated and burning out. Whatever you set out to do, try to be present for the time assigned to it.

2. Delegate with gusto

It will not be perfect and it may take longer, but it will be done and sometimes that’s what’s most important. At work, break tasks into little bits and ask colleagues, friends, family  — anyone—  to help you get those little bits done.

At home, take the time to build a support system and don’t be shy to accept help from loved ones or to voice requests for domestic help  — even if help doesn’t come in exactly the same format as it would if the task were completed by you.

There will be times when your spouse does not buy exactly the same diapers baby wears or the nanny does not feed the little one at the right time, but at least those tasks are done, and that truly is the big picture. motherhood

3. Ditch perfectionism

You will drop the ball. You will drop the ball more than once. There will be very little explanation (outside of yelling, “Can’t you see how busy my life is right now?”). Give yourself a little time to get back to your old levels of productivity.

Allow some lax time for deadlines and let those depending on you know that there will be just a little give or take. It is perhaps more important than ever to set yourself a task list except this time, success will look like crossing off two-thirds (or maybe even half?) of your list rather than the 100% get it done amazon that you are.

4. Prioritize Sleep

In this crazy world were everyone seems to be rushing to and fro, and there are incredibly much more tasks getting added than getting done, it may seem frivolous to be rigid about your beauty sleep. It is not.

Many studies have shown that sleep is one of the best ways to clear the mind (thereby increasing productivity), reduce stress, replenish depleted energy, and more (another is exercise). It can even help with weight loss!

If you are lucky and able, schedule in power naps and let everyone in your office know that you are not available during those hours. If you cannot, try to schedule in catch up naps during the weekend. Try just 20 minutes at a go for starters, and then increase gradually as you feel more confident about your sleep priority.

In the final analysis, what truly matters to all of us is that our loved ones are proud of us and proud of the person we’ve become along the way. No matter what your choices, your child will most likely look over your body of work and be proud of the courage it took to follow your dreams and fulfill your potential.

So don’t be afraid to explore and find your own rhythm —in whatever quirky combination— so long as it works for you and your family, then you will already be quite a success and inspiration!

 

Divinity Matovu: You don’t want women dropping out of the workforce

She Leads Africa interviewed Cofounder and CEO of MBA Mama, Divinity Matovu. As a mother of two, she is pursuing her MBA at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania with a focus on entrepreneurial management and finance. She has launched four start-ups, lived and worked in East Africa and prides herself on being a global citizen and an advocate for women’s empowerment. This is what she had to say about navigating family and career planning as an MBA Mama.


“The biggest barrier for women with children interested in pursuing their MBA, women in business is: childcare. Many women find themselves saying: Oh, I have a child, I’m not going to be able to keep up. What will I do about childcare? Will I have any money going in? If we can develop something that helps women to save time and money on childcare, it becomes much easier to have a conversation and for them to continue advancing in their careers. You don’t want highly educated, highly qualified, and highly trained women dropping out of the workforce.

Our brand, MBA Mama, makes visible: women who successfully maintain their careers after maternity leave and even women who have children during the MBA. We are an online platform that provides ambitious women with tools and resources to leverage an MBA, and strategically navigate family and career planning.

Because of the childcare issues, there are a lot of women who are not at the table to lean in. That is not good for our economy or for business. We want to help women navigate having a child during their post MBA career so that they don’t fall behind their male peers, and so that they don’t feel like they have to drop out of the work force.

Divinity Matovu

From our perspective, an MBA is a great degree that women should leverage to have career advancement. Firstly, an MBA is a graduate degree with the highest return on investment. During the MBA program, you can gain a set of skills that are transferable to any industry and add value to any career. An MBA can increase your access to an excellent network. Lastly, the types of careers available post MBA have wonderful benefits.”

Whether you’re a mother, a woman who is passionate about going back to school, a woman interested in starting a family or all of the above, Divinity provides you with these useful tips.

Here’s her  top three tips for a successful family planning during the MBA:

1. Timing is crucial

There are quite a few women who are timing their ovulation cycle when pursuing their MBA. They work with their partners to make sure that they will be pregnant when they want to be pregnant. These women give birth during the winter break, which is 3-4 weeks.

They come back that next semester, and for most of them, they are only taking classes maybe two days a week. There are also women who work to have children the summer before they start full-time work, and after they graduate.

2. Maintain consistent family time

When I’m with my daughter, I’m with my daughter. I’m unplugged and not checking emails or on social media. My philosophy is: quality of our time together as opposed to quantity.

Even though I’m really busy, that really helps us to maximize our time. So, figure out what time works best for you. Mornings are really good for us because we’re up and about and getting ready together.

3. Prepare for the week

I do meal preps on Sunday. So, I cook many meals on Sunday and then I’ll Tupperware everything into portions so that throughout the first three days of the week I have all of my meals ready to go.

We do take out Thursdays, so I know I don’t have to cook dinner that day. Fridays and Saturdays are easy, because I don’t have class. Sunday, I start my meal prep again.

On her four tips on successful business planning:

1. Create your own brand

I am an MBA Mama, and I see myself in my consumers. I’m investing time in the community and I hope that leads people to our brand. I launched the company and was very excited to get my partner Nicole on board.

That was a challenge because I had to make sure that my vision was clear, and that I could get someone else to buy into the idea.

2. Gain Financial Skills

Finance is central to any business operation. You can have a great brand and people can be excited about what you’re doing, but if you don’t know how to manage the money, if you don’t know how to read a balance sheet, and if you don’t know how to get your finances in order—nothing else really matters.

3. If you want to build an online community, communicate and be engaged

Be engaged with your online community—whether that’s responding to a tweet or re-tweeting someone mentioning your brand, communicating with fans on Instagram or featuring people on your blog.

By staying connected, people know that you actually see enough value in what they have to say.

4. Utilize Social Media!

Finally, any of word-of-mouth that can help your business will be good for your brand. People love referrals because it’s a trusted source and it’s even more trusted than paid advertisements. Through our blogs people find us, and the women we feature also spread the word to their followers.

Also, we feature women who share their stories through our “MBA Mama of The Month Initiative.” If someone can recommend your brand by word-of-mouth, that’s really the best way.