Hypermasculine organisations and barriers to women’s career progression in Nigeria

Dr Vanessa Iwowo shares the findings from her latest research into gender inequality in the workplace in Nigeria.

Discussions around the barriers to women’s career progression are not new to the public agenda, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, which has highlighted the unequal division of domestic labour and caring responsibilities in the home.

However, the majority of research in this area has been developed in the global north and thus overlooks the significance of specific economic, social and cultural conditions that exist in other contexts.

With my colleagues Toyin Ajibade Adisa (University of East London), Chima Mordi and Ruth Simpson (Brunel University), I sought to uncover the specific barriers facing women’s career progression in Nigeria.

Why Nigeria? Often referred to as the “giant of Africa”, the country is notable both for its economic prosperity and entrenched patriarchal values. The barriers to women advancing their careers in Nigeria could have wider implications for gender equality in the global south.

Gender inequality and Social Dominance Theory

Despite legislation which supports gender equality and Nigeria’s participation in international agreements to eliminate gender discrimination, the problem persists. Prior research into 190 Nigerian companies found that just 10.5% of board seats are held by women. In the civil service, where women account for 24% of the workforce, they hold less than 14% of overall management positions.

Examined through the lens of Social Dominance Theory (SDR), which purports that social groups are hierarchically positioned, we see how cultural ideologies and institutional discrimination work together to produce group-based inequality. A gender-based hierarchy dominates, where men are consistently favoured, gaining disproportionate positive social and material value at the expense of the subordinate group, women.

This group-based oppression is driven by systemic individual and institutional discrimination and supported by stereotypes, attitudes and beliefs which dictate the norms that govern institutions. These hierarchies are especially hard to break down as they are embedded in social systems.

Challenges to career advancement faced by women in Nigeria

Entrenched stereotypical attitudes about the role of women in Nigeria means that management and leadership are viewed as the exclusive domain of men, while women are seen to belong in the domestic sphere.

This hypermasculine context only serves to exacerbate the barriers faced by women in their careers. In interviews with 43 women working in the five major administrative capitals of Nigeria, we identified three key barriers to progression at work:

  1. Systemic and excessive male-group-based domination

Every woman that we spoke to identified a bias in recruitment and promotion decisions in their organisation, which inhibits women’s progression to more senior roles. An approach based on merit is overruled by a preference for a male candidate, regardless of capability. What is more, this bias is openly acknowledged, with the allocation of male candidates to senior roles seen as a foregone conclusion.

  1. Corruption and the exchange of favours

The vast majority of women that we spoke to (39 out of 43 interviewees) had personally encountered corruption in the workplace in the form of “godfatherism”, the practice wherein a woman is expected to exchange money or sexual favours for progression in the workplace.

The consequences of godfatherism are both devastating and wide-reaching: either a woman is cut off from career advancement, or she is coerced into a sexual relationship in order to progress. Such is the commonality of this practice, that the promotion of a woman is often associated with this exchange in the eyes of employees.

  1. Domestic responsibilities

The expectation that women will take full responsibility for domestic arrangements is entrenched from a young age, when girls are made to take on household responsibilities while boys are left to play. A few women also reported being overlooked for a university education in the family, due to the assumption that this was an unnecessary expense for them to fulfil their predetermined roles as wives and mothers.

A unique national context

Our research suggests that Nigerian women are being held back in their careers by discrimination and corruption particular to their national context, such as entrenched patriarchal values, assumptions about the role of women and ingrained cultural and religious beliefs.

While male dominance and barriers to women’s career progression are not unique to Nigeria, the way in which patriarchal structures are embedded across all systems and institutions is particular to the national context.

For example, there are some potential commonalities to be drawn between godfatherism and the western #MeToo movement. However, where corruption in the west is widely challenged, godfatherism is normalised. Indeed, it forms part of a wider cultural context in which it is seen as fundamentally “un-African” for a woman to lead.

Aside from denying women the right to self-actualization and economic independence, hypermasculine organisations which exploit and enforce entrenched gender roles are limited by a lack of diversity in the workforce. Social Dominance Theory would suggest that the way to overcome these barriers is through challenging the status quo and “mainstreaming” hierarchy-attenuating attitudes from non-dominant groups. A deeper understanding of these attitudes and how they manifest in the workplace may go some way towards challenging entrenched beliefs and practices and working towards a more equal future.

This blog is based on the paper ‘Social dominance, hypermasculinity and career barriers in Nigeria’ in Gender, Work & Organization.

Further Information

Share
. Reply . Category: Business Economics and Informatics . Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,