By Denis Jjuuko
There is a company that provides a service that I usually need. It employs about 35 people. Of these, 15 are women and they occupy key positions. One day, I found its co-founder and CEO restless — like somebody who had just lost a million dollars. Maybe he was about to.
He told me of his 15 women employees, six were pregnant and were due to go on maternity leave. A seventh one had just got married. These were his star employees and he was imagining how his company would survive during the 60 working days they were to be away. As the inequality story was unfolding on social media last week, I thought of this CEO. Does he still employ women? If a woman and man tied in an interview, who would he hire? Isn’t there a chance that he may hire an average man and leave out smarter woman? Would he pay the same money when he knows that the woman may soon go away on a 60-working days paid leave?
This is not an issue for Ugandan small firms. A Chinese financier was under fire in 2015 for saying that women must get permission to get pregnant or they will be fined and fired. Human resource people may not admit it in Uganda but they think about it when they are hiring. Paid maternity leave is a big issue globally. In the USA, only three states out of 50 have it on their law books.
The biggest contribution of women to humanity, which is motherhood, is ironically the main cause of inequality among urban educated working women. Some women in Uganda today return to office after maternity leave to find themselves in junior positions or on what they call Katebe (big job title but no work like the senior presidential advisors). And imagine if a company was downsizing during the period you are away on maternity leave, your job may be the first to go.
And then there is a problem of children’s health. I have a more favourable schedule than my wife so I take our daughter to hospital most of the time. She goes to one of the most sought-after pediatricians in Kampala. I count parents at this clinic all the time. Always, 80% of parents accompanying these kids are mothers — working mums I must add. I highly doubt that 80% of these women have more favourable schedules than their spouses. While mothers are running around hospitals, men are in office achieving their Key Performance Indicators (KPIs).
Most business opportunities happen outside the office. Deals are made in social clubs. After work, men simply go to the golf club, neighborhood bar, gym or some other place. Women drive home to be with the kids. And as they are in the bar, deals are made that make them achieve their KPIs.
Sometimes people rise in organisations because they have the ability to steal. And this affects women. How? Because most women before they steal money, they first think about their kids. What will happen if I am caught and sent to prison? Men don’t have such worries. Women also think of what their husband’s families will think about in case they are caught. Now, the Mafias think of somebody’s ability to steal money before they lobby for them to be appointed in key positions. If you are a smart thief, your star will rise more in a lot of organisations. The Mafias will always want their own in positions of influence especially in public entities. This doesn’t mean that people of integrity don’t get into influential positions. Very many people are in top positions because of their integrity and smartness. Those who are there to look after their godfather’s interests are many as well.
If motherhood is the real cause of inequality for the educated urban women and I think it is, then we must think of a solution that science and technology offers. Today, the science and technology to give birth to three kids at once is available. Instead of losing opportunities every few years, a woman should consider giving birth at once. Most educated women in Uganda today give birth three times (though many are reducing to two). So three kids in one go and then they can get back to their careers. We may call it unnatural, ungodly, male chauvinism and whatever that comes to mind. Most family planning methods we have gladly embraced are unnatural and ungodly too. And many other things we do today.
Giving birth to all the kids we need in one pregnancy will free up the time women need to compete with men. They will not return to office to find themselves on Katebe and/or have to start all over again every now and then. Women won’t miss targets because they are in hospital ensuring the kids are fine. We must start to think of solutions that technologies afford us.
The number of women using this technology in Uganda today is increasing. Many may have used it because of failure or difficulties to conceive a baby (even though prophets may claim responsibility). The babies have come out fine and families are happy. If it has worked for women who have had difficulties to conceive, why not for those who want to advance their careers? Surrogacy is another option. Equality, like all things desirable, won’t come on a silver platter. Hard decisions must be taken.
The author is a media consultant and businessman. email@example.com
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