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A Corroded Pipe, a Polluted Stream, and the Quest for Genuine Equality

Updated: Dec 4, 2023





Are We Addressing Symptoms or Root Causes?

The under-representation of women in pivotal areas such as leadership, decision-making, and STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) fields is a well-known issue. Over the years, numerous strategies have been implemented, including awareness campaigns, advocacy to change policies, affirmative action to level the playing field, and capacity building to equip women for success. Despite these efforts, the desired change remains elusive. Could it be that we often target the visible symptoms of inequality rather than the deeply rooted societal norms and institutional biases?

 

For instance, an awareness campaign may enhance general knowledge but may not necessarily alter ingrained stereotypes. Affirmative action can provide opportunities for women, but it may not change the workplace culture that could hinder their progress. Capacity building can equip women with necessary skills, but it alone cannot tackle systemic discrimination that impedes their advancement. The lingering question is: can we shift our focus to address these more insidious yet impactful elements in our pursuit of equality?

 

The Many Faces of a Flawed Pipeline: Is It Broken, Leaky, or Corroded?

What are the underlying factors that lead to the stagnation of women's representation in key areas despite proactive policies? How do societal and workplace biases shape the career paths of women in fields traditionally dominated by men? The metaphorical pipeline, intended to guide women from education to fulfilling careers, is plagued with imperfections. Despite affirmative action policies in many countries aimed at boosting women’s representation in Parliament, the numbers often remain at the lowest required quotas. In professions such as engineering, women frequently find themselves in administrative rather than technical roles, potentially missing out on opportunities to become innovators or leaders, and often choose desk jobs over field activities, thereby losing out on diverse experiences that enhance marketability. Moreover, family commitments – marriage, children – frequently interrupt women's careers, posing a dilemma between personal and professional life.

 

Beyond mere leaks, this pipeline is corroded by deep-rooted stereotypes and systemic discrimination. Such corrosion creates a system that fails to provide returns proportional to the investments made in women’s education and professional training, impeding the full realization of their potential. Progress in leadership, STEM, and innovation for women is akin to water moving through a corroded pipe—flowing, yet constantly encountering resistance.

 

To address the issues of leakage and corrosion in this pipeline, a comprehensive overhaul is required. This involves dismantling harmful stereotypes and fostering a learning environment that values diversity and inclusion. Only with these changes can we aspire to create a pipeline that truly enables women to pursue and achieve fulfilling careers in their chosen fields.

 

Beyond the Pipeline: What Awaits in the Mainstream?

What happens when women and girls successfully navigate through educational and early career stages to enter the mainstream? If this mainstream is polluted with discrimination, glass ceilings, and toxic work cultures, is it possible for them to thrive? Regardless of the strength and integrity we build into the pipeline, if it leads to a mainstream work environment beset by discrimination and inequality, the prospects for decent work opportunities for women will be significantly compromised.

 

To illustrate this point, a woman may be physically present in Parliament, yet strategically absent and marginalised due to the institution’s male-centric nature. This predicament is not exclusive to politics but echoes across various fields. Women often find themselves compelled to conform to a culture that does not take their needs or perspectives into consideration. Such misalignment can lead to additional stress, often pushing them towards a career change. The mainstream, instead of being a welcoming river of opportunities, can sometimes feel like a turbulent sea of obstacles.  

 

Reflecting on a personal experience, I once spoke to a group of engineers in a venue equipped with a raised plastic carpet, punctuated with small holes for dust removal. These holes, while seemingly innocuous, posed a problem for someone wearing stilettos like myself. As I walked to the podium, my heels became repeatedly ensnared, a challenge that might have deterred a less assured speaker. During my talk, I highlighted this issue, pointing out that even the female engineers had opted for sneakers over heels due to the impractical carpet design. This observation initiated a change, resulting in a more inclusive redesign of the venue, accommodating for all attendees.

 

This instance underscores the necessity for systemic changes not just within the pipeline, which delivers visionary leaders and innovators, but also within the mainstream environment itself. It necessitates cultivating an environment that values and accommodates the contributions of women. This involves reshaping institutions and cultures to be genuinely inclusive, rather than expecting women to adapt to pre-existing moulds.

 

Time for a Thorough Clean-Up: Is Patching Enough?

Efforts such as scholarship programmes for girls in STEM and mentorship programmes for women in leadership roles are akin to patches on a corroded pipe. They may temporarily stop the leakage, but do not fix the underlying cause of the damage. Similarly, training initiatives to reduce unconscious bias in the workplace often fail to bring about lasting change. Women still face glass ceilings, earning less than their male counterparts and lacking representation in decision-making roles.

 

Reimagining a New Conduit: How to Get Women into the Workforce and Leadership Positions

The "pipeline" or "conduit" is designed to guide women into decision-making roles, leadership, and sectors like STEM. Yet, despite various interventions like capacity building, mentoring, and affirmative action, the pipeline has failed to sufficiently increase the number of women in these roles. How can this be reimagined?

 

Capacity Building: While this remains a crucial step, perhaps a focus on cultivating leadership skills from a younger age could be more impactful. How about incorporating leadership training as part of school curricula?

 

Mentoring Programmes: Current mentorship initiatives often fail to result in long-term engagement. Could more robust networking systems be the answer? What if these programmes included sponsorship opportunities that went beyond advice and into actual job placement?

 

Affirmative Action: This needs a revamp. Rather than just meeting quotas, organisations could commit to developing the skills of women to prepare them for leadership roles effectively.

 

Decongesting the Mainstream: Ensuring Meaningful Participation

Once women break through the initial barriers, they enter the mainstream of their chosen fields. But the challenges do not end there. Even if they represent a small fraction, their experiences and impact are often limited. Why is this the case?

 

THE ISSUES

 

Strategic Absence: Being physically present but strategically absent is a frequent issue. For instance, a woman in a decision-making role may find her contributions overlooked or dismissed. How can workplaces alter their dynamics to value the inputs of everyone?

 

Attrition in Fields like STEM: Once in, women often exit technical roles due to workplace cultures that do not support them. Can firms adopt cultures that value work-life balance to retain this talent?

 

Leadership Dynamics: Even when women make it to leadership positions, they often face challenges that their male counterparts do not. What initiatives could support women in staying the course and not just reaching these roles but thriving in them?

 

LASTING SOLUTIONS

 

Changing the Narrative: The stream is often polluted with discriminatory practices and toxic workplace cultures. Organisations should implement stringent anti-discrimination policies and actively work to create a culture that values the contributions of everyone, irrespective of gender. Institutional gender awareness within the organisations is also crucial.

 

Evidence-Based Advocacy: Utilise gender disaggregated data to engage with policymakers and influencers to drive changes in laws and practices that perpetuate inequality.

 

Male Engagement: Involve men and boys as allies in the fight against gender-based discrimination.

 

Intersectionality: Consider other social categorisations such as age, race, class, and sexuality when addressing gender issues to ensure inclusivity.

 

Concluding Reflections: What Will the Next Chapter Look Like?

As we contemplate the future of women's empowerment and gender equality, we face an essential question: What will the next chapter entail? The answer lies in adopting a dual approach. We must focus not only on increasing the inflow of women into various sectors and opportunities but also on transforming the mainstream to ensure their participation is meaningful. It is about enhancing the quality of experiences and ensuring the significant contributions of women are acknowledged and valued.


This transformation requires a shift from mere representation to active participation and impact. The focus should be equally on the pipeline – encouraging more women and girls to pursue their ambitions – and on the mainstream, where systemic changes are needed to make these paths more accessible and nurturing. Merely increasing numbers is not enough; we must also create environments that support and nurture the growth of women and girls at every stage.


The responsibility to shape this new chapter is collective. It falls on policymakers, educators, employers, and community leaders to contribute. The narrative needs to change, moving beyond repeating old patterns to crafting a story of true opportunity and equality.


Call to Action at NITE TANZARN IntellectNest

The time for action is now. What will your role be in not just repairing but reimagining the pipeline and transforming the mainstream into a stream of genuine opportunities for women and girls? Let us collaborate to forge a future where every woman and girl can realise their potential in a world that values, respects, and supports their aspirations.


 

 

About the Author

Nite Tanzarn is a renowned international consultant with extensive experience in development across Africa, emphasizing gender equality and social inclusion. With a background in Agricultural Economics and Women's Studies, she has collaborated with leading global agencies and founded IntellectNest, a digital platform dedicated to African development with a specific focus on transport, agriculture and rural development. Nite also brings her expertise to academia in Development Management, Development Economics and Gender Studies.

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Faith Kasiira
Faith Kasiira
Dec 06, 2023

An in-depth look at gender inequalities we face and the struggle we have before us to fight

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Nite Tanzarn
Nite Tanzarn
Dec 06, 2023
Replying to

Hi Faith,

Thank you for your insightful comment. Indeed, the article aims to shed light on the deeply entrenched gender inequalities that pervade our societies and the significant challenges that lie ahead in our collective quest for genuine equality. Recognizing and understanding these inequalities is a crucial step towards effective action and change. Your engagement and reflection on these issues are invaluable as we continue this important fight. Let's keep pushing forward together.

Cheers,

Nite

#NITETANZARNIntellectNest

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Guest
Nov 18, 2023

Waawoh! This speaks to our work. My lesson is the need to keep going and on-board new things like meaningful engagement of boys

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Nite Tanzarn
Nite Tanzarn
Nov 18, 2023
Replying to

I am thrilled to hear that the article resonated with the important work you are doing. Your takeaway about the necessity of persistent efforts and the inclusion of new strategies like the meaningful engagement of boys is indeed pivotal. It's through such shared insights and collective wisdom that we can hope to make significant strides towards genuine equality. Thank you for your commitment to this cause and for your valuable feedback.

Warm regards,

Nite

#NITETANZARNIntellectNest

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Guest
Nov 18, 2023

Thank you for writing about issues that matter and in a way they need to be told.

You write with compassion, authority, empathy yet, captivating.

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Nite Tanzarn
Nite Tanzarn
Nov 18, 2023
Replying to

Thank you for your kind words and encouragement. It is heartening to know that the message of the article resonated with you. I strive to bring attention to crucial issues with the depth and sensitivity they deserve, aiming to spark thoughtful discussions and positive change. Your support fuels my commitment to continue exploring and writing about these vital topics.

Best regards,

Nite

#NITETANZARNIntellectNest

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Guest
Nov 17, 2023

Great article! Thank you Nite for the reflection.

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Nite Tanzarn
Nite Tanzarn
Nov 18, 2023
Replying to

Hey Guy, thank you for your kind words! I'm glad the article resonated with you. Reflections like these are vital for our journey towards genuine equality.

Cheers,

Nite

#NITETANZARNIntellectNest

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nsabimana canisius
nsabimana canisius
Nov 16, 2023

Great article. Keep on writing

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Nite Tanzarn
Nite Tanzarn
Nov 18, 2023
Replying to

Ken, thank you for the encouragement! I'm glad you enjoyed the article. Your support motivates me to continue writing and sharing insights.

Cheers,

Nite

#NITETANZARNIntellectNest

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