As the International Women’s Month comes to an end, Head of Entertainment at Legit.ng, Sanusi Sola shares her story as a woman who has risen through the ranks over the years and broken the bias in a male-dominated industry.
In this interview, Sola helps women see how to stand tall as amazons, touches on Legit.ng’s advocacy campaign ‘Not just a Pretty Face’ and its importance in quashing workplace stereotypes.
1. What inspired your decision to become a journalist?
I grew up reading the newspaper with my dad. He would also drop the papers with me when he was going out, and we got to talk about exciting topics in the papers as much as I could then (in his 90s). He would call me to discuss happenings in the country and also to confirm trending news.
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It became a habit such that I prefer reading the papers to watching the television like my age mates. And choosing a career path, it was easier for me to drift towards the media after graduation from the university.
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2. What is the significance of international women’s day to you?
It’s a day that women’s contributions in all spheres of life are celebrated. Women are generally seen as the weaker version of men, but that belief has gone with the wind as we have seen in recent times women standing at par in professions seen as mainly for men. Women have shown that we are not in this world for only procreation and home keeping; we can do what men are doing and still perform our ‘traditional roles’. Even a full-time housewife is worthy of celebration on this day.
3. What does Bias mean to you, especially as a woman? How have you been able to navigate the challenges that this poses to you as a working executive, wife and mother?
Women experience disparity when getting a job, getting a raise or getting to the top of their career. I had made up my mind as a girl-child to do what men can do because my mum had us all girls. Was I able to achieve that? I will say yes to an extent; I grew up to become a woman who finds herself in a male-dominated journalism career where we all get to be addressed as gentlemen of the press even when we have ladies in the house.
My first job as a journalist saw me as the only female on the entertainment desk at City People Magazine; many expected me to be a weakling, but I was always at the forefront, getting the toughest of the jobs done and down the line, I won awards as the most hardworking staff and the best staff of the year in 2005. I was never a pushover.
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Getting married, I have a supportive husband who did not stop me from being a journalist but also gave me the necessary support. He made time to fill the gap when I went for late-night events. While working with the newspapers, he knew my production day and always came home earlier than usual to be with the kids because I would come home late. That helped me focus on my job.
As a mother, there are occasions I couldn't attend my children's school's prize-giving days, knowing fully well that my kids will pick up prizes and awards. I often get to the school just after they have collected their prizes, but they understand the nature of my job.
This February, I had to attend my daughter's school's inter-house sports with my laptop and stood up to cheer her up when she was partaking in the march past and races. She's the baby of the house, and she was happy I was there for her as I have failed to show up during many school events because of my job.
But in all, there's always a way to balance it up. I ensure I take my leave when they are on holiday, so we travel together and spend quality time as a family. And in cases when school is in session, I take them to school or visit them.
4. Biases thrown at women have caused some form of prejudice against women, limited opportunities for women and further sown the seeds of inequality in the workplace. What strategies do you think active institutions can adopt to put a stop to this element in society?
Organizations should give equal opportunities to both genders in the workplace. Promotion should be based on performance. You don’t deny a woman a position just because you think her traditional roles will stand in her way even though she is the best qualified. Let her prove her worth and assess her based on that, not her gender.
On rare occasions, we see women being editor-in-chief in the media industry because of their gender and the traditional roles they are expected to play as wives, mothers and career women. Many organizations believe they won’t be able to put in their best on the job if nature calls, but we have seen the likes of Funke Egbemode, who rose to be the managing director of The New Telegraph newspaper and a two-term president of Nigerian Guild of Editors. She is the commissioner for Information and Orientation in Osun state. She was a wife (husband is late now), a mother and a career woman. She succeeded in everything.
5. Believed to be the frontiers of the stereotypical treatment that women receive, what part should men play in promoting equality in the workplace and in society?
I believe while in school, both men and women sat for the same examination; there was no gender bias in awarding a degree. The same should be applied in the workplace or larger society. Men should see women as their counterparts, colleagues who can do the same task as you.
Lately, women earn more salaries than their partners/husbands because they deserve it. They should remember that both men and women now contribute to the economy of the home and family and the nation. Men should encourage females in their workplace or family, support, shower them with love, and be their cheerleaders. Teach their daughters to aim at becoming the president and not just the first lady.
6. Where do you see the career woman in terms of work and personal life stability by 2030? Do you think a woman will be allowed to play her role and not get judged by the number of kids she has or her role as a wife and mother and how it impacts her work efficiency?
That’s the dream, and I want to believe this is achievable as many women are not allowing these roles of being a mother and wife to define how far they can go in their careers. With a good partner and reliable support system, women can hit the top. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala did it. She is married and is a mother. She didn’t just get to become the president of the World Trade Organization in one day; she rose to the position while still holding on to the home front. Women are super-beings for us to do these.
7. Just recently, Legit.ng led an advocacy campaign with a show of support from male employees, on breaking the bias that women face in the workplace. What is your take on this advocacy move and how do you see it impacting society?
As I noted earlier, if men speak up in support of women, it makes it easier to reach their counterparts who do not believe in this cause. Legit.ng’s men have seen women in the organization holding decision making positions and leading the company right. Hence, it is easier for them to advise the male folks to look beyond the beauty of women and see the talents, expertise and knowledge they possess.
8. Beyond this advocacy campaign, how is Legit.ng leading the way in achieving an equal and fair workplace?
At Legit.ng, promotion is based on performance, not on gender or favoritism, and this has given equal opportunities to both genders to occupy a position. Don’t forget we are an IT-based media organization; there are apps through which performances are measured and monitored, which every one of us has access to, so there is no shortcut to success here if you don’t play by the rules. We also operate an open-door policy where the subordinates have access to the superiors.
9. What impact has your work as a female journalist had on the organization you work with?
I have contributed my quota to my job, and I am sure I have been a role model to many who have come after me. I also make working with me a pleasant experience as I am conscious of the fact that many find working with a female boss difficult. I make myself available and easy to relate with while I continue to work on myself to bring out the best of me.
10. What is your advice for females at the beginning of their career?
They should not be intimidated by the men in their workplace or society but see them as partners and colleagues they can work with and learn from if needed. For example, I learned the job's rope from a male colleague. So make yourself available to learn every new thing in your career line. And don't neglect your family to pursue a career; learn to balance the two.