Women in America have made tremendous strides in workforce equality. Gone are the days when a young girl’s only aspiration was to be a wife and mother. Now, we are afforded that opportunity and so many more. Today, we’re speaking with Cynthia Nwaubani. Her heart is for her home country of Nigeria, whose workforce differs greatly from America. Cynthia wants to see women find success inside and outside of their homes, regardless of where they live.
4word: Can you describe what it is currently like for working women in Nigeria?
Cynthia: Traditionally, men have always been the major breadwinners of the family in Nigeria. The woman’s role has always been to stay home and raise the children. As more women have become educated and entered into the workforce, we have seen a shift in this trend.
Even still, women in Nigeria face a lot of discrimination and sometimes harassment in the workplace. It takes a strong woman to succeed in a typical Nigerian work environment. Nonetheless, we have seen more Nigerian women rise to the top than in the past, especially in financial services and government. For example, the current Minister of Finance of Nigeria is a woman by the name of Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala.
4word: How does the workforce in Nigeria differ from America?
Cynthia: Nigeria is the most populous nation in Africa. According to a 2010 World Bank report, Nigeria has one of the lowest rates of employed women, as percent of the total population, among selected countries with similar gross national income. As of 2010, 61 percent of the population was living on less than a dollar a day. Contrast that to America, where women are projected to account for 51 percent of the increase in total labor force growth between 2008 and 2018.
There are also fewer youths in the Nigerian workforce than you will find in America. In my opinion, I would attribute this trend to a lack of job opportunities in many states in Nigeria. Most people have to go to the big cities to find a meaningful job. There just are not as many job opportunities as there are job applicants. As a result, most college graduates take on less meaningful jobs just to survive. In America, you don’t have to travel to New York or Dallas to get a job. You can be successful anywhere in the country.
Nigerians also put a lot of emphasis on education. Masters and PhDs are the norms for anyone aspiring to rise to the top in the Nigerian corporate world. In America, you don’t have to be a college graduate to at least get a decent job. It amazes me how many people in America decide not to go to college despite the many opportunities afforded them. In Nigeria, the starting point to success is a college degree and even with that, one has to work hard to find a meaningful job. So you might be surprised to see a taxi driver with a college degree in Nigeria.
However, with the recent economic boom in Nigeria, more foreign-educated Nigerians are returning home to apply their skills to the country’s development. Most go into private equity and venture capital in a bid to tap into the growing economy.
4word: What type of career resources are currently available and what do these women need?
Cynthia: There are many career resources available for women in Nigeria. Most are targeted towards teaching basic life skills to women in the rural areas. This is good, but to achieve the level of success we so desire, we need to change the way most women think. I believe what most women in Nigeria need is a confidence boost. Women have always been taught to keep quiet and let men speak. If you are an assertive woman, people may look at you as being rude or disrespectful to your husband. We need women who are successful as mentors for younger women. We have so many high profile successful Nigerian women, but they are so high up in the organization or society that it becomes difficult to connect them with the average woman. We need women role models and mentors at every level of an organization, not just at the pinnacle.
I am working with some successful women in Nigeria to introduce the 4word group to Nigerian women. No matter how much career success a woman achieves, an average successful Nigerian woman judges her level of success based on her family relationships. Thus, a group such as 4word - founded on the premises of work, love, pray - will resonate well with an average Nigerian woman. The group provides a platform to bring women from all over the world to mentor, share ideas, and encourage other women to rise to the top, not only in career, but also in their relationships and family.
4word: How do you define progress for Nigerian women?
Cynthia: Undoubtedly, progress for the Nigerian woman starts with giving her the education she needs to succeed in life. By education, I mean both formal and informal. Education empowers women to create the life they want and fight to achieve it.
4word: How do events like last week’s U.S.-Africa Leader’s Summit help shape and change the future for women, both here and in Nigeria?
Cynthia: I am excited to see the increasing support for growth in Africa. People have long referred to Africa as the Dark Continent partly because of the negative media representation of the continent. Like every other continent, Africa still has a long way to go; however, the continent’s development is necessary if we are to achieve a seamless cross-border economic development.
Europe and China are already creating strides in Africa, because they see the continent as the next investment center of the world. The recent U.S.-Africa Leader’s Summit is a case in point that showcases the need for U.S. partnership with Africa. The event follows another milestone event, the African First Ladies Summit, that brought several First African Ladies alongside First Lady Michelle Obama and Mrs. Laura Bush to the Bush Presidential Institute at SMU Cox Business School. Both events highlight the fact that one of the keys to strengthening Africa is investing in her women. We need to see the light at the end of the tunnel to keep forging ahead in our efforts to empower women in Nigeria. I believe these events may have been the switch that turns on that light.
There’s no doubt that progress has been made for working women with lofty career and family goals, both here in America and in Nigeria. Career resources and mentoring are crucial to continued growth. 4word is honored to be able to advocate for women like Cynthia, Sseko Designs founder Liz Bohannon and Brittany Underwood with The Akola Project. These women are striving daily to help better the lives of women across the globe. How can you support working women around the world?
Have you ever thought about how you can influence women around the globe?
Cynthia Nwaubani was born and raised in Nigeria, West Africa. Born into humble beginnings, Cynthia was forced to live on the street for several years. Despite being homeless for that long, she still found the courage to get off the street to complete her education. She later attended the University of Nigeria, where she got her Bachelor’s degree in Accounting.
During her undergraduate studies, she was one of the founders of the University’s first radio station, which later won numerous awards in Africa, including the Pan-African radio station award at the community level. Cynthia started her career at the Nigerian Finance Ministry office, working as the Secretary for the Adviser to the Minister of Finance. In that capacity, she handled the operations and logistics of the Ministry, which included case conferences, seminars, and research analysis. She worked in the financial sector until 2008 when she moved to the United States to be with her husband. In Dallas, she started a career in the healthcare industry, working in the capacity of account executive, marketing strategist and recently, business management.
Cynthia is a recent MBA graduate of the Southern Methodist University Cox School of Business and an active member of the 4word women’s group. She lives with her husband and two daughters in McKinney, Texas.