The Orekoya Kids: A Lesson for Corporate Nigeria

Throwback to April 8, 2015, when three kids aged 6 years, 4 years, and 11 months were abducted by their new nanny, Funmilayo Adeyemi (aka Mary Akinloye), a day into her job. Mrs Adeyemi, who it was later discovered is a mother of children herself, and employer of a nanny, was contracted through a popular online marketing portal. Like many other working parents in Nigeria, Mr and Mrs Orekoya, were in need of a capable and trustworthy caretaker for their young children, and were desperate enough to trust a stranger with their very young children. Unfortunately, that decision had a cascading effect on the Orekoya family and their respective places of employment.

One can only imagine the guilt the parents felt over leaving their children with someone unfamiliar. But what choice did they have? Did either parent have the privilege to stay at home with the children to supervise the activities of the maid? Would there have been sympathy or even understanding from either’s place of work? Now the truth is staring us all in the face – the lives of employees are dynamic and open to both necessary reorganisation and unexpected shocks.

Particularly when it comes to women, changes are likely to occur more spontaneously, coupled with the fact that responsibility for traditional family life fall to us. Big cities in Nigeria have become very metropolitan and urban, and where up till the previous two decades, mothers had access to a pool of willing relatives from ‘home’ in return for basic amenities and education, the paradigm has shifted, with relatives unwilling to support, instead seeking salaried arrangements elsewhere while residing with affluent town relatives.

Clearly, women in the workplace need to be managed differently. Structured corporate work has been in place for hundreds of years, but the positive reality of women as equal partners in the work place remains a monumental effort at shifting the paradigm in a still male-dominated work environment. Although, women’s participation in economic activities has increased over the years, reports till show huge disparity between men and women, especially in high-level corporate positions.

It was reported that in a 2008 survey done by Nigeria’s University of Ilorin, 52.5% of female Nigerian managers were between 21 to 30 years of age, 25% were between 31 to 40 years of age, and 15% were between 41 to 50 years of age.1 From the data, it is clear that once a woman is married and in child bearing mode, the percentage falls drastically by half in a work environment where women do twice as much as their male counterparts to be recognised; where there are wage differences between male and female equals; and where any attention or mentoring provided by a senior male staff is likely to be perceived as amorous; it would obtain that family issues would further diminish women’s ability to function optimally. It is therefore not surprising to see women sacrifice their careers for their families.

Women are being told that we cannot have it all simply because majority of organisations are unwilling to conceive of enough flexibility to allow comfort and this is causing an exodus of bright and profitable minds from the corporate world. Collectively, we need to begin to attend to these issues by proffering and implementing useful techniques. Businesses need to look for solutions for their staff if they want to delimit staff ‘opt out’ which directly impacts productivity, profitability and sustainability. One important issue we can tackle here is child-care.

A guest, a senior female manager from an old generation bank, recently featured on the popular cable TV programme, Moments with Mo, spoke about the frustration of finding competent help for her children. In her frustration, she went as far as seeking and employing a NCE holder, whose inability to understand simple domestic instructions have left her even more unhappy. But what can she do when she has limited options?

It is time for big business to stand up to their responsibility to their employees. If sustainability is managing resources in order for them to be available to future generations, there must be collective effort in the corporate world to preserve these future generations.

Financial services (including Banks), Telecoms and Oil and Gas companies are some of the more prominent corporates in Nigeria, with competing branches and sub-offices within miles and sometimes yards of each other. A partnership to build affordable childcare facilities for their collective staff will go a long way in relieving employees of worry over their children. This partnership will enable collective solutions and manage resources of finance and space.  For example, in Rochester, Minnesota, USA, a partnership was created between day care provider, Child Care Resource, and IBM and a new day care facility was built adjacent to IBM, with IBM’s financial assistance.2 Some financial institutions, including Access Bank and Oil and Gas companies have been known to provide childcare facilities in their headquarters, but the same cannot be said at branch level. Ishola, a Telecoms mother of 2 sons, summarised the need for such an arrangement when she said: “I am willing to pay good money for convenient child care facilities provided near to my office. If I can go across the road and check on my child during my lunch break or other short breaks, it would take a load of stress off me”.

Furthermore, flexible hours with opportunity to work from home on occasion, upon request, would contribute to the adjustment process of employees with families. Where employees have been known to abuse such privileges, clear procedural guidelines will aid better implementation and individual management. The story could have been of immense reputational damage to the corporate organisation – presumably a bank – where the mother worked, had word gotten out that Mrs Orekoya’s employers had refused her time off to sort out adequate care for her children.

To avoid the huge ‘brain drain’ that could result from unaccommodating working conditions, organisations must understand and begin to incorporate policies that satisfy employees without tampering with productivity. Women have proven to be invaluable assets to organisations all over the world and as such, the false impression that women are incompetent or unstable because we tend to have many other contending issues is a fallacy.

In light of the attention that has been shed on the plight of women in the corporate world, it is apparent that definite steps need to be taken. Organisations that do not work to keep women will in time find a pool of the best and brightest talent inaccessible to them. The Orekoyas were blessed with a happy ending, but others have not been so lucky. We certainly should not need to experience such issues individually before we begin to make some changes.



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