As any entrepreneur or career climber knows, networking plays a large part in building a business or career; even more so when you’re new to a place. Networking plays a huge part of my life here, not only because of business and to build my contact list, but also because I love meeting people and you never know when you’ll be invited to a snazzy social event…a girl has got to have a banging social life :-).
I was invited to an event and introduced to an alleged leader in the training business, while rubbing shoulders with the leaders of various industries. We got on quite well and discussed a possible collaboration.
Months later we met again at a Tech event in Lagos, caught up on our respective businesses and arranged to meet in Abuja.
Weeks later, I had a meeting with the leadership entrepreneur. First of all, I was impressed by his office, which was a substantial building in the heart of Abuja – where property prices are ridiculous – a female employee greeted me and showed me into his office.
When I got to his office, he was very welcoming and quite affectionate. I thought ‘okay, you weren’t like this before, maybe you’re just pleased to see me’. I asked after his business, he showed around the building and introduced me to his staff – turns out, the female employee is his wife and business partner whose office is next to his.
Anyway, we got back to his office to start the meeting and he became touchy, feely…way too touchy, feely. Now, I value my personal space so anything more than a superficial air kiss tests my boundaries and level of diplomacy (which in this country is being tested daily). So, my first thought is ‘a swift uppercut to his jaw will keep him in line’, but of course that’ll be very unprofessional, so I just smile and take a few steps back. Have I mentioned the man had a severe case of halitosis? Seriously, if you’re going to try to seduce someone, abeg try throwing some mint in your filthy mouth hole.
Every time I took steps back to widen my personal space, he took steps forward into my personal space, touching my shoulders, wanting to hold my hands and saying how smart, intelligent and beautiful I am; like a surreal version of the ‘Carry On’ TV show. Have you seen those old-school Benny Hill sketches where he is running around a table or a tree chasing a woman…this was exactly like that. Yes dude, I know my shit doesn’t smell but get out of my personal space, your wife is next door and your breath can wake up the dead. Do you really think I have any interest?
Needless to say, I made a hasty exit.
One has to have a thick skin to do business, you can’t take things too personally. In Nigeria and as a woman, this is even more so; where it doesn’t seem surprising to be propositioned in other to get the business – as if it’s a fair exchange.
The sad thing is, it’s not even seen as sexual harassment and an abuse of power. To them you are woman, made to be desired by man, how dare you think otherwise.
Unfortunately, I’ve heard stories of women who have fallen prey and succumbed to such abuses; most of whom have had their reputations tarnished, because these men talk, and are no longer taken seriously.
A male friend of mine once told me that as a woman I should see doing business in Nigeria like a game of boxing; pacing round a ring throwing punches (my deals, business proposals) to my opponent whilst dodging his punches (sexual advances). I initially scoffed at him as I found it distasteful, now I understand.
I’m no longer ‘outwardly’ outrage, I’ve become an expert in the business ‘boxing’. I’ve learnt how to ‘duck’, ‘dive’ and walk away if needed…believe me I throw a mean punch if I need to. I have focus, I want a seat at the table, and when I get there all bets are off…watch me go full Laila Ali on their asses.