Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Can A Young Woman Have Older Male Mentors in Ghana?

As many of you know by now, I'm now a full-time entrepreneur. I want to succeed. I want to make some millions. Which is why I was heartened to be in the company of people who have already achieved this level of success in Ghana last week. I was truly inspired by these men. They've spent the last 10, 20 years building their businesses and they seem as energetic as ever.

I was excited to meet them, and excited to see that they seemed genuinely interested in me and what I'm doing and considered me the next generation of Ghanaian entrepreneurs. When they gave me their personal numbers, I remember thinking...wow...only in Ghana do I get to meet the business giants and to have this kind of ready access to them. 

A number of them called to check on me and to invite me to events. It's called networking. So I want to go. People don't do business with people they don't know. Or like. Or trust. How will they know and like, and trust me if they don't spend any time at all with me? If I were a guy, I wouldn't have to think twice about this. I'd just accept their invitations and go. And go again, and sleep over, and travel this country with them and learn from them?

But I'm not a guy. I'm a woman. A woman engaged to be married.

So, how can I take advantage of the benefits of networking with people you want to be like when an overwhelming percentage of them are men? If the businesspeople you know and admire are men, can you still learn from them without ending up in their bed?

Exactly 2 years ago, I wrote an article titled a new kind of relationship in which I raised the same concern. At the time, I was aba fresh, and correspondingly naive. Now I know, it's not that simple. You want to impress these men. You don't want to piss them off. But you also don't want to sleep your way to the top. You want to do this entrepreneurship thing for real. You're not interested in chopping anyone's money. You just want to learn from them. How does one go about establishing that kind of relationship? There's a thin line. If you're too hardcore, they'll just not invite you anywhere. And you won't get to know them.

Someone please tell me me how.



  1. I've never left a comment on a blog, but I felt compelled to respond to this one... I think you should prominently display your engagement ring, keep all associations EXTREMELY professional - ie. no first name basis - and make all efforts to meet no man outside the strict confines of well-defined business events/occasions. For those all-important after-work socials, I should think that your betrothed is equally invested in your entrepreneurial success; have him along! Oh, and maybe talk it over with your man, too... chances are if you're thinking it's a sticky situation, he's probably sensed it, too. With any luck, you two should be able to come up with a prudent win-win arrangement. Good luck!

  2. What " Yo Mama Never Told Yah! "

    Nice Blog title

  3. Ooooh good one. I know about mentors who think they can get "more" from you because they know you want their advice/help/connections. Rubbish. Meet them only in public places, in the company of others as much as possible. Avoid night events and non-business settings (parties, clubs, etc.). Don't drink alcohol with them. And talk about your fiancee every now and then. :)

  4. I don't think there's a way to teach this. You have to learn as you go along. One thing though, be very professional, and I don't mean about first names, thats no biggie. But your work must be standard, your meetings at appropriate places and times. I remember my supervisor in my Nigerian Uni, he was notorious for chasing students and pressuring them to give sex for grades. He only ever asked me once, I turned him down kindly and he remained a mentor. We were on good terms, I went for his in-laws burial, knew the children, etc till I graduated. Just keep your cool, take your SO along where necessary and identify the lines and make sure they do too. Never joke with your personal space, and also be careful in accepting non-professional help, money, gifts from them.

  5. Very good post, and chapeau for being so honest! Also the other respondents - good stuff!
    From the male perspective (if I may...;-): we males certainly need to learn to take responsibility for our thoughts and actions.
    But to be honest: it's not easy.
    For me one of the most important things that help is when my women colleagues are consistently professional (which doesn't mean cool, distant or unfriendly. Professionals are people too, and we all want to work with people.).
    When women colleagues succeed in adding what a woman can add to the workplace while remaining professional, that is a powerful statement about where the boundaries lie.
    And honesty with your man from the get go is important. The deeper your intimacy and sharing with him, the more stable your professional life will be.
    Good luck and we all wish you every success!

  6. Majority of the time, you will be interacting with 2 types of men; The ones that share the same understanding of "mentor" as you do, and the others that hear "groupie" when you say "mentor". You can still have a fruitful relationship with the latter by handling it like Myne Whitman did. Some men that easily get their way, learn to act better when handled the way she did. However, don't hesitate to pull an Anita Hill when necessary (although I'm not sure how effective that will be on men in Ghana. We are a totally unique). Your man can help you figure out which bridges are worth burning if it ever comes to that.

    Very useful post. Young women interviewing for jobs will benefit from it.


  7. Experienced stuff like that in my very first job after my first degree. For me, I just firmly told these guys "thanks, but no thanks". Wasn't rude about it, just extremely firm. Worked like a charm. Those guys became such good mentors for me and shaped me up to be the best I could be and I'll always remain grateful they crossed my path. So I guess what i am saying is that its all up to you and how you carry and comport yourself. I'm not a guy but I know guys respect ladies who can stand their ground and not fall that lame "something for something" cliche

  8. Right from university, I have always been a woman in male-dominated fields of study and workplaces. The problem is worse in sub-Saharan Africa, but it is one that women in traditionally male sectors face all the time. You must have these male mentors to succeed, so you have to find a way to make it work. The bottom line is establishing your principles and boundaries early on, and sticking to them. I don't think rules like no first names or no calls after 5pm etc. work. It is case by case with each person, but your principles need to be firm. As a young woman who frequently works in Africa, I am constantly propositioned, but this has not stopped me from having excellent mentors and great working relationships with the (always older) men I interact with.
    Just be careful to never cross the line you have drawn, and you'll be ok. Judge each situation individually, and adjust as you get to know the person better. Of course some situations/people are untenable, so in that case make like Joseph and flee!

    The other things is to realize that there are actually more and more female entrepreneurs and business leaders out there, and they are usually happy to mentor young people, and also better placed to help with some of the unique struggles of women. Seek them out. Having relationships with them also shows the men that you mean business, and are not in it looking for an easy way up...

  9. This is off topic. But I couldn't let this slide... In your previous post, you wrote about how some Ghanaians and their elitist ways.

    Anonymous (above): "Experienced stuff like that in my very first job after my first degree."

    It's funny how Anonymous manages, in her comment, to imply that perhaps, she has more than an undergraduate degree and that she's probably worked her way up from her "very first job." Not that there's anything wrong about working your way up. But given that she could have gotten her point across without making references to degrees or job numbers, it does sounds like somebody was trying to establish a [elitist?] distinction there.

    No disrepect. Just saw the relationship and thought to highlight it. Fantastic discussion though :-)

  10. Esi, I have to agree with MsBiz. Show yourself as professional in all ways. Giving your first name is no harm, and definitely seek out the women professionals to get their insights as well as to network with. Stay clear of questionable humor from the men who mentor you. I'm sure some of them will try to test you. Remember that you do not want to appear too "hungry" as this may seem like an open invitation to take advantage.

    You want to be a respected professional, and you seem to have a good head on your shoulders, so go with your gut feelings, that little voice that alerts you to the bull**it in the air. When you meet someone go with your first vibes and then do the research to find out who exactly they are and what their track record is.

    Also, from my experience don't leave out the people whom you may have met while in the states; they too can make great mentors, give solid advice and direct you in a way where you don't have to feel like you are compromising anything.

  11. Esi, collect the numbers!It is not a sin. Chai. Just keep it professional and talk about your SO in their presence. Show up with him now and then. Mucho luck.

  12. Ah, let me give y'alls an update. I've followed some of the advice given here. Like talking about my fiance and not spending private time with them. One of them said today that it seems i'm making myself scarce. lol. I think i'll be fine. The other advise I got was to define relationships early on. So there's no ambiguity. Can you imagine one of them came by the shop and my fiance also came? It was quite funny. The guy was clearly uncomfortable but do you know what he said to me in private? That this is something he has to learn to live with. Imagine! That he's not thinking he should give up o. But that he has to get used to it. It's crazy.

  13. LOL...that is so crazy, some men and funny ways if thinking...

  14. eiii u better b on guard did he really say that. Thats a whole new dimension ooo...i really dont understand it when people dont respect other ppls boundaries....grrr i doubt this is the last time this man will b acting up....

  15. Can you blame them? You're hawt!