Elisha Attai: A Voice For Women
Words By – Josephine Agbonkhese
Dr. Elisha Attai is one of the scarce men who believe women deserve more leadership opportunities at all levels, and are working really hard to see that happen.
In the last 13 years, the President/Founder of the African Women in Leadership Organisation, AWLO, and the initiator/organiser of the famed African Women in Leadership Conference, AWLC, a global movement of women of African descent changing the narratives of leadership in the world, has pursued this cause unapologetically.
Attai holds Master’s degrees in Public Administration and Music Technology with several years experience in public relations, music management, brand and business development/consultancy. He is the Managing Director/CEO of Studio 115 Integrated Services; a communication, media/public relations and brand development consultancy services company.
In this interview with Allure, he speaks on his work at AWLO, childhood, style, and more.
It’s been 13 years of leading AWLO; how has this affected the lives of women?
It’s been amazing. However, the last one year has been a hard year; dealing with a pandemic, and women taking the hardest hit. From job losses, to increased domestic workload, and gender- based violence. Last year eroded 25 years of gender equality victories. This taught us something— we are dealing with deep-rooted issues. So, my team and I began a wave of webinars. We got bright female minds in leadership for members to draw inspiration from, we tackled the deep-rooted causes of gender inequality, and we resolved ways to increase women’s participation across board; something the pandemic brought to light. So, yes; it’s been many years of driving women’s leadership but we have been more strategic in the past one year.
Why not women? The world has failed women and girls. The double standards have set in motion systemic barriers for women. We must undo this.
When did you discover your concern and passion for women?
It was a profound and humbling experience when I realised that women didn’t have it easy; and just being a man gave me a privilege.
I sat in a boardroom across other men and one woman, where another woman’s competence was being questioned and her promotion withdrawn (in her absence). But really, what came into question was her personal life and not her capabilities. It hit me that women were judged by unfair standards, that cause lack of women’s representation and participation. This was my ‘aha’ moment.
Can you recall your first experience gathering women together?
My first experience was actually humbling, I must confess. We had our first event in 2009 in Accra, Ghana. We engaged top tier leaders of the African communities via that particular conference, and had them pledge for excellent leadership to their constituents; which has recorded considerable impact since then.
Not many people believe so much in having women in political leadership positions. How does this affect your efforts?
I like to look at the bright side instead. Every year, we gather thousands of women across the globe to make them see that women’s representation in leadership is possible. We promote dialogue and consultations, we shape policymaking, and, most importantly, we show to women that ‘they just have to be on their own side’ by strengthening female networks. Everything else does not matter.
Experts have argued that agitation for women empowerment and representation in governance can most effectively be achieved if organisations such as yours include men in their membership database. Have you considered this in practice?
We have a growing database of AWLO HeforShe Community. According to the originators of the global mission of the HeforShe Movement, “HeForShe is an invitation for men and people of all genders to stand-in solidarity with women, to create a bold, visible, and united force for gender equality. The men of HeForShe aren’t on the sidelines. They’re working with women and with each other to build businesses, raise families, and give back to their communities.”
Therefore, the AWLO HeforShe Community is to reinforce the goals of the global HeforShe Movement, and for every one of us to pledge to gender parity. We are doing a lot to shape new perspectives on gender development and harness the leadership potential of women.
The first AWLO Heforshe Africa Summit held in 2019 with the theme “A Pledge to Gender Parity”.
We are currently working on the second edition. This summit is always a point of engagement for men to achieve resolutions and action plans, thereby intentionally forge enabling societies where women can access equal rights and opportunities in all areas of existence.
AWLO began generating sign ups for the UN HeforShe Movement in 2017 and so far, we have generated over 500 sign-ups.
What precisely has the organisation been doing over the years in pursuance of its goals?
In pursuance of goals, we have been pursuing our flagship programmes which are annual African Women in Leadership Conferences, and other high-level meetings. The goal is for facilitating policymaking, dialogue and learnings to increase women’s participation in leadership.
Additionally, we are a membership-driven organisation; we do this to radically engage women towards the realisation of their leadership potential.
What has it been like leading such an organisation in a pandemic?
It has been more of an empathetic experience, because we have felt, firsthand, that this pandemic has affected women the most. For instance, many of our members are first responders. Like I shared before, we have found many ways to respond to the needs of our members in this peculiar times
How do you still manage to stage your numerous international and local conferences without breaking rules?
We have had to cancel numerous conferences as a result of the pandemic. We were mostly hosting digital meetings except for about three physical events in the last one year that were strictly in accordance with the COVID-19 protocol.
Other countries appear to be ahead of Nigeria in adequately including women in the leadership table...
I would say that it starts with you and I, raising women in leadership— at home, in school, religious places, etc. That means practicing the inclusion of women and girls in decision-making in everyday life, and not just based on quota systems. And also, like you said, learn how other countries are able to put this in place, and put it into practice.
From your observation, what hinders women in politics when more women are becoming high fliers in the private sector?
Women face a lot of barriers in politics irrespective of their competence. I believe these barriers arise from social norms that discriminate against their participation in politics. One of these barriers is occupational job divides based on gender. I believe that women have come to shatter this same glass ceiling in the private sector.
Briefly tell us about the structure of AWLO …
AWLO is a global non-profit organisation in 15 countries including the USA and UK. We are a membership-driven organisation organised in chapters across the countries where we have presence.
By the way, how does your spouse digest the fact that you have to keep plenty of women around you as leader of an all-women organisation?
I have a supportive spouse who has grown with me on this journey. She has come to support me, and identify with the same ideology of advancing women’s status. This is her baby too.
How do you combine the burden of leading such an organisation with your professional career?
I have had a media career, Public Relations and incidentally, entertainment and hospitality at some point. I wouldn’t say that the pace at which I pursued them in earlier years is the same. AWLO is a huge commitment.
However, I am still a member of professional bodies. For instance, I am the Country Chairman for International Hospitality Institute, and I am involved in a few productions and projects as a member of the International Congress and Convention Association, ICCA. I also lead the public image of my Rotary Club. I do have a lot going on, on the side.
What do you do when important engagements clash between both duties?
It’s never easy but AWLO is a lifelong dream that has got the best of me. The good news is that I’m blessed with some dedicated, smart, and intelligent team on both side; this makes things a little organised for me.
What was growing up like?
I grew up in a disciplined family with a solid Christian background, being the first child of a pastor, which effectively prepared me for today. I saw it always when I’m being interviewed, that the influence of my loving mother moulded, and is still moulding me positively; which has made me to be so passionate about the ability of women.
What takes your time when you’re not working?
Music. I play my bass guitar to relax myself. Such a beautiful feeling when I’m playing. I have my combo and guitar both at home, and in the office.
What’s style to you?
Hey! Style? Being me and comfortable.
Your number one holiday destination will be where?
Akwa Ibom State; a peaceful destination, good foods, the most hospitable people on earth. A destination that has everything to make you relax with your family. A unique airline, beautiful hotels, with beautiful culture and people.