2017 Mandela Washington Fellow Ama Duncan has dedicated her professional life to helping women across Africa break through the proverbial glass ceiling. However, Ama admits that as a young girl growing up in Ghana, she never thought much about gender inequality. Ama recalls having the same chores and responsibilities as her two brothers, and thus never realized a need for women’s empowerment until she was much older. When Ama began working in the human resources field, her outlook on gender roles changed and she became more aware of the inequality between men and women in the workplace and in society.
As a response to the gender inequalities she observed, Ama developed the Fabulous Woman Network as a platform to share stories of inspiring women. Today, the Fabulous Women Network has grown into a successful social enterprise that works to bring women together to share experiences, learn, network and collaborate.
In this podcast, Ama discusses how she is working to address the instances of gender inequality that she has observed during her 12 years of experience in human resources and as the co-founder of Corporate Training Solutions. She explains how her company is working to empower women in the workplace and tackle the challenges that companies may face regarding the treatment of their female employees.
Ama also shares a special message to other professional women about the importance of determination and teamwork.
“To women in the workplace … let’s support each other,” Ama says. “We are not against each other. The fact that two women want the same thing does not even mean they’re competing necessarily. … We need to stay focused on what it is that we want and go for it. Nobody will get it for us. We have to push ourselves to go for it.”
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
YALI Voices Podcast: Ama Duncan on Gender Inequality
AMA DUNCAN: Hi, I am Ama Duncan.
♪ Yes we can ♪ ♪ Sure we can ♪ ♪ Change the world ♪
VOICEOVER: Welcome to the YALI Voices Podcast, your home for sharing the best stories from the Young African Leaders Initiative Network. Be sure to subscribe to the YALI Voices podcast and visit yali.state.gov to stay up to date on all things YALI.
Ama Duncan has over 12 years’ experience in the human resources development field and is the founder of Corporate Training Solutions, where she helps organizations meet their performance targets through employee learning and development activities. She is also the founder of the Fabulous Woman Network, where she brings women together to share experiences, learn and collaborate.
Ama grew up in Komenda, Ghana, which she describes as a little village by the beach. The daughter of a farmer and nurse, as a child she thought she wanted to be a lawyer. But after graduating from university, marrying, and starting a family, she found herself working for a hotel where she started as a company trainer and found her calling as a learning and development manager.
In this YALI Voices podcast, Ama shares techniques for creating a positive, fair and efficient work environment and how the Fabulous Woman Network is empowering young women across the continent to be their best selves.
AMA: Well, first of all, my parents were educated, and there was no question about whether or not I would go to school. Even though it was a village and some other people were not. I mean, it wasn’t a typical village village, but it wasn’t a city. It was automatic that I had to go to school. There was no question about it. I have two brothers and myself, and it was always school, school. And school was actually the only place I excelled. I didn’t really do good sports. I tried, but I wasn’t the best. I am not creative like my brothers. Reading and passing exams, it’s the only thing I knew, really, so …
So, growing up with two brothers, my mom, at a point, it was just my mom as a single mom with us. She did a great job of making us know that we were all the same. We were all treated equally. I never, ever understood this whole thing about women empowerment and all that. I didn’t get it. To me, we were all empowered. I competed head to head with boys in school all the time. In my house, both the boys and girls cook, if — well, the boys were lazy, but we all had house chores and all, you know. We could all do stuff. There was nothing like discrimination. It was, it wasn’t until I started work that I actually realized that there was actually discrimination against women. I never knew it as a child.
I had good education from the University of Ghana. I also — while I was in the U.K., I did what they call NVQ, National Vocational Qualification, in customer service, and because I had been there, I did a lot of different training programs which automatically prepared me. To be honest, I didn’t even know I was being prepared for anything.
I just knew I loved attending different trainings, and we used to go to different cities and get trained and all that. At Norwich Union, we spent six weeks just on orientation for us. So, all those little experiences sort of gelled together somehow, yeah, for me.
And I forgot to say I actually had my master’s, my MBA in human resources management, so that was the only human resources education that I had.
AMA: So, a corporate trainer means I conduct trainings for different organizations. Some of the customers I have, or clients, include Guinness, Ghana Limited. I have worked for Total Petroleum. I did team-building sessions for them. I have worked for Olam Ghana, which is a cocoa company. So, basically I sit with the management. When they call me that, oh, we need training for this group or something, I would sit with them to figure out the training needs that they have.
We do what we call training needs assessment. Sometimes we go in as spies, where we do what we call mystery shopping. So, we go around to see how people actually act so that we can identify the gaps that they have. We do interviews with them, just ask them, “What do you think you need to, you know, improve your performance and all that?” So, based on the feedback we get, we design training programs, and it’s not every time that training is what they need really.
Sometimes it’s counseling. Sometimes it’s just a pay issue or management issue, yeah. So, then we go in. We conduct trainings. And our trainings are very lively. My partner in training, she’s called Rita. She’s been doing this job for over 24 years, so we just — and we have a lot of fun in training. I love training. It’s the best thing on Earth, just to be in front of people talking. I talk for a living, so I’m always just talking.
AMA:So usually when a company asks for our services to come and train their employees, I’ll talk about one of the biggest challenges that I see across board. It’s usually management stuff, relationships. A lot of the times, the managers who call you, “My staff needs training, they are terrible here, customer service, blah blah blah.” But you actually do the training needs assessment, and you realize that it is not that they don’t know what to do.
They know what to do, but they are upset about something, usually someone in management. How they feel that they’re being treated unfairly. So, even though they know everything, and right in front of the manager, they will do the right thing, the minute he leaves — and sometimes employees actually do this to sabotage their managers. So — and it’s interesting. Normally in trainings after we are done, we try to get the managers to be part of it, but you know managers.
“Oh, I’m busy,” or they’ll pop in and, you know, go. And then all the employees are like, “Please, Ama, can you have this training for our managers too?” I get that request a lot. And I’m like, “Oh, yes, we just had it with them.” We’ll have to, you know, but really, if we can get the managers to really understand their employees and pay attention to them. It doesn’t, I mean, you see organizations with amazing buildings and facilities, but they are not taking care of the staff.
And they feel that they are not, the reason they are not performing is because they are not being trained. It’s really sometimes it’s not about the trainings. It’s how they’re being treated.
So, in terms of how employees are being treated, one of the common reasons or common mis — do we say maltreatment? yes — that we encounter is the manager is rude, doesn’t know how to communicate to me and show me respect, and other issues include low wages. “I feel I deserve better than what I am getting. I feel I’m putting in so much effort, but I’m not getting enough money,” you know.
And then sometimes managers and their employees just don’t gel. They don’t — managers don’t take time to know their employees, and people have issues at home. People are, you know, taking care of AIDS children plus a sick mother and all that. And it’s like, “My manager doesn’t care. All they want is for me to deliver that target, and they are demanding, demanding, demanding without asking me am I okay?” You know, so that, that really peeves the employees a lot. So, we use a lot of different interventions when we are trying to deal with the issue of people feeling peeved and all. We try to be very positive, asking them to look at the positive side of things. And we do, for instance, we group people, we give them groups and ask them to come up with solutions that they themselves can use to alleviate those problems. And we specifically say, “Please, don’t tell me about ‘my manager should do this and that.’ You yourself as an employee, you have this challenge. How do you, you know, handle it?” And after that, we compile all these reports, and then we sit with the managers down, and we tell them, “Okay, so this and that. Speaking from a very objective point of view, this is what we have seen, and if you really want this result, this is what we are recommending that you should do.”
Being a corporate trainer, I think, is the best thing that could ever happen to me. First of all, I love to talk, and then I get to see different people in different companies and talk about their issues and try to help them. Even sometimes during the process, I get to help myself as well, because I also have my own challenges obviously. So I’m in the best place when I’m in a training room or preparing to do training.
And I do a lot of training for women as well because of the Fabulous Woman Network. And that is even more amazing because you know women, we just love to talk and share ideas and, you know. People think it’s gossip. It’s not really gossip. We are sharing ideas and learning from each other. So, I love it totally.
AMA: So, the Fabulous Woman Network is a social enterprise with the aim of celebrating, developing and inspiring women to shine. We do this by conducting activities that bring women together to share experiences, to learn, to network, and then collaborate. It all started on social media when I posted, you know, an article about my mom, celebrating her, and then I celebrated some friends, and now I just run after women and celebrate them. I interview them, share their stories, you know, on social media. We have currently about over 31,000 followers, and we leveraged on that, the following, to conduct all these activities. So we’ve had conferences. We’ve had trainings for women. We’ve had networking, talk shows, and all that.
AMA: You know, earlier in the interview, I mentioned how growing up as a child I never really saw any discrimination because we were all treated the same. When I started working, there were all these jokes and comments about women — all we care about is Brazilian hair and high-heel shoes and asking men for money. And I was really upset about that, because I am a woman in the midst of a lot of other women who don’t just go about asking for money, who work very hard. Some are single mothers taking care of eight children. Some are, you know, building businesses. Some taking their kids to the best schools and all that. Why are we not seeing that? Why are we always talking and saying, “Women, all they do is ask, ask, ask.” We give, give, give. So, I decided that you know what? If no one is going to celebrate us, at least I didn’t see it somewhere, so I was like, “Okay, I am going to start celebrating women by myself.”
So I started with my mother. I wrote about her. This woman at a point from the age of 12 or so, she was a single mother. I have seen her go through difficulties — losing her job, where we lived. And you should see her, so composed. I see everything is just fine, you know? I admired her strength, so I just did a story about her. I titled it “I See in You the Fabulous Woman, Your Strength Inspires Me.” And I just wrote it and posted it, and then I wrote about my friends Tali and Nadia. They are amazing. They’re all different. It’s crazy. They’re all very different, but there’s just something so fabulous about every one of them, even though they are different. So, I just wanted to celebrate the good part of all these women. It doesn’t matter if they have negatives too. I do too.
Nobody’s perfect, but it doesn’t mean we should not be celebrated. I just wanted a way to champion the women. I didn’t really, I didn’t want to be discriminatory against men or anything. I just felt that we needed to celebrate women. We were not doing that enough.
So, how I started my business — like I mentioned, I started by writing, and it became a network, and out of that, I registered it because I realized that there was actually a need. Women in my community wanted to get together and learn, so the business came out of that need to consistently help women.
For now, we focus on the professional and entrepreneurial development, but I have a feeling we are going to grow into a bigger organization and do some more, maybe not even only for women. We might end up doing — I mean, my daughter, who is 8 years old, has already had her first event for the Fabulous Child, so you never know.
We market what we do primarily through social media. Like I said, we have over 31,000 followers on Facebook alone. But I also go on radio almost every week, so that’s another avenue. And then I write, I write for some of the newspapers, national newspapers. I write for online blogs, the very big ones in my country as well. So, through this, these avenues, I’m able to also talk about the things we are about to — and I do a lot of public speaking, especially for women.
Some organizations, for instance, International Women’s Day, they would invite me to come and talk on this and that. And I’ll mention — and then we have an email list as well that we email to. You know, we use a lot of different means to get what we want. Even on TV, I do speak on TV occasionally as well, so we use all that avenue.
VOICE OVER: We asked Ama to speak about the conflicts around gender, discrimination and opportunity that she sees within companies and her advice to women in the workplace.
AMA: When I go into different companies to do training, with regards to even the balance in terms of gender, we see that there are a lot of women down, customer service, maybe middle management, some few, but as it goes up, it thins out. Like, for instance, where I used to work, it was just two or three women in management against about 20 men. It’s like I see that a lot. Hardly do you see even equal, say 50 to 50, men and women in management. Perhaps there are some, but I’m yet to see it. And women in a lot of organizations, it’s very automatic, like when I go and run events, you see things like setting the table and serving coffee and tea and stuff. Automatically you see the women handling that. You see the men sitting down, being served, asking to be served, and the women, well, I am not criticizing because naturally, where I come from, for instance, I’m a mother, and I would naturally be the one to want to feed and, you know, but we take it to the workplace, and we get so stressed doing all these other things.
We are working for other people, typing for other people, when our own work is there. And I see this a lot. Me myself, I do it. It’s a natural thing. I don’t know whether we were taught to do it, somebody told us, “This is your responsibility to do.” But I feel that the more we focus on being overhelpful to other people, the less of our own work we do, and then we are not performing. Nobody’s going to judge you based on how you helped somebody else’s, somebody accomplish their own job. It is yours. You’re going to be graded based on what you did, as per your target, and not somebody else’s. So, it’s something that we, if we women could consciously look at how we spend all our time helping others and not ourselves, you know?
So to women in the workplace, as professional women trying to break the proverbial glass ceiling, I will say to you, first of all, you are not alone. We are all trying to do this, so we are all in this together, number one. Let’s support each other. We are not against each other. The fact that two women want the same thing does not even mean they’re competing necessarily. Yes, it will go to one person, but it’s not the end of your life. There is another opportunity coming.
So, please, take care of your own targets. Take care of your own self before doing it for other people. Now, I know it’s easier said than done. I am a woman too. I understand. But we need to be intentional about the things we do. We need to stay focused on what it is that we want and go for it. Nobody will get it for us. We have to push ourselves to go for it.
VOICE OVER: As our conversation concludes, Ama talks about the power of networks, her tips for networking, the importance of women being their own advocates, and why men should value the contributions of women.
AMA: So, what I would like to say to the YALI Network, first of all, YALI Network is an amazing network. I actually got to know of it through a friend called Yawa. She told me, “Oh, you should join YALI. It would be good for you.” And it’s been amazing. I joined it a little over a year ago, and my life has changed already. And it’s just through the power of networking. We take for granted what your network can do, but information flows through network.
So, yes, definitely, let’s connect on social media. That’s where a lot of things start these days. Let’s connect. Let’s talk. And, you know, one of the benefits of being in a place like YALI Network is we, I think we have over 400,000 group members on Facebook alone. Imagine that you post something you’re doing, at least 20,000 people will see it, and that’s amazing. It can take you places, I’m telling you, so let’s take advantage of this network. Let’s connect.
We don’t have to travel across to start the connection. Let’s start through the social media network. Let’s organize events together. A lot of us are passionate about similar things. We have, you know, YALIServes and all these different activities that YALI is organizing for us. Let’s take advantage of that and then connect. There is power in numbers. Let’s take advantage of that. There is networking — I actually teach it as a course because it’s a powerful tool. It is not about what you know. It is who knows you. It’s not even who you know, but who knows you and can say, “Oh, I know this person who can do that.”
Tips for forming a professional network: Start from your immediate network of friends, family. For instance, if you are a lawyer — you know I’m not a person who is a lawyer. That is already one network. Connect to the third person and the fourth. That’s how it grows. Don’t wait till you find a thousand people. Start with two, three, four, and then grow it from there, yeah.
AMA: What I have to say to women who are afraid to advocate for themselves is, first of all, a lot of us are all afraid of advocating for ourselves, especially women. I don’t know about men. So, it’s okay to be afraid, but don’t let it show. My theme for this year is just do it. What you are so afraid of, that is exactly what you should do. And take it from me, your breakthrough is at that place. Right behind your fear is that thing that you’ve been waiting all your life for. So, just do it. You’re afraid. I’m also afraid. It happens all the time. We are always nervous. We always think we are not good enough, and all these things, it’s just in your head. Do it anyway.
As the person who created the Fabulous Woman Network, who has also had some experience in the corporate field, here is what I have to say to men. Women have a lot of buried treasures and potentials that can be used. Don’t only focus on what it is that you’ve seen, for instance, they are good at typing or answering the phone or making coffee or doing whatever. There’s so much more that we can do in the workplace. Push the women. Give them more challenging roles, and you’ll be amazed. Even when pregnant nine months, you’ll be amazed the results that women can deliver.
As a married woman with two children, also trying to be a woman, I have to confess that I sometimes fail miserably. I can never do all at the same time. I can either be a very good mother one minute, the next minute I am a very good entrepreneur, the next minute I’m a great wife. But doing it all at a go is just crazy. And I have read enough to realize that I can’t have it all. It’s okay to make mistakes. I have made my share of mistakes. I still make them really, but we still keep pressing on one at a time, one day at a time.
VOICE OVER: Thank you Ama for sharing your story and all of the great advice. If you’d like to know more about Ama and the Fabulous Woman Network, visit www.amaduncan.com. That’s w-w-w-dot-a-m-a-d-u-n-c-a-n-dot-c-o-m.
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