YOUNG WOMEN AND THE FUTURE WORLD OF WORK
Three enabling factors emerged from the life stories. By far the greatest factor was a supportive family environment. The second enabling factor is support from teachers, mentors, and peers. A third, less significant enabler is support from the public and private sectors.
- Moral, financial, and material support from the immediate family was critical for most young women in helping achieve educational and career goals.
- Mothers were most frequently cited as the most influential family member or even overall supporting figure in the educational career of the women.
The presence of a supportive parent or family member was the single most common enabling factor mentioned by the young women in both countries. Their moral, psychological, financial, and material support was critical to the success of the interviewees. A large proportion of the interviewees only mentioned their family as an enabling factor, suggesting that many women had few other avenues of support.
It is important to note that the study selected women who have already entered the world of work. Among this cohort, a disproportionately high number had a middle-class background, and most of the young women in our sample claimed to have educated parents for whom schooling was very important. Most women in Ghana and Senegal do not grow up in similar circumstances, and girls and young women without a similarly supportive family likely face very serious obstacles. The extent of parents’ involvement depended on several factors, including their level of education and their financial and social situation. The importance placed on studies as a priority within the family was a determining factor in the pursuit and completion of studies for young women. The presence of a household member who had some form of education was a compelling facilitating factor in girls’ school attendance. The most highly educated women and those in the ICT sector frequently attributed their ability to do well in school to support from parents by reducing the burden of housework.
Mothers were most frequently cited as the most influential family member or even overall supporting figure in the educational career of the women. More than half of the women interviewed in Ghana working in agriculture, for instance, said that their mothers were the key influencers in their education, even when the mothers themselves were illiterate. Interviewees very commonly expressed that their mothers were uneducated but wanted something better for their daughters. In both countries, supportive siblings, husbands, and grandparents are also referenced frequently. In Senegal, maternal uncles played an important role in providing financial and material support. In both countries, fathers are occasionally, but less frequently, singled out as having a direct supportive role.
Real life examples
- “My mother’s support and my father’s refusal to marry me off helped me get my engineering degree.” – Mariamatou, Senegal
- “I have a wonderful mom who encourages me in all of my endeavors. When I tell her that I want to change to do something else, she supports me. She gets involved and tries to guide me as a counselor but leaves the final decision to me.” – Sofia
- “My parents were not educated, but one way or another they understood the importance of education, especially my mom. She didn’t want us to end up like her, so she invested in our education.” – Lawrene, 32, working in the frozen foods sector in Accra, Ghana
- While some women benefitted from mentor guidance, a lack of mentorship was more often noted.
- Involved and supportive teachers played an important role in the lives of women who proceeded to tertiary education.
Significantly fewer women in both countries mentioned support from their teachers, peers, or mentors compared to family support. More women noted the lack of mentors as a barrier than those who recalled the presence of mentors as a key enabling factor. However, those who did have people outside their family provide support during their studies and careers assigned this an important role in their life stories. The presence of other school-going children in their environment served as a motivating factor for some respondents in both countries. Even in instances when the neighborhood was not considered conducive overall, the presence of other children who excelled in school served as a good motivating factor for young girls to be in school.
Involved and available teachers played a very important role in shaping and preparing respondents for the future. This influence was significant at the secondary school level for most respondents. Among those who advanced to tertiary education, many described their schooling environment as having high standards of teaching and discipline, which helped in their careers. Other factors highlighted as beneficial include smaller classes and proactive universities that encouraged internships.
Real life examples
- “My mentor made me realize you can’t always get what you want, but you should grab opportunities that come to you.” – Laurencia, 31, working in frozen foods in Kumasi, Ghana
- “[Teachers] instilled in us respect, compassion, and integrity. These things helped me in my profession.” – Jane, 34, working in poultry and livestock, Takoradi
- “It was my teacher who advised me to follow a science course, because I had a good level in math.” – Khady
- Ghana’s National Service Scheme was highlighted as a helpful school-to-work transition program.
- Only a very limited number of women participated in government programs or benefitted from favorable private sector policies.
Financial support for university and college education was important for some respondents. For instance, one respondent took a loan for her program, while another benefitted from flexible payment terms. However, the most remarkable finding was that most young women in both countries did not indicate that they had benefitted from any of the institutions or support programs that were set up specifically to benefit their demographic.
Women found financing and technical support mechanisms inaccessible for a variety of reasons, including administrative burdens and complexity of the procedures, a lack of effective and targeted communication, geographical inaccessibility for those outside urban centers, and mistrust in political structures due to perceptions of corruption and nepotism.
The one minor exception is the National Service Scheme in Ghana. Under this program, graduates from tertiary institutions in Ghana have to complete one-year mandatory service to the government with the payment of a stipend at the end of every month. This scheme has become a crucial springboard for school-to-work transition. Most of the young women interviewed in the formal sector of BPO in Ghana gained employment after national service in the organization they were posted to serve in or through referrals from networks developed during national service. Many of the interviewed women work in the informal sector, are self-employed, or work for small and medium businesses. As such, there was limited positive feedback about, or exposure to, institutional support from employers or the private sector.
Among those in the more formalized professions, such as those working in the BPO sector in Senegal, some reported enabling factors at work. But even there, only 2 out of the 15 young women interviewed said they were able to stay in their jobs and advance to positions of responsibility with the help of their line mentors. Both women, working in subsidiaries of multinational companies, said their leaders encouraged and supported them a lot. In Ghana, the young women interviewed who are in formal employment in international financial institutions indicated that their companies had equal opportunity policies and the availability of fully paid three months’ maternity leave—although they found this period too short. On policies regarding employment, respondents believed the internal processes were fair and based on competence rather than gender. Respondents in both the formal and informal sectors of BPO believed that hard work and constant training and upgrading of skills would leverage opportunities in their field for career progression.
Real life examples
- “I was lucky enough to receive funding twice from the National Agency for Youth Promotion and Employment, and from the ‘Dare to Undertake’ program, [so] I decided to continue.” – Aida
- “We have an open and fair recruitment process at our bank. I have been promoted based on hard work, skills and my qualities, not because I am a female.” – Mavis, 34, banker in Kumasi, Ghana
- “Funding support was critical to smooth my completion.” – A 33-year-old in printing services in Accra
About The series
The articles in this series are based on the ACET report Barriers to Young Women’s Employment in the Future World of Work in Ghana & Senegal, prepared by an ACET team led by Edward K. Brown, ACET Senior Director of Research, Policy and Programs, and Mona Iddrisu, Head of Youth Employment and Skills. The Open Society for West Africa (OSIWA) funded this study as part of its work on government delivery of inclusive services in West Africa. For more information, access the full report and the two country case studies on Ghana and Senegal.