Nkiru Olumide-Ojo’s “The Pressure Cooker” and its feminist Agenda – Toni Kan

(Narrative Landscape Press Limited, 2017, pp.111)

I am not sure whether I offered to review this book, The Pressure Cooker or whether I was bullied by the author, Nkiru Olumide-Ojo into accepting to be the reviewer because this is a book that is addressed directly to women.

Now forget the fact that I spell my name Toni with an ‘I’, I am actually a MAN.      

The Pressure Cooker is an agenda setting book. One that seeks to help define a path for the career minded woman. It is not as much a map as it is a navigational tool, a wish more than a command, one that expresses the hope that the author’s personal choices and experiences can help influence a younger woman’s choices and experiences as she navigates the minefield laden corporate landscape.

This book has been described as a gift. But it is a unique gift, a labour of love if you will, because the author has looked at her own life and experiences and in an unselfish act of mentoring, decided to use her life as case study for what to do and not do as a young woman intent on climbing up the rungs of the corporate ladder.

What makes Nkiru Olumide Ojo, the PortHarcourt girl with an Igbo mother and Edo father an expert? Well, as my old English teacher used to say at St Patrick’s College Asaba, “Experience is the best teacher.”

And Nkiru has loads of those. She has worked in a hospital and in advertising, in banking and telecoms, aviation and an FCMG and every job has seen her climb a rung higher but while we have celebrated her strides as friends and family and co-workers, many of us have not been privy to her struggles and battles to as she writes “take space, knowing that you belong, and not wait for it to be handed to you.”

Those words echo, in many ways, a quote attributed to the French Thinker and Nobel Laureate Jean Paul Sartre who once asserted that “there is no given freedom” it must be taken by force.

This is at the heart of Nkiru Olumide Ojo’s slim volume, the title of which came from a long running column in BusinessDay. The Pressure Cooker is her own way of capturing what it is to build a career with 3 strikes against you – Woman. Wife. Mother.

I did say at the beginning that this is an agenda setting book and I will explain. It sets an agenda for the woman intent on making a success of her career in the dog-eat-dog corporate environment and to that woman, Nkiru says to get ahead you must learn to add value and to add value you must focus on quality over quantity.

It sets an agenda for the human resource professional in how to engage with and hire female staff. It also sets an agenda for a successful female executive who wishes to mentor a younger woman. Here, Nkiru’s agenda is unequivocally female (or feminist). Referring to the glass ceiling and what she calls “The Boy’s Club” she declares – “men support their fellow men. It is time women started doing the same.”

But there is a conundrum at the heart of Nkiru’s feminist agitations. An overt female agenda will be seen as gender insensitive and biased (a charge women often make against men) but a gender neutral approach will perpetuate the male dominance. This is a Catch 22 situation.

The book also sets a psychological agenda with its well-presented thesis on how working mothers suffer guilt emanating from feelings of abandonment of their children. Nkiru’s insights demand further psychological enquiry. She writes in her book of feeling “mummy guilt” when she had to leave her young children and go to work. She also writes about two pitfalls young women starting out must avoid – the “pride trap” and the “pity trap.”

Management and human resource professionals will find a treasure trove of insights in The Pressure Cooker especially in the second chapter – “Get Over Yourself” and “Get Ahead” where she points out clearly that “when it comes to getting ahead, it has been my experience that the first and greatest battle you will fight is yourself.”

And to prepare for that battle, Nkiru like a true General, sets out parameters. She says you must pay attention to “Self-Development”, carry out periodic “Self-Assessment”, then learn how to “Collaborate” and “Communicate” effectively.

To conclude, I was not a big fan of motivational or self-help books but Nkiru Olumide Ojo may have found a way to make me a fan with The Pressure Cooker.

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