Note: If a few of the following characterizations seem stereotyped and larger than life, they probably are. Others more intelligent than I have chalked it up to Time, and how it conflates memory and reflection into a blended – often distorted – whole.
Given the marked paucity of females in my sector of the industry, I was amazed a few days ago by just how many women have left their marks – both in positive and negative ways – on my career till date. I am coming up to what would have been the eighth anniversary of my resuming at my first job – if I had not packed my bags one November morning, deciding I had had enough. In the main, I find that five women stand out from that phase of my life:
- The Mother figure: The first job was as a trainee rustgeek somewhere in the bowels of the Niger-Delta. Hired straight off our NYSC year, four young lads and I – our ages ranged from 21 to 23 – found ourselves up-rooted from friends and family and thrust into what, was to put it mildly, the deep end. We were hardly prepared for the sea change and the pressure that came with earning way more money than we had bargained for, plus the culture of the company was very party-ish [legend had it that the more senior blokes hosted parties every weekend for a full year – needless to say, the young women in the Universities nearby bore the brunt of these escapades. Madam Emem our Departmental Secretary (she could only have been thirty-something at the time, but we called her Madam) would prove to be the steadying influence from that era. She ensured we got our monthly provisions for tea and biscuits, signed on for all the trainings we were required to attend, and was never shy to pull us up by the ears if she over heard from the bosses that one of us wasn’t pulling our weight. In perhaps one of the fondest memories from that era, when G-Man, the first of our lot to get married got hitched to a girl from the area, she performed a dance so intricate in its execution that a few of us lads suspected she had had a hand in helping to snag the young man – unfortunately we were never able to either prove not disprove that assertion.
- The Delectable Intern: My distrust of dengerferous ChemE’s was never more validated than by the antics of a certain intern. She was of mixed Itsekiri and Ibo progeny and allied a luscious, golden-toned skin to well proportioned – for want of a better word – body parts. In the second of my five years there, Ebere – if my memory serves me right that was her name – was thrust into our office space; one filled with virile young men both single and married
with wives half way around the country. For the six months and two weeks she spent in our midst, I suspect that precious little work got done. She, like all women used to attention, milked us to great effect – playing one against the other, giving and taking attention on whims and got quite a few of the lads to sign her IT log books whilst she lived it up in town. Needess to say, us lads at the bottom of the food chain never got any action. Rumour had it that she spent the last month living out of our friend Ayo’s house. Ayo, however swears till this day that nothing went down.
- The Mentor-ess: In January of 2005, Engineering HQ sent out a Welding Engineer to assist with our development into competent rust geeks. She was in her fifties at the time, had a PhD in Metallurgy and Materials and had lectured for seven years before packing up to join the industry. Something about yours truly must have piqued her interest as she went way out of her way to delegate work assignments to me that aided me in my development. Every time I get asked who/what has been the biggest influence in my career, I do not to hesitate to point to the three years I spent shadowing her. We’ve stayed in touch since then, and when I was looking for references for the job I currently am in, she wrote so glowingly that even I was concerned she’d over hyped my abilities.
- The Bitchy Boss: One of my less memorable performance reviews was conducted by the woman we would grow to refer to as the Bitchy Boss. She arrived with a huge history – word around the company was that she was on the fast track to greatness, and that the Nigerian assignment was a chance to get her to see the operations side of things. Besides having absolutely no clue of the esoteric subject we practised, she managed to spend so much time travelling outside the country that it was a wonder she was able to comment on what any of us had achieved within that year. The one thing she did pass across to me was formula one racing as a metaphor for contributions at work. According to her, my mediocre, mid level ranking was not so much a reflection on my poor performance as a reflection of the quality of the opposition. Thankfully, she stayed only one year before she got her next move back to Houston.
- The Girly Girl: It might be something to do with the (non-technical) nature of her job but one of my office mate lives a totally glammed up life (at least to my untrained eye). Colour cordinated toe nails, fingers nails and clutch, silver coloured Audi A1, and impossible heels on dress down fridays are a few of the stunts she pulls off seemingly effortlessly. How she manages to keep it all up baffles me, but eye candy never did a bloke any harm I reckon.
- The Martin-Solomon-lite: The other office mate is my Irish buddy Siobhan. As our ages are similar, and we share an office, we do tend to get along famously. She’s smart, funny, can handle conversations on subjects as diverse as stress corrosion cracking of duplex stainless steels and opera. The one quirk of character she does have is an uncanny ability to swear like a sailor – which she elevates to the level of an art form. Thanks to her I am looking forward to the office xmas party this year; I’m keen to see how proficient her tongue will be once loosened by alcohol.