In September 2022, Faith Uzu, 27 was fresh out of National Service in Lagos, Western Nigeria, and dealing with financial issues when she settled for a teaching job that paid well below her experience level. 

Both Uzu and her employer knew there were no better prospects in the profession and that she would not possibly refuse it. So they offered her less than 30,000 Naira (about $50) per month.

“I had a lot of experience for the job, but I was being underpaid,” Uzu tells me. “When I applied, they knew I was desperate—they could tell—and they took advantage of it.”

Alongside little to no protective laws to defend worker interests, in Nigeria, poor salary issuance is a major characteristic of feminized professions like the teaching industry. 

According to a Paylab report, of the top 20 least paid career positions in Nigeria, 13 were female-dominated - including teaching and other educational services. But even with this, the domination of women in the teaching industry doesn't hinder the fact that they are still paid less than their male counterparts in many instances. 

Numerous biases, especially traditional gender roles, fuel why the issue has blossomed over time. The ideology that women possess innate nurturing abilities and will naturally care for students influences part of why they are paid less. As is replicated in numerous traditional homes where women do a lot of unpaid housework and caregiving, some employers consider the work women do as natural and as such, do not need any payment for it. 

While Uzu struggled with her poor pay, conversations with colleagues led her to realize that it didn't stem from the fact that the school was underfinanced and couldn't afford her decent pay. It was born from patriarchal ideologies that women, especially single ones like her, didn't need much. 

Uzu's male counterparts, despite not having the right teaching certifications as she had, earned more. The Tribune highlights this prevalent issue across various workplaces in their report on the Pitstop Lagos campaign.

Another bias she noticed was that the male teachers taught mostly science-based subjects just because they were believed to be smarter. “They were paid so much higher than us. Even the married women who earned higher than us were still paid less than our male counterparts,” Uzu says.

However, this is not just a teaching problem. Across sectors like tech, data science, and engineering industries, women greatly lag. Gender stereotypes that assign men the sole ability to solve sophisticated issues continuously challenge the place of women in these professions and limit their contributions. Most women will spend their time fighting these biases more than doing actual work.

Uzu's male colleagues were offered up to 50,000 Naira ($70) per month and with the widespread notion that science subjects are more complex, the higher pay for them was justified.

Although this is still poor— and typical of the profession— it was a lot higher than what Uzu and her single female colleagues earned. At this time, she realized that taking up a side business would mitigate her financial problems till she found better.

Favour Jonathan who teaches in Delta state, South-South of Nigeria, says her school has just one male staff who takes on the senior classes with 2 female teachers. 

She doesn't know what he earns, but she thinks her salary is too little for her qualifications. “I'm being underpaid and don't know what to do about it,” she says, adding that taking on kids for extra lessons was the only way to salvage her income.

Damilola Aderibigbe, a Lagos-based teacher who I also spoke with talked about her unpleasant experience with male staff holding senior roles.

In Aderibigbe's school, there are few male teachers but most, if not all, hold senior roles/teach higher classes. “We have more male teachers and they hold senior roles in my school,” she says. “Our admin is male too, and he earns way more than us.”

Her salary is sadly not enough to foot basic bills and alongside teaching secondary school, she has to run a side business. According to Aderibigbe, most of her female colleagues have side businesses too.

In lots of cases, we see that while traditional roles attribute masculinity to leadership and single out male teachers for managerial and industrial roles while paying them more, it only recognizes ‘motherly duties’ as traits that should be naturally exhibited in female teachers who earn a lot less.

And this is a problem. 

More men are given managerial roles even when they share the same qualifications as women and are paid more for it. While women earn less. And as they hold the majority of managerial roles, they're responsible for steering women into low-paying positions.

Workplace Inclusion and Diversity Advocate, Ijeoma Sophia Okeke, thinks that one of the biggest factors responsible for women accepting lower salaries in the teaching industry is their lack of value for the work they do. She also mentions that their poor negotiation skills are another problem. “Female teachers need sensitization on how to value their work enough,” she says. “They should not sell themselves short.”

The challenges that follow assigning gender roles in the educational sector are grave and hold equal consequences. For example, in a Premium Times report about the lacking male teachers in Enugu State in South-Eastern Nigeria, a headmistress's admission that male teachers were better protectors and sportsmen projected women as weak and liabilities. 

Her statement about the students lagging in sports activities, “It is the duty of the male teachers to teach them these things,” supports gendered ideologies and doesn't do much to speak to the problem at hand but only creates more.

This thought process builds an environment where women struggle to prove themselves rather than thrive.

Thankfully, some of the female teachers are unlearning this.

Anambra, alongside Enugu, is another South-Eastern state in Nigeria where men are reacting to owed salaries by turning their backs on the profession. Women, though, are committing to saving it. 

In a bid to unlearn gender roles, female teachers are taking up responsibilities formerly delegated to men to ensure that students get the best out of their education. Eg, teaching the students sports and games as Headmistress Chinwe mentions in the Premium Times piece

On another hand, they still have to do extra hours with side jobs to meet up with financial needs.

Chimdi Agbo is a preschool teacher in Enugu who has to take on private tutoring sessions for kids alongside Beauty classes to navigate the makeup and hair industry which she intends to fully explore later. The salary is never enough, she tells me. The only way to meet up with pending bills and save for her future education was to add other hustles to her teaching job.

Fighting to prove worthiness in an environment where they're underpaid is enough trauma for women — and having to run an SME alongside a full-time profession can be more tasking. 

The country's current economic decline is another big issue that hinders the cost of running side hustles; hiked prices of bills, services, and materials, but these teachers say there's no other option but to persist.

Uzu tells me that in the glaring realization that her school management would never value her enough, she opened her SME as a learned seamstress. Her business which she ran after school hours (sometimes, before), took off with a great start, and in a month, she was already earning more than twice what she was paid as a teacher. 

Aderibigbe, like Uzu, also owns an offline store, Crown Stitches, making ready-to-wear dresses and some extra income.

Jonathan sells peanut burgers, sometimes to her colleagues in school and mostly online, but her business makes much more than she's paid even though she has an unstable income flow.