The Memo: Can you hear me?

Who gets a seat at the table?

Today’s lead piece is by Ciku Kimeria, our Quartz Africa editor based in Nairobi, Kenya. Her fiction and non-fiction work is driven by a desire to “tell African stories.”

This past week I came across a very interesting article in The Conversation: Although Rwanda has been written about extensively in top academic journals—especially as it pertains to the 1994 genocide—less than 3% of articles about Rwanda are by Rwandan researchers. In other words, Rwandan researchers are not yet even considered experts on Rwanda, and no, this isn’t for lack of Rwandan researchers.

The case of the missing experts on Rwanda is just the latest iteration of something that’s long been the case: The routine exclusion of minorities of power from global discussions. It cuts across gender, race, sexual orientation, religion, ethnicity and many other layers. (I refer to minorities of power as Black and brown people, women and other marginalized groups, who are not actually minorities by number, but are minorities when it comes to corridors of power.)

This routine exclusion often manifests on high-level panels where all the experts are men—yes, there’s a word for that, it’s manels—or where there is only one person of color or one woman. This type of bias is increasingly being called out. Some public figures have been vocal about turning down speaking engagements that do not include a diverse range of speakers.

On Africa Day this past week—which coincidentally coincided with the two year anniversary of the horrific murder of George Floyd—I found myself on an all-African panel discussing how Africa can shape the global agenda. In this safe space, one of the major aspects discussed was just how difficult it is for Africans to get included in high-level global discussions, even those pertaining to Africa.

Uzoamaka Madu, the host of the discussion, is a Nigerian communications specialist who is taking concrete steps to change that. After years spent in Belgium, where she frequently found herself the only African panelist on conversations about Africa, she decided she had to do something to change the status quo. For those who claim it’s really too hard to find African experts, she’s building a database of, you guessed it, African experts.

Madu recently put out a call for African experts across a range of different sectors to create profiles in what will become a “comprehensive, searchable online database of ‘Experts on Africa’ who can speak to health, agriculture, the economy and trade to ease the access to African expertise for international institutions, media and think tanks.” It is currently open to submissions and from September, anyone will be able to search the site for experts.

By 2035, Africa will be the continent with the greatest number of people entering the global workforce. It is important that African voices make their way into global discourse, not just as it relates to the continent, but beyond it, too. Also, African experts should be seen as experts in all sorts of fields, not pigeon-holed to weigh in solely on African issues. You will never see a top microbiologist from Canada or Germany being described as an expert on microbiology in North America or Europe, for example.

Of course, increasing diversity in global discourse is just one part of the challenge. The harder part is making sure that once people are in the room, they are treated as peers.

Consider when the AP cropped out the Ugandan climate activist Vanessa Nakate from a photo including Greta Thunberg and others. Nakate, now 25, is finally recognized as a global leader speaking at forums such as COP26 and Davos, and being recognized on lists of influential people from Time and the Financial Times.

There is also the undeniable burden this puts on those who do make it to the top: Once in the corridors of power, many may feel the weight of representing a whole continent or the race. This is something not felt by majorities of power who have the privilege of being seen as individuals.

Next time you’re speaking at a panel, or you’re seeking an expert, ask yourself, who has been left out and what can I do from my position of power to ensure that these voices are heard? —Ciku Kimeria, Quartz Africa editor

Five things we learned this week 

💌 You can drag an employee to the office, but you can’t make them love it. Arguably, offices aren’t necessary, and they certainly don’t make people feel free.

🪑 Climate activists are coming for board seats. Frustrated by a lack of progress holding large companies to account on climate issues (think: banks and fossil fuel giants), activist shareholders are seeking to oust individual board members.

🪃 Older people are boomeranging back to work. The labor force participation rate among people aged 55-64 is now back to pre-pandemic levels.

🕠 People are working less, globally. The change, which China is driving, is erasing the post-pandemic labor market bounce-back.

🐴 There’s a better response than ‘I’ll get back to you on my return.’ Icelandic horses will trot over a giant keyboard to answer the emails you receive while on holiday.

Quartz obsession interlude

💸 Everything’s up! If you’ve paid for pretty much anything in the past six months, you might have noticed a few changes. Meat prices are up. Fruit prices are up. Electricity prices are up. Furniture prices are up. Car prices are up. Rent is up. Gas is up. Everything’s up! But figuring out why inflation happens is harder than you might imagine. 🎧  Learn more in this week’s episode of the Quartz Obsession podcast.

Listen on: Apple Podcasts | Spotify | Google | Stitcher

30-Second Case Study

It seems there’s no going back: Former 9-to-5 office employees have come to cherish having freedom over their own schedules.

But there is a dark side to the modern perk, according to a recent study by Kaitlin Woolley, associate professor of marketing at Cornell University’s Johnson Graduate School of Management, and Laura Giurge, a research associate of organizational behavior at London Business School. In a series of experiments involving more than 2,000 workers and students, the duo found that “working at non-standard times such as weekends or holidays significantly reduced people’s intrinsic motivation, making work less motivating and enjoyable,” they write in Harvard Business Review.

Even after two years of disruption, people can’t shake off entrenched conventions when it comes to the way they use their time. “Despite increasing acceptance of non-traditional work schedules, society continues to have clear norms that define when it is—and isn’t—appropriate to work,” the authors write. It doesn’t help that schools remain closed on weekends, and calendar apps and Google Doodles will remind you when it’s a holiday, even if you’d rather forget.

Fortunately, the researchers also tested interventions to make non-standard work hours more tolerable. In one experiment, they asked three separate groups of participants to imagine they had to work on an upcoming weekend. The first group was also asked to think about all the things they might normally do during their time off. The second was told to remind themselves of the upsides to working flexible hours. A third cohort was not given any instructions regarding how to frame their imaginary self-imposed shift.

“Focusing on the benefits of working on the weekend helped the employees in the second group normalize working during this non-standard work time, and as a result, this group reported that they would be on average 23% more interested and engaged with their work than the other two groups,” the study authors write.

The takeaway: The reframing strategy proposed by these researchers might sound simple and obvious, but that doesn’t mean it’s intuitive. It’s worth trying the next time you find yourself moping over a laptop on a holiday while your closest friends are brunching without you.

Managers toying with four-day workweeks and similar arrangements might also consider creating weekend shifts, Woolley and Giurge say, so that people who work on Saturdays or Sunday don’t feel the loss of collective time-off quite so sharply as they would if they worked alone.

The researchers also suggest experimenting with other environmental and psychological adjustments to recast your situation, “whether that’s customizing your calendar display” or “installing an app to notify you when it’s work time.” Do what it takes, in other words, to preserve your motivation and your autonomy.

At the end of the day, companies and individuals need to be intentional about building new habits of mind, too.

You got The Memo!

Today’s Memo was written by Ciku Kimeria, Cassie Werber, and Lila MacLellan, and was edited by Francesca Donner. The Quartz at Work team can be reached at

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