Africa’s Corporate Boardrooms: Where are the Women?

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Africa’s Corporate Boardrooms: Where are the Women?

Gender, Global, Headlines, Human Rights, TerraViva United Nations, Women & Economy, Women in Politics | Opinion Africa Renewal is published by the UN’s Department of Public Information. UNITED NATIONS, Mar 26 2018 (IPS) – When a woman rises to the top rung of the traditionally all-male corporate ladder in Africa, it’s front-page news because women’s progress in business leadership on the continent continues to be achingly slow. According to a groundbreaking 2015 study by the African Development Bank (AfDB) titled “Where Are the Women? Inclusive Boardrooms in Africa’s Top-Listed Companies”, in the 307 top African companies, women accounted for only 14% of total board membership. That translates to one woman out of every seven board members. And one-third of the boards have no women at all, adds the report. Countries with the highest percentage of women board members are Kenya (19.8%), Ghana (17.7%), South Africa (17.4%), Botswana (16.9%) and Zambia (16.9%). Companies that have seated more than a small handful of women include the Kenya-based East African Breweries Limited (EABL) with a board that’s 45.5% women, followed by South Africa’s Impala Platinum Holdings Limited at 38.5% and Woolworths Holdings Limited at 30.8%. On the downside, the country with the lowest percentage of women on boards is Côte d’Ivoire (5.1%), followed by Morocco (5.9%), Tunisia (7.9%) and Egypt (8.2%). Uganda hangs around the continent’s average of 12.7%, according to the report. Geraldine Fraser-Moleketi, AfDB’s special envoy on gender, makes an economic and developmental case for more women on company boards. “Women serving on company boards sharpen the continent’s competitive edge and make inclusive growth a reality.” “Women Matter Africa”, a report by McKinsey & Company, a US-based global management consulting firm, further highlights the financial benefits for companies having women on their boards. “The earnings before interest and taxes margin of those with at least a quarter share of women on their boards was on average 20% higher than the industry average.” But women are underrepresented on all rungs of the corporate ladder—in non-management as well as middle and senior management positions, notes the McKinsey & Company report, which states that only 5% of professional women make it to top management in companies in Africa. And even those women who join management may not necessarily wield influence because they usually occupy “staff roles rather than line roles from which promotion to CEOs usually come.” The AfDB report concurs with McKinsey & Company’s finding that most women in corporate organisations are frozen at the periphery. The method used to appoint board members doesn’t favour women, maintains Fraser-Moleketi. “Board appointments are made through old-boy networks, locking women out,” she says, and the process of choosing a nominee is not always transparent. Expected to combine work with family duties, women are further limited by patriarchal beliefs that channel them into low-wage careers such as teaching and nursing. The belief among many Africans that a woman’s career should complement—not interfere with—her family responsibilities is a traditional notion of a woman’s role that fails to acknowledge the benefits of gender diversity to society. Women are “victims of ongoing socio-cultural prejudice,” says Viviane Zunon-Kipre, chair of the board of Société nouvelle d’edition et de presse based in Côte d’Ivoire. African women can take some small solace in the fact that the continent ranks first in female membership of boards among emerging regions. Africa’s 14.4% is far higher than Asia-Pacific’s 9.8%, Latin America’s 5.6% and the Middle East’s 1%. Also, more African women are becoming board members in blue-chip companies, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and financial institutions, and government enterprises are appointing women to their top management, says Wangethi Mwangi, a non-executive board member and former longtime editorial director of the Nation Media Group (NMG). The media company operates in Kenya, Rwanda Tanzania and Uganda. Although the NMG has only two women among its 13 board members, Mwangi explains that “women head the digital, procurement, human resources, operation and marketing departments, while in editorial we have a female managing editor.” In departments such as procurement, advertising and marketing, women “perform very well,” he says. EABL is the gold standard for women’s board membership in Africa. But just a decade ago women constituted only 16% of its board, Eric Kiniti, the company’s corporate relations director, points out. The company’s policy is to take gender into account during the hiring process. “Before hiring at the senior management level, we ask that there must be a female candidate in all our short lists. And if there isn’t, we ask why,” he says. Each
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On March 26, 2018
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