Gender equality both business imperative as well as a social issue

As the world marked the International Women’s Day (IWD) on March 8, it was gratifying to see the debate on gender equality evolving to one that seeks to level out the field for both genders such that there is fair consideration of aspirations, rights, responsibilities and opportunities; hence this year’s theme - Balance for Better.

Gender balance means men and women are availed equal opportunities and are judged on their talents and abilities. In the words of the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) founder and Chairman Klaus Schwab, talent is one of the most essential factors for growth and competitiveness. Therefore, to build future economies that are both dynamic and inclusive, we must ensure that everyone has an equal opportunity.

As it currently stands, no country has fully closed its gender gap, and the most recent survey by the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Index – which examines the gap between men and women in four fundamental pillars of Economic Participation and Opportunity, Educational Attainment, Health and Survival and Political Empowerment - estimates that it will take another 100 years to close the overall global gender gap in a majority of countries.

Similarly, a report by McKinsey titled ‘Delivering through diversity’ reaffirmed the correlation between diversity and company financial performance. The survey concluded that firms in the top-quartile for gender diversity on their executive teams are 21 percent more likely to have above-average profitability. For ethnic-cultural diversity, top-quartile companies were 33 percent more likely to outperform on profitability.

Some distance

To achieve equality, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Denmark and Iceland have been rewriting the rules of work by adopting more family-friendly policies to help men and women succeed in the work place.

These countries frequently top the gender gap index for having the highest women workforce participation rates in the world, with corresponding economic growth levels. In Kenya, the gender equality debate continues to exercise the minds of policy shapers. As illustrated by the WEF Global Gender Gap Index, Kenya still has some distance to cover before it can attain gender equality.

A 2017 Index placed Kenya in position 76 out of 144 economies surveyed, with Rwanda at position four overall, being the best performing African country. Burundi, which was ranked 22nd overall, emerged first globally for creating a level playing field for economic participation for both genders. Kenya was ranked 44th while Rwanda (7) and Namibia (10) were the only African countries that made it to the top 10 in this category.

Listed company

Efforts to create laws to support the One Third gender requirement as captured by the Constitution have repeatedly failed. Notwithstanding, the Capital Markets Authority’s Master Plan requires corporate organisations to embrace diversity and inclusion as best practice.

For us, we view diversity and inclusion as an imperative for business growth and we have taken deliberate steps to promote the gender agenda.Through the Women Network Forum (WNF), we run mentorship programmes which have so far equipped more than 300 women with the skills required to rise through the ranks.

WNF has also spearheaded the Females’ Future initiative which is a one-year intensive training programme aimed at preparing women at the vice-president and director levels for future board positions. As a result of these initiatives, in 2015, we became the first listed company to achieve a 50:50 gender balance at the board level. This is noteworthy because various studies, including one by the World Bank have placed female representation on boards at just 18.5 per cent. Our workforce is split 48:52, women to men, while women occupy 32 per cent of the directorship positions.

In the wider society, we have partnered with the International Trade Centre in the SheTradesKE initiative to provide 10000 women in the SME sector with skills to upscale their businesses and access international business opportunities.

We have so far trained over 2,200 women and given them loans valued at more than Sh340 million. We are soon launching a proposition that will take into consideration the unique needs of our female clients.

As a corporate entity, we used this year’s celebrations to take stock of our achievements over the years while identifying areas of improvement because for us, equality is not just the right thing to do, it is good business.

Ms Ndungu is the Director of Marketing and Corporate Relations at Barclays Bank of Kenya

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International Women’s DayBarclays Bank of KenyaWEFWorld Economic Forum