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Culture change needed to address gender bias in Africa's ICT space

Women are less well-represented in middle management. [iStockphoto]

When it comes to gender equality in the workplace, the African continent remains varied, with some regions – such as the southern, western and eastern parts of the continent – showing better progress in creating more gender-equal environments than others.

A study by the McKinsey Global Institute found that African firms had the highest share of female representation on company boards – 25 per cent compared to the global average of 17 per cent. But while progress has been made at the top level of firms, women are less well represented in middle management. Notably, women make up 43 per cent of individuals who receive a tertiary education yet hold only 28 per cent of formal sector jobs.

On a global scale, a PwC report shows that women currently hold 19 per cent of technology-related jobs at the top 10 global tech companies compared to men who hold 81 per cent. In leadership positions at these global tech giants, women make up 28 per cent of the workforce, with men representing 72 per cent.

Despite Research Professional News claiming that the Information and Communications Technology (ICT) sector attracts more and more women across the African continent, which has the highest proportion of female STEM graduates, more needs to be done to address gender inequality.

Not all parts of Africa have transformed sufficiently to meaningfully tackle the gender equality gap. In some countries, many industry sectors, including ICT, remain male-dominated. This  is the result of a legacy culture, where women’s contribution to business is neglected.

These attitudes need to change and are best overcome by developing a corporate culture that does not recognise gender, but the contributions made by all employees.

Instead of driving male-female quotas, companies should develop a culture that instils a balanced outlook across the entire organisation and that relies on the skills and abilities of the individual and what each employee can bring to the table.

According to Grant Thornton, we are starting to see a pronounced shift in some regions as women take up leadership roles. This trend is particularly evident in more mature markets (e.g. Southern, Western and East African regions), where sustained efforts to drive gender equality over the last 10 to 15 years have resulted in greater workplace parity.

Organisational culture must filter down from senior leadership and needs to be shaped by the input of all employees. Critically, organisational culture must also be inculcated across the entire organisation, so that it is the same in the company’s African office as it is at its European headquarters, giving employees a sense of being part of a single, focused environment.

Companies that instil this type of organisational culture across their global footprint are usually those that enjoy strong leadership that encourages collaboration among everyone in the organisation.

Gender equality is usually part of these organisations’ DNA and they do not dwell on different genders and cultures but focus on a company culture that all employees adhere to.

Companies should realise that an effective leadership structure can no longer be based on a carrot and stick approach. By fostering an environment that is conducive to gender equality, only then will we start to see more balance in Africa’s ICT industry.