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Fight for gender parity continues 58 years on

By Wainaina Wambu | June 1st 2021

Flora Mutahi, the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) and founder of Melvin Marsh International, during the interview. [Nanjinia Wamuswa, Standard]

Fifty-eight years after Kenya attained independence, gender parity especially in the private sector remains elusive. 

Of the 62-listed firms on the Nairobi Securities Exchange (NSE), for example, there are only five female chief executives with women accounting for 21 per cent of senior management positions. 

“If we go at the rate we are going, we’ll achieve gender parity in 225 years ... We definitely have to leapfrog,” Melvin Marsh International Chief Executive Flora Mutahi told The Standard.

One of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is to achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls by 2030. Kenya’s recent gains include ushering in its first female Chief Justice Martha Koome.

Mutahi noted that to achieve gender parity in this decade, there was the need to challenge both companies and all institutions.

“We have been promoting, we’ve been saying that this is the decade for action which means having a target and tracking it,” she said.

Mutahi was recently announced as the First Female Chair of the Kenya Private Sector Alliance (Kepsa) board since the group’s inception in 2003.

This is in light of a report that women account for only 17 per cent of total board membership across both public and private firms.

She was also the first female Chair of the Kenya Association of Manufacturers (KAM), which was started in 1959 to champion rights of manufacturers.

Policy measures are also crucial in fast-tracking change, she noted.

"In some countries, they have policies. We need the private sector to promote gender parity and make it target-based,” she said.

On the gender pay gap, she noted that women tended to walk away faster from the negotiating table thus getting the short end of the stick.

"Women don’t negotiate openly, a man will come to the table and say this is what I can do and this is what I want because of our culture, the way we have been brought up we are more quiet and not aggressive,” she observed.

She noted that mentorship and encouraging them to speak up could rectify this.

“Sometimes even in meetings you really have to draw them out. They have the answers but are quiet. It's important to keep encouraging everyone in the room to speak out,” she said.

Mutahi is an astute entrepreneur best known as the founder of Melvins, a pioneer in tea blends and salt and rice products.

She further noted that key challenges facing women in workplaces included taking long breaks to raise families.

“Do you hold on or do you hire a substitute? Being an SME it’s difficult when someone says I need time off,” she said.

On her appointment as the first-ever female chair of Kepsa, Mutahi noted that it was a huge leap in entrenching inclusivity in the business lobby’s leadership.

"We should continue with this drive and include not just women but also youth, persons living with disabilities, and MSME owners and leaders,” she said last week welcoming the appointment.


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