Gender parity: How women are steadily taking over C-suite jobs

Isuzu East Africa Managing Director Rita Kavashe. She is also the chairperson of the British American Tobacco (BAT). [Wilberforce Okwiri, Standard]

The composition of boardrooms and top management in corporate Kenya is becoming more diverse, with more women taking over corner offices, new studies show.

In the recent past, leading firms in the country have become bold and deliberate in having more women take over top leadership positions, signifying changing corporate practices that previously favoured men.

A look at some of these firms, some of which are listed, shows they have female CEOs or board chairs.

British American Tobacco (BAT Kenya) is one such entity, which, in September 2020, appointed Isuzu East Africa Managing Director Rita Kavashe as its chairperson. Isuzu East Africa is the largest vehicle assembler in the region.

Ms Kavashe became the first-ever woman to hold the position in BAT's history.

In 2022, the BAT East and Southern Africa unit was crowned the best on the continent in the Accenture Gender Mainstreaming Awards.

Ms Kavashe's appointment saw BAT Kenya achieve 40 per cent female representation on the board.

Reports from several other companies show most of them are inching towards 50-50 gender parity on both board representation and permanent employees.

For example, East African Breweries Ltd (EABL), with over 2,000 full-time employees and contractors in three countries (Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania), has a men-to-women ratio of 65 per cent to 35 per cent.

One of EABL's production lines in Uganda (UBL) is managed by a team with 75 per cent women representation.

And in Tanzania, an all-women team runs the end-to-end operations of the new Cube Spirits Production Facility at Moshi Brewery.

EABL Group Managing Director & CEO Jane Karuku on January 27, 2023. [Wilberforce Okwiri, Standard]

According to the EABL Sustainability Report 2023, part of the manufacturer's strategy to ensure gender parity is to create a sense of belonging in its work environment.

"Given the context of where we work, we have put significant focus on two areas: empowering women to flourish in all roles and increasing the representation of those from vulnerable backgrounds, including people with disabilities. It is the right thing to do and a critical driver of our Society 2030 Spirit of Progress ambitions," says the brewer in the report.

The beverage manufacturer has 47 per cent of women in senior leadership led by Group Chief Executive Jane Karuku.

Significant growth

Others are Group Chief Financial Officer Risper Ohaga, Group Human Resources Director Tope Akisanya, and Group Company Secretary Kathryne Maundu.

The 47 per cent representation is a significant growth from 37 per cent in 2022 as documented in EABL's 2023 annual report.

"We have set targets to increase women's representation and participation in two key areas - promoting inclusion and diversity across the value chain amongst our partners, suppliers and communities and also reflecting inclusion and diversity through our brands and employer brand," said Group Chairman Dr Martin Oduor-Otieno.

The goal is to reach 50 per cent of women in all leadership positions by 2030.

BAT Kenya, on the other hand, has 44 per cent women representation in the organisation and has an ambitious goal of 50 per cent in the next two years.

"We have a powerful strategy that focuses on gender, persons with disabilities and generations. At BAT Kenya, we are bold, with an ambition to achieve 50 per cent representation of women in our organisation by 2025," reads the BAT Kenya Annual Report 2022.

BAT Kenya board's representation standard at 36 per cent. The report describes this composition as one of the most gender diverse among listed entities at the Nairobi Securities Exchange (NSE).

"We believe that diverse and inclusive leadership means that we are better able to understand, truly innovate, and satisfy evolving consumer needs as we transform our business and build a better tomorrow," the report says.

BAT Kenya board chair Ms Kavashe, in the report, highlights the Health, Environment, Social and Governance (HESG) agenda, where diversity falls, saying the firm is on target to achieve gender balance and enhance representation of people with disabilities.

"I am pleased to report that we are tracking at pace on these targets, some of which have already been achieved," she says. According to the Safaricom 2023 Sustainable Business Report, the telco has 2,653 permanent female staff compared to 2,306 males.

Risper Ohaga, EABL Chief Financial Officer, [Wilberforce Okwiri, Standard]

Decision-making

The firm's senior management comprises 40 per cent women and 45 per cent on the board.

"As a board, we are happy to note that there are 40 per cent of women in senior leadership. This means that we have a wider range of perspectives, experiences, and skills in the decision-making process, leading to better business outcomes," says Safaricom Chairman Adil Khawaja in the report.

The 40 per cent achievement, the telco says, was informed by proactively seeking out these female candidates.

"This was due to the senior leadership 'ownership' of divisional gaps; proactive sourcing of female candidates and internal promotions; support for mothers returning to work as well as leadership and development programmes targeted at women, including women in technology (WIT) and digital academy," the report says.

The report also reveals that the telco's technology division is 24 per cent female and that 29 per cent of them occupy leadership positions.

These women are also behind Safaricom's Women in Technology (WIT) programme that seeks to mentor the next generation of female tech enthusiasts interested in careers in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) fields.

Safaricom has branded its women's agenda under the Safaricom Connected Women Umbrella in a bid to consolidate its initiatives, drive employee value proposition and engagement and, enhance a sense of belonging.

"We developed this initiative after we asked women across all levels what they wanted and 95 per cent of them responded that they wanted to understand their purpose and know their value," says the telco in the report.

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