Representation of women on boards up but much needed

Africa is at a critical juncture in its economic development, requiring greater inclusivity in the number of people earning a living to achieve true growth.

With women accounting for 50.1 per cent women of the continent’s population according to the World Bank, their participation in all levels of economic activity should be in tandem with their contribution. 

Some women are working in the formal economy, with many being underemployed, which causes them to be undervalued. Only a few of these make it to managerial positions and boardrooms.

And because it still appears to be a preserve for men, African women rising to the top still makes news. According to a 2021 study by the Kenya Institute of Management, Kenya has a 36 per cent representation of women on boards, which is far higher than the global average of 23.3 per cent.

Though it is commendable it has surpassed the two-thirds gender rule, it is still far from parity. Gender parity in boardrooms should be more than just a matter of political correctness. Forcing diversity without taking into account deeper issues like the talent pipeline and work culture is harmful, and likely to result in token appointments just to check a box.

Gender diversity in boardrooms has been shown to improve corporate board and company performance.

According to Deloitte and the Alliance for Board Diversity’s 2020 “Missing Pieces Report,” businesses with women on their boards outperform those with all-male boards, and have fewer instances of controversial business practices. To achieve meaningful inclusivity, the fight must begin at the educational and entry levels if women are to be fully represented at the top. Building a robust pipeline that produces a large pool of women to be selected for C-suite and boardroom roles is a good place to start, especially in the tech industry, which is only expected to exceed 33 per cent representation in the overall workforce this year, according to Deloitte Global.

Despite not being new, issues such as education, recruitment and hiring, retention, pay, and promotion continue to have a significant impact on women’s representation in tech firms, and their resolution is painfully slow.

Political correctness

Programmes designed to effect change from the top to the bottom of the corporate ladder, rather than pursuing political correctness or legal requirements, are required to right long-standing wrongs.

We must recognise the efforts of firms that are taking steps to increase women’s representation in the workforce and encourage others to follow suit.

For example, the Microsoft Africa Development Centre has launched initiatives to support the education and skilling of girls and women to increase their representation at all levels of the tech world.

Microsoft, for example, is improving mentorship and upskilling for women already pursuing careers in tech through partnerships with Women In Software Engineering Mentorship Programme, Wentors, and Tech4Dev, and creating interest in the field for young girls through initiatives like DigiGirlz.

Additional challenges, such as women leaving the workforce to take care of their families, can now be addressed through policies that encourage remote work, allowing parents to work from wherever they are and reducing commute times.

Women in top leadership positions are important not only for bottom lines and corporate performance.

They are powerful motivators for young girls. While the progress made is commendable, there is still more work to be done.

The writer is the MD, Microsoft Africa Development Centre