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Build an inclusive world for a better tomorrow

By Connie Anyika | August 25th 2021

Every year on August 26, the world joins the United States of America in marking the Women’s Equality Day – a day that was designated by the US Congress in 1971 to commemorate the 1920 passage of the 19th Amendment to the US Constitution, granting women the right to vote. Half a century on, the Women’s Equality Day is calling attention to continuing efforts towards gender equality.

Achieving gender equality and empowering all women and girls by 2030 is goal number 5 of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals. The reality, though, is that gender parity remains far off the mark. According to the United Nations, representation of women in national parliaments across the world sits at 25.6 per cent, 36.3 per cent in local governments and 28.2 per cent in managerial positions.

The picture is no different on the corporate front. In 2019, a survey was conducted by the global organisation Equileap, on the 61 companies listed on the Nairobi Securities Exchange (NSE). The survey ranked the Ccompanies based on their performance on gender equality, with the highest score being 63 per cent and 3 per cent at the lowest. The average score stood at 26 per cent, just a percentage point lower than the Canadian companies’ average score of 27 per cent. It was however encouraging to see the mix of companies across different sectors making it to the top 20 position, including Standard Chartered Bank Kenya who were top, Safaricom, EABL, Kenya Airways, Kengen, Total Kenya, BAT Kenya and the NSE.

The survey further indicated that women account for 23 per cent of board members, having nearly doubled since 2012, according to a similar survey that was conducted by the Kenya Institute of Management. This clearly shows that there is lots of headroom for improvement in the inclusion of women in corporate leadership. A Company like BAT Kenya for example, has a robust diversity and inclusion strategy and has set an ambitious target to achieve 50 per cent gender balance across the business by 2025. Currently, women represent approximately 40 per cent of the total population and 36 per cent at the board level.

Diverse teams that are representative of the world we live in are key to building high performing teams. The question that begs, though, is what practical steps companies can take to bridge the gender gap. The first step is to take deliberate policy actions that facilitate gender balance in the recruitment and retention of talent. The work environment also needs to be strategically designed in such a way that is addresses the unique needs of women at the workplace. This calls for investment in facilities such as nursing rooms for new mothers and initiatives such as flexi-hours.

It is also crucial for companies to continuously monitor pay gaps to ensure there are no discrepancies or any bias within any group of employees. Mentorship and training should also be considered for young career women who are looking into grow into leadership.

As the theme of this year’s International Women’s Day aptly put it, it is time to choose to challenge. Call out gender bias and inequality for what it is and take deliberate action to address it.

Ms Anyika is the Director of External Affairs at BAT Kenya and East Africa

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