We need research evidence to boost women empowerment

A woman’s formative years in education and later in her career are dependent on the type of socialisation that she is exposed to. [iStockphoto]

Women’s Economic Empowerment (WEE) is at the core of a country’s economic development. It can be measured using various indicators in terms of access to, and utilisation of resources to produce more goods and services that lead to economic gains. One dimension of achieving WEE through entrepreneurship rests in inculcating the right entrepreneurial orientation, culture, governance and education.

A woman’s formative years in education and later in her career are dependent on the type of socialisation that she is exposed to. It is therefore imperative to seek evidence on the type of education and socialisation that women and girls are exposed to and deduce the impact that such exposure may have on entrepreneurship decisions, including types and sizes of ventures that women ultimately have in their career lives.

By casual observations, women do conduct businesses. In fact, a majority of micro and small businesses are owned by women. But the question is, are they doing gainful businesses? What militating factors contribute to women’s economic disempowerment? Can we pose a little to understand if the issues in question relate to the nurture of entrepreneurial culture and skills? What skills do girls and women have that can prepare them for gainful employment and entrepreneurship ventures?

It is clear that having only the technical skills may not prepare one for the challenges and intricacies of navigating the rough terrain of a business or job environment; one needs additional armour to cushion against the turbulence of either formal or informal employment.

Soft skills/life skills or transferable skills may be a game-changer in preparing girls for gainful engagements that may contribute to women’s economic empowerment.

So what are these soft skills? There are many synonyms for soft skills such as life skills, transferable skills or the 21st century skills. The World Health organisation has developed parameters for determining what soft skills are in tandem with the global framework for Unicef on transferable skills. Unicef summarises the skills into three clusters: Cognitive, social and emotional skills.

These skills are rare and unique and are needed to produce a holistic person who is ready for employability and entrepreneurship in 21st-century economies. These skills are also prerequisites for maintaining mental balance. They are required during the education of a child or an adolescent and they ultimately determine how the learner responds to the work environment. Research evidence on the effectiveness of such skills will enhance the design and implementation of policies and programmes aimed at empowering women and girls.

The government has introduced a Competency-Based Curriculum at basic education as well as laying emphasis on Competency-Based Education and training. We need to continually engage in conversations and research to evaluate the impact of these interventions on women’s economic empowerment.

For example, Kenyatta University Women’s Economic Empowerment Hub’s Initiative for What Works to advance Women’s Economic Empowerment is a growth trajectory that is geared towards what works in generating evidence-based policies and programmes. Its approach involves engaging the relevant stakeholders to influence policies that are gender-responsive towards enhancing women’s economic empowerment.

Another important dimension is the enhancement of women’s participation in corporate boards. The presence of women on boards has been known to enhance the independence and consequent performance of corporate boards in public and private organisations.

When women are on corporate boards, they are also known to contribute to the enhancement of quality of governance in boardrooms since they provide different points of view in discussions, making boards more interactive. Where we have boardroom political behaviour, women play a key role in toning down the discussions as they focus on real issues that take them to the boardroom. They have a way of instilling discipline wherever they are because naturally, they are disciplinarians.

Women representation on boards is more likely to hold CEOs accountable for poor performance. This then means that women on corporate boards are beneficial to the shareholders and can increase the effectiveness of the boardroom. Research has shown that a number of countries and their governments, for example in Asia, USA and Europe, are advocating for more female slots in boardrooms.

Research has also shown that women on board representation enhance asset accumulation and increase shareholding. They are also known to be less likely to default on loans, a quality that may enhance their creditworthiness, thus increasing the capacity for business development.

Kenya’s Women’s economic empowerment policies and programmes should therefore aim at breaking the traditional glass ceiling through representation of more women on corporate boards. This can only be achieved through an evaluation of existing policies and programmes and upscaling of what works.