Pushing towards a world free of bias against women at work

Uasin Gishu Governor Jackson Mandago when he officially opened  Safaricom’s Call Centre in Eldoret as the firm's Chief Customer Officer Sylvia Mulinge and Paul Kasimu, the Chief Human Resources Officer looked on.

Women’s issues continue to dominate global attention in different spheres of life. Many organisations are working to cultivate a culture and put in place policies geared towards empowering women in day-to-day operations and relationships.

While this might be the norm in some organisations, in others, some of these guiding principles are just on paper. This is even as the world works to stop inequalities surrounding income, sex, age, health status, occupation, disability and sexual orientation, drug use, gender identity, race, class, ethnicity and religion.

This is why, as the world marks International Women’s Day on Tuesday, we cannot ignore the strides that have been made over the years to ensure the work environment is fairer and safer for women.

This year’s theme “Gender equality today for a sustainable tomorrow” with a focal point of #BreakTheBias, seeks to celebrate women’s achievements, raise awareness against bias and take action for equality.

It advocates for a world that is gender-equal, free of bias, stereotypes and discrimination - a world that’s diverse, equitable, and inclusive. A world where differences are valued and celebrated. However, the big question is what needs to be done to ensure the workplace is fair and inclusive for all?

The past decade has seen accelerated efforts to drive women’s equality, particularly in leadership and technology spaces. The reception has been varied, and we are yet to achieve the desired success rates. However, this does not mean that nothing is being done. We are no longer shying away from conversations about women in leadership, a good number of countries, governments and employers are now striving to achieve the 50:50 balance. At Safaricom, while we have achieved a 50:50 gender balance across the organisation, we are looking to grow the number of women in leadership from the current 34 to 40 per cent.

Conversations about male-dominated fields are being demystified and women are encouraged to take up roles based on their passion and not what society deems right.

Most firms are now also breaking barriers and employing staff based on merit. At Safaricom, one of the biggest challenges we have as a technology company is the disproportionate representation of women in technology.

This gave birth to Women in Technology (WIT), a programme that empowers women who have a passion for technology.

WIT is structured to ensure that talent is tapped from the classroom to the boardroom. It also carries out high school outreaches to reach 47 girls’ high schools in all 47 counties so that they ‘see and believe’ the reality of technology.

A work environment that empowers women to thrive is key to ensuring motivation and a drive to go beyond societal beliefs and biases. Safaricom strives to create an environment that empowers people to thrive – regardless of gender, disability, religion, race, age, persuasion or any other quality.

We focus on all employees achieving excellence in their work by attracting, retaining and growing diverse talent.

Our maternity leave allowance is four months, and we offer flexible working hours for six months upon return to work.

To further support working parents, our facilities include a crèche with caretakers and teachers, and staff are encouraged to bring children to work.

 We provide a mothers’ room and private areas for expressing and storing milk. We also offer additional support to staff who are parents of children with special needs.

Diversity & Inclusion is strong pillar that ensures all individuals are heard and seen. This promotes talents from across all groups, regardless of gender and other differences. As an employer, ensure that you create an inclusive and safe working environment.

To drive this, we conduct continuous gender target tracking at all levels, ensure targeted recruitment of female managers and build a talent pipeline through Women in Leadership and Women in Technology programmes.

Early this year, through a partnership with the National Industrial Training Authority and Sightsavers, Safaricom offered a six-month internship opportunity to 33 People with Disabilities - 16 of them women.

These interns have the opportunity to work in various departments within Safaricom, including in digital engineering, cybersecurity, cloud computing, big data, Internet protocol (IP) networks among other digital-related fields. We must treat women with dignity not only at work but also at home.

We should put in place the necessary structures so that women can both care for their families and excel in their careers.

This should be done, not as an act of goodwill, but because women deserve these and many more. Women’s rights are human rights too, so in all that we do, let us empower them to succeed, and help break the bias.

The writer is the Chief Human Resource Officer at Safaricom.