Time for golden skirts to amass board positions

February 3, 2014

In a study to be released soon, it has been found that women makes up less than 10% of board members in listed companies across Africa. It is not often that African women tops a list of those selected for corporate governance, and the fact that the region is a laggard in boardroom gender diversity is a concern. However, corporate boardrooms across the continent are changing fast and gender diversity in the boardroom is increasingly seen as strength and helps generate new ideas and new ways of doing business. African Women have always played a key role in continent’s economies especially in agriculture industry but their presence at the highest levels of the corporate has been limited and curtailed by their male chauvinists. A Gender Diversity Report in 2012 found that African countries have one of the fastest growing percentage of women represented in corporate boardrooms in the world but still remains under 10% and lags behind developed markets such as the North America, Europe and Australia and this demands more to be done to empower women in business leadership. Social norms and attitudes also need to change to accept women having a role outside the home. Given the fact that women make up more that half the continent population and half the workforce, it is sad and unfortunate that Africa does not tap this huge talent pool.

Gender diversity in boardrooms is now being used as one of the indicators of good corporate governance, with couple of academic studies showing that companies with gender-diverse boards tend to be more profitable and score better on monitoring and board meeting attendance. Although women in Africa have come a long way in the workforce, there’s still room for improvement and balanced inclusion. A 2010 separate study conducted in Zambia, Ghana, Angola, South Africa, Nigeria and Kenya, it was found that having greater diversity in corporate boardrooms is socially desirable and makes good economic and business sense. In African corporate sectors, diversity has led to greater corporate governance and transparency. It was also cited as an ingredient in corporations that make better business decisions. Despite the progress made by women in corporate Africa, they still face considerable hurdles and chauvinists have no helped the matters either. In fact, at the turn of 21st century more than half of all African countries listed companies did not have a single female on either the board of directors but the situation has improved since though not to desired levels. In my opinion, more can be done to empower women professionals, as well as introducing measures in the work place that allow women greater flexibility. With advanced technology, women can work from home and thus do not have to give up their careers to raise their families.

Realizing that low female representation in the boardroom is not manageable, African countries have been issuing regulations and laws targeted at increasing boardroom gender diversity. Some countries like Kenya have set mandatory quotas for listed companies and others requires boards to have no more than half representation of either sex with others setting voluntary targets for female participation on boards. In Australia, companies are requires individual listed firms to disclose measurable gender diversity targets and report on progress towards these targets. Encouragingly, countries like Uganda, Zambia and Tanzania have also issued formal regulations and targets, and while in North Africa before Arab spring some countries like Egypt were considering implementing gender diversity disclosure requirements for each company. African countries that have adopted quotas or other formal measures are witnessing an increase in female participation on boards with Kenya being a classic example. While gender balance in boards across Africa is still a long way off, the continent is heading in the right direction and its time for golden skirts to take over board position.

Congratulation to Seattle Seahawks for winning Super Bowl XLVIII, after humiliating badly misfiring Denver Broncos 43-8.

Contador Harrison