Beyond #IWD2020: Reflections on women, work and the way forward in Africa!

Africa has often been described as the rising phoenix thanks to the strides the continent has made and opportunities that have emerged as a result of innovation and technological advances in the continent. Women make up 50% of the continent’s population yet they still lag behind at the workplace. In 2018, women only contributed to 33% of the continent’s GDP. The Mckinsey Global Report indicates that $316 Billion could be added to the continent’s economy if all the countries in the continent matched the gender parity score of their best performing neighbour. If the current rate of progress towards gender parity is to be maintained, it would take about 142 years to attain it. Most of the women in the continent work in the informal sector and have limited access to high quality jobs due to factors such as lack of access to education, financial services and technological tools that would improve their lives. Africa has a high rate of labour force participation but representation of women in the formal sector remains low. The formal economy in Africa is ranked as the least gender equal in global rankings.  The global average female- male ratio is 0.86. The ratio in Africa is 0.68.

State of gender parity in the workplace in African countries

In an analysis that was done by the Mckinsey Global Institute, African countries have  varying performances in terms of their efforts to attain gender parity:

Leaders in gender parity: Lesotho, Rwanda, South Africa, Zimbabwe and Namibia have made significant progress towards representation of women in the political sphere, the number of women in professional and technical fields as well as other societal indicators of gender equality.

Middle of the road: Mozambique, Tanzania, Kenya, Cameroon, DRC, Ethiopia, Gabon, Ghana, Uganda, Togo, Madagascar, Burundi, Angola, Mauritius, Democratic Republic of Congo

These countries have average scores in terms of progress towards gender parity. For example, Ghana has attained significant gender parity in education while Madagascar has above average female participation in technical fields and high quality professional fields.

Countries with room for improvement: Algeria, Tunisia, Chad, Cote d’ivoire, Liberia, Mali, Malawi, Mauritania, Nigeria, Senegal, Burkina Faso

These countries need to make concerted efforts towards inclusion of women in the workplace. The number of women in leading roles in politics and business in these countries is relatively low as compared to other countries.

There is good news: Africa tops the world in terms of female representation in boards

The global average of female representation is 17%.  25% of board members in boards across the continent are female. A 2016 study by Mckinsey Global on impact of female representation on boards showed that pretax earnings by companies with at least 25% female representation were 20% higher than the industry average. Female representation at the board level has increased by 4% since 2015. Female representation in executive committees has only increased by 1%. South Africa tops the list of countries with a high number of women in boards at 29%.

But, women are still lagging behind in the workplace in Africa

Women who are formally employed are likely to have higher educational qualifications which gives them opportunities to leadership opportunities. In as much as there is a limited formal economy in the continent, employers need to encourage women’s participation since they shape the experiences of the majority who are participants in the sector.

Only a few countries have made concerted efforts towards inclusion of women in leadership roles therefore enhancing the continent’s gender parity score. These countries include Botswana, Kenya, South Africa and Rwanda. If the current rate of progress towards gender parity is maintained, it would take 20 years to attain equality on boards and 18 years to attain equality on executive committees.

60% of the women on boards across the continent have staff roles rather than line roles. This has implications on female board members’ likelihood to become CEO’s because CEO’s typically come from line roles. Line roles focus on core operations, finance, risk and strategy while staff roles focus on legal and human resources.

The progress that has been made towards increasing the women in middle management roles in Africa has been less than impressive. Research indicates that the representation of women in professional and technical fields is relatively low as compared to the global average. Africa’s gender parity score has remained at 0.68 since 2015 with the majority of countries in Central and West Africa having some of the lowest representation of women in the workplace.

What are the barriers to gender equality in the workplace?
What is the way forward?

Organizations need to make concerted efforts to ensure active participation of women in the workplace. The first step towards this is to combat bias. Bias is often subtle and most organizational leaders struggle to acknowledge that it exists. Bias keeps women from being promoted or hired in some extreme instances. Organizational leaders need to challenge it head on by discussing the types of bias towards women and their effect on the organization’s gender inclusion efforts. They also need to take research backed efforts towards confronting biases. Organizations need to work towards rooting out language and behaviour in the workplace that enhances a culture of bias towards women.

Research has shown that there are few women who become managers in their organizations. For every 100 men who are hired at entry level positions and promoted to managers, only 72 women are hired and promoted to managers. Most women remain in entry level positions in spite of their talent and professional qualifications. This has significant impacts on the talent pipeline. This remains one of the greatest challenges for talent managers hence the need to critically examine the processes and practices that keep women in entry level positions.

Balancing work and life can be difficult juggle. Considering most women bear a significant burden of care at home, having flexible working hours is vital in promoting work-life balance. It can play a role in ensuring women are not left behind. Workplace policies that support women make them more productive and happier at work.

Are you working on a diversity and inclusion strategy especially to have more women professionals in your organization? Talk to us today and we will connect you with amazing women that your organization will benefit having them around.

~Corazon Achieng – Storyteller and Content Creator

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