From How We Made It In Africa. Story by Kate Douglas
African companies with boards of directors that are at least 25 percent female experience about 20 percent more earnings than the industry average.
Management consulting firm McKinsey & Company recently released its “Women Matter Africa” report. It draws on surveys conducted with 55 leading companies across the continent; interviews with 35 African women leaders; and analysis of the financial performance of 210 publicly-traded African businesses.
Some of the reasons why companies with more women in leadership positions perform better include: enhanced risk management; openness to new ideas and ways of doing things; improved collaboration and cooperation between stakeholders; and stronger ethics and consistency in making fair decisions.
Companies with greater gender diversity are also better equipped to understand the needs of female customers who directly influence 70-to-80 percent of global spending.
What companies can do to improve gender diversification
Africa has more women in executive committee, CEO and board roles than the global average, according to the report. However, there is still room for improvement. Just 5 percent of CEOs and 29 percent of senior managers are women in Africa. Only 36 percent of all promotions go to women.
“As much as we can celebrate that Africa is above the global averages, it is in light of a pretty poor average across the globe,” says Tania Holt, partner at McKinsey & Company and co-author of the report. “Saying that only 5 percent of the CEOs in Africa are women does not leave a lot to celebrate.”
What African companies should do to improve gender balance
First, they should make gender diversity a top board and CEO priority. Progress needs to be monitored.
Secondly, company leaders should anchor their gender diversity strategies in a compelling business case. This must be effectively communicated, so that employees understand how to use these strategies to further their individual interests. Companies must also address attitudes towards women in the workplace by educating employees and reviewing and changing processes (such as recruitment and performance reviews) to make decision making more objective. The report suggests including men in gender-diversity transformation initiatives and conducting surveys to better understand what some of the limiting attitudes towards women are.
Finally, the research recommends that companies implement a fact-based gender-diversity strategy based on solid gender-diversity metrics and address the root causes of lower shares of women’s representation.
“Metrics include pay levels of female versus male staff, women’s attrition rates and reasons for exiting, the percentage of women receiving promotions and in which roles and organisational health metrics (such as job satisfaction, perceptions of meritocracy, work-life balance, and desire for advancement).”
What aspiring women leaders can do
Africa might hold more women in private sector leadership positions than the global average, but Holt says this has less to do with company transformation initiatives and more to do with the willpower of women managers to move up the ladder.
“The fascinating thing is that when we spoke to many of these women leaders across the continent, we found a lot of it had to do with the pure, sheer drive of the women themselves, and their will to get to the top positions within the organisations,” she told How we made it in Africa.
“Little has been done within the structural levels of the organisation, particularly in the private sector. So it really comes down to the drive of the women themselves.”
Some of the strategies that helped these women leaders get to where they are today include going above and beyond what was expected of them, and building resilience in the face of adversity. Many said they developed this work ethic in response to gender bias, noticing that they had to work twice as hard as male peers to earn the same recognition. They also had to “cultivate a veneer of toughness, refuse to take setbacks personally, and have the courage to dissent.”
Other common characteristics of women leaders include persistence in achieving goals, a willingness to take risks and a commitment to professional development, where they actively looked for career opportunities and ways to improve their professional skills.
They also found mentors (both male and female) to provide advice, feedback and self-reflection, as well as becoming mentors themselves. They encouraged other senior women to do the same.
Read more at How We Made It In Africa.