Posted in: thought leadership

29th March 2018

The Future of African Business is Female

By Rita Kavashe, Managing Director, Isuzu East Africa

The conversation around women’s equality and leadership in the workplace is at a turning point. While, around the world, people presume women are represented in management, the reality presents a stark contrast. African businesses are no exception. Women make up more than 50 percent of the workforce in some African countries, but across the continent they only hold 29 percent of senior management roles.

And only five percent of Africa’s CEOs are women. I’ve spent most of my career as one of the few women in my field. Over the past 22 years, I’ve seen how things have changed—and how they haven’t. I’m still used to being greeted with, “Good morning gentlemen and Rita.” I can still recall the day of a being mistaken as the Managing Director’s secretary over the phone, because a woman could not possibly be the Managing Director.

It is past time for a change. We know the enormous benefit gender equality in the workplace and increasing women’s access to economic opportunities can bring to the world. We’ve heard that building gender inclusive economies and workforces could add up to USD $28 trillion to global GDP by 2025. We’ve seen African companies with at least a quarter share of women on their boards report earnings 20 percent greater than industry average. We’re aware of the crucial role of women’s leadership in unlocking the estimated $12 trillion in market value achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) will bring.

Why then are we still seeing gaps in women’s leadership in African business? Why aren’t more companies proactively providing leadership opportunities for women?

For the health and wellbeing of the continent, and the world, business leaders must work together to build gender inclusive and equal workplaces. To realize the vision of a sustainable and just future set forth by the SDGs, the African private sector cannot remain inactive and silent on gender.

That’s why I’ve joined forces with progressive business leaders across the continent to form The B Team Africa. This group is dedicated to building business-driven solutions for long-term sustainable economic growth across the continent, including furthering gender equality and inclusion the workplace. Working with leaders from Dr. Amy Jadesimi, CEO of LADOL, to Bob Collymore, CEO of Safaricom, I’ve seen how African business leaders are furthering opportunities for women both within their own companies and through their tireless advocacy.

Recognizing the lack of female representation in technology, Safaricom established the Women in Technology program in 2013. Through this initiative, the company works with female students to provide them with the resources and skills to build successful careers in technology. Just this month, Safaricom also committed to increase to the value of business sourced from women-owned enterprises in its supply chain from less than five percent to ten percent in the next three years.

KCB Group is also acting to increase women’s leadership within the company with its Women in Leadership Program. Established in 2015, this initiative provides training and resources to female employees to help increase the number of women in senior management roles. The company aims to see 50 percent of its senior management roles held by women. Currently, women only hold 30 percent of these positions. KCB Group is also working to increase women’s access to finance around the world as a member of the Global Banking Alliance for Women.

The 2010 Constitution of Kenya’s Two-Thirds Gender Rule has also created opportunity for women’s inclusion in political and economic development throughout the country. Isuzu East Africa has partnered with the Federation of Kenya Employers to develop Female Future, a program to help equip our senior female employees with leadership skills in readiness to contribute at the board level.

The time is now for other companies and leaders to step up and join us. I’m ready to help spark this movement. Earlier this week, The B Team Africa introduced our agenda at the Africa CEO Forum and we’re calling on other purpose-driven leaders to join us. We cannot build the thriving, prosperous and inclusive future we envision alone. We need a swell of companies, governments and civil society organizations standing with us to ensure equal representation and opportunity for women in the African economy.

Together, we can change the status quo on women’s leadership in business across Africa and the world. The future of African business is female. And we’re ready to make it a reality.