Boardroom gender diversity is increasing and as a female C-suite leader [chief executive] I have more appreciation for that by virtue of my own presence in the boardroom, in a typically male dominated industry that is passive infrastructures in the telecommunications industry, traditionally run by electronic engineers.
However, reality dedicate on the one hand that women are still under-represented in the boardroom not only across millennial black women like myself, but across race, age groups, across industries and continents of the world, making it a cross cutting issue.
Only 15 percent of the world’s corporations, including America’s Fortune 1000 companies, are run by women and as of 2017 there are only 32 female CEOs on that list.
On a lighter note countries like Norway, Sweden and France are pioneers well on their way to reach the equilibrium with 40.1, 33.7 and 33.5 percent representation, respectively. Whilst Africa has made progress on gender equality, only 5 percent of women are CEOs in Africa, according to McKinsey and Co.
These statistics are alarming and should not serve as reasons to justify the norm but to challenge the status quo and be intentional as Namibians and Africans about being world leader in gender diversity in the corporates. We need not to wait for USA to first reach the equilibrium then we follow.
The Namibian lawmakers have set themselves apart by adopting a 50/50 representation, also referred to as ‘the Zebra style’, and the impact was unparalleled, an effort worth emulating.
However corporate Namibia is still playing catch up. We know for a fact companies with strong female leadership generated a return on equity of 10.1 percent. We need to go beyond simply having women in leadership position compared to just 7.4 percent for those without. If you have gender diversity on the board, you can expect greater profits even greater CEO pay and enhanced problems solving.
I firmly believe the only way we can make the most of opportunity to achieve gender diversity is by being intentional about it in our corporate policies. We have to seek alignment with national objectives and put in practice the tone of gender equality that has already been set by lawmakers.
In my previous role as a strategy and management consultant, I have had the privilege of developing corporate policies that creates the culture and environment for the entity to thrive and yield sustainable results that are value adding and aligned to national objectives.
I found that the easiest place to measure the gender equity appetite of any company is through the corporate policies.
You can easily deduce that women were missing at the table and there was simply no one to echo their voice in shaping or counter those policies. When present, they are often in support functions rather than in the core business functions, where key decisions are made, let alone at the helm of the company.
A conversation needs to happen when designing corporate policies that are women centric. There must be threshold levels for achieving gender diversity, and incentive to attract and retain more women in the corporate boardroom where key decisions are made. There must then be penalties for not achieving that, apart from the obvious low profits.
I have observed companies both that have and those that do not have progressive policies that embrace female employees. I have had experiences where corporate policies, at design stage, did not foresee women in the c-suite and were caught off guard when a maternity case arose, because men had predominantly run the company.
We have heard companies that would not interview pregnant woman as a thumb rule, and it is retarded. Similarly, we have heard companies where people, including women, get agitated if a new female employee, no matter at what level, is fall pregnant within the first months of employment. Whereas having a family is a human right.
This is not to suggest that women find new jobs just to pop babies whilst enjoying the employment security without being productive at work or adding value to the bottom line.
We have heard of companies that rub it in expectant mothers’ faces that the current labor law does not require companies to pay the gap for women above the N$13,000 social security threshold. Corporates should be interested in protecting their females’ employees from significant income loss or forced annual leaves for expectant women without being ask by lawmakers to do so.
We should be celebrating a progressive corporate culture that is not to the detriment of our male counterpart but to collective effort towards prosperity for all that does not discriminate based on gender. None of us had the privilege to choose our gender at birth.
All in all, we need to be deliberate about our corporate policies, and move away from women being understudies or deputies to men, and normalize men being deputies to women, serving under women leadership. We should embrace women’s powerful emotions, sense of care and selflessness, transparency and integrity as an asset to our boardroom that has tangible value.
Happy Women’s Day and Human Right’s Day beloved Namibia!