Where are the women in Africa’s corporate boardrooms?

Monday June 29 2015

Women make up only 14 per cent of directors on the boards of Africa’s top 307 listed companies. PHOTO | TEA GRAPHIC

Only one out of seven board members in Africa is a female, a new study has revealed.

The report, entitled “Where are the Women? Inclusive Boardrooms in Africa’s Top-Listed Companies” published by the African Development Bank (AfDB), states that women make up only 14 per cent on the boards of Africa’s top 307 listed companies.

The study, which is the first of its kind on female board membership in Africa, measured 2013 data for 307 companies in 12 African countries.

In addition to the 32.9 per cent of boards of African companies in the survey that have no women, 33.6 per cent have only one woman on the board, resulting in two-thirds of companies having minimal female presence at best. Just 18.9 per cent have two women on their boards.

“Board appointments tend to be made through ‘old boy’ networks; boards lack an understanding of the benefits of diversity, corporate governance in many African countries is in its infancy and current guidelines to further diversity are not enforced sufficiently, leading to corporate reporting that is inconsistent and incomplete,” Geraldine Fraser-Moleketi, the bank’s special envoy on gender, told The EastAfrican.

READ: MOLEKETI: Board appointments are made through ‘old boy’ networks


The African countries with the highest percentage of women on boards are Kenya (19.8 per cent), South Africa (17.4 per cent), Botswana (16.9 per cent), Zambia (16.9 per cent) and Ghana (17.7 per cent).

The companies with the highest percentage of women on boards are East Africa Breweries of Kenya (45.5 per cent), followed by two South African firms, Impala Platinum Holdings (38.5 per cent) and Woolworths Holdings (30.8 per cent).

Cote d’Ivoire has the lowest percentage (5.1 per cent), while the three North African countries of Egypt (8.2 per cent), Tunisia (7.9 per cent), and Morocco (5.9 per cent) have slightly higher percentages.

Tanzania (14.3 per cent), Uganda (12.9 per cent), and Nigeria (11.5 per cent) hover around the continental average of 12.7 per cent.

The report shows the best-performing sectors for gender parity are the financial services, basic materials and construction, and automotive industries.

“There are many competent women working in private companies in Africa today; there is no shortage of qualified candidates for roles in senior management or to serve on boards. However, to kick start the process of increasing the numbers of women serving on boards, quotas have been shown to be very effective in many European countries, notably Norway, Finland and most recently France,” Ms Fraser-Moleketi said.

Top among the mid-cap companies are Stanbic Bank of Uganda and Barclays Bank of Botswana, both with 33.3 per cent women directors. Kenya Power and Lighting and Lafarge Zambia lead the small caps with 33.3 per cent women board directors, while Camelot Ghana leads the micro-caps with three women directors out of six (50 per cent).

The report shows that women who find work in the corporate world are in many ways a privileged group. However, they are at the periphery of leadership and decision-making, leaving corporations with a dominance of men in top posts.

Sheila M’mbijjiwe, who formerly sat on the influential Central Bank of Kenya Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) for nine years and was recently appointed to the board of Togo-based Ecobank Transnational Incorporated (ETI) as a non-executive director, points out that companies need to encourage and create opportunities for young women to climb the corporate ladder.

This is because to sit on the board, she underscores, requires vast experience. Enforcing corporate governance is also critical to bridging the gender gap.

“If you are not getting that experience, it is unlikely that you will get recognised on boards. Joining a board is not just wearing a suit and sitting at the table – it is not, you must add value. We [women] need to be focussed — when you are joining an organisation, you should go there with a passion. You must have the desire to be with that organisation, not just a desire to be seen on the board because then you will not make the right contribution,” she said.

Ms M’Mbijjiwe, 56, was a member of the Central Bank of Kenya’s MPC for nine years until early this year.

She is a former finance director at PricewaterhouseCoopers Kenya, Stagecoach International and Standard Chartered Bank of Kenya. She is yet to be confirmed as the deputy governor of central bank of Kenya.

“I would be insulted if it is a gender card [being appointed deputy Governor of the Central Bank of Kenya], I am not a person who would like to play that card. I think there were many women in the running but it comes back to opportunity — I had already sat at the institution before, I bring experience to the table,” Ms M’Mbijiwe told The EastAfrican.

But the limited presence of African women in corporate leadership is ironic given their progress in acquiring public sector leadership. Women now comprise 63 per cent of the Lower House of Parliament in Rwanda and 41 per cent in South Africa (Inter-Parliamentary Union), according to the report.

Women have been elected president in Malawi, Liberia, and the Central African Republic. Since 1980, the proportion of women appointed as Cabinet ministers in African countries has increased from 4 per cent to 20 per cent, placing the region second in the world just behind the Americas and ahead of Europe.

Experts argue that these advances in government leadership roles shows women’s capabilities but this perception has not transferred to the corporate world.

Iza Irame, the chief executive officer of African Alliance Rwanda Ltd who sits on the board of University Teaching Hospital of Kigali, argues that the challenge for women partly is one of nurture.

Women are nurtured to “keep a low profile” and not be aggressive, which sometimes serves to undermine their potential at the workplace.

“The way we are brought up as women is not bad at all but it is important to be able to differentiate between the workplace and the home environment. As a woman, you need to know that at your workplace you have to compete and strive to get what you want,” she said.

However, she says that there are no shortcuts as women still have to earn their way to the board.

“When you are a board member, you feel confident that you have earned the position. We should not get to the point where women feel they have been handpicked to ‘colour’ the board. It is also important to have a good working relationship with other members of the board.

“To get to the board level as a woman, you need to have achieved a certain level of professionalism. Therefore the issue is not how you get to the board room but how to get the professional experience to a level where people consider you for board positions,” Ms Irame argued.

The report shows that an area where African companies lag substantially behind their global peers is the number of companies that have reached the “critical mass” of three or more directors.

While gains made in educational attainment by African women in recent decades have enabled them to gain entry into corporate employment, they tend to be clustered at the lowest levels, the report shows.

The issues they face are similar to those encountered by women in other parts of the world — inequity in pay, the challenge of integrating work with family responsibilities, continuing discriminatory practices in the workplace — but to a far heightened degree given a work culture dominated by men with traditional views on gender roles.

Women continue to be “victims of ongoing socio-cultural prejudice,” according to Viviane Zunon Kipre, chair of the board of Société Nouvelle d’Edition et de Presse de Côte d’Ivoire and founder of Cote d’Ivoire’s Institute of Directors.

The report recommends that publicly listed companies should be forced to say how many women are in senior positions and quotas should be introduced to increase female representation.

It adds that women should be speedily promoted though middle and senior management positions, and calls for greater investment in women’s leadership.