Private sector can do better on women empowerment

As curtains fall on the month of March, we need to salute women who have made it big, as well as those helping other women to achieve their dreams.
 Betty Sayinzoga
Betty Sayinzoga

As curtains fall on the month of March, we need to salute women who have made it big, as well as those helping other women to achieve their dreams.

Usually, I feel awkward when people wish me a “Happy Women’s Day” on March 8. It is as if we were marking a day like Valentine’s Day. However, if there were reasons to celebrate as women this year, we can’t forget the fact that there is still a long way to go. In fact, this year’s UN theme for International Women’s Day 2013; “A promise is a promise: Time for action to end violence against women” said it all.

Though today, the objective is not to talk about gender-based violence but rather how women can  climb the leadership ladder in the corporate world.

I used to find the so-called feminists boring, thinking that one just had to work hard to get where he or she wanted to be.

That was until I realised that I was actually enjoying the privilege of ‘Generation X, the generation that came after the main battle.

In Rwanda, the private sector lags way behind the public sector, with few women in big leadership positions. How many women CEOs, senior executives or board members do we have in the private sector? Anyhow, the Rwandan scenario is a good replica of what is taking place globally.

For instance, in 2012, there were only 14.5 per cent women executives in the Fortune 500 magazine, and only 16.6 per cent board seats were held by women, yet 52 per cent of the workforce is composed of women, according to the UN statistics.

What about the few women who have ‘broken’ the barrier and are ‘up there’? What kind of challenges do they face?

Most studies point out two kinds of challenges; those coming from other people and those from the women themselves.

The first kind of challenge is inherent to society. When a man is assertive, he is naturally perceived as a leader. However, an assertive woman who is assertive is viewed as being overly aggressive, pushy or bossy.

A woman is expected, especially from fellow women, to take popular decisions that serve interest of the majority and not necessarily the bottom line of the business.

Marissa Meyer, the Yahoo! CEO learnt this the hard way when she launched her in(famous) message to recall work-at-home employees back to the office to increase collaboration between staff; the entire business world accused her of forgetting about the challenges of her fellow mother-workers.

The second challenge comes from the women themselves. How do we as women manage a family and run a boardroom without feeling the guilt that comes when your duties get off balance? Do we realise that when our male counterparts are climbing the ladder, they get all the necessary support?

What can a woman outsource and what are the non-outsourcable activities, like spending time with the family?

That said, these challenges are not insurmountable, the mentality of society will change as the number of women in leadership keeps increasing. The inner fears and sense of guilt will also evolve since the age-long mentalities are also changing.

The writer is a people and change consultant at
PricewaterhouseCoopers Rwanda


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