A week today we will be celebrating International Women’s day. The whole world will be marking advances women have made . It does not seem to make sense that in the twenty-first century we should be celebrating what is so obvious that it is taken for granted.
It has not always been like this. There have, indeed, been great advances, from winning the right to vote to heading parliament, from securing the right to work to managing mega international corporations. So there is cause to celebrate.
Rwanda has in recent years won plaudits for advancement of women. Everyone , except the wilfully blind,knows that our parliament is women-dominated, that there is a constitutional requirement for one third of places in decision- making positions to be filled by women – at any rate in government and politics. In Rwanda, therefore, there is something to celebrate.
Many of the victories by women have been won through sustained struggles by women and their sympathisers. Others have come about through affirmative action, often a result of sustained pressure. Affirmative action has been around for quite a while now. When it was taken there were usually several reasons for it.
There was the feminist movement that sought to put right a historical wrong. Women activists agitated for political, economic and cultural rights.
The feminist movement had representatives, not only in politics, but also in literature and the arts and the professions, and from all these fronts pushed for changes in their status.
Then there were those who saw in women’s inferior positions a demographic injustice. And so from purely a numbers point of view sought to get the right numerical balance.
Finally there were those moved by political correctness. Giving women their rightful place in society was, and remains, a favourite of liberal politics.
Little wonder then that in Africa affirmative action is strongest among countries that consciously adopted a liberal ideology, or those that went through long armed struggles where politics was governed by a liberation ideology that was informed by liberal or socialist values.
In all these cases champions of women’s rights had to overcome entrenched vested interests and prejudices in order to win.
Now, at the beginning of the twenty-first century, there is another movement to put women in more decision-making positions, this time in industry and business. The reasons are not the traditional political ones driven by feminists or ideologues of whatever sex.
This time it is the cold, calculated interests of capitalist profit that are pushing for increased inclusion of women at the highest levels of management.
In Norway, a law was passed in 2003 that makes it mandatory for companies to have 40% of their boards being women.
The man behind this law, Gabrielsen, a former conservative minister, is quick to point out that his motive was not equality, but to increase profitability. As a result of Gabrielsen’s law, Norwegian women comprise 44.2% of corporate boards, compared with 26% in Sweden, 15% in the United States of America and 13% in the United Kingdom.
Women are ecstatic about these changes. They say it is the greatest thing to happen to them since they won the right to vote.
There are studies to prove that Gabrielsen did not just take a gamble.
The Economist in its issue of January 4, 2010 ran a column in which it quoted Judy Rosena of the University of Calfornia, Irvine as saying that women were better managers because they excelled at transformational and interactive management.
The columnst wrote that this New Feminism contends that women are more successful managers because they are wired differently from men, that they are less aggressive and more consensus seeking, less combative and more collaborative, less power-obsessed and more group-oriented.
A similar view was reported by The Times of London, just over a year ago. In a March, 19, 2009 issue, the paper reported a study by Leeds University Business School which suggested that women could make the difference between bankruptcy and success.
It reported Professor Nick Wilson of the University of Leeds Business School as saying that having at least one female director can cut a company’s chances of going bust by 20%. His conclusion? Gender balance is worth taking into account when deciding on senior management.
Fortune magazine in its Fortune 500 two years ago found that companies with the highest proportion of women directors far outperformed those with fewer.
The magazine reported that such companies achieved higher sales and a higher return on their investment, and showed good governance.
So, why do women make better managers? In addition to the qualities listed in The Economist article, these studies added another catalogue of peculiarly female performance-enhancing characteristics.
Women, they suggest, are better at people management, take less debt and are better at cashflow management. They are also likely not to take unnecessary or excessive risk. Women tend to be more optimistic and have less ego.
And because they have to work hard to reach their positons, they have obviously to be exceptionally good.
Other statistics support the march of women into boardrooms, the last stronghold of male supremacy.
Women are increasingly more educated than men. In Europe 60% of university graduates are women. In the United States, 60% of college students are female.
Their chances of getting on company boards are therefore greater. And because they are younger, they are more innovative and so are the policies that their boards adopt.
Rwanda has made unequalled strides in gender issues and rightly been lauded for it.
Are we ready to take the next step and get more women into our companies’ board rooms? I think we have already begun and the results mirror those quoted here. It may well be time to march into more corporations.
The only drawback, as I see it, is that there are fewer women coming out of our universities.