Banking: Where are the boardroom women?


Vice Governor, National Bank of Rwanda, Dr. Monique Nsanzabaganwa speaks during the New Faces, New Voices meeting last year in September. The initiative seeks to boost access to credit for women among goals. (Nadege Imbabazi)

By the end of March, all banks in Rwanda had released their financials for the year 2016.

In addition to reporting their performance, the banks also disclosed the gender composition of their executive committees as required by Central Bank - the regulator.

This may be a minor detail in regard to the banks’ bottom line, but for Rwanda, women are central to the development, sustainability and prosperity of the family, businesses, community and the country as a whole.

In fact, when it comes to public service, women must constitute at least 30 per cent of the various leadership structures, be it grassroots or national.

The Rwandan Parliament actually has the highest representation across the globe, with women occupying 64 per cent of the seats.


The New Times looked at 13 banks. And, of all them, only one had majority women on the executive committee, and only four had more than 30 per cent.

Dr Monique Nsanzabaganwa, Vice Governor of the National Bank of Rwanda, (BNR) which is also the regulator, explains what the executive committee of the bank does.

“In banks, there is usually the management team, which makes decisions on how an organisation is run and they get to make various decisions for the institution on a day-to-day basis.

“An executive committee is a group of directors appointed to act on behalf of, and within the powers granted to them by the board of directors.”

Nsanzabaganwa pointed out that gender balance at all levels, more so in management, is essential in the smooth running of an organisation.

“Financial institutions should try their level best to see that this happens, because this way, we will all fight towards gender equity. Gender balance in such positions facilitates in taking measures to unite all principles in general,” Dr Nsanzabaganwa added.

Banks may not like to be put on the spot in regard to the number of women in top positions, but it is the disclosure and transparency that will spark debate on why there are few women and how to get women to the top of the banking echelons.

Girls should be mentored and encouraged to take on leadership roles. 

With the requirement of financial institutions to disclose the gender composition of their executive committee, Dr Nsabaganwa says that it’s all about transparency – one of the requirements for financial institutions.

 “As an institution [BNR] responsible for overseeing finance institutions, we decided on this because that  way, all those who need that information can have access to it and use the information, just like any other information they are required to disclose.

“This disclosure helps in the measurement of how women and men are distributed in management of those respective institutions. We need to see that all people have a role to play in leadership,” Nsanzabaganwa emphasised.

Need for more female executives

“If they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair”, Shirley Chisholm, the first African-American woman elected to the US Congress once said.

AB Bank, Bank of Kigali and Ecobank have the highest percentage of women in executive positions.  (File photo)

Women ought to stand up and fight to show their potential. 

Edigold Monday, the vice chairperson of Rwanda Bankers’ Association, says that women have to compete for such positions because they too have the capacity to deliver.

Edigold Monday
AB Bank CEO Arah Sadava

Monday is also the Managing Director of Crane Bank Rwanda. She is one of the five women who head banks that we looked at. The others are Bank of Kigali, AB Bank Rwanda, Cogebanque and Ecobank Rwanda.

Monday points out that gender equality does not mean bringing women and placing them in those positions but rather, providing equal opportunities that both men and women should embrace.

BK CEO Dr Diane Karusisi: 
Ecobank md Alice Kalonzo Zulu

“I don’t think there is any place that refused to employ or promote someone just because she was a woman. What we [women] need to do is to work hard and take on the right courses. Getting to the top mostly takes one to have decisions, determination and a vision,” she says.

Monday is of the view that the issue of women being few in these positions dates back to the past where men were given more opportunities, and that this still has an effect. However, she says, that is now changing.

“It’s traced back to history and this is not just in banks, it’s the same with other organisations. Things are, however, changing now and women are trying to occupy these positions.

Cogebanque’s Vivian Igunduura

“For example, in AB Bank, women are more than men on the executive committee, we also have the vice governor of the National Bank of Rwanda, she is a woman,” Monday says.

Denise Umunyana, the Managing Partner of Right Seat, a Human Resource and Talent Acquisition company, says that some women do not vie for senior positions and that this can change if women develop a mind-set that strives for more

Like Monday, Umunyana also agrees that the imbalance issue is not unique to banks.

As one climbs up the corporate ladder, Umunyana says, women become fewer and there are many aspects that lead to this.

“Parity in education is another issue. Many girls do not complete high school or college and fewer girls get into competitive majors in university which lowers their chances to aspire for executive positions. Women need to be as assertive as their male colleagues in pushing their careers,” Umunyana says.

Umunyana added that sometimes women are limited by the numerous responsibilities they tend to hold.

“Women tend to have lots of responsibilities, let’s say family, and when it comes to making a compromise, they put their families first, hence giving up on certain titles that tend to be demanding.”

However, all is not gloom.

Umunyana points out that traditionally, these were male-dominated positions. But now institutions like Bank of Kigali, Ecobank Rwanda and Cogebanque have women running the show.  

So what can be done to change this?

Umunyana urges women who have made to the top of the corporate ladder to share inspirational stories about their journey, this way; they will inspire more women to get on board.

“Decision makers in those various institutions should also include gender balance among their priorities’ Umunyana adds.

 “Naturally, boys take on leadership roles while girls have to be pushed to believe that they too can be leaders. It’s critical to empower younger women from a young age with life skills, career guidance, critical thinking and leadership skills.


How can gender balance be attained in executive positions?


Organisations should put in place strategies that favour gender equality, women and men should be treated as equal and also be presented with the same opportunities. This, I think, will help women rise to executive positions.

Aisha Kobusingye, Businesswoman



Women are slowly rising and I think some executive positions are being occupied by women here in Rwanda. However, more should be done for them to go even higher. They can be encouraged in many ways, like given scholarships for them to acquire the necessary skills.

Dieudonne Niyompano, Student



I think what has been done is enough, a lot of effort has been put in place and if one compares the current situation to the past, women are actually occupying very many top positions in various organisations. I think women should continue with the effort because they will go even higher.

Scovia Karungi, Housewife



We should encourage girls and women to have confidence. As they start their careers, they should dream big and aim for higher positions and not settle for less. They can do whatever they put their minds to.

Clapton Mugisha, Artist