The quest to get women in corporate boardrooms

With the rapid growth of private firms and corporations in the country, financial and gender experts say that firms that have significant female representation in their boardrooms have high chances of growth.

However, despite the advantage that the opportunity presents, studies show that there still remains sizable gender gaps in boardrooms and private sector workforce.

Fatou Lo, UN Women representative in Rwanda, handing an award to Dr Diane Karusisi, CEO of BK. Courtesy photos.

This has led experts in the sector to call for deliberate efforts to attract and retain women into the workforce.

During a gala dinner organised by Career Women’s Network Kigali under the theme “Board Diversity Matters” over the weekend, it emerged that there is a lot of room for improvement given that there is only 14 per cent of women in Board of Director positions in Africa while many jobs in private sector remain male-dominated.

Fatou Lo, UN Women representative in Rwanda, said there is progress in terms of gender balance in public institutions but it should be also replicated in private  . 

Three companies were recognised for having gender board diversity but commentators said that the number of women remains relatively small.

Lucy Schalkwijk, the Founder and Chair of Career Women’s Network, said that gender diversity and empowering women is good for private sector . 

Among those awarded include Ecobank where out of six board members three are women (50 per cent), Bank of Kigali Group whereby out of seven board members three are women (43 per cent) and Agaciro Development Fund where out of six board members two are women (33 per cent).

According to Fatou Lo, United Nations Women Representative in Rwanda there is progress in terms of gender balance in public institutions which ought to be replicated in the private sector.

In the public sector, the numbers are much more impressive; 61.2 per cent of parliamentarians, 58 per cent of public institutions employees and 50 per cent of the cabinet are women.

The Establishment Census 2017 was conducted by the National Institute of Statistics of Rwanda (NISR) indicated that the total number of establishments in 2017 amounted to 190,288 with 616,737 employees of which 38 percent are female.

Economic activities with more than 80 percent are considered male-dominated.

Mining and quarrying sector is considered male-dominated at 86 per cent, while construction has 81 per cent male domination. Electricity, gas, steam and air conditioning has 80 per cent male domination.

“We have to ensure that gender equality and women’s empowerment made in public institutions is also replicated in private sector. As we know the private sector is often the largest employer in the world and it is expected to be the largest employer in Rwanda. We want women to part of economic boost, the private sector and to be well represented in all levels namely entry level, middle management but also senior management level,” she said.

Having the presence of women on the boards of the companies is very important as not only has an impact on the performance of the companies but also sends a message that women are valued and have a contribution to economic development, she said.

UNDP report “Africa Human Development Report 2016: Advancing Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment in Africa” shows that gender inequality in labor market costs Sub-Saharan Africa USD95 billion annually or eroding 6 per cent of the region’s GDP.

Awarding companies for gender balance

She said that private companies in Rwanda are set to be recognized for having promoted gender balance along the employment in their businesses under Gender Equality Seal Certification Programme whereby businesses are required to adjust to their policies.

Gender Equality Seal programme in the private sector is an initiative by Rwanda Gender Monitoring Office, Private Sector Federation, UNDP and UN Women Rwanda that targets to make workplace work for women in terms of policies, equal opportunities both men and women.

“ By next year, we will be able to award the first set of companies that signed up for the gender seal programme and adjusted to their policies. The awarding system will allow them to be recognized as Bronze, Silver or as Gold,” Lo said.

She highlighted that women continue to face multiple challenges in workplaces especially in the private sector.

“ If I give a small example, women need to have proper facilities when they take maternity leave and related benefits, they need access to breastfeeding rooms at workplaces, child care facilities among many elements to attract women into the workforce,” she noted.

The barriers are not only in the workforce. Even before going to work, some have limited access to quality.

 Lucy Schalkwijk, the Founder and Chair of Career Women’s Network Kigali said that gender diversity and empowering women has multiple benefits for the private sector.

“We need, as women, opportunities to do difficult things to prove ourselves and get more value in the companies,” she said.

She said that such developments give women exposure to form other companies and lead them.

“In some companies you find 50 per cent taking men and 50 per cent for women at the top but find at the middle more male technicians. For instance, you find that in media there are few women,” she said.

Soraya Hakuziyaremyi, the Minister for Trade and Industry, said Rwanda has made progress in regard to empowering women and promoting their socio-economic and political participation but challenges still exist.

 “There are still challenges in women economic empowerment. Women still lag behind in regard to quality employment and financial inclusion. We call on all sectors to promote gender equality to contribute to our economic development agenda.

We have to turn gender diversity into opportunity and have female leaders in private companies which will create diversity and strengthen the workforce thus contributing to growth,” she said.