Op-Ed: Getting African Women into the Boardroom (Project Syndicate / World Economic Forum / Arab News)

In recent years, African women have made great strides in getting their voices heard in politics and government. It is time for businesses within the region and around the world to embrace this trend and bring more African women into their executive teams and their boardrooms. In this piece co-written with Marcia Ashong, I look at how businesses might make more strides in getting more African women into the boardroom. It was originally published by Project Syndicate, and re-published in the World Economic Forum Agenda and Arab News, Saudi Arabia’s largest English-language daily.

By 2050, one-quarter of the world’s population will be African, which means that one in eight people will be an African woman. Yet, within the continent, let alone internationally, Africa’s women lack the economic clout their numbers might suggest. That disconnect has severe adverse implications for Africa’s prospects. In fact, the only way to tap Africa’s full potential is by dramatically improving women’s representation in the workplace, including in senior executive roles.

The contribution women can make to Africa’s future should be obvious. Worldwide, consumer spending – which is growing three times faster in emerging markets than in developed economies – is largely controlled by women. This implies a powerful incentive for companies to bring more women into their decision-making processes.

Yet, even as the number of women sitting on the boards of global companies rises, progress is slow, and African women have been largely left out – with notable exceptions, such as Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, a former Nigerian finance minister and World Bank managing director, who was appointed to the board of Twitter last year, undoubtedly because of the platform’s growing popularity in Africa. But Okonjo-Iweala is an outlier – few African women hold similarly influential positions at global corporations.

African women are barely present even in boardrooms within Africa, where 95% of CEOs are men. According to datafrom the African Development Bank, women hold only 12.7% of the board seats in Africa’s top listed companies.

This reflects a broader lack of gender equality across the African private sector that is preventing the continent’s economies from reaching their full potential. New research from the International Monetary Fund shows that countries ranked in the bottom 50% for gender equality globally – including large African economies like Ethiopia, Morocco, and Nigeria – could add a whopping 35% to their economies, on average, by bringing more women into the workplace. Having more women in senior leadership roles is critical to catalyzing a shift, given the powerful role that diversity at the top plays in shaping organizational priorities. As Africa is already home to six of the world’s ten fastest-growing economies, achieving gender balance in the workplace could deliver a significant boost to global growth.

Read more here.

Akinyi OchiengComment