As we mark the International Women’s Day, I am reminded that women’s representation in high-level corporate leadership in Africa remains critically low.

A 2015 research by the African Development Bank (AFD) indicates that, of the 12 African countries surveyed, Kenya scored the highest at 19.8% representation with South Africa at 17.4% and Botswana at 16.9%.

Kenya’s good performance, relative to its neighbors, can be attributed to affirmative action and progressive public sector policies. The Constitution of Kenya requires a one-third gender representation in Government and state corporations.

As a key vector of economic activity, the private sector has an opportunity and responsibility to create a larger impact towards gender equality and women empowerment within their sphere of influence. Though the one – third rule does not apply to the private sector, there are a number of positive initiatives geared towards realizing diversity in boards.

As the first woman chairperson of the Kenya Association of Manufacturers (KAM) since its establishment in 1959, I recognize the importance of women’s participation in driving industrial transformation for job creation and inclusive economic growth. KAM will be forming a Women in Manufacturing platform that seeks to grow, challenge and mentor women owned industries to scale up and realize their potential.

There is indeed great potential for women-run industries to create productive jobs and grow value chains in the country. The platform will look at increasing the value and capacity of these businesses through technical assistance, facilitating access to finance and mentorship from KAM’s larger database where they can also seek solutions to scale up their industries through business-to-business linkages.

The Capital Markets Authority on its end has developed Guidelines on Corporate Governance Practices by public listed companies which require Boards to institute policies that ensure the achievement of diversity- including gender- in its composition.

The Nairobi Securities Exchange (NSE) has set ambitious targets to achieve at least a third female board representation in Kenya’s 65 listed companies by 2020. As a signatory to the United Nations Women’s Empowerment Principles (WEPs), NSE seeks to establish high-level corporate leadership for gender equality.

Why do we need more women in boards?

Having women on boards simply makes good business sense. Study after study confirms this notion. According to a Catalyst report, companies with at least one woman director had better share price performance and Return on Equity, and companies with more than one woman on the board return 3.7% a year over those with none.  Furthermore, unleashing the full potential of women and girls by empowering them to be equal members of society has a multiplier effect on families, businesses, communities, and nations and is essential to achieving sustainable development.

Women in leadership have also been known to develop their employees career through counseling, on-the-job coaching, outside classes, dedicated feedback, helping employees set goals and better themselves professionally. Highly developed employees have a greater sense of purpose and satisfaction, are more loyal and work hard, resulting to more productivity and a low employee turnover in the long run. Much as they take time to develop their employees, women also take time to develop their skills, to improve job performance, this resonates well with their employees as they lead by example, inspiring productivity.

Women also take more initiative compared to their male counterparts. There is a stereotype that states that women need to work twice as much, make no mistakes and constantly demonstrate their competence. Whether conscious to that stereotype or not, women do take more initiative and are more-result oriented in the process.

In an ever dynamic world, we need leaders who embrace new methods, new technologies and new ways of thinking in order to stay on top of current trends and improve the way of doing business.

As a signatory to the United Nations Global Compact, I subscribe to the first of its Women’s Empowerment principles to establish high-level corporate leadership for gender equality. Women’s inclusion will drive development, it will fast track the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and other national economic and development plans. I look forward to the day companies will have policies, programs and implementation plans that are all inclusive.

Written By

Flora Mutahi (Board Member, UN Global Compact and Global Compact Kenya)