Women in Leadership: Championing Gender Equality

As a woman in a position of leadership, I have experienced and therefore not blind to the kinds of discrimination we face in the corporate world. However I do believe that women’s full participation in leadership at all levels of the economy remains imperative.

Today, women account for 47.7% of the global workforce while data from the African Development Bank shows that only 12.7% of seats on African listed companies are occupied by women. More interestingly is only 27.1% of women are managers and leaders in their organizations.  This is even though research shows organizations with more women leaders experience increased inclusivity, innovation and a stronger financial performance. While there is no denying the impact and benefits that Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging (DIEB) brings to an organization, there is still considerable work to be done to ensure acceptance, inclusion and participation in leadership positions.

By 2050, a quarter of the world’s population shall be African and one in eight people shall be an African Woman. Therefore, it is more appropriate to focus on the theme of International Women’s Day 2024, “Counting her in: accelerating gender equality through economic empowerment”. The theme acknowledges that, despite progress, women still face significant obstacles to achieving equal participation in the economy and calls for equal opportunities for women and girls to develop their skills and improve their ability to learn, earn and lead.

How can Organizations create an equal opportunity environment?

The work goes beyond fulfilling the metrics of number of women hired; it should go further to increased level of empowerment in corporate environments, having their voices heard and potential to implement sustainable change. With organizations being quite intentional about creating a more inclusive environment for all to thrive, they will reap the benefits.

A few recommendations for employers are;

  • Gender Equality initiatives must be supported by all levels of leadership.

Having a clear organization wide communication plan of Gender Equality initiatives is vital to ensuring practices are supported at every level of the organization. Training on gender equality is one of the key elements of gender equality initiatives, with a view to exposing the gaps that people tend to overlook, such as the pay gap and the role of women in the workplace, as well as the wider societal impact of gender equality.

  • Internal Career Opportunities

Organizations should provide opportunities for career growth and advancement. Through internal promotion policies and learning and development programs women can develop competencies to perform better in current and future roles.

  • Focus on consistency and measure progress.

Any organization on the path to accelerating gender equality  will definitely make mistakes. The ability to be agile and adapt in these situations will determine the level of success. A Gender Equality strategy will have performance metrics for measuring progress in line with set objectives that will help steer corrective action should it be required. The demographics of the workforce in Sub Saharan African and across the world are ever-changing, and changes will only accelerate in the coming decades. The actions taken by leaders today to implement stronger Gender Equality practices will give the required foundation needed for impact and a better bottom line in the future.

The role of women in accelerating Gender Equality

While organizations can create the right environment for women to thrive, it is also important that women play their part to feel the true impact . Key things women can do include;

  1. Compliment the initiatives of the organization by doing your part in creating the world you want to see. It helps to understand the business to be able to effectively contribute to important discussions be it through Town Halls, Department meetings or informal discussions with the leadership team. Women need to make their voice and opinions heard – but always remember to show up prepared. This helps build credibility and allows you to speak with great conviction. Don’t leave room to be second guessed or be mocked.
  2. Be accountable – We’re all human: we’re bound to make mistakes, but true integrity comes from owning up to your mistakes. Doing so will show the people around you that you are worthy of trust, a reliable member of the team and a person that can be depended on during tough times.
  3. Networking – The power of networking lies not only in the exchange of business cards or LinkedIn connections but also in the capability to settle meaningful connections that can give the right direction to a woman’s career. Moreover, networking events, conferences, and online forums provide opportunities for women to display their skills and gain sharp knowledge. It also increases chances to build their brand as well as place themselves as thoughtful leaders in their respective industries. Cultivating genuine relationships based on mutual respect, reciprocity, and shared goals is key to unlocking the full potential of networking. There are those who have walked before you and are willing to provide the necessary support as you grow.
  4. Have Self-Belief and take advantage of Mentorship Programs to be future ready for opportunities that arise either in your current organization or in a different organization. Successful career development requires much more than technical and job-related skills. Typically, crafting a successful career requires effective communication and other soft skills, professional relationships and networks, and a career vision. Many professionals fail to move up the career ladder even while excelling at their jobs because they lack some of these important competencies. However, a mentor can help professionals develop some of these extra-role skills and build key relationships; being a part of a mentoring relationship can be transformational for early career professionals.
  5. Ask for help where needed – it’s not a sign of weakness. We can’t humanly know it all, every day is an opportunity to learn and on a lighter note it does save on valuable time that can be used to do other meaningful tasks.

While the journey to achieve true gender equality is still a long way off, it must be done for the benefit of all.

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