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Africa is more pro-women leadership than most of the world according to study

A new report on women in leadership positions across the African continent has just been released and while it shows we still have a long way to go, it also provides evidence that we’re doing better than our counterparts around the world.

McKinsey & Company’s annual Women Matter report has just released a Women Matter Africa study. The report is not perfect: the study is based on just 14 stock exchanges around the continent – South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, Zambia, Tanzania, Uganda, Kenya, Nigeria, Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana, Senegal, Morocco, Tunisia, and Egypt. But it still tells us something many would deny: there are more women in leadership roles here than anywhere else in the world on average.

The report provides results from surveys done in 55 companies based in the continent, interviews with 35 African women leaders and an analysis of the financial performance of 210 traded African companies. Hint: women in leadership roles in these companies made them perform better.

The rise

The report consistently shows that based on its findings, countries around the continent are placing more importance on women leadership than the rest of the world.

In the private sector, the continent has the second highest representation of women in senior manangement positions than everyone else. The European Union is tops, with women holding 26% of executive committee positions. Asia, Latin America and the US lag behind with percentages dropping into the mid to high teens.

Ultimately, regions in Africa are ranked with Southern Africa beating its neighbours with the highest representation of women in senior management positions:

1.Southern Africa: women make up 20% of senior management positions.

2.East Africa: 16%

3.West Africa: 11%,

4.North Africa: 9%.

The results show more women have a shot at reaching this level in healthcare and pharmaceuticals, while only 9% of African women will reach senior positions in heavy industry. Despite the representation of women in various industries, none of the seven industries mentioned have a 50% representation of women, meaning they are still male-dominated.

“I have had to be tough working in a male-dominated industry like mining,” one state-owned enterprise executive told the McKinsey & Company researchers.

Governments, too, remain male-dominated, but women are rising up the ladders more now than ever before.

The global average of women in Parliament: 21%

The average in the African continent: 24%

Just 19% of women were parliamentary officials in 2010, but in 2014 that number jumped to 24%. In 1980, only 4% of women were Cabinet members, but now the proportion has increased to 22%.

East Africa is the top performing African region when it comes to women’s representation in Parliament with 35% representation. Southern Africa is at 25%, North Africa 23%, and West Africa is at 18%.

Rwanda is the most most impressive country by far with more than 60% of its parliament being women. For a country that was torn apart in a vicious genocide, Rwanda’s dedication to gender equality in parliament is one of its greatest successes and it had a Zurich-based organisation that prioritises women in Parliament rushing to the country’s Liberation Day on July 4 2014 for some tips.

“For this is Rwanda’s big success story – it is the only country in the world with more female MPs than male ones,” Jane Dudman wrote for the Guardian.

But, as we know, it’s not all rainbows and sunshine for women in the corporate world or government.

The disappointment

Companies still favour men for the big opportuninites: 36% of women will have a share in promotions, while 64% of men will get the job. The study also makes an important key finding: numbers do not necessarily equal influence.

“Although the number of women in leadership positions may have risen, women do not necessarily have greater power,” the report says.

More than half of women in the private sector are in staff roles, rather than line roles – which lead to CEO promotions. In the government sector, women in Cabinet typically occupy positions in social welfare portfolios and these portfolios are mainly open to women, while others, such as the finance portfolio, are headed by men.

“When women step up to volunteer for big roles, they [men] say, ‘you’re aggressive.’ I have heard people give glowing praise to a man who has done something far less complex than I have,” a South African business woman says in the report.

Still, despite increasing awareness around women’s rights and gender equality, the study states that gender issues are not on the agenda as they should be, with one in three CEOs in Africa making it a priority. The initiatives to bring more women into the workspace aren’t working either. Although 67% of the companies surveyed had gender diversity initiatives in place, only 27% reported success. Ultimately, the initiatives receive poor support, don’t really address issues women face or are not properly implemented.

The pay gap has also remained a challenge with women board members in South Africa earning 17% less than their male counterparts.

To combat a lack of women representation in leadership roles in companies, the report makes the following recommendations:

•Gender diversity must be made a top priority at CEO and board levels

•Gender diversity strategies should be based on compelling business cases

•Negative attitudes towards women must be confronted

•Strategies for gender diversity should be fact-based

Although the Women Matters Africa study demonstrates that the continent is ahead of the world when it comes to women in leadership, it also shows that a lot of work still has to be done. 

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Raeesa Pather
Raeesa Pather
Ra’eesa Pather is a Cape Town-based general news and features journalist.

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