• Friday, June 14, 2024
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Gender and work place equality

Organisations urged to prioritise gender equality

Chinyere sighs for the umpteenth time as she sits on the swivel chair in her little office on Broad Street. It is the second time in three years her name would be missing on the promotion list. She had thought she would make it this time around, but the promotion list on the staff notice board that morning did not have her name.

Chinyere is one of several women who aspire to be at the top in their workplace, yet they have been confined to mid-level positions by a chauvinistic management board that seems to be more sexist than what the person in question has to offer.

According to the World Economic Forum’s Corporate Gender Gap Report 2010, leading companies are failing to capitalise on the talents of women in the workforce. The study covers the world’s largest employers in 20 countries and benchmarks them against the gender equality policies that most companies should have in place but are, in fact, widely missing.

The findings of the report are an alarm bell on International Women’s Day that the corporate world is not doing enough to achieve gender equality. “While a certain set of companies in Scandinavia, the US and the UK are indeed leaders in integrating women, the idea that most corporations have become gender-balanced or women-friendly is still a myth. With this study, we are giving businesses a one-stop guide on what they need to do to close the corporate gender gap,” said Saadia Zahidi, co-author of the report and head of the Forum’s Women Leaders and Gender Parity Programme.

However, some organizations like Lafarge are seeking to close this gender gap in the work place. For example, on November 28, 2014, senior Lafarge Group’s executives from various countries gathered at the Assemblée Nationale (French National Assembly) at the Palais Bourbon in Paris for the Gender Equality European / International Standard (GEEIS) Awards. Four Lafarge country operations – Nigeria, Spain, Brazil and France – were honoured in recognition for their work on Diversity and Inclusion.

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Fidelia Osime, Country Organization and HR Director, representing Nigeria at the ceremony said: “for us in Lafarge Africa Plc, it is indeed a significant achievement as we are the first company in Africa to be so recognized having been audited on a number of criteria”.

Sonia D’Emilio, Senior Vice-President, Talent Management Lafarge Group, speaking about the award stressed that it is something all the recipients should be proud of as it was obtained through committed efforts to engage on the gender balance topic. According to her, “we should all be proud of this development as your commitment and efforts made it happen. We have made significant investments in our Diversity and Inclusion programmes across all our Business Units and have recorded positive results. This award will serve to further encourage us in our plans to execute more initiatives focused on gender equality in our business.”

Lafarge Group has as part of its ethos preached the gospel of gender inclusion and Lafarge Africa has consistently made a business case for increasing the number of women in senior management positions. A widely held opinion is that companies benefit from access to the different but complementary leadership skills and insights women bring to management, as well as a wider talent pool. Indeed, a research shows stronger financial performance at companies with a greater proportion of women on executive committees – position supported by the McKinsey’s early Women Matter research largely focused on Europe and the United States.

There is a proven link between the presence of women in senior management positions and the strength of companies’ financial performance. In Nigeria, despite the large proportion of female graduates and the significant numbers who join various companies at entry level, very few reach the top. Across board, women do not feature prominently on the decision making end of life in Nigeria. With only 25 of 360 law makers at theFederalHouse of Representatives and only 4% of local councilors being women, the ratios are no higher in corporate Nigeria.

The question, of course, is how individual companies make a conscious effort to raise gender diversity in senior management. To this end, Lafarge Africa Plc has in line with its Sustainability Ambitions 2020, responded to these challenges in a way that looks optimistically to the future. The tenets of these Ambitions include the belief that diversity in employees, teams and management is an essential factor in achieving a high level of performance and innovation. This specific focus on employee diversity and skills development, regardless of gender, nationality, color or religion, ensures that Lafarge as a group uses every asset at its disposal to achieve set targets.

Increasing the number of women in senior management positions up to 35% by 2020 is a corporate target, which as at 2013 had reached 18.6% of top management, through the acceleration of the identification of women capable of engaging in career development and occupying leadership positions. At Group level, support is given to programs and initiatives that seek the development of employee skills and key positions and are covered by certification programs and individual development programs and training. Employees are encouraged to be involved in development, implementation and compliance with leading standards in developing a creative mindset, so their diversity may become a force for innovation and performance.

Lafarge Africa Plc in its articulation of the sustainability ambitions called for 20% of senior executive management roles to be filled by women by 2014.The Company’s inclusive culture is defined as supporting a work environment that values diversity, where all employees are encouraged to share new ideas and innovations, and where equal opportunities exist for professional growth and development.

A Diversity an Inclusion committee which includes representatives from Human Resources, Operations and Communications meets monthly, developing strategies and action plans to ensure that these goals are met in a fair and above board manner, thus ensuring that only credible candidates are chosen to fill these roles while making sure that the sustainability of the business is the main focus.

Leadership and Gender Workshops were held across in the various business units and locations and thought provoking workshops that introduce diversity concepts and examines gender differences and their effects on business relationships, communications and decision making are organized to guarantee participants generate specific local actions to improve diversity. On-going diversity training helps drive employee engagement and creates a work environment that visibly values and leverages diversity.

Lafarge Africa has expanded this culture of diversity through its recruitment initiatives; partnering with a number of diversity focused companies and associations to ensure Lafarge has tapped the largest possible pool of candidates.Some other initiatives introduced by the cement giant in Nigeria to support diversity and inclusion include the activation of Women’s Networking Groups, flexible work hours in the corporate head office, supporting nursing mothers with crèche allowance, provision of paternity leave, and exclusion of maternity leave from annual leave entitlement.

The organisation’s  search for diverse talent at all levels informs the strong ties that the Lafarge Friends of Community (FOC) mentorship initiative has with public primary and secondaryschools targeted at contributing to the development of  young talents, seeking out and discovering them long before they get to the recruiters table.

The barriers to success are many, not least among them the prevailing cultural beliefs and biases. The Lafarge Africa approach to overcoming these biases that may hinder the success of hiring, retaining, and promoting more talented women—and seizing the associated business opportunity—nothing less than the full commitment of the CEO and his senior management team will suffice.

To this end, out of the 12 members of Lafarge Africa Plc’s top management team, 4 are women – one of them being the recently appointed managing director of WAPCO Operations, Adepeju Adebajo. Others include, Fidelia Osime – Country Organization & Human Resources Director, Edith Onwuchekwa – Country Legal Counsel and Viola Graham Douglas – Country Communication Director. The combined wealth of experience and exposure wielded by these amazons, is without a doubt an undisputable asset to the Lafarge family and a justification of the corporate policy of diversity and inclusion. This representation does not stop at the directorial level of the company but permeates across board and in key middle management roles, where women feature prominently and contribute actively to the overall success rating of the company.

However, the reality of life is not lost on Lafarge Africa Plc for these amazons. Without coming across as favoritism; a work/life balance is struck that ensures that every member of staff – both male and female – are given the time, opportunity and means to attain their personal life goals and career aspirations which translates into a deep sense of brand immersion with everyone living the Lafarge brand.

Across the world, women have continued to attain high rankings in key leadership traits like ambition and decisiveness. The natural trait of placing a high value and importance on intelligence and honesty — positions them as assets with essential leadership traits. The truth of the matter is that a totally transformed workforce may be a while away for many corporations, but Lafarge Africa Plc has proven with its amazons that with conscious effort, success is attainable.

IFEOMA OKEKE & MARGARET SUNDAY