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Women now have a clearer but slow path to C-Suite

The push for diversity in the corporate world, with a strong focus on women inclusion in the last few years, has spurred certain shifts in organisational culture that seemed unalterable for decades.

Having a diversity plan that is intentional about clearing the path for underrepresented groups of women to get into the C-suite level management has become a familiar objective that companies are now proud to show off when reeling out their performance index.

There are now companies that push programmes that challenge women-led companies to scale businesses through the pillars of capital, talent, technology, and a supportive ecosystem of resources and networking opportunities for them to thrive.

Read Also: Why celebrating women is a no brainer

Despite industry and sector-specific hindrances, women also are increasingly taking their journey to boardroom very seriously, arming themselves with the right skill set, qualifications and experience to overcome those obstacles.

That growth is reflected as findings from the PWR NGX Top 20 Gender diversity scorecard indicates that the number of female board directors in the top 20 capitalised companies on the Nigerian Stock Exchange rose 2.5 percent in 2021.

While some progress has been recorded, it is minimal and far from satisfactory. Much more needs to be done to accelerate the rate of change and unlock untapped value

From 20.9 percent last year, 23.4 percent of these companies have more women in the decision chamber this year; 25 percent have at least 30 percent female representation on their boards and 10 percent of the companies have female board chairs.

Read Also: Achieving gender equality – Banking and finance

The scorecard founded by PWR Advisory last year, tracks the level of female representation on the boards of firms leading some of Nigeria’s largest businesses and aims to echo the business need for gender diversity in boardrooms.

This means at least one in five board members of Nigeria’s top companies are female, much above the world average of 17 percent for female representation on boards.

Nigerian banks have the most women on their boards, or at least a quarter of board positions, as the central bank recommends that at least 30 percent of board seats are allocated to women.

The challenge with these signs of improvement, however, is that the growth is sluggish and contractions were recorded in some areas that saw improvement in 2020.

“While some progress has been recorded, it is minimal and far from satisfactory. Much more needs to be done to accelerate the rate of change and unlock untapped value,” Ivana Osagie, founder, PWR Advisory said in a statement accompanying the report. “Businesses and communities in Nigeria and across the African continent will reap significant economic return by fully unleashing the potential of half the population.”

This year, female representation on the boards dropped to 25 percent from 30 percent. Against 15 percent in 2020, companies that have female board chairs have declined to 10 percent while none of the 20 companies on the list has a female chief executive officer.

Lafarge Cement Wapco, Stanbic IBTC Holdings, Nigerian Breweries, Access Bank and Guarantee Trust Holdings Co ranked the five top performers.

Advocates seem to have this ounce of progress mixed with worries that critical challenges still stunt the growth of women across various career paths in the corporate world.

Some say despite the proven benefits of gender diversification in business, the implementation of inclusion plans remains a challenge.

Diversity according to some human resource experts brings fresh perspectives to problem-solving and increased productivity.

A 2015 research by McKinsey & Company, an international consulting firm, indicates that diverse teams perform better and bring in more profits. The report, which assessed 366 companies in the United States found that those in the top quartile for gender diversity are 15 percent more likely to have returns above the industry standard. Also, those who were racially diverse in management, were found 35 percent more likely to have financial returns above their industry standard.

Hansatu Adegbite, executive director, Women in Management, Business and Public Service (WIMBIZ) said the issue of female representation on boards across any kind of industry or sector in Nigeria is a heinous task, noting that apart from the patriarchal nature of the Nigerian society, it is difficult for women to move up the ladder.

Nevertheless, she believes that small progress is better than no progress at all.

She said the little strides recorded should not be overlooked in the quest to increase the representation of women on boards as there was a time on the Nigerian Stock Exchange that no woman was on the board of any company.

Adegbite noted that the non-profit organisation advocating for greater representation of women in leadership positions in the public and private sector has seen more women developing themselves and becoming more participatory.

Women have also started seeing the need to know and understand what happens in the boardroom and the things they need to put in place to get there, she said.

“The issues will always be there. There are traditional boardrooms and traditional sectors where we don’t have the women yet ready and equipped to occupy those spaces, but I can assure you that they are coming,” the executive director told BusinessDay.

If there are right leaders, right policies and chief executives that see the value of gender balance in their leadership work, and not just pushing it from the board level but from entry to mid-level, senior and executive-level. Furthermore, creating policies and organisational development strategy then it would be possible to move towards 30 percent or overtaking the mark, she explained.

With one in four board positions taken by women, Africa generally has the highest proportion of women on boards, beating second-placed Europe at 23 percent and Latin America at 7 percent, the McKinsey Global Institute said in a report 2019.

Compared to South Africa, female board representation in Nigeria has fared poorly. Women hold 29 percent of board seats in the top 100 listed companies in South Africa, according to data from the United Nations (UN) Sustainable Stock Exchanges Initiative.

Globally, board gender diversity has been in the spotlight over the last 12 months. In the UK, the Financial Conduct Authority is proposing new guidelines under which companies ensure 40 percent of board seats are filled by women.

Also, at least one senior board position – Chair, CEO, CFO, or senior independent director – is to be occupied by a woman. Companies will be required to ‘comply or explain’. In the US, NASDAQ is proposing adopting mandatory listing rules along the same line.

Olumide Balogun, chief executive, Box and Cedar, a human resource consulting firm, said women need to be encouraged to begin to attend courses on what to do to become board members.

She said the issue is not lack of capable women but there is a training component that goes into being a board member, which is lacking.

Over the years, the men have taken a lot of those roles and have been very aggressive but for a while the women didn’t even aspire, Balogun said, noting that the companies can bring on these trainings.

“I think that in the next five years the number we have will be retained and doubled in the banking sector because there are now a lot of strong women in the banking sector that can become managing directors,” she said.

Balogun further raised the need for companies to have a succession planning strategy, saying with it, organisations would know who should go next for certain positions.

“It also boils down to good human resource strategy. Unfortunately, in Nigeria, we just do things as we meet them. We do not plan enough for it. There are still a lot of human resources departments that are just doing what the managing director wants,” Balogun said.

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