Nigerian companies lag peers in women inclusion

Out of the over three million registered companies in Nigeria, only 34 have signed to the Women Empowerment Principles (WEPs), a United Nations (UN) set of principles offering guidance to businesses on how to promote gender equality and women’s empowerment in the workplace, marketplace and community.

Compared to the 574 companies that signed up for WEPs in Brazil, a country with a similar population size as Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation is at bottom of the pyramid of countries whose companies are committed to women inclusion.

About 265 companies have signed up in China, and in the United States, 228 companies have shown commitment.

Established by UN Global Compact and UN Women, the WEPs are informed by international labour and human rights standards and grounded in the recognition that businesses have a stake in, and responsibility for, gender equality and women’s empowerment.

“If Nigeria is to meet the sustainable development goal of ensuring women’s full and effective participation and equal opportunities for leadership at all levels of decision-making in political, economic and public life”, London of School of Economics and Political Science alumnus, Nwamaka Ogbonna said it would need to make women inclusion a priority.

While about 49 percent of the Nigerian population and one out of four women in sub-Saharan Africa is a Nigerian, the high exclusion rate in top decision-making positions in companies and the society at large has left Nigerian women with little opportunity to contribute to the growth and development of the country, analysts said.

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At a recent event by UN Women, in partnership with Women in Successful Careers (WISCAR), titled “Private Sector Leaders Engagement Forum on the WEPs”, the Programme specialist, Spotlight initiative UN Women Nigeria, Tosin Akibu said that through WEPs, companies can identify areas of improvement such as promoting women strategic leadership, close gender gap amongst others.

According to her, a diverse workforce fosters diverse ideas and generates dynamics that encourage creativity and lead to innovation. She cited Airtel Nigeria as one of the few companies where their recent adverts and innovation have been ahead of the game.

“Our adverts have been off the charts. This is because women make 90 percent of the team,” Chioma Okolie, Corporate Social Responsibility & Sustainability Expert at Airtel Nigeria said.

During the event, it was stated that Investors believe companies that promote gender equality are more productive, profitable, and reputable. This is because these companies effectively balance purpose and profit, and also meet the needs of both stakeholders and Shareholders.

Amina Oyagbola, founder and chairperson of WISCAR said, “Equal treatment of men and women is not just the right thing to do. It is good for business.”

Companies like Wema Bank, Nigeria stock exchange, First Bank of Nigeria, Access Bank amongst others are signatories to WEPs.

In the report given at the conference, Nigeria was said to have the lowest number of women in government on the continent with a meagre 3.6 percent across the state and national level and only 16 percent representation in appointive positions at the national level.

This is compared to Rwanda, with the highest with 61.25 percent of women in national parliament, South Africa with 46.1 percent, Namibia with 44.23 percent, and Kenya with 21.6 percent.

This is part of what the Gender and Equal Opportunities Bill (GEOB), awaiting second reading at the senate, is set to address.

The UN Women is looking to sign 100 more companies to WEPs in the country this year and 200 next year.

In the event, companies were encouraged to not just sign in to WEPs but take steps to turn their commitments into action, monitor and report on their progress, and work collaboratively on multi-stakeholder networks.

“The private sector should make concerted and deliberate efforts to advance gender equality for shared prosperity,” said Amina.