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Is the world ready to be gender equal in leadership?
By Anne Valko Celestino, Senior Gender Specialist, and Elisa Desbordes-Cissé, Communication Consultant, at the African Development Bank
Today’s world gets ever more integrated and interconnected. Innovative and transformative technologies are fast emerging, economies are expanding, and education and skills are increasing and improving. However, these advances are yet to translate into equal and sustained economic opportunities, political representation and social empowerment for women, who continue to be under-represented in the workforce, and even more so in leadership positions with only 22% women representation in ministerial and parliamentary roles and 25% in management positions globally in 2017i.
Yet, hard evidence demonstrates the financial benefits of more inclusive leadership; the most respected leaders and institutions pledge economic and social commitments; political champions are advocating gender equality. Why is it still proving so difficult to make room for qualified women to succeed? What will it take for men to recognise women as equal partners, rather than fearing female dominance? In short, is the world ready and willing to treat men and women leaders equally?
The Global Gender Gap Reportii predicts that the gender gap will take another 108 years to close, and that the gap in economics could take 202 years.
Common perceptions link gender equality with economic development. However, in western Europe, where the recognition of women’s rights started as early as 1906 (in Finland)iii countries are still far from reaching gender parity. Women are still under-represented in top official and corporate positions. Switzerland, which ranks in the top five of the 2019 Index of Economic Freedom, is only in 20th place in the Gender Gap Index, with a wage gap of close to 20% in 2018 (and here, women only got the right to vote in federal elections in 1971). While France ranks marginally better, in 12th place, disparities remain obvious: All the presidents and CEOs of companies listed on the Paris Stock Exchange are men.
The story for Africa is a compelling one. African companies are reported to have more women in boardrooms (23%) and senior management (5%) compared to other continents (average of 20% and 4% respectfully)iv . Nonetheless, women are under-represented at every level of the corporate ladder as well as in the traditionally male-dominated sectors. In its 2015 Where are the Women Reportv, the African Development Bank found that women held only 12.7% of board directorships in Africa. According to the Gender Gap Index, three leading African countries (Rwanda, Namibia and South Africa) have been scoring high and are listed in the top 20 countries over the past few years, respectively ranking 6th, 10th and 19th in 2018vi. The African Development Bank shall reflect on this progression in the forthcoming report on women on boards.
Progressive corporates and governments, along with United Nations senior managementvii, are among the main drivers of feminist leadership, reflecting a change from elemental female leadership, where only the numbers count, implying a new structure of power and quality inclusiveness. They are changing the narrative, resulting in new and positive work environments: job sharing, longer parental leave (and for men as well as women), flexible working hours and roles. Gender parity numbers have also increased in certain sectors. However, gender stereotypes remain embedded in all societies, even where women successfully make it to the top.
The African Development Bank, as one of the continent’s most popular employersviii, has the same challenges. Only 30% of the Bank’s professional staff are women and only 26% are in managerial positions. Working on the evidence of the multiple benefits from investing in women and the insights and experiences from other companies, the Bank is working to redress the trend, while understanding that success is not defined by setting or achieving a target of 30% female participation. In its progress, the Bank falls short of genuine gender neutrality – the equal opportunity of a 50% chance each for men and women during their careers.
Is the world ready to be genuinely gender equal and have women leaders as a norm? The key to progress and success is to challenge the perception that inclusion implies a redistribution in which women take from men. Diverse leadership and gender equality mean added value, not quotas, in quality assets.
iMcKinsey & Company, Women Matter: Time to Accelerate, Ten Year of insights into gender diversity, 2017: https://www.mckinsey.com/~/media/McKinsey/Featured%20Insights/Women%20matter/Women%20Matter%20Ten%20years%20of%20insights%20on%20the%20importance%20of%20gender%20diversity/Women-Matter-Time-to-accelerate-Ten-years-of-insights-into-gender-diversity.ashx
iiWorld Economic Forum Global Gender Gap Report 2018 https://www.weforum.org/reports/the-global-gender-gap-report-2018
iiiNew Zealand and Australia were the first countries to give women the right to vote in 1893 and 1902 respectively.
ivMcKinsey&Company Women Matter Africa, 2016: https://www.mckinsey.com/featured-insights/gender-equality/women-matter-africa
vAfrican Development Bank, Where are the Women: Inclusive Boardrooms in Africa’s top listed companies https://www.afdb.org/fileadmin/uploads/afdb/Documents/Publications/Where_are_the_Women_Inclusive_Boardrooms_in_Africa%E2%80%99s_top-listed_companies.pdf
viiiThe African Development Bank is ranked the 4th African Employer of Choice by the 2018 Careers in Africa Employer of Choice Survey: http://www.careersinafrica.com/employer-of-choice/
Nota Bene: all sites last accessed on June 3rd, 2019