Working Women in Africa

Research shows that companies with a greater share of women on their boards of directors and executive committees tend to perform better financially. African companies are no different; this report found that the earnings before interest and taxes (EBIT) margin of those with at least a quarter share of women on their boards was on average 20 percent higher than the industry average. Yet gender equality remains some way off. This report therefore examines in detail women’s representation on Africa’s corporate boards and executive committees, and in its parliaments and cabinets. And it examines the barriers that prevent greater gender diversity as well as the actions organizations can take to remove them.

There are three main findings: In the private sector, Africa has more women in executive committee, CEO, and board roles in companies than the average worldwide. Numbers vary by industry and region – not surprisingly – and are much lower in industries that traditionally rely on men for their workforce (heavy industry, for example). Yet women are still under-represented at every level of the corporate ladder – non-management and middle and senior management – and fall in number the higher they climb. Only 5 percent of women make it to the very top. In government the number of women parliamentarians has almost doubled over the past 15 years and the number of women in cabinet has grown fivefold in 35 years. Again, numbers vary considerably, this time by country and region. Southern and East Africa are ahead of the pack, but there is room for improvement even here. In global terms, Africa has more women in parliament and cabinet than the average.

Credit for this growth may go in large part to targets for women’s representation set by parliaments and political parties. Representation, however, still needs to double if Africa is to achieve gender equality. Numbers do not equal influence. Although the number of women in leadership positions may have risen, women do not necessarily have greater power. In the private sector, more than half of senior women occupy staff roles rather than the line roles2 from which promotion to CEO typically comes. In the public sector, approximately half of women cabinet ministers hold social welfare portfolios, with arguably limited political influence, that do not open doors to top leadership roles. Indeed, the increase in women’s share of cabinet roles appears to come more from the creation of new social welfare portfolios than from any real redistribution of power.

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