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How businesses can benefit from more women in boardrooms

Rose Rwabuhihi, the Chief Gender Monitor, speaks during a news conference on gender equality
in political organisation structures on December 29, 2019. / Photo: Craish Bahizi

It’s no longer a deniable debate that countries all over need to provide equal opportunities to both men and women, and particularly empower women to elevate to higher ranks that have for a long time been occupied by their male counterparts.

What’s clear now is that select countries have done a lot of policy work that allows for a conducive environment for women and girls to thrive in different sections of the society.

However, one key challenge remains: women still remain few in boardrooms in Rwanda and elsewhere.

Statistics show that there were only 33.5 per cent females who are chief executive, senior officers and legislators and only 34.5 per cent who are administrative and commercial managers in Rwanda.

The private sector is one where women haven’t been able to rise to meaningful positions, despite experts arguing that women can play critical roles when they are present in boardrooms.

Rose Rwabuhihi, the Chief Gender Monitor, says there is uneven development across different gender equality trends, citing the private sector as one of the sectors that have been lagging behind.

Yet, the constitution is very clear: “The country is expecting men and women to contribute to the development of this country, but also benefit from what the country has to give to its members.”

According to the Labour Force Survey 2018, Women account for close to 44.8 percent of the labour force.

They represent only 28 per cent among employed persons with managerial positions, as they are mostly engaged as crop farm laborers, domestic workers, stall and market salespersons, and shopkeepers.

The share of female-managed establishments is 32 per cent of total stated establishments, whereas the share of female-owned establishments is 33 per cent compared to 67 per cent establishments owned by males.

Robert Bafakurera, the Chairperson of the Private Sector Federation (PSF) believes leveraging women’s potential in the private sector can help improve productivity and economic growth.

If not, he insists that “Rwanda cannot achieve its long-held vision of transforming into a private sector-led, knowledge-based economy.”

Females are less present in most branches of economic activities, and disparities are even more significant in key economic activities such as mining and quarry, where female representation is only 6 per cent.

In information and communication technology, female representation is 26 per cent and it stands at 31 per cent for professional, scientific and technical activities, and only at 15 per cent for construction.

Women in boardrooms

Several studies have repeatedly shown that increasing diversity is not only the right thing to do for an organisation’s culture, it also leads to better business outcomes.

Rwabuhihi highlights that there is higher return on investments for organisations that empower diversified teams, saying this is not an emotional statement rather it is based on scientific studies.

“Boardrooms or institutions that have a balanced gender participation at decision making level tend to really show [significant] return on investments, because that diversified team is also serving a diversified client constituency,” she says.

She added that private businesses with diversified gender teams tend to respond better to the needs of the company and are better at targeting different classes of customers.

Increased diversity has also been proven to lead to smarter decision-making, contributes to an organisation’s bottom line, and powers innovation, among other benefits.

“We are also created with talents. If you eliminate one of the genders, for sure you are losing out on some talents, creativity and you might miss out on some innovations,” she notes.

Yet, barriers – such as outdated workplace culture and unconscious bias – to gender diversity in the boardroom, and more broadly throughout the workplace, persist.

The Private Sector Federation has collaborated with different institutions to launch the gender mainstreaming strategy, which is expected to reverse the bleak picture in gender equality in the private sector.

The strategy

While Rwanda’s laws are not discriminatory in nature, low levels of education, limited experience, social norms, and perceptions have been cited as key factors limiting women to thrive in the private sector.

With the new strategy, the private sector led by PSF is being more intentional towards promoting principles of gender equality among private business, according to Bafakurera.

The strategy, among others, seeks to strengthen access of women and men to regional, national and international markets for their products.

Generally, women in business lack information about market opportunities and this hinders their business growth.

The strategy will respond to the main challenges related to the lack of information on markets and enable women in the private sector to participate in business networking platforms that will increase their resilience in business.

It also paves way for the establishment of gender equality and women empowerment standards in the workplace, believed to increase motivation and workplace satisfaction, stronger identification with the company and better communication.

“We are already working with the Government to provide incentives to women to enable their businesses to access finance easily,” Bafakurera notes.

“For instance, Business Development Fund (BDF) give women and youth business loans of up to 70 per cent of their guarantee, compared to just 50 per cent that men get,” he adds.

PSF will now embark on an educational programme on entrepreneurship for women entrepreneurs, train businesswomen on tendering processes, and link women businesses to investors, to name but a few.

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