Importance of Gender Equality in African Companies in the C-Suite

The Chief Human Resources Officer of the Vodacom Group, Matimba Mbungela talks about the importance of African companies stiriving for gender equality in the C-Suite.

Matimba Mbungela, the Chief Human Resources Officer at the Vodacom Group talks about the importance of African companies striving for gender equality in the C-Suite.

It’s broadly recognised that firms with a greater gender diversity among senior leadership perform better, a view that is supported by existing research. For both large and smaller companies, diversity, equity and inclusion are rightly in the spotlight, as aside from the obvious moral argument for increasing diversity in top management teams, having a variety of people from different backgrounds and cultures necessarily broadens the viewpoints and thinking within companies. An inclusive and diverse background allows wider perspectives to be integrated when innovating and developing new ideas. And weve seen the pitfalls when teams are not inclusive or diverse enough – bias in AI programming is just one notable example.

As a leader in human resources, its been interesting to read how incorporating women into top management teams actually shifts how the C-Suite thinks about innovation, ultimately enabling these companies to consider a wider variety of strategies for creating value.

What the research indicates is that companies with more women in senior positions are more profitable, are more socially responsible, and provide safer, higher-quality customer experiences, among other benefits. But importantly, female executives dont just offer specific new ideas to the team; their presence actually makes the C-Suite collectively more open to change and less comfortable with risk-taking. Linked to this is earlier research that suggests that women are less likely to care about tradition and are more open to challenging the status quo than their male counterparts. Behavioural psychology has found that these attitudes fundamentally increase others receptiveness to change, so its understandable that as more women are appointed to executive teams, it could trigger more open-mindedness in top management.

Of course, its also possible that simply increasing diversity in top management teams, and bringing in more diverse perspectives for key decisions, can make a group more open to change, and more likely to consider change as feasible. And at the same time, having a wider range of opinions to consider often slows down decision-making, decreasing the chances that the group will make rash or risky decisions. These insights invite some deep thinking about how companies approach gender equity and diversity conversations.

In Africa, this discussion is particularly relevant and necessary to have. Even though women make up over half the population, they are underrepresented in many positions of authority. Grant Thornton reports that just 39 percent of senior management positions in African businesses are held by women. Although companies have introduced gender equality initiatives, many are struggling to identify and take the necessary actions to expedite progress and promote gender and racial diversity within their senior leadership. According to the latest World Economic Forums Gender Gap report, it will take Sub-Sahara Africa 121.7 years to close the gender parity gap, with progress on economic participation and opportunity in the region slow. This shows that we have a long way to go before we start approaching gender equality.

In the telco industry, gender diversity remains a challenge. The State of the ICT Sector Report in South Africa for 2021 records 37% of employees in the telco sector as female, with black female management making up only 16% of the sectors Exco members. ICT is traditionally viewed as a male-dominated industry throughout the world. To break down these stereotypes and attract more women to the industry, we need to nurture young female talent in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) and promote female role models within it.

At Vodacom, were striving for an inclusive and diverse culture that celebrates difference and achieves gender balance. In South Africa our workforce comprises 43.6% women, while female representation at senior management level is 35% against our 38.5% (by 2024) target at Vodacom Group. We are implementing initiatives to develop future local leaders – specifically, female leaders – and empowering women in the workplace. Even as we have reached 50% gender diversity at Exco level – an achievement to be applauded – we know there is still work to be done.

Matimba Mbungela, Chief Human Resources Officer, Vodacom Group

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