Letter to the Editor

The corner offices of corporate Zambia still exclusive boys’ club


DESPITE the strong case to have more women in corporate leadership ranks, Zambia is making little headway. Yes, it is true that there are exceptional cases, but on the whole the number of women in executive roles remains considerably marginal.

There seems to be an increasing number of companies that are hiring more and more women workers, a view eminent scholars attribute to the growing significance of the usage of women workers. Generally, women seem to be the majority in a number of companies working in various capacities.
For example, a casual look at our supermarkets, banks, malls, restaurants, mobile companies and other sectors reveals that the majority of workers are women.
While the possibility of women rising to corporate elite positions is higher, the converse is true. The number of women in higher ranking roles in comparison to men in these businesses is low. For some reason, the corporate elite positions seem to be earmarked for half of the labour force – the men.
The effect of relying on males only
The effect of relying on half of the human resource, males, has of late been cited as the reason for the financial crisis that destroyed trillions of dollars of value in western economies.
Freda Miriklis, president of International Federation of Business and Professional Women, called the corporate sector and governments to consider investing in women as part of the greater solution to the financial crisis. Commenting further, she cited Sharon Allen, the former chairperson of Deloitte, who wrote the following about the concept of the Gender Dividend: “Organisations that are able to capitalise on the roles women play as economic actors will most likely have a competitive advantage as the world pulls out of the global recession”.
Mary Mattis of Catalyst, a woman’s global organisation also noted that having a small number of women actively involved in corporate governance is a clear demonstration of “the failure of corporate leadership to recognise the competitive advantage in the recruitment of women.”
These observations call for the need of Zambian companies competently use the entire organisation’s available resources.
Given that a company’s competitiveness in the human resource is the basis for corporative competitiveness, there is need to identify the fundamental roles that women play in harnessing human capital.
The roles should be equally distributed among all human resource – be it female or male. The qualifying factor and basis for awarding should be the relevant skills, capabilities and knowledge that one has relating to the particular role. Undervaluing half of the human resource based on gender is and should not be tolerated at all.
Women, too, can help to change the status quo
Why is it still difficult to recognise women employees for top corporate jobs? That question requires more study and research to establish the answers. However, there are things women can do to change the status quo.
The first fundamental step is to push back on a number of myths advanced as constraints to women’s advancement by society. These include, women switch jobs more frequently than men, women fall apart in a crisis, women are willing to travel extensively on duty and many others.
Second, women need to have relevant experience and expertise to be effective in the roles in which they aspire for.
According to Chanda Kochhar, head of India’s largest public sector bank with 10,000 plus employees, nowadays companies are considering merit, they are not biased to any gender hence women should not expect to be treated differently in any field.
Therefore, women must not advance or forever cry ‘gender inequality’ when rightly side-lined in the absence of relevant qualifications. Remember it has been stated that the concept “human resource” is not gender based. Women should not be afraid of advancing in their education and should not be comfortable with the minimum education they may have attained. In the words of apartheid struggle hero and first black president of democratic South Africa, Nelson Mandela: “Education is the great engine of personal development. It is through education that the daughter of a peasant can become a doctor; that the son of a mine worker can become the head of the mine; that a child of farmworkers can become the president of a great nation. It is what we have, not what we are given, that separates one person from another.”
Undeniably, education would enable women to change the corner offices of corporate Zambia from being exclusive boys’ clubs. Nowadays the environment is even more conducive for furthering one’s education, with open and distance learning available and more flexible to allow women to study and attain higher qualifications.
In light of all this, I have developed the “The SMART Woman” principle that should guide women in any position in the corporate world. Being sturdy, meticulous, articulate, rational and trustworthy anchors the SMART Woman principle. In short, applying the principles would help women smash the stereotyped behaviours and myths that keep them away from the chief executive’s suite.
Women have, for generations fought for equality in all spheres of life working hard to bring change. It is therefore, essential that we do not linger on in the past victories but rise to the challenges with vigour and determination to achieve what we rightly deserve through our own merits. Women could be their own enemy by being complacent, thus failing to break out from the traditional cultural concerns that are no longer relevant in the contemporary world.
The author is deputy vice-chancellor of the University of Africa.

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