By Gina Din- Kariuki :: Wednesday, September 28, 2016

In October 1997, I opened the doors to Gina Din Group (then Gina Din Corporate Communications). Back then there were very few women running large successful companies. It was an interesting time to start out a business, particularly coming out of a well-paid multinational. Most of the communications companies were major international agencies that combined advertising and PR. The idea of a stand alone PR agency run by a Kenyan woman was seen as something of an oddity.

At that time every CEO of any company I was looking at as a client was male. I had two children by then, one who was 6 years old and the other who was one. I remember there was one CEO who arrived in the country and came in to see me. He asked if this was a "side job" when he saw the pictures of my children in my office.

There was, of course, also less access to capital given that most decision-makers in banks were men and the media whom I needed as partners were all run by men. There were very few women entrepreneurs back then so role models were difficult to find.

Suffice to say, navigating this male-dominated corporate world was replete with challenges. I often had to work ten times harder to prove myself.

The role of a woman in an African context has traditionally been a multifaceted one. We are mothers, sisters, wives, housekeepers, therapists. The woman is the centre of the household and has rightfully taken a leadership role in her community.

Today we see women sit on boards, run multinational companies and start their own successful businesses all around the globe. According to the latest Women Matter Report published by McKinsey & Company, Africa is outperforming the world when it comes to women’s representation in leadership positions. In the private sector, African women hold 5% of CEO positions and 23% of executive committee positions, in comparison to the global average of 4% and 20% respectively.

Rwanda, meanwhile, has the highest number of women in parliament in the world with 64%. African women’s representation in the cabinet also sits above the global average.

Seeing women in positions of power all around the world is increasingly becoming more common. The United States may elect their first female president in November of this year. Germany, Bangladesh, Liberia, Taiwan and Mauritius currently have women sitting in the most powerful seat in the country.

While this commendable, in both the private sector and in politics, influence and power remain disproportionally with the men. And despite our efforts, equality eludes us.

“Women are outnumbered by men not just at the senior management and board levels but at every stage of the African corporate pipeline.” This is what McKinsey & Company found in the Woman Matter Africa report. I have seen this in countless meetings and companies that I have walked into. The report also found that in Africa, women account for 29% of senior management level jobs, 40% of middle-management and 47% of non-management professions.

Archaic yet pervasive beliefs about a woman’s role in society and in the workplace are in part driving these disproportionate figures and unbalanced executive boards. We live in a world that celebrates an ambitious men but puts down an equally as ambitious woman for being too aggressive.This is despite the fact that research consistently finds diversity is crucial in the workplace. Companies that hire more women tend to perform better financially. McKinsey reports that “companies with a greater number of women in leadership positions tend to manage risk better.” Women are also more “likely to co-operate, collaborate” and “can be open to considering new ideas and a broader set of solutions.”

We all need to look at our organisations and assess and redress gender issues from within. Gender diversity is an issue that must be understood in order to be dealt with. It must become a priority in order for it to become a reality.

Beyond the private sector and government, we need to see women be a part of the decision-making process as we work towards achieving the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. Strengthening our communities must involve women taking charge. We must encourage young women to be leaders in their respective fields. We must raise them to not view a female leader as an exception, but as the norm.

When I look back to the woman I was when I started Gina Din Group, I must commend her strength and resilience. Taking charge of one's life and one's career isn’t easy. But when you decide to become a leader, the possibilities are endless. You decide the value you will bring to the world.

Lets all take an active role in ensuring that women in Africa are able to do the same.

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