Time to entrench diversity in the workplace

An empty boardroom. Research shows that gender diversity is good for business. FILE PHOTO | NMG
An empty boardroom. Research shows that gender diversity is good for business. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

Diversity is quickly gaining prominence in today’s corporate world. Fundamentally, diversity means respect for and appreciation of differences in age, gender, ethnicity, religion, disability, sexual orientation, education and national origin.

While the term diversity and inclusion are sometimes used interchangeably, the later depicts a state of being included or embracing all people irrespective of their race, gender, disability or any other attribute.

Gender diversity is still a mirage in Kenyan corporates but, like elsewhere in the world, there exists concerted efforts to address this imbalance, a 2017 report by the Kenya Institute of Management (KIM Leadership and Diversity Survey Report 2017) has established.

Women representation in boards of listed companies stands at 21 per cent in 2017 up from 14 per cent in 2012 and 18 per cent in 2015. Board chairperson’s positions are also heavily skewed towards the male gender, with 7.7 per cent being women.

Only five companies out of the 52 that participated in the survey have female chairpersons, which compares well with the global average.

Like in the boardroom, the study found, women representation in senior management is a quarter, meaning there is one woman for every three men in the senior management teams.

In fact, four organisations of the 44 that participated in the senior management teams survey have no single woman in the team.

The report determines that listed companies with female representation of at least 25 per cent have had a positive influence on the organisations’ performance. This, however, is still below the one third gender rule.

While no market among those surveyed or compared with has achieved a 50:50 gender balance in the boardroom, Kenya emerged a trailblazer in not only developing markets, but even in comparison with developed markets.

This is good news and we appreciate the journey we have travelled as a country. We believe that more can and needs to be done.

Companies that have more women in boards and senior management benefit from diversity of thought, varied creative ideas and in-depth insights which result in better decision-making.

Teams that are gender-balanced bring greater industry knowledge and help the company access multiple channels of information and more resources.

According to the KIM report, age diversity is also far from being achieved, with Kenyan boardrooms recording an average age of 56 years (baby boomer generation).

While this is three years younger than the global average of 59 years and compares even better than developed markets like the US and Canada, it is far from the ideal in an era where the workplace is composed of three generations - millennials, generation X, and baby boomers.

A number of notable surveys from Financial Times, Harvard Business Review, Egon Zehnder and Deloitte concede that age diversity at the top is progressing at a nonagenarian’s pace.

Recent data shows that newly appointed board members are broadening age diversity. Nearly nine per cent of all new board members appointed since 2015 are under 45, and new female board members are more likely than males to be under 45; 11 per cent to eight per cent respectively.

The countries bringing the largest pool of young directors onto boards are those in Western Europe where quotas have been instituted: France, Spain and Italy. It is widely believed that older board members bring more experience to the table, but younger members have more energy. They are tech savvy, bold, and are armed with new outlooks and innovative ideas on new products and markets.

Other diversity variables are not very well researched and the scanty data available indicates low diversity in professions, education, nationality and ethnicity. According to the KIM Report, in Kenya, finance based professionals are more present in boardrooms, with accountants, auditors, bankers, and investment sector professionals taking over 40 per cent of the slots.

Legal and business management professionals also have high representation. Science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) based careers have less than 10 per cent representation.

Of all the professions quoted, 85 per cent are in only 10 areas - the largest being finance which includes accounting, banking, audit, investment, insurance, and actuary professionals.

Nationality diversity in Kenya was also measured and 62 per cent of the listed companies have at least one non-Kenyan in their board compared to 74 per cent global average.

As organisations seek to recruit qualified members to their boards, one of the challenges cited in Kenya is inadequate supply of qualified candidates especially in relation to skills, gender and age.