How to create equitable opportunities for women’s career development

It's inspiring to see the gains made towards gender diversity in corporate leadership. PHOTO | SHUTTERSTOCK

It's inspiring to see the gains made towards gender diversity in corporate leadership. The progress ought to provide momentum for concerted efforts to break down barriers and create pathways for women to thrive and excel in all aspects of the business world.

Gender diversity in corporate leadership is on the rise, and a 2023 survey by IBM Global stated that the representation of women in leadership positions saw a 12 percent increase last year in both C-suite and executive board positions. Despite this development at senior levels, there remains a gap in the growth of early-career professional women, which creates a potential bottleneck for women into leadership.

Women in leadership positions enrich organisations by introducing diverse perspectives, innovative ideas and unique problem-solving approaches. Therefore, diversity at the leadership level leads to more effective decision-making, increased creativity and innovation, greater understanding and overall improved company performance.

Recognising this, women’s career progression from entry to leadership levels is critical to unleashing the full potential of diversity throughout an organisation. Addressing the bottlenecks not only ensures equitable opportunities but also creates a richer talent pool.

One of the prominent obstacles to women’s career progression is gender bias and stereotyping. Despite gains realised in gender equity, some organisations still hold onto traditional gender roles and expectations that mislabel women’s soft skills as “being too emotional” or “lacking assertiveness.” This robs organisations of the opportunity to harness the benefits that soft skills bring to workplace culture.

Expectation to balance work and life responsibilities is another challenge they face. Women are more likely than men to take on caregiving roles of children and the elderly, putting a strain on their time and energy.

This makes it difficult for women in demanding leadership positions to balance these responsibilities leading to burnout and stress. Recognising this, organisations can put measures in place to create equitable opportunities for women’s career development.

In male-dominated spaces, women may feel pressured to conform to certain personality traits, resulting in the suppression of their voices and perspectives. Overcoming these obstacles requires fostering inclusive work environments that promote diversity and create equal opportunities for growth and development.

Leaders hold the key to fostering gender diversity, setting the pace for empowering women in organisations. Actively mentoring and supporting women is one way to provide them with growth opportunities, leading to more women in leadership positions.

Coupled with reward and recognition of female employees’ achievements this creates a culture in which they are encouraged to put themselves forward for opportunities.

Organisations with progressive family-oriented policies benefit the work-life balance of women in caregiving roles. Policies including parental leave, flexi-hours or hybrid working and workplace crèches, while extended to both male and female employees, go a long way to creating equity for women, who are often the primary caregivers.

Leaders can provide women with fair opportunities to learn and lead which is critical to addressing historical and societal factors that have led to unequal starting points and created gender disparity.

Linked to this, addressing pay inequalities supports retention of high-performing women employees fostering an environment in which women can ascend to leadership positions and do not have to leave the organisation for growth.

There are organisations that are leading the charge in gender inclusion, and East African Breweries PLC (EABL) is a standout example. Dedicated to championing inclusion and diversity through its ranks, the company’s ambition is to achieve 50 percent representation of women in leadership roles by 2030. This ambition cascades through the corporate organisation and is reflected in its brands.

Johnnie Walker, through its “She Walks” platform, is also creating platforms and spaces for women leaders, both the accomplished and the aspiring. The platform has backed women-led initiatives such as the Magical Kenya Ladies Open for four years, serving as a corporate brand sponsor and supporting emerging female golfers.

Additionally, Johnnie Walker collaborates with the What Women Want (WWW) forum, uniting like-minded women for learning, sharing, and networking.

As leaders encourage women to break barriers and glass ceilings, they are also custodians of the organisational initiatives that drive inclusion and diversity. Intentionality and deliberateness about opening up the bottlenecks to women’s career development from entry-level to leadership level will gear organisations to harness their full potential.

Jean Okech-Nyawara is the Head of Marketing (Spirits) at EABL.

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