Women lead Unilever C-Suite

Justin Apsey
Unilever East Africa chief executive Justin Apsey at a past event. The number of women top managers at Unilever East Africa has surpassed that of men. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

The number of women top managers at Unilever East Africa has surpassed that of men, making it one of the few firms in corporate Kenya with a female-dominated executive suite.

The firm, which makes top household brands such as OMO, Sunlight, and Vaseline, among other products, says the proportion of women managers at the Kenya office has increased to 52 percent.

This is higher than the multinational’s global average of 50 percent, which the firm reckons was achieved a year ahead of target.

Representation of women in the executive suite and boardroom of Kenya firms has increased over the years, but remains male-dominated.

“With 52 percent women in management, inclusion is at the heart of our sustainable development agenda and it’s our paramount responsibility to accelerate progress in equality of opportunity and women’s empowerment in Kenya,” said Justin Apsey, Unilever East Africa managing director.


He said the gender balance breakthrough was a big achievement in Kenya where women account for only 22 percent of managerial positions.

The 50 percent female managers’ representation globally is an improvement from the 38 percent registered in 2010, Unilever says.

Several global studies have found that companies with significant numbers of women on boards and senior management did better on a range of criteria, including leadership, accountability, innovation and risk management.

There are six women CEOs among the 62 firms listed at the Nairobi Securities Exchange (NSE), representing a 9.7 percent share.

Local firms, especially those with multinational anchor shareholders, are pushing to have more women on the board and executive suite.

Safaricom, for instance, says it has achieved gender parity across all staff, and is racing to have women account for about half of its managers by 22, up from the current 34 percent.

Unilever reckons that it has fixed gender imbalance in departments such as finance and supply chain that have historically been male-dominated.

More importantly, boards have traditionally been made up of retired men of similar backgrounds who recruit new colleagues from a network of friends.

This has been blamed on the reliance on old-boy networks for directorship appointments, with the boards playing a key role in the appointments of top managers.