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Collymore: What we’re doing to empower women at Safaricom

Bob Collymore
Safaricom chief executive Bob Collymore. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

Safaricom #ticker:SCOM is not only the most profitable company in Kenya — having made Sh63.9 billion in net profit in the last financial year — but it is also trailblazing when it comes to the way firms treat women and mothers in the workplace. For instance, more than half of its employees — 51 per cent — are women. And the telecoms operator now requires that at least 50 per cent of all candidates shortlisted for any position must be women. But that is not all.

When a woman employee returns from maternity leave, she is retained on full pay but allowed to work fewer and more flexible hours until her baby is six months old and ready to wean. And should the need arise, the company has a baby care centre within its premises in Westlands, Nairobi where any employee is free to take their child until they clock out. Should the baby fall sick, there is an inhouse clinic to take care of their medical needs. Despite these strides, however, more women than men still fall off the ladder the higher they climb. Now, the company's chief executive, BOB COLLYMORE, has made a commitment that by the end of 2020, there will be as many women in Safaricom's corner offices as there will be men. He spoke to the Business Daily last week. Here are excerpts.

WHEN YOU TOOK OVER FROM MICHAEL JOSEPH, SAFARICOM'S PROFIT WAS SH4 BILLION. NINE YEARS DOWN THE LINE, YOU HAVE TAKEN THE COMPANY TO SH63 BILLION. TELL US SOMETHING ABOUT THAT JOURNEY.

We were focusing on the customer, not on the competition. If we had focused on the competition we would have ended up in this price spiral and we would have ended in the same place the competition are in today. We decided ‘Let us focus on what we did when Michael was running the company.’ And that is getting a deeper understanding of what the customer wants and try as much as we can to deliver for those needs.

IF YOU LOOK AT THE RECORDS FOR M-PESA AND DATA, THEY HAVE BEEN GROWING CONSISTENTLY OVER THE YEARS. WHAT DOES THAT TELL US ABOUT HOW PEOPLE ARE USING THE MOBILE AND HOW THAT IS GOING TO IMPACT ON SAFARICOM?

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We often say that in Africa, it is not a mobile first world. It is a mobile only world. A lot of people will only ever experience the Internet on a smart phone, not a laptop or tablet. It shows that there are a lot of solutions which you have to design for a phone and actually not a smartphone. Today we have about 10 million smartphones on the network of 30 million. You have to design your solutions for a feature phone as well as a smartphone. It also shows that because of the ubiquity of the mobile phone, and the fact that you have more mobile phones than you have got toilets shows that you can do quite a lot of solutions; cultural solutions, health solutions, education solutions using the smartphones.

SAFARICOM IS KNOWN FOR INNOVATION. WHAT IS THE NEXT INNOVATION? YOU HAVE DONE FULIZA BETWEEN NOVEMBER AND JANUARY. MAY BE THERE IS SOMETHING YOU WANT TO ANNOUNCE?

We will announce the new stuff when we are ready. We are working on lots of stuff. Some fail, some succeed. OneTap stumbled but we learnt from it. We learnt that what we needed were different solutions for different customers. Masoko, we are still learning. We have taken a long time learning on this one. We need to take our shoes off and run faster. It is a huge opportunity. We continue to work in the fintech sector because we can see it is growing. M-Pesa is a growing at 19 per cent. This suggests that is an area we need to focus on to deliver value for our customers and shareholders.

IF YOU LOOK AT THE SIZE OF SAFARICOM AT THE NAIROBI SECURITIES EXCHANGE, DO YOU THINK IT IS TOO BIG COMPARED TO THE REST OF THE MARKET AND IS THERE ANY POSSIBILITY OF YOU CONSIDERING A CONSOLIDATION OF SOME OF YOUR SHARES?

No. We really cannot consider consolidation. There is no advantage there. Your question should be phrased to say: Do you think the market is too small? Not that we are too big. We are not that big. We are only worth $11 billion or so. That is not big by international standards. We should have a few more like us.

YOU HAVE PLACED A BIG PREMIUM ON PEOPLE, PURPOSE AND PERFORMANCE.

There is a sequence. The first thing is purpose. You have to have purpose. Have a positive purpose. If you have to deliver on that purpose you have to ensure you are taking care of your people. We put a lot of effort in doing that. We care about diversity and inclusion in our company. Women in our company have a better deal than in other companies. Do they have a better deal than men? There are cultural and intellectual things we need to get through before they will. If you got the right people and you get an intersection of your purpose and their purpose then you start serving your community very well, not just your customers.

We aim to serve society and then customers can make a choice if we are providing the right services or not. If you have a failing society you cannot have a thriving business. We have tried to do everything; whether it is dealing with corruption, climate change, to get rid of our single-use plastic bags when the rest of industry was lobbying and going to court to stop the gazettement. In the next couple of months we will announce our intention to plant a large forest because we need to reforest the country. It is the purpose, the people will get behind that and the profit will flow.

YOU HAVE PUT A PREMIUM ON BRIDGING THE GENDER GAP. PLEASE COMMENT ON THE PROACTIVE STEPS THAT SAFARICOM IS TAKING TO GIVE WOMEN BUSINESSES.

We have 50 per cent women across the company but if you go up the ranks it gets narrower and narrower at the top. Our intention is to get to 50 per cent men and 50 per cent women at the senior manager level and we want to do that by end of 2020. You have to be deliberate about how you select women for the organisation. You have to ensure that every shortlist has 50 per cent women.

The retention of women is also important; especially mothers in child-bearing age. How do you make sure that they can feel comfortable coming back to work? So we give them four months maternity leave and when they come back they come back at full pay but on reduced hours. They work on average six hours, which is flexible, as they go through the following six months. We have a clinic here and a child care facility so they can bring their children in here. This is what we do for our own women.

We are also working with women in business. The leadership team has decided that we need to increase the percentage of our spend on women businesses. The big problem is that women businesses tend to provide table clothes and flowers and that does not generate sufficient income. We need more women in technology. As chair of the tender board, I ask a question everytime we are about to award: who owns this company? Who leads this company? We are slowly beginning to shift. Now it is three per cent of our spend on women businesses.

A lot of our spend is on radio equipment, which comes from China or Europe but we train and develop women. We say; Right now you are providing tents or table clothes, are you interested in becoming a provider for maintaining our sales sites? Are you interested a provider for laying fibre? May be we give them a sub-contract through a bigger supplier but eventually we want to move them away from being a sub-contractor to a direct contractor and we are seeing more and more of those companies.

Women-led companies tend to be more honest; they operate with integrity and higher ethics and they care for their people much more. We gain from having that. As a contractor, if you are treating your people well, your company will deliver better service to me than if you are not.

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