Women lead the way in corporate Kenya green drive


Women’s social orientation seems to guide female directors to engage their ‘third eye’ when making decisions. FILE PHOTO | NMG

Last week, I launched a report on environmental sustainability in corporate Kenya and it emerged that if you traced eco-friendly business practices, you’re most likely to find a female executive involved.

In other words, companies with one or more women on their boards or in top management were more likely to display green behaviour in various forms compared to male-dominated corporations. Green behaviour nowadays can mean black ink for businesses, not just longevity and a lower carbon footprint. Harvesting solar energy to power operations, for instance, is increasingly proving a big cost-saver, as is waste recycling.

Right from the family level, women tend be good managers of resources, their eyes on tomorrow even as they budget for today. It is this sixth sense and foresight that they bring to the boardroom when represented at higher levels of decision making.

As per the findings of the report, gender diverse companies stand head and shoulders above the rest in promoting sustainability practices, including managing the environmental side of their business.

Women’s social orientation seems to guide female directors and managers, beyond hard-core business school philosophies, to engage their ‘third eye’ when making decisions, carefully weighing the impact on people, planet and profit. It’s no coincidence that most foundations are headed by women executives, carrying out corporate social responsibility activities on behalf of corporations.

Equally, more women entrepreneurs here in Kenya are running eco-friendly businesses, ranging from recycling, green buildings, green energy and waste management. These home-grown female impact investors are becoming agents of social change, solving problems in a society in which females make up slightly over half the population.

Now, accounting for different outcomes in the organisation is a fundamental issue in management. Traditionally, when similar corporations operated in the same market conditions, but posted different performances, the explanation almost always pointed to aspects such as leadership style, talent pool and access to resources.

For long, gender diversity was never recognised as a strategy important enough to separate a winning organisation from a floundering one. But recent studies by coming-of-age experiential managers and scholars, along with glaring evidence have established that indeed inclusion of women in top ranks of management could be a game-changer.

It should be noted that a corporate board, being the decision-making and resource allocating body in the organisation, is always under pressure to hand shareholders decent returns. A rank lower in the hierarchy, is the management team whose responsibility is to implement strategic decisions directed and approved by the board.

To implement, the management team runs an assessment of the resources available, the business climate and competition, with the singular goal of hitting targets almost invariably tied to profit maximisation. This pressure from above to grow margins quickly, often pushes corporations into cutting corners while neglecting sustainable practices deemed costly in the near term but whose payoff in the long-term could be bigger. No wonder financial engineering has moved to the centre of many businesses, as concerns around actual production drift to the periphery. Afraid to upset shareholders and directors, a company would rather continue polluting the environment than deny shareholders dividend payouts by reinvesting profits in efficient waste management technology.

From my survey, such profit-first at-all-cost mentality was predominantly associated with firms dominated by male executives. On the other hand, those with women representation tended to put into consideration other factors such as environmental sustainability beyond black ink on their balance sheets.

It was almost as if the presence of women in boardrooms had a moderating effect on the predatory business nature of their male counterparts. With women at the wheel, decision-making was seen to be participative, democratic, and assumed a communal vibe.

From a more nuanced standpoint, the study revealed that the quality of management decisions was more often tethered to the age and experience of executives, the older and more experienced, the better and more refined the decisions were. Other factors were leadership style, exposure and education background, all of which defined the managers’ field of vision, sense of judgment, perception and interpretation when making decisions.

More broadly, processing information, making tough calls and solving problems relied heavily on the managers’ cognitive capacity, which was always shaped by the foregoing factors.

A good leader, for instance, focuses not on every aspect, but only on what he or she thinks deserves their attention, while delegating the rest.

In conclusion, and as per the report findings, the need to bring women on board and top management does not only make business sense but it’s a timely thing to do in promoting green practices.