To significantly increase the participation of women in the economy, African businesses must actively develop a pipeline of qualified female candidates for top management positions so as to harness the benefits women can bring to bear on the economy through quality leadership.

Mrs Aishah Ahmad, Chairperson, Executive Council, Women in Management, Business and Public Service (WIMBIZ) and Head Consumer Banking at Diamond Bank made the observation at the recently concluded 2016 London Business School’s Africa Business Summit. 

Speaking during the plenary panel session titled 'The Gender Agenda', she highlighted the need for businesses to make deliberate efforts to harness the potentials of qualified women within the workforce, while encouraging women to strive for successful careers without opting out at mid-levels.

 ‘Organisations must deal with the urgent and real requirement of establishing a pipeline of qualified female candidates for consideration in top management and board positions.

As it stands, representation levels dwindle at senior to top management as many women opt out of the workforce at middle management levels,’ Mrs Ahmad said.

The Gender Agenda panel re-examined the state of gender parity in Africa and the role of women in driving macro-economic growth. The panelists especially highlighted strategies to ensure that Africa makes far better use of the women in the workforce.

She used the occasion to disclose that WIMBIZ over the last 15 years was continually executing programs to elevate the economic contributions of women in the workforce including building leadership and enterprenueral skills, advocacy, mentorships and international partnerships.

According to her, ‘WIMBIZ is at the forefront of enabling organisations to achieve their gender parity objectives and through the WIMBOARD we are actively ensuring growth in the number of women appointed to board positions. The WIMBOARD initiative is a comprehensive four pronged strategy that includes advocacy,

WIMBOARD institute, maintaining an executive database and executive mentoring. We also conduct a due diligence survey that monitors the representation of women on corporate Boards and serves as an advocacy tool when making a business case for women on boards. 

The WIMBOARD institute is in two separate partnerships with the IE Business School, Madrid and the Lagos Business School which delivers bespoke programs to build critical skills in board management for experienced senior executives and accomplished entrepreneurs. The insights cohorts gain from the programs are complemented with executive mentoring from seasoned board executives. 

Knowing that businesses might desire to, but find it hard to find suitable women to fill certain top positions, WIMBIZ in addition to mentoring and training, is also building a data base of board-ready women to ensure that a reliable pipeline of qualified women to serve this purpose is readily available.

She pointed out that ‘one critical barrier identified by a few organisations in this respect is  access to a database of qualified women but WIMBIZ seeks to address this through its executive database aimed at providing a comprehensive database of qualified women across various sectors who are available to assume these positions.’

While encouraging girls to be bold and assertive she suggested that boys should be allowed to exhibit some of the more feminine traits – which have been proven to enhance leadership effectiveness – inherent in both genders to aid both sexes to express all sides of their personalities. She opined that quotas might help address gender parity on interim basis.

According to her, ‘for as long as we remain behind in critical gender parity statistics and until it becomes sine qua non to offer women the same opportunities as men, quotas are an excellent way of sustaining the organisational focus on gender parity ensuring it is at the forefront of corporate priorities and objectives.’

The Summit Plenary Chair was Bronwyn Nielsen of CNBC Africa. Other panelists featured on the plenary panel alongside Mrs Ahmad were Imoni Akpofure, Director at CDC, Sipho Gumbi, HR Executive ROA at Old Mutual and Mia Kimani of the Boston Consulting Group. The session was moderated by Eloho Omame, CEO, Amari Ltd.