Clearing the path for women

Women face a disproportionate number of structural, cultural and financial obstacles

The emphasis on rights and equality in the workplace has never been more pronounced and important. Yet we’ve only seen a slight increase in the number of women in senior leadership or C-suite roles over the last few years.

While external factors such as public policy, cultural norms, investor expectations and corporate social responsibility initiatives can impact gender equity progress, the programmes and strategies that financial services institutions enact to increase the representation of women in leadership are the ultimate drivers of sustainable, long-term change. We should ask ourselves: how can we help further remove the barriers women face and better support them, particularly during the early to middle years of their careers?

Policy-makers and the private sector have an unprecedented opportunity to build greater financial inclusion for women. It is critical that we apply a gender lens to bring about positive changes in equity and inclusion.

Gender equity in FSIs may be within reach if leaders – both male and female – and the boards of directors commit to and act on building and sustaining a diverse workforce. To help build a varied pipeline of future leaders, what should corporates do to improve gender equity at an organisational level?

We should commit to addressing persistent challenges faced by women in the workplace and demonstrate commitment to recruiting, retaining and supporting women. We need to ensure FSI leaders offer continued support through sponsorship, mentorship and allyship programmes as well as networking opportunities for women at all levels. Both male and female leaders should be mentoring and sponsoring women throughout their careers. The growth and development of women from a policy perspective should be managed by the relevant board subcommitttees.

As an organisation, gender diversity targets are part of the Absa scorecard. We are dedicated to attracting and retaining female talent. Through our coding programme – Code.It – we equip our female colleagues with the digital knowledge required to make greater strides in their current and future roles. We also have a longstanding programme called Masedi, a bespoke coaching and development programme targeted at women with high potential in the organisation. Through these initiatives, we hope we can inspire our female colleagues across the organisation to break and transcend the glass ceiling.

Outside of the organisation, supporting black and women-owned enterprises is another priority. A study by the International Finance Corporation shows that more than 70% of women-led small- and medium-sized enterprises in every region are either financially unserved or underserved.

In 2021, Absa Bank Kenya announced its commitment to help more than 1m female entrepreneurs over the next five years with the Absa She Business Account, which offers financial and non-financial solutions designed to accelerate business growth. This service is targeted at women in business, particularly those in the SME segment of the economy. It is built on four pillars: access to finance, access to market, access to information and access to mentorship and coaching. We are also running a supplier development programme aimed at uplifting black women-owned suppliers operating within the plumbing, electrical and building fields.

Programmes and partnerships like these aim to address capacity, structural and financial challenges as well as the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic for women in realising their full potential. Advancing the financial inclusion of those often blatantly excluded is going to require all of us as social partners – business, government and civil society – to engage in meaningful collaboration. It is therefore fitting that we share insights and solutions that can help us attain a healthier and more equitable society, where we protect, prioritise and afford opportunities to women.

Yasmin Masithela is Head of Transactional Banking at Absa Corporate and Investment Banking.

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