More Kenyan women urged to pursue board positions

Global Women on Boards (GWOB) graduation ceremony in Paris, France on November 17, 2023.

Photo credit: Pool

Kenyan women have been urged to continually seek board positions in the country’s pursuit for gender balance across the public and private sector.

“A lot of boards, not just in Kenya, but around the world, are still predominantly male. When you ask companies about diversity they will ask you ‘where are the women?’ This is the reason why we connect women from diverse fields with those already sitting on boards to help prepare them for boardroom service,” said Catherine Musakali, the founder and chair of Women on Boards Network (WOBN), during the Global Women on Boards (GWOB) graduation ceremony in Paris, France.

The event that took place on Friday was the culmination of a six-month programme, in partnership with LeadWomen and Columbia Global Centres in Nairobi and Paris. This year, there were 15 delegates from Kenya, India and Malaysia.

Their modules included corporate governance, risk management, strategic thinking as well as board financial oversight while delegates got to interact with global experts.

“The [GWOB] programme provides targeted development and mentorship to help women understand the skills required and gain practical insights in preparing and equipping them for their board journey,” said Musakali, who is an advocate of the High Court in Kenya and former board member of the Kenya Private Sector Alliance (Kepsa).

Being a women-only programme, GWOB “provides a safe platform for women to openly share experiences, ask questions and learn in a closed conducive environment”, she added. Each delegate is assigned a mentor — who has board experience — to provide guidance and support throughout the program and even after its completion.

In Kenya, the implementation of the two thirds gender threshhold, as provided for in the constitution, has been elusive. Parliament attempted — 10 times — to pass the Two Thirds Gender Bill, but failed.

Article 27(8) of the Kenyan Constitution says the State shall take legislative and other measures to implement the principle that not more than two-thirds of the members of elective or appointive bodies shall be of the same gender.

“The process of the appointment of directors should be sensitive to gender representation, national outlook and should not be perceived to represent single or narrow community interest,” Kenya’s Capital Markets Act of 2015 states.

A report titled ‘Progress at a snail’s pace: Women in the boardroom’, which was released by Deloitte in 2022, revealed that the global average of women on boards stands at 20 per cent, with France leading at 43.2 per cent, followed by Norway and Italy at 42.4 per cent and 36.6 percent, respectively.

In the study, Kenya is ranked at 36 per cent, followed by South Africa at 29 per cent and Nigeria (19 per cent).

However, “one thing that hasn’t changed in the nearly 12 years since the inaugural report is the slow pace of progress. If this rate of change were to continue every two years, we could expect to reach something near parity in 2045”, Dan Konigsburg (senior managing director at Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Limited) and Sharon Thorne (former Deloitte Global Board chair) said in the report.

“While this is still unacceptably slow, we can find some optimism in the slight acceleration in the pace of change,” added the duo.

During the Commonwealth Women’s Forum in June last year, delegates were told that all government boards in Rwanda exceed the 30 per cent target of women members, but NGOs and private sector boards do not.

But “plans to work on this situation have been made by the GMO [Gender Monitoring Office] in collaboration with [the ministry] for gender and family promotion”, said Rose Gasibirege Rwabuhihi, the chief executive officer at the GMO.

Meanwhile, critics opine that there is a risk of adoption of gender balanced boardrooms for political correctness.

“Forcing diversity without taking into account deeper issues like the talent pipeline and work culture is harmful, and likely to result in token appointments just to check a box,” Catherine Muraga, MD, Microsoft Africa Development Centre, said in an article published in The Standard newspaper.

Different countries around the world have a voluntary approach to gender balance while others, such as those in the European Union, have legislative measures for diversity on company boards.

For example, six European countries, including the United Kingdom, are bound by the EU Women on Boards Directive that seeks to balance gender on company boards.

“Voluntary approach of countries to gender balance on company boards has had limited success, while legislative measures with binding gender quotas taken at the national level have a significant impact,” says a report by Allen & Overy, an international law firm.