Women’s participation in the paid workforce is one of the most significant changes for the last century. Hence, significant progress has been achieved by women with their increase movements into the occupation.
The proportion of women in management has also increased. As a matter of fact, Kenya has the highest number of women serving on company boards in Africa at 19.8 percent, above the global average of 15 percent, according to a report by the International Finance Corporation in 2017.
Contrary to popular opinion, State-owned enterprises have outperformed the private sector with a 26% women representation largely owing to the constitutional requirement.
A 2015 Study conducted by Institute of Directors (Kenya) highlighted the composition of women on boards. For professional associations board, women constitute 26 percent, insurance companies (15%); microfinance institutions (26%), while at 12 percent, banks had the lowest women representation, while these proportions are a critical milestone towards inclusion and gender equality in the workforce, it is still a long way to go.
Gender equality has been and still is perceived in many societies as something concerning only women, invented for women and implemented by women and I hear the versions of this sentiment and fallacy every time I bring up a conversation with acquaintances, whether is over drinks or in a gender analysis workshop.
The most common rhetoric that I find counter-productive as a convener of a space that advocates for gender equality as a business priority is “Women are struggling for gender equality, what about men? Do they need it? Will they allow it? Will they accept it?”
The overriding Stereotype that the gender equality cause is only as a “women’s” cause makes men feel more or less isolated and repulsed from this process. Socialization processes and belief systems influence adherence to gender specific stereotypes.
Ideas of the inferiority or superiority of either of the sexes, and of stereotyped roles for men and women not only limit progress in achieving gender equality, but also perpetuate inequalities and can constitute obstacles to men’s abilities and opportunities for redressing gender inequalities.
Traditionally, society has continuously maintained that a women’s place is at home. Yet, with the introduction of education and the changing role that women play, they started to participate in the public domain and progressed into managerial rank.
Women would work for a period of time after completing education then marry, raise children and may or may not have re-entered the labor force. Many women still follow this serial career pattern although the trends are moving and more women staying in labor force.
Gender stereotypes have always stood in the way of workplace diversity and this way limiting human resources to many different professions. We see this best with male nurses. In Kenya, male nurses make up less than 10% of the total number of nurses.
As is in the case of men who choose to be in careers that are associated with femininity, they are often spoken down to and teased for their choice of career. Other times they are mistaken for doctors, even if they are in the company of their female colleagues.
On the contrary in female dominated professions such as teaching the highest occupational ranks and the highest paying positions such as the Kenya National Union of Teachers, the Teachers’ Service Commission or KUPPET are still occupied by male administrators- illustrating power relations and gender stereotypes prevalence.
Proving this point, the current leadership of KNUT is made up of 11 persons of whom only 3 are women, who further hold women designated positions such as “vice chairperson” or “1st and 2nd women representative.”
Globally, women are likely to earn 22% less than their men counterpart at entry level and are less likely to advance their careers as far as men, and accumulate less retirement savings. This is a result of a myriad of historical reasons such women are expected to put aside education and career progression to focus more on work and family life and are largely viewed as cheaper labour because they end up in less prestigious jobs.
Closer home, in Kenya according to the World Economic Forum report 2017, a Kenyan woman is paid Sh62 for every Sh100 paid to a man for doing a similar job.
Motherhood continuously puts women at a disadvantage in terms of career progression. Cumulatively, these breaks have financial consequences even at the time of retirement. In a conversation with a renowned male writer and editor ahead of this article, he confessed that he had overlooked a female journalist who he had to headhunt later (meaning she was brilliant and gifted) because on the day of the interview she showed up pregnant.
Like my editor friend, at the time of recruitment, organizations are afraid that younger women might ask for maternity or childcare leave sooner, yet and still without women taking maternity leaves, to give birth and nurture children there would not be continuity for human resource.
The two biggest drivers of representation are hiring and promotions, and companies are disadvantaging women in these areas from the beginning. Although women now early their bachelor’s degrees as men, and have for decades, they are less likely to be hired into entry-level jobs.
At the first critical step up to manager, the disparity widens further. Women are less likely to be hired into manager-level jobs, and they are far less likely to be promoted into them.
Essentially because of these gender gaps, men end up holding 62 percent of manager positions, while women hold an average 38 percent.
Consequently, these inequalities are further sustained at the experience threshold; starting at the manager level, there are significantly fewer women to promote from within and significantly fewer women at the right experience level to hire in from the outside
In a recent forum, held by the Women Leaders’ Hangout, a space that champions gender equality at work; most women asserted that language can also impact performance reviews. A Human Resource Manager in a leading Tax firm present in the forum shared that the scarcity of women in senior organizational may be a consequence of gender bias in evaluation.
“These perceptions may contribute to the under-evaluation of women’s competencies and delay the recognition they are entitled to receive, especially when women perform well in domains that have been seen as male oriented such as engineering or finances”.
Such stereotypes are capable of influencing the evaluation of female workers. Words such as “assertive” have been used to describe a man while “aggressive” or “bossy” describes a woman with the same traits. These subtle differences in word choice can have big impacts on a woman’s likelihood to be hired or even her likelihood for a promotion.
During the Kenya 2007 election stalemate, Ms. Martha Wangari Karua the then Minister of Justice and Constitutional affairs was fondly referred to as the ‘only man’ in Narc for her vehement protection of the ‘Narc vote’.
While those who said it to her may have meant this as a compliment it goes to illustrate that values associated with leadership such as risk-taking and assertive are gendered due to both prescriptive and descriptive gender stereotypes.
The fact that risk taking and assertive are a gendered action offers sociological insights as to why women take fewer risks, and are less assertive than men.
First, women may rationally choose to take fewer risks and be less assertive given that risk taking is less rewarding for them. Second, the aforementioned gender stereotypes may cause institutional decision makers to give women fewer opportunities to take risks and be assertive.
Truth is, women are doing their part, they are in school and are earning their bachelor degrees as men are if not more. They’re asking for promotions and negotiating salaries.
Now companies need to take more decisive action. This starts with treating gender diversity like the business priority it is, from setting targets to holding leaders accountable for results. It requires closing gender gaps in hiring and promotions, especially early in their careers when women are most often overlooked. And it means taking bolder steps to create a respectful and inclusive culture so women and all employees feel safe and supported at work.
Workplace gender equality is achieved when people are able to access and enjoy the same rewards, resources and opportunities regardless of gender.