Women in leadership: What future in a patriarchal society?

Women in leadership: What future in a patriarchal society?

Andrew Tanui and Diana Tanui

The promulgation of the 2010 Constitution has always been regarded as a turning point in the gender debate and balance in the governance structure of our nation Kenya. The Bill of Rights espoused in Chapter Four of the Constitution provides that “every person is equal before the law and has the right to equal protection and equal benefit of the law”. It goes further to state that “Women and men have the right to equal treatment, including the right to equal opportunities in political, economic, cultural and social spheres.”

Recent developments in the public service are counter to the objectives and intentions of the Constitution. The removal of the Deputy Inspector-General of the Kenya Police Service Grace Kaindi affirms this fact. Another related event is the issuance of a notice of retirement and immediate advertisement of the Deputy Chief Justice and Vice-President of the Supreme Court, Lady Justice Kalpana Rawal’s position by the Judicial Service Commission despite a case in court challenging the retirement. The rejection by the National Assembly to approve the nomination of Dr Monica Juma as the Secretary to the Cabinet not long ago and the recommended removal of former Deputy Chief Justice and Vice-President of the Supreme Court, Lady Justice Nancy Barasa that led to her subsequent resignation in October 2012 are other examples worth citing. These ladies were holding or were to hold senior public service positions created by the Constitution and their fate is but a clear test of our society’s fidelity, or lack thereof, to the Constitutional aspirations on gender.

The move by the National Assembly to defer by another one year the enactment of legislation to give effect to implementation of the principle that not more than two-thirds of the members of elective or appointive bodies shall be of the same gender will also delay the realisation of the benefits of the Constitution. These examples almost concretise the fact that it takes a lot of extra ordinary effort for women to break the “glass ceiling”.

Considering this matter from the perspective of gender diversity on boards, the Kenya Institute of Management conducted a study in 2012 entitled “Bringing the other half to the boardroom: Case Study of State Corporations and Listed Companies in Kenya”. The study found that state corporation boards were constituted of 20 per cent women and 80 per cent men, and that only 12 per cent of the board members were women in publicly listed companies, with only one listed company having a woman chairperson.

In September 2015, the Institute of Directors (Kenya) (IOD-K), a membership association representing Kenyan directors, issued a report on women representation on boards. In their study of February 2014, they established that 26 per cent of board membership of professional associations was women, 15 per cent in insurance companies, 26 per cent in deposit taking micro-finance institutions, and 12 per cent in banks. In publicly listed companies, 18 per cent of board memberships of banks were women, and 26 per cent for the state-owned enterprises. This was a negligible improvement as compared to the findings of the Kenya Institute of Management study of 2012.

A Report by the African Development Bank (AfDB) issued in May this year titled “Where Are the Women: Inclusive Boardrooms in Africa’s Top Listed Companies?” established that Women held 12.7 per cent of board directorships in 307 listed companies based in 12 African countries. This was 4.6 per cent lower than the 17.3 per cent women’s representation on the boards of the 200 largest companies globally. The report further indicates that Kenya had the highest percentage of women board directors with average percentages of 19.8 per cent, South Africa 17.4 per cent, Botswana 16.9 per cent, Zambia 15.9 per cent and Ghana 15.7 per cent.

Further, it is interesting to note from the AfDB report that Kenya was the first country globally to codify the issue of gender diversity in its corporate governance code in 2002, one year ahead of Finland and two years ahead of Norway and Sweden. In the Capital Markets Authority’s “Guidelines on Corporate Governance Practices by Public Listed Companies in Kenya”, the CMA recommended “that the process of the appointment of directors should be sensitive to gender representation.” Despite this early start, it is apparent that dismal results have been achieved in implementing gender diversity in leadership roles in Kenya.

These incidents and findings highlight the challenges and status of women in leadership roles in our nation and society at large. The society has always been male-dominated, and has relegated women to lower positions, with fewer responsibilities – and only those “they” can manage. Our cultures and traditions have always frustrated the involvement of women in leadership because of “cultural stereotypes and biases as to what women can do and achieve.” It is these patriarchal tendencies that our 2010 Constitution tried to address through the Bill of Rights.

Proactive effort

In view of these realities, women need to develop strategies to not only increase their numbers in positions of leadership but also ensure that they serve their full terms of service in whatever positions they hold. To achieve this, they need to enhance their lobbying skills, what Dr David Oginde in his article “Women leaders may need to do more” refers to as organisational politics (OP). Dr Oginde explains that a leader with good organisational politics skills is one who has mastered the art of influence and negotiation in vertical and horizontal interactions.

These skills are important because positions of leadership are normally done in formal and largely informal set ups “based in the proverbial “old-boy” networks, fed by family, clan, school and business relations”, to quote the African Development Bank Report cited above. Women therefore, have to increase their networks to enhance chances of appointment to leadership positions and to sustain their reign in those positions.

Women should also enhance their competencies and leadership skills so that they increase the number of potential candidates that can be considered for leadership positions. This requirement, if matched with transparent and meritorious recruitment and selection processes, will increase the number of women in leadership positions.

The Government should play its key role in ensuring compliance with the one third gender rule in all its policies. This will entail empowering regulatory agencies and strengthening their supervisory roles to attain equality and freedom from discrimination. This will enhance opportunities for women in leadership roles both in the public and private sectors.

Professional bodies, such as the Institute of Certified Public Secretaries of Kenya, the Institute of Certified Public Accountants of Kenya and the Law Society Kenya, ought to provide continuous capacity building for women leaders, facilitating their placement and continually compiling data on gender diversity in leadership positions and share the data with the public. Dissemination of such data will aid in determining the status of women in leadership roles and what policies need to be put in place.

As Sheryl Sandberg states in her book, “Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead”, that women need to set their own goals and reach for them with gusto. Men also have a part to play in supporting women both in the workplace and at home, also with zest. She posits that when society starts using the talents of the entire population, our institutions will become more productive, our homes will be happier, and the children growing up in those homes will no longer be held back by narrow gender stereotypes.

She concludes that if more women lean in, they can change the power structures of the world and expand opportunities for all. That, more female leadership will lead to more opportunities and fairer treatment for all women.^

Writers are governance professionals

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