Can female board members stand up?

April 3, 2014
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, Business Woman Reading

The debate on the place of women in the corporate world may not disappear any time soon. With women now earning more money compared with yesteryears, and going up the corporate ladder, the push to have women take up more board seats is stronger than ever.

Corporate boardrooms are where major decisions – be they financial, strategic and human resource – are taken.  Yet, women still occupy a tiny fraction of board seats. At the Nairobi Securities Exchange (NSE) listed companies, only 12 out of every 100 board seats are occupied by women. But what would be the advantage of having more women representation at board level? An analysis of some of the NSE listed companies, whose boards are chaired by women, shows consistent growth in their profits and a more subtle turnaround of the company’s fortunes.

Women who stand out as chairpersons of the boards include Nelius Kariuki of Kenya Re, who has seen profits increase fourfold between 2008 and 2012.

Then there is Khadija Mire of Uchumi who, alongside Jonathan Ciano, the CEO, are driving the retail chain’s expansion plans.  A look through NSE companies that have women CEOs shows that the firms have in the last few years consistently grown their profits and rewarded shareholders with a good return.   Maria Msiska, CEO of BOC Kenya has steadily led the company’s revival after a dip in fortunes in 2010, when she took over. Then there is Nassim Devji of Diamond Trust Bank. Ms Devji has won many accolades among her peers in the industry for leading innovation and driving expansion in a prudent way. DTB shareholders have been rewarded, as the stock has nearly doubled in the past two years. So why does it matter to have women at the top?

“Women’s appetite for risk is lower, hence they are thorough in decision making. This also creates a better atmosphere among the board and in the company,” says James Ngomeli, the chairperson of the Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM).

CIM, which advocates for boards to have at least one woman in every three board seats, is at the forefront of pushing more women representation on boards.

“Seventy per cent of CIM Members are women and their lifespan comes to an end very early. The women rise up to the position of the general manager and their careers collapse. They do not get to the board level,” says Ngomeli.

The Kenyan chapter of Club 30 per cent was launched in November 2013 and some of its roles include carrying out research on ways to get more women to board positions.

Prof Olive Mugenda, Kenyatta University Vice Chancellor sits on a number of boards, including that of the Nation Media Group (NMG.)  Prof Mugenda says there is a need to create a database of women in leadership positions, where companies looking for board members can get access to women in certain professions.  “Sometimes people get on the boards because of networks.

There are more men in leadership positions and they are visible,” she said. Because of her role in the transformation of Kenyatta University, and experience in a number of boards, Prof Mugenda often receives invitations to take up other board positions.  “I do not accept every invitation I get because you do not want to spread yourself too thin. The ones I have accepted are quite flexible and the schedules are known,” she says.

For instance, the 2014 schedule for the NMG board meetings is already out. In some of the boards, she uses technology such as video conferencing and email to participate in meetings. This saves on travel time.  One of the greatest attributes that women bring on boards, according to research, is their ability to consult widely before a major decision.

“Women consult more because they are less mesmerised by power. We demystify the position. I think we have seen good governance and change where women are leaders,” she says.

Although women are proving capable of taking the leadership mantle, they need to be more willing to stand up and take the positions. “I believe there are women out there capable of sitting in boards. All they need is be proactive,” says Frank Ireri, Managing Director, Housing Finance. Housing Finance in January appointed Gladys Ogallo, managing director of Virtual Human Resources, as a non-executive director to its board. She is so far the only woman on the board.

The numbers

Nearly 88 per cent of directors at NSE listed firms are men, leaving a meagre 12 per cent share of directors to women. The question, then, beckons; does inclusion of women directors in a company affect performance?

Several companies have their boards chaired by women. Susan Mboya-Kidero (Liberty Insurance), Anne Mutahi (Standard Chartered) and Nelius Kariuki (Kenya Re). Only three women hold Chief Executive Officer positions at the NSE, a bourse with 57 firms; Ada Eze of Total Kenya, Nassim Devji of DTB and Maria Msiska of BOC Kenya. How have the fortunes of these companies changed under their directorship?

 

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