Perception change is key in accelerating gender parity

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When she joined the Kenya Revenue Authority’s (KRA) transport section, Monicah Njeri was very excited about the opportunity which would not only enable her to put food on the table but also for the satisfaction in doing what she does best; being behind the wheel. She however shared with me that her first days at work were nowhere close to a walk in the park.

Whenever she was assigned to drive staff for field work, for instance, all she could read on their faces were fear and uncertainty which was probably grounded on the thought, “Is she really up to the task of driving us in a vehicle as big as this?” It, however, did not take long before her uneasy customers learnt that, just like her male counterparts, she was equally up to the task.

Ms Njeri’s case epitomizes the varied routes that women are taking to add steel reinforcement to the clichéd position that ‘what a man can do, a woman can do better’.

Venturing into ‘conventionally male-dominated territories’ is arguably one of the oldest affirmative actions that proponents who rally support behind gender parity have been riding on. Interestingly, the perception that some roles are conventionally meant for men has led us to generally associate specific professions with the men, but when a woman happens to be in the same profession, we tend to add the word “woman” before the profession.

For instance, when a person reports that a pilot landed a plane safely, the obvious impression with regards to the pilot’s gender is the assumption that the pilot was male. Otherwise, if the plane was steered by a woman, then the noun pilot would be preceded by the words ‘female’ or ‘woman’ thus, a female-pilot or woman-pilot. However, when Sherly Sandberg in her quote says, “In the future, there will be no female leaders, rather there will be just leaders”, she definitely foresees a future where we will not tag along the word “woman” when referring to a woman in not only a leadership position but also in a given profession.

The World Economic Forum’s 2017 Global Gender Gap Report revealed that we are still far in achieving the much anticipated gender parity in our various undertakings. The findings of this report show that we still need to do more to achieve this goal. But the million-dollar question which we need to ask ourselves as we mark the 2018 International Women’s Day is, what more do we need to do to triumph in this journey?

To start with, different countries have employed varying approaches to address the menace of gender inequality in various disciplines such as in national leadership and organizational leadership. In Kenya for instance, as enshrined in our 2010 Constitution, we have the two-third gender rule which has been a key input in this journey.

Closer to where I work, KRA has been at the fore-front in lobbying for women empowerment through incorporation of women in senior leadership positions, not only as a way of adding a brick in the construction works of a gender parity bridge but also for diversification of human resource in various leadership teams.

Experts argue that women and men perceive risks and opportunities differently and when they work as a team, the team will have the advantage of diversified human resource which puts success chances very high. I like a popular quote by G.D. Anderson who posits that “feminism is not about making women stronger. Women are already strong. It’s about changing the way the world perceives that strength.”

The underlying message in this quote is a call on all of us to change the world’s perception on the potential in women. Therefore, as we crack our brains on what more needs to be done to touch the finishing line in the journey towards sealing the gender parity gaps, working on perception change should be a key point of focus.

A 2017 report released by Grant-Thornton, dubbed “Women in Business”, revealed that the percentage of women in senior positions has risen by only one per cent, from 24 per cent in 2016 to 25 per cent in 2017. The report, however, indicates that the number of organizations with no female participation at a senior level has risen from 33 per cent in 2016 to 34 per cent in 2017.

It is against this backdrop that we need to fully embrace this year’s International Women’s Day theme, “press for progress to help accelerate gender parity”, and come up with more measures that will substantially and sustainably bridge the gender parity gap. It is clear from this year’s theme that we are on the right path in bridging the gender gap parity. However, all we need to do is exert more pressure on this cause to reap the fruits of the tree that lie at the end of this journey.

(Ms Wandera is the Kenya Revenue Authority’s Deputy Commissioner for Marketing and Communication, [email protected])

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