How are things looking for African women in various spheres of leadership, especially in the business and corporate spheres? Impressive, I would say. First, in terms of the number of African women who have taken to actual pursuit of entrepreneurial ambition, particularly in the last decade, multiple reports have indicated that the rate has been continuously on the rise. And compared to their counterparts in other parts of the world, they’re way ahead by volume. But has the continent adequately tapped from this asset? Has this impacted on Africa’s economic growth as it should? Have we arrived at a comfortable Uhuru yet, in terms of optimum women participation in the continent’s corporate/commercial space? Or is this yet another missed opportunity? The reality concurs more with the latter.
What our policy makers and private sector leaders may not have given much thoughts to is that leveraging their economic potential could massively catalyze Africa’s growth.
Studies have shown that women in Africa are more likely than men to be entrepreneurs. Women make up 58 % of the continent’s self-employed population. Thus, leveraging the predominance of women entrepreneurs is simply smart economics. However, a recent World Bank report, Profiting from Parity, shows that women entrepreneurs across sub-Saharan Africa continue to earn lower profits than men (34 % less on average). Therefore, this is where the ironical assertion, ‘more is less’, holds true. So, how can this narrative change for Africa and its teeming energetic female business owners?
First, we need to target the underlying constraints related to social norms that are holding women back, such as the uneven burden of childcare and social norms that tend to push women into less profitable sectors. Also, our women need to begin to normalize involvement in male-dominated businesses. These male-reserved sectors/business lines, unsurprisingly, remain the most profitable and scalable.
Second, we need to think outside the box. While most African countries have achieved gender parity in access traditional education, a persistent gap in skill attainment between male and female entrepreneurs may help explain gender differences in strategic business decisions. Thus, pushing our women towards acquisition of more handy skills and everyday productive business navigation skills like emotional intelligence, complex digital techniques, etc, can go a long way in emboldening them to take on the hard-bone sectors that produce the most profit.
Third, Partnerships among women across board, but particularly the practice of shared prosperity (casually known in local parlance as ‘rise by lifting others’) by women who have broken through the limitations highlighted above will go a long way in helping African women in business begin to fully leverage their strength in number. And Africa would be better for it.
Editor-in-Chief, The Entrepreneur Africa