Why Are There So Few Women in Africa’s Boardrooms?

Why Are There So Few Women in Africa's Boardrooms?

When I read this article on The East African News Website I really started to wonder if gender equality is ever going to happen. This is a serious point, I’m not losing hope I am honestly just being realistic.

This is an international phenomenon but I will just focus on Africa in this post.

The article focuses on The African Development Bank’s report, entitled “Where are the Women? Inclusive Boardrooms in Africa’s Top-Listed Companies”. Here is a summary of the report:

  • About 32.9 per cent of African companies in the survey have no women on their boards, 33.6 per cent have only one woman on their boards, resulting in two-thirds of companies with minimal female presence at best. Just 18.9 per cent have two women on their boards
  • The majority of African companies have at least 1 woman board director. However, about one-third (32.9 per cent) have 0 women on board, and another one-third only have one female director (33.6 per cent), so the majority of African companies have minimal women’s presence on boards.
  • The companies with the highest percentage of women on boards are East Africa Breweries of Kenya (45.5 per cent), followed by two South African firms, Impala Platinum Holdings (38.5 per cent) and Woolworths Holdings (30.8 per cent).
  • The percentage of women board directors in large-cap listed companies (which account for 30 per cent of companies) is 14.4 per cent, higher than mid- or small-caps, keeping in line with global patterns.

These figures are disturbing particularly given the level of business-minded women are on the continent:
“In sub-Saharan Africa, women are particularly active as entrepreneurs. However, they are disproportionately self-employed. Women make up 40 percent of the region’s nonagricultural labor force, but account for nearly 50 percent of the self-employed.”The IMF

Obviously that statistic focuses on self-employment which I am very aware is different from corporate leadership but it reflects the fact that women have the ability and the appetite to assert economic change.

So why aren’t there more women on the boards of African corporations?

In my view it is the fact that those in power are not making a paradigm shift, they are not changing their mindsets and thus progress is slow.

When Baroness Amos tweeted that the number of women in senior positions had fallen in an organisation as influential as the world bank I was shocked but not surprised.


We need to understand who is really setting the agenda in terms of diversity and gender equality. If the boardrooms are still full of men who believe that they know what’s best then little or nothing will change.

The Glasshammer shared a superb article on the fact that the White Men in power need to be included in this conversation: “No business strategy, including D&I, will deliver optimal results when many with position power (white men, in this discussion) disconnect from the strategy.” 
Unless these men start to accept the invitations to change things and I mean genuinely change things not just talk about changing things then there will be little or no progress.

We keep setting up gender equality forums, organisations and online platforms as if those in power are paying attention. But are they? We keep talking about gender equality and diversity as if those in the top boardrooms in African and across the world, are genuinely ready for change. In my opinion I do not think that they are ready. I might be wrong. In fact I would love for someone to prove me wrong.

What are your thoughts?

Is change on the way?


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  1. Queen
    August 18, 2015 / 7:19 pm

    Hi Ronke, great article. We are still far off from getting requitable representation of women on boards. There is a big gap between talking, planning on what needs to be done and the execution thereof. Women need to support one another, equally the men currently in charge need to support and promote into these positions.

    • August 19, 2015 / 9:44 am

      You are spot on Queen! I like the point about women supporting each other! Men are also vital to this.

  2. August 19, 2015 / 4:29 am

    Great contribution to the debate. From South Africa, we have made great strides since 1994. In fact most progress came with the new South Africa. What can other countries on the continent learn from what South Africa did? The next challenge is why is South Africa not at 50/50 in the private sector particularly whilst the representation of women in public sector companies is higher? What are the obstacles?

    • August 19, 2015 / 9:45 am

      Great question, perhaps it's easier to change the civil service than it is to change private companies. Is it that private firms are not taking the issue seriously or perhaps they don't think it matters.

    • sonia thompson
      October 7, 2015 / 4:24 pm

      People do things for specific reasons and generally in their own self interest. The question is how can we make it in the interest of decision makers to increase the number of women who sit in the Board room. The status quo is too comfortable by half. There needs to be a strategy including campaigns, marketing, the business case and clarity and transparency on how these positions are filled

    • October 12, 2015 / 10:40 am

      Thanks for your comment! Valuable points!