Why fewer women are top bosses
Despite the many strides that Safaricom had taken to make the workplace attractive to women, Collymore was aware that there was still much more work that needed to be done to ensure that women were treated as well as the men.
“There are some cultural and intellectual things we need to get through before they will (be treated as well as the men),” he said.
Equal pay for similar responsibilities was one such challenge, which the company acknowledged in its sustainability report of 2019, which quoted a World Bank study which showed that if women were to earn the same over their lifetime as men, global wealth would increase dramatically while inequality would be reduced significantly.
The second challenge was to keep as many women climbing up the corporate ladder as men.
“If you go up the ranks,” Collymore observed at one point, “you find that this gets narrower and narrower and our intention is to get to 50 per cent men and 50 per cent women at senior manager level by 2021”.
According to Safaricom’s latest sustainability report, 35 per cent of the telco’s senior managers are women. Although this falls short of the target, it represents a one per cent growth from 2021, meaning that progress has been slow but steady.
To achieve the target would have demanded a deliberate effort, such as ensuring that in every shortlist of candidates for any position, at least half were women, and also ensuring that the company retains the women it hires, especially those of child-bearing age, and who, as a result of this, find themselves treading a treacherous line between career progression and commitment to raising families. To get around this challenge, one of the things that Safaricom did was to give new mothers four months of maternity leave and flexible working hours for six months after they resume work even as they earn full pay.
It also allowed such parents to take their children with them to work, where they are left with caregivers. In 2019, this programme was attracting on average 638 children per month.
This, in itself, represented a radical move, which, needless to say, the company could afford to take on account of its financial muscle, given that in 2019 for instance it earned Sh240 billion in service revenues besides contributing 6.3 per cent of Kenya’s gross domestic product (GDP).
The only other company that had taken a similarly bold move to empower its women employees of child-bearing age was East African Breweries, which is part of the Diageo group, and it did this as part of the Diageo global corporate commitment.
Globally, the trend of giving women more flexible hours after they become mothers was started by technology companies, all of which are highly profitable, and being disruptors, have had the corporate leadership and innovative thinking that makes such outlier experiments possible.
As Sylvia consolidates her tenure at MTN, the question will be whether she will continue with the journey of empowering women that she started with at Safaricom and whether she will continue to walk in the footsteps of Bob Collymore, the man who made her dream of corporate success a reality.