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Opinions of Wednesday, 16 September 2020

Columnist: Marcia Ashong

It is time to improve the presence of women on boards

File photo of a board room. Photo credit: HBR File photo of a board room. Photo credit: HBR

Ghana has produced some of Africa’s most admired women. From Akua Kuenyehia, a former Vice President of the International Criminal Court, to Netflix Chief Marketing Officer Bozoma Saint John, Ghanaian women have a significant presence on the global stage. Yet for all the shining stars and international accolades, the Ghanaian public and private sectors have largely fallen short when it comes to championing women in leadership at home. The glass ceiling remains stubbornly in place for female leaders. The participation of women in key leadership roles is critical for Ghana to unlock its full social and economic potential.

In government, Ghanaian women are extremely under-represented in all branches. Women make up a paltry 14% of parliamentarians and only a quarter of ministers. Among mayors, the situation is no different: only 14% are women, and the numbers of women on the Council of State and governing boards of public corporations are few and far between.

If you look to the private sector, the situation is no different. A new report released by TheBoardroom Africa in partnership with the Ghana Stock Exchange shows that amongst 37 listed companies in Ghana, women are rarely included in the actual governing of some of Ghana’s most notable companies.

According to the 2020 Board Diversity Index, women hold only 23% of board seats and 24% of non-executive director seats. Although this figure represents a 3% increase in women’s board seats and a 4% increase in non-executive director seats held by women from 2019, the Board Diversity Index shows that women are still significantly under-represented in the leadership and management of major corporations in Ghana.

Companies that rank poorly in terms of gender equality often claim that there are very few qualified women available for board leadership or management roles. But this claim is hardly true. There are qualified women everywhere, and, thanks to rising female participation in higher education, their numbers are growing although many disappear from the ranks as they climb the career ladder.

It is time for Ghanaian companies to adopt strategies to improve women’s presence on boards because a growing body of research shows significant benefits associated with gender diversity on boards and in senior leadership. Gender-diverse boards positively impact governance, and the presence of women on boards reduces the risk of fraud and corruption, and increases customer and employee satisfaction. Moreover, studies also point to the positive influence of gender-diverse management and boards on a company’s sustainability profile.

To leverage the diversity dividend, companies can adopt a number of proven strategies to improve women’s representation at the highest leadership levels. First, they can address the pipeline problem by investing in early- and mid-stage professionals and providing support for high-achieving female professionals. Second, they can establish family-friendly workplace policies from childcare and parental leave to improve retention. Finally, they can engage and educate male business leaders on how diversity improves business performance and encourage them to step up and step into the role of mentors and sponsors. Adopting these forward-looking approaches would ensure greater involvement of women in shaping corporate strategy.

If Ghana hopes to realise its ambitions as a beacon for the business community, she must adopt forward-looking strategies to develop female leaders and involve more women in the governing process across the board.

Marcia Ashong is Founder and CEO of TheBoardroom Africa, the region’s largest network for female board executives.

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