Every so often, we are treated to the news that women around the world are breaking into the supposed ‘man’s world’ and making a mark in the fields of business, leadership, politics among others. It is safe to say that the red carpet is rolling open before women who, despite a myriad of challenges, have developed a thick skin in male-dominated fields. A couple of days ago Ms. Theresa May became the second woman in history to become Britain’s premier. In Germany, Angela Merkel has been at the helm of the world’s 4th largest economy for a while now while Hillary Clinton looks poised to make history by becoming the first woman to occupy the White House as the world’s most powerful leader. In Africa, Liberia’s president, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf serves as a glimmer of hope for women aspiring to take up political leadership roles. Women are sending a strong message that they do not need to be treated with special gloves but what they need is a level playing field so as to realize their goals.
While the aforementioned examples point to the progress made in the gender agenda, we still live in a society that is yet to fully consider women as true equals. The patriarchal systems, not only in Kenya but also around the world, have hampered women’s efforts in their quest for success in different sectors. Negative bias based on gender has almost halted women’s career trajectories. Despite the women’s role in contributing to the national economy, creating employment and poverty eradication, it has been rather challenging for them to get promotion to senior levels. Women do a lot more than just work. As a career woman, wife and mother, she has to find a way of attaining the appropriate balance between family, personal and work life. With this in mind, the role of a man should be more of propping and supporting the woman rather than pulling the career rag from under her feet. This is not to say that the woman entirely depends on the man for empowerment. It is no brainer that she can do it by herself. Melinda Gates captures the essence of women empowerment: “A woman with a voice is, by definition, a strong woman.”
This past week, Barclays in partnership with ITC launched the Kenyan chapter of She Trades initiative to empower women in business. For the longest time, gender inequality has been a challenge hampering women enterprises. How then can the men support women enterprises?
Recognizing women as true equals is going to be just a tale unless men take time to unlearn the stereotypes the society places on women. For far too long, the place of a woman has been the kitchen and some men have only done much to rubber stamp this. To bust the myth that women do not have the competence to handle as much workload as men, men have to shun the negatives they feed on about women. That’s where it all starts.
Promoting gender equality
It is important to give women a seat at the table. Speaking at the launch of the SheTradesKE initiative, Barclays Bank CEO, Jeremy Awori noted that the bank has been at the forefront of promoting gender equality at the work place. By promoting Mary Okello to the position of branch manager (the first bank in Africa to do so). Then Barclays also became the first listed company to achieve a 50:50 gender balance at the board level. Despite being the right thing to do, gender equality makes business sense.
Seeing beyond a woman’s femininity
Unless a man can see a woman as an equally capable entrepreneur or a being capable of working professionally, supporting her in business will be a herculean task.
When a woman sets out on a career journey, the one thing that will pose a major challenge to her success is the absence of her partner’s support, in the case of a married woman. When all the burden of child-rearing and house-keeping is entirely the woman’s role, it becomes hard for her to work flexibly and eventually advance her career. It does not end there. Raising a family should be a collective issue thus taking a paternity leave shouldn’t be a foreign thing for the man.
Special facilities tailored specifically for women
Setting up breastfeeding booths at the work place for lactating mothers and opening kids’ daycare facilities will go a long way in helping women stress less when working. To operate on an equal footing with men at the work place, these facilities are a necessity for the career woman.
Access to funding
Women find it a bit more difficult to obtain funding for their businesses as compared to the relative ease men get it. Inadequate collateral and/or lack of information is an issue. Availing funds on the basis of their competence and ability to deliver is a sure way of supporting women enterprises.
Access to information
Data and information were highlighted as some of constraints that limit women from contributing to the economy. In as much as the woman is required to do more in terms of learning, availing the right information will help them set and run their businesses.
When a woman has to set up and run her business then take care of other household affairs, it leaves her with little or no time to fully establish networks that will help her scale the career ladder. Taking into account this fact enables the man to offer the networking support.
Mentoring and Training
Give a woman expert advice, show her pitfalls she needs to avoid and the proper entrepreneurial skills she needs to learn then you will have set her on fire.
We may bury our heads in the sand and assume that in the present day, women are equal to men in the business world but that is not the case. Business knows gender and that must be challenged.