TOP 50 In­flu­en­tial women in busi­ness

The Africa Re­port, Je­une Afrique and the Africa CEO Fo­rum as­sem­ble an ex­clu­sive list of the top African busi­ness­women who are shap­ing their sec­tors, help­ing a new gen­er­a­tion of fe­male lead­ers and im­prov­ing their firms’ prof­itabil­ity

The Africa Report - - CONTENTS - The Africa Re­port, Je­une Afrique

and the Africa CEO Fo­rum as­sem­ble an ex­clu­sive list of the top African busi­ness­women shap­ing their sec­tors

When Snowy Khoza was ap­pointed ex­ec­u­tive chair of in­fra­struc­ture com­pany Bi­gen Africa Group in July 2016, noth­ing could have pre­pared her for what hap­pened next. “The day I took of­fice, 70% of the men re­signed,” she re­called dur­ing the Women Ini­tia­tive Panel at the Africa CEO Fo­rum in Abidjan in March. Even though she had earned her stripes as a leader, her skills were still ques­tioned. “They had never been led by a woman, and a black woman for that mat­ter,” she added. Lead­ing fe­male busi­ness ex­ec­u­tives from across the con­ti­nent gath­ered at the Groupe Je­une Afrique event to share strate­gies to bridge the gen­der lead­er­ship gap. Khoza’s ex­pe­ri­ence is not unique; most fe­male busi­ness lead­ers have en­coun­tered their share of gen­der-based prej­u­dices in the work­place, not to men­tion the up­hill bat­tle re­quired to get to the top. From a low base, Africa has made con­sid­er­able progress in re­cent years. Rwanda, Senegal and South Africa ranked in the top 10 world­wide for par­lia­men­tary gen­der equal­ity on a 2017 United Na­tions (UN) list. Rwanda, which

topped the list, has been praised glob­ally for its de­ci­sion to make fe­male em­pow­er­ment one of its keys to de­vel­op­ment. In 2008, the East African coun­try be­came the first gov­ern­ment in the world to have a ma­jor­ity of women in the leg­is­la­ture. But while these strides can­not be over­looked, there is still a long way to go. Ac­cord­ing to the 2016 ‘Women Mat­ter Africa’ re­port by con­sult­ing firm Mckin­sey & Co., ‘ap­prox­i­mately half of women cab­i­net min­is­ters hold so­cial wel­fare port­fo­lios, with ar­guably lim­ited po­lit­i­cal in­flu­ence, that do not open doors to top lead­er­ship roles.’


The pic­ture is not much brighter in the pri­vate sec­tor. The num­ber of fe­male chief ex­ec­u­tives in Africa is above the 4% global av­er­age. But at only 5%, it is noth­ing to boast about. Com­pa­nies need a strong pipeline of fe­male tal­ent – from the en­try level to the high­est ranks – and now just 29% of se­nior man­age­ment roles in Africa are held by women. Ibukun Awosika, chair of Nige­ria’s First Bank and one of the 50 women in­flu­encers on our list, spoke of the lone­li­ness at the top. “In my ex­pe­ri­ence, the higher you get, the more alone you are. Lower down, there are more of us but not many of us will ad­vance,” she shared at the 2017 Africa CEO Fo­rum. This fact in­flu­enced her de­ci­sion to join a group to ad­dress gen­der in­equal­ity in the work­place. As stud­ies have shown, most com­pa­nies are miss­ing out on the pos­i­tive ef­fect gen­der par­ity in lead­er­ship can have on their per­for­mance. There is a di­rect cor­re­la­tion be­tween equal gen­der rep­re­sen­ta­tion on cor­po­rate boards and bet­ter fi­nan­cial per­for­mance. And ac­cord­ing to Mckin­sey’s re­port, the top 25% most gen­der-di­verse African com­pa­nies have earn­ings over 20% higher than their in­dus­try av­er­ages be­fore in­ter­est and taxes. In an Int er nati onal Fi nance Cor­po­ra­tion (IFC) re­port en­ti­tled ‘Gen­der Di­ver­sity in Ghana­ian B o a r d r o o ms’, R o n k e - A mo n i Ogun­sulire, IFC’S Ghana coun­try man­ager, con­curs. She wrote that it is im­por­tant to pro­mote gen­der par­ity and in­crease par­tic­i­pa­tion of women on boards be­cause it “adds value so­cially and eco­nom­i­cally and has the ca­pac­ity to play a sig­nif­i­cant role in in­sti­tu­tional ca­pac­ity build­ing and pri­vate-sec­tor de­vel­op­ment”.

The UN es­ti­mates that gen­der in­equal­ity costs sub-sa­ha­ran Africa an av­er­age of $95bn an­nu­ally and that equal par­tic­i­pa­tion of men and women in the econ­omy could add as much as $28trn to the global an­nual gross do­mes­tic prod­uct by 2025. With these stag­ger­ing fig­ures, African lead­ers can no longer af­ford to put gen­der equal­ity any­where but at the top of their agen­das.


In April 2018 the UN Eco­nomic Com­mis­sion on Africa, UN Women, the African Union Com­mis­sion and the African Women Lead­ers Net­work launched a $500m fund that will in­vest in women-led com­pa­nies over the next decade. This fund comes at a cru­cial time, as a global study of en­trepreneurs has shown there is a sig­nif­i­cant fund­ing gap, with fe­male-led busi­nesses re­ceiv­ing less than 3% of ven­ture-cap­i­tal fund­ing. And in all of this, men can­not be left out. Tonye Cole, co-founder of Nige­ria’s Sa­hara Group, said that the other half of the pop­u­la­tion have an im­por­tant role to play in ad­vanc­ing gen­der equal­ity in the work­place. Speak­ing at the 2017 Africa CEO Fo­rum, Cole an­nounced his com­pany’s com­mit­ment to hit a 40-60 fe­male-male ra­tio on its board. Cole said women have “a sense of loy­alty, a sense of ded­i­ca­tion and a sense of try­ing to bring sta­bil­ity into the busi­ness”. He also pledged to en­cour­age other men to par­tic­i­pate in the in­au­gu­ral Women in Busi­ness An­nual Lead­er­ship meet­ing, or­gan­ised by the Africa CEO Fo­rum in Paris on 2 and 3 July. The event will gather more than 200 women de­ci­sion-mak­ers from the African public and pri­vate sec­tors. Men can take con­crete ac­tions, too. Nige­ria’s Sola David-borha, now run­ning Africa oper­a­tions of the con­ti­nent’s largest bank (see pro­file, page 60), re­called how, back in the 1990s, her then boss Atedo Peter­side in­sisted he wanted women in se­nior lead­er­ship po­si­tions. Devel­opped in col­lab­o­ra­tion with sis­ter mag­a­zine Je­une Afrique and the Africa CEO Fo­rum, this year’s list of top 50 busi­ness­women in Africa puts a spot­light on icons, trail­blaz­ers and game-changers who are boldly scal­ing the heights of the cor­po­rate world. From young CEOS of multi­na­tion­als to ty­coons and sea­soned ex­ec­u­tives, this year’s hon­orees are mak­ing their mark in dif­fer­ent in­dus­tries and con­tinue to prove that tal­ent and suc­cess have no gen­der.

The UN es­ti­mates that gen­der in­equal­ity costs sub Sa­ha­ran Africa an av­er­age of $95bn an­nu­ally

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