Narrowing the gender gap key to reducing poverty, promoting economic growth

Women in the Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) space are relatively disadvantaged in accessing the basic SME requirements in a bid to thrive sustainably contrary to their male counterparts who are able to access available male-operated SME requirements such as access to formal finance, awareness and knowledge of regulatory government procedures, marketing support and network opportunities.

In the employment context, women are disadvantaged in gender pay gaps, sectorial segregation, and limited leadership, and authority opportunities leading to lower productivity.

At home, women’s unpaid family and care work are disproportionally shouldered by women leaving them unable to have work-life balance with less time for paid and undervalued work.

In a virtual knowledge exchange forum dubbed ‘Driving the Kenyan economy through gender equality’ various stakeholders converged to brainstorm and come up with solutions aimed at addressing gender inequality and recognize the existing gaps of power structures that stratify people on the basis of identifiers such as gender and age of women’s representation in public institutions and the correlation to the economic growth.

Nairobi Securities Exchange (NSE) Chief Executive Geoffrey Odundo, who was also the Guest Speaker at the webinar said that most listed companies under NSE who have incorporated gender parity in their day-to-day running tend to make great strides in terms of performance and returns.

 “Gender matters are very close to NSE as we champion for gender equality because of the value that it brings to listed companies. Equally with men, women play a major role in the achievement of Sustainable Development Goal 5 to ‘Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls’ for an equitable and prosperous economy,” said Odundo.

NSE, which is part of the global campaign, 30% club, plays a major role in championing for at least 30% representation of women in a bid to increase gender diversity in boards and senior management at the workplace.

New Revenue Solutions Africa Chief Executive Ms. Zuhura Ogada reiterated the need to extend a women empowerment boost to women entrepreneurs in the informal sector through the inclusion of women in key recovery decision plans.

“Socio-cultural prejudices and gender stereotypes are the major barriers that derail women-led SMEs from social-economic advancement. For instance, cultural dynamics bar women from owning land yet comprises the larger percentage of labourers, unpaid care work and gender pay gaps. This compromises their economic resilience,” said Ogada.

In her presentation, Equileap CEO and Founder Diana van Maasdijk gave an analysis of various policies that can be implemented to promote gender equality.

Supplier diversity, safety at work, social supply chain, employee protection, and training and career development are some of the key policies that reduce gender inequalities at the workplace.

Kenya Institute of Management (KIM) Chief Executive Dr. Muriithi Ndegwa said that while COVID-19 negatively impacted most sectors due to disruption, the pandemic did affect the gains in gender parity at the C-suite level, a milestone that shows that gender parity can be achieved through collaborative efforts.

“There is need for deliberate effort to nurture women’s talent, give fair and equal ground to join the leadership ecosystem. Having a legislative framework at the corporate level will help monitor compliance,” said Dr. Muriithi.

KIM recently launched the Board Diversity and Inclusion Report that seeks to put companies to task in evaluating and tracking the progress and effectiveness to assess their efforts in promoting diversity and inclusivity.

Eunice Nyala, who sits at the Board of Women Corporate Directors- Kenya Chapter, said “The knowledge acquired in the boardroom is critical to influence decisions in bringing more women through coaching to achieve gender equality.”

While the challenge to growth and achieving gender equality at both the formal and informal sectors extend to an issue of systemic discrimination when trying to obtain access to capital, networks or opportunities, the stakeholders unanimously agreed to continue amplifying their voices in curbing the barriers that cause disparities. All should be given equal access to participate in opportunities.

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