N’Gunu Tiny is Founder and Executive Chairman of the Emerald Group, an expert in transformative tech and social innovation. His book ‘Impacting Lives’ is due be published later in the Autumn. Here, we discuss how Africa can benefit from improving gender, diversity and social movement.
In the long-term, high levels of gender inequality in Africa represents a massive, missed opportunity for social growth on the continent. Africa is home to some of fastest growing economies in the world. There is real potential for new markets, particularly with the advent of digitisation and transformation. But in terms of gender diversity and social mobility, so much more must change for Africa to reach its full potential.
The link between improving gender diversity and social mobility in Africa
Persistent and systemic gender inequality is limiting Africa’s overall potential. Of course, we have had some progress, but success stories tend to cover only women already at the top. For millions of normal, everyday African women, the chances are just not there. By closing the gender gap, Africa can also tackle the other major impediment to progress – a relative lack of social mobility.
Accelerating progress towards true social mobility and gender equality could boost African country’s economies by 10% of their collective GDP by 2025, according to research from the McKinsey Global Institute (MGI).
While the conversations surrounding diversity generally stick to issues such as disability, race and gender, social mobility and inclusion into the workplace and also vitally important. By aiming for gender parity, this will naturally improve and encourage true social mobility.
Social mobility, at least in the workplace, is about everyone having a fair chance to apply for, interview for and land roles that are outside of their accepted social status. In other words, it’s ensuring that all applicants are treated fairly. Jobs should be available to everyone, regardless of their gender or socio-economic status (SES). And while diversity and inclusion regularly garner headlines in Africa and around the world, there has been little true progress with social mobility over the last two decades.
Systemic changes need to happen to unleash Africa’s full potential
In Africa, the issues of gender and social mobility inequality are closely linked. In developing countries like Africa, there is traditionally more financial support given to sons over daughters. This impacts everything from getting an education, being supported to find a job and emotional support.
According to some experts, this is at the heart of the gender gap and social mobility in Africa. Even studies and policy research on intergenerational mobility focuses almost entirely on fathers and sons. Far less attention is paid to mothers and daughters, partly because of the lack of data. In other words, these researchers say that differences in treatment by parents leads to different investment in boys and girls. This then determines the social mobility threshold for women and men. In patriarchal social orders, such as in Africa, true change is not possible without a total change of mindset. From a policy and planning perspective, parents must ensure that they invest in both boys and girls equally.
Turning specifically to the energy sector, we can see that the global energy sector is one of the least diverse in terms of gender. Statistics show that women account for just 22% of the workforce in the sector. The number of women in senior management un the energy sector is even lower, showing that there is a blocker to upward mobility for women within the industry.
The importance of achieving gender parity in Africa’s energy sector
At a global level the energy sector is undergoing a fundamental transformation across the board. Structurally and strategically, energy companies are shifting towards creating low or net zero carbon developments. There is now a global expectation that environmental targets are reached, and the energy sector has been forced to speed their communications about this since the start of the pandemic.
With such fundamental change already going on within the global energy sector, there is a meaningful opportunity to also transform its approach to gender parity and diversity. Women are key drivers of inclusive and innovation solutions, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA). By opening opportunities for women within the energy sector, Africa will have a much higher chance of delivering the kind of affordable and sustainable future the continent deserves.
At the virtual Africa Business Forum 2021 on 8 February 2021, the President of Kenya Uhuru Kenyatta spoke about the role that women must be invited to play within Africa’s energy sector. He spoke about the need to eliminate the gender gap and impressed on delegates that this is vitally important for the future of the continent’s energy sector. Of course, this applies to other sectors and African economies in general.
More women participating in the corporate world is about far more than providing more workers. It’s about extending the opportunities for creativity and innovation. Diversity expands the industry sector through progression, innovation and associated success. The Energy and Economic Growth Applied Research Programme says that there is a direct link between a diverse workforce and superior business performance.
Studies show that businesses that have strong female leadership have delivered a higher return (up to 36% higher), and consistently outperform boards that are made up of men only. Locking women out of African business effectively dispenses with more than half the entire population.
Access to education is one of the major factors in stopping women participating in the energy (or another sector) in Africa. Across Sub-Saharan Africa, data shows that more than 49 million women and girls leave full time education after secondary or primary level. This inequality between genders in access to education perpetuates the overall gender gap in Africa.
Ensuring fair access to education for everyone, regardless of gender, must be the first step in changing fundamental equality attitudes in Africa. By establishing initiatives that focus on expanding the participation of women within the energy sector. A great example is the Energy2Equal initiative established by the International Finance Corporation (IFC). This initiative aims to empower women specifically within Africa’s renewable energy sector.
Breaking barriers will lead to success for Africa’s energy industry
To facilitate the participation of more women in energy, there must be an established job application process that is fair to all. This should also include establishing equality in the corporate evaluation of applicant’s experience, regardless of their gender or socio-economic background.
Breaking these barriers for women to enter the workforce within the energy sector will help the industry grow in a sustainable way. The significant levels of inequality that still permeate the sector are propagated by the higher likelihood of women being rejected for employment.
Giving women and young people from every social background a stepping-stone to change is vital. It’s not possible to get a job without experience, and if you are held back from gaining that experience then there’s no way to win. This is what needs to change. Financial incentives must be developed across Africa to provide funds to close the gender gap and to allow real-world social mobility. This will unleash the incredible potential of Africa.