Distance learning – is Africa ready?

The role of women in economic decision-making

August is Women’s month in South Africa – a month dedicated to the celebration and commemoration of the role that women have played in the history and development of the country. At KPMG, we are celebrating women’s month by profiling women and the role of women in different industries.

Promoting board diversity

In a recent interview for KPMG’s New Frontiers, Isabelle Allen, KPMG Global Head of Markets & Sales, and Tshidi Mokgabudi, Advisory Chairman at KPMG South Africa, shared their insights on how boards have evolved and the impact of having women serving on boards.

“Women Matter”, a McKinsey & Company study, suggests that the companies where women are most strongly represented at board or top-management level are also the companies that perform best. From this and various other similar studies, it is evident that having women on boards has an economic impact on the financial performance of organisations.

Isabelle Allen believes this is not necessarily a gender issue.

We are going through an unprecedented period of change, and what worked in the past is not likely to work in the future, and no single person has the answer. We therefore need 
to equip ourselves with different perspectives and adopt a different approach to looking at issues, including different leadership styles,” says Allen.

Allen adds,

This is where the women agenda comes into play, not as a gender issue, but a different way looking at things and a different working style. Women challenge the status quo in a different way and bring a different perspective to boards.”

The dynamics of board membership have changed over the years. Responsibilities are heightened, issues to deal with are harder, consequences of getting it wrong are bigger – being
a board member requires one to work harder than before,” says Allen.

Allen suggests that board diversity is good for business,  as it ensures that any issue or topic is addressed and explored from a number of diverse and varied perspectives.

Boards are taking action

Primarily due to regulatory pressure to have a certain percentage of women on boards by a certain date, boards in countries such as France and the European Union are considering more women for board membership.

In the interview, Allen advised that the quotas question is “quite sensitive” and tends to evoke an emotional response from both men and women in the work place. Allen feels they are a positive starting point and often serve as a catalyst for change.

To generate a strong pipeline of women CEOs, there is a need to, in parallel, have a number of initiatives that come bottom- up on the pipeline of women in business,” adds Allen.

Allen explains that the quota law has brought about some positive initiatives within organisations, these include internal programmes for women leadership which assist in giving young talented individuals necessary experience.

The South Africa Gender Agenda

Tshidi Mokgabudi believes that a challenge for women board members, especially in Africa, is their visibility.

Visibility is very important. While there are many competent women who have risen to take up seats on boards, they are not visible as role models to other women who may aspire,” says Mokgabudi.

Mokgabudi explains that, in South Africa, business and government have done well in terms of the gender agenda, enabled by legislation and lobby processes as well as leadership taking the agenda seriously.

Mokgabudi also notes that KPMG is known to have the highest number of African Partners amongst the competition in South Africa.

We achieved this by using our own women networks effectively and enabling the male Partners to support the process. Over and above empowering our female Partners, we enable the next level of females to aspire to ‘career-path’ themselves through the network we continue to build in the firm,” adds Mokgabudi.

Mokgabudi, in the interview, communicated that KPMG has successfully overcome the challenge around transparency regarding the transformation and gender agenda. Open and honest dialogue has facilitated KPMG achieving their current standing.

 Because of who we are at KPMG, we have 
a breadth of perspective and have a moral duty to share 
this knowledge and equip young board members to be in a position to fulfill their responsibility to the best they can. We need to find a way to share all our knowledge. Everybody wins when we have high performing boards, as this results in well-run companies, issues being addressed, less financial trouble, vibrant companies that can attract and recruit talent, etc. As a major financial player, it is not a choice for us. It is something we have to do.” Added Allen

Empowerment through Women Corporate Directors (WCD) SA

As a founding sponsor of WCD, KPMG takes its role in empowering women board members seriously.

Mokgabudi explains,

KPMG in South Africa brought WCD to South Africa because we believe we have a responsibility to support women in boards on South Africa and the rest of Africa. We are currently in talks with other countries in terms of opening chapters in Kenya, Nigeria, etc. KPMG women have taken their corporate societal role seriously in terms of empowering other women.”

What are your views on the “gender agenda” and how is your company tackling transformation at board-level?

David Okwara

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