Board of Directors meeting, while heavily infused by male attendees, have in recent years seen growth in gender diversity. Photo Credit: Hilton Hotel

Before the new millennium, board roles were too much for the ladies. Recently, however, most companies have been expanding the participation of women at both the board and management levels.

This is aimed at bringing in professional mix, which encompasses age diversity, gender, technical skills and related experience for better performance.

Standard Chartered Bank is one financial institutions thriving on what has been for a long time a secret plot enjoyed only by a few firms, emerging the overall winner in the Nairobi Securities Exchange’s board diversity award for this year.

The bank was ranked as the most improved company in board gender diversity between 2014 and 2016 by New Faces New Voices (NFNV), which advocates for women’s access to finance and financial services, and Nairobi Securities Exchange (NSE). Stanchart garnered 60 points out of a possible 100 for promoting diversity at the senior management level.

The “New Faces New Voices Board Diversity Awards 2017,” is an initiative of NFNV, a Pan-Africa network established by Graca Machel to expand the role and participation of women in the financial sector. Now in its second edition, the award recognizes companies that have demonstrated an improvement in the priority diversity attributes.

Liberty Kenya Insurance came second with 47 points, while Uchumi Supermarket, Total and Bamburi Cement tied in third place on 35 points. The assessment included data from the Kenya Institute of Management 2017 Board Diversity Report as well as research by NFNV.

The NFNV and NSE top 11 most diverse boards in Kenya:

1. Uchumi Supermarkets
2. BAT Kenya
3. Barclays
4. Eveready East Africa
5. Liberty Kenya Insurance
6. Bamburi Cement
7. BOC Kenya
8. Total Kenya
9. Longhorn Publishers
10. StandardChartered
11. Safaricom

Besides these firms, listed companies such as Total, Liberty Kenya Insurance, and Safaricom were recognised for having well constituted leadership teams. In terms of gender diversity, Barclays, Eveready, Uchumi and BAT had boards that reached the 50% gender balance in 2016. Across the 52 listed companies that were analyzed, 12 companies had a representation of 33% of women on their boards.

Nairobi Securities Exchange, Kenya Institute of Management and Barclays are just but a few examples of firms that have been promoting diversity in the boardrooms to bridge the gap by not only advancing the financial inclusion of women by bringing more of them into the formal financial system but also promoting more women in leadership within the financial services sector.

The NFNV Kenya chapter chair Andia Chakava says embracing diversity requires a willingness to challenge the status quo and deliberately seeking people who think differently. “An inclusive and diverse agenda has moved from ‘nice-to-have’ to a critical business strategy component,” she says.

READ: This is how to create a culture of innovation in a company

NFNV recommends that the NSE and Capital Markets Authority (CMA) should consider automating board composition disclosures by establishing an online portal where listed companies can update their board and management information.

Ms Nuru Mugambi, an NFNV founding trustee and analyst on board diversity, says there are numerous ways to enhance board diversity. “Full disclosure is an important one,” says Ms Mugambi, who is also a director at Kenya Bankers Association. “From our initial research in 2014, we are pleased that more companies are disclosing the full names, age, profession and gender of their board members. We need to encourage all boards of listed entities to follow this best practice.”

Board diversity

According to Mr Geoffrey Odundo, who is the CEO of NSE, the corporate objective of maximizing shareholder value requires not only greater competitive performance, but also attention to a variety of governance issues, including board diversity.

It is on this premise that the Exchange in partnership with New Faces New Voices, conceptualized, the NSE Leadership and Diversity Dialogue Series in 2015. The forums put together for board directors and senior executives of listed companies, kicked off conversations around the importance of diversity in businesses.

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