The unprecedented global events of the past year turned the very definition of normal on its head, for individuals, families and organisations. The status quo was challenged in a dramatic way and it generated both positive and negative consequences, depending on the lens applied. Changes that had only been imagined and discussed around boardroom tables had to quickly transition into reality. Now we need to challenge mindsets, stereotypes and biases – both conscious and unconscious.
Flexible and remote work became real in a lot of industries where it had previously been thought impossible. With that came the capability for employees, especially women to attain a bit more balance between home life and work, especially as children of school going age started virtual classes. At the same time, it became more apparent that the “always on” culture in many organisations now had new life without the boundaries of office walls.
This in turn created the double burden of managing constant work and family life, especially for women, who global studies show remain at the centre of family life with all its attendant constraints. The African woman is undoubtedly the fabric that holds many a home together. This can create additional stress in the current environment therefore the ensuing mental and physical health considerations need to be analysed and support systems put in place to mitigate same. Organisations need to remain conscious of and provide support for these.
However, for a lot of organisations struggling for survival in the midst of the pandemic, the Diversity & Inclusion discussion rather dropped a few notches down the priority list. This is contrary to what some believe is actually the time when it should and must get some focus. Like many other discoveries the world has made during this period, the nuances around gender diversity are more pronounced now. It is clear that innovation and multifaceted approaches will be required to continue to overcome challenges and ensure business sustainability. That highlights the need for businesses to attain and retain the best talent and focus on creating flexible and resilient teams. As a result, gender diversity should form an integral part of any company’s ongoing strategy.
According to Mercer’s “When Women Thrive 2020 Sub-Saharan Africa Report,” 88% of respondents stated that their organisations are already prioritising inclusion and diversity. With that being said, it is more important that real change and action is achieved; fundamentally transforming organisational culture and norms. With the stability of financial institutions being one of the key aspects to accelerating economic growth post the COVID-19 pandemic, how do we ensure that diversity and inclusion penetrate the core of these organisations across Africa?
Start at the top
It stands to reason that company leaders have to commit to action and subsequently encourage employees to come along. Change is always uncomfortable, but the pandemic has taught us to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. When change starts at the top and filters down behaviours, commitments and actions can result in actual implementation and accountability.
For Absa, ensuring diverse and representative teams were a critical component to achieving success in our brand and name change programme. The project, which was led by a woman, was one of the largest and most complex undertakings in the financial services industry in Africa.
Task teams needed to have varied skill sets and experiences, and be agile and open enough to broaden their competencies through exposure to new disciplines and ways of working. This is why at Absa, we proactively promote intra-office mobility and secondments which are essential to ensuring that colleagues can share new ideas, skills and learnings from different perspectives.
Above all, showing compassion to our employees and accommodating the adjustments they need to make to achieve balance is been critical to our success.
“Diversity is being invited to the party. Inclusion is being asked to dance” (Verna Myers).
Essentially, beyond accepting that diversity is a fact of life, there needs to be specific organisational and leadership mind-sets, a consciousness or awareness, as well as clear tangible tools that drive diversity and inclusion as part of the overall business strategy. Practising inclusive leadership is more important now than it has ever been. Diversity and inclusion should be more than just a tick box exercise, it should bring meaningful value to an organisation. This translates into treating people with fairness and respect, and taking conscious steps to eradicate biases. When attempts are half hearted, some goals can be achieved, but when real diversity is attained, it results in exceptional performance.
Absa places a high value on the diversity and strength of our leadership which includes a number of female leaders across all levels of our business. Our gender numbers reflect a strong trajectory in the right direction – From a Group perspective, 25% of the Board is female and in Ghana, both the Board and Management are led by women with 48% of in-country executive team also being women.
Be Deliberate & Measure Outcomes
One critical aspect to successful transformative processes is mentorship and building in organisational resilience across all spheres of the business so that the drive towards gender equality can withstand changes in leadership and remain sustainable over time.
It is up to leadership to ensure that teams comprise members from different backgrounds, gender and races, with varied experiences and opinions. For effective transformation to take place, organisations will need to “own” the process. Just like digital advancements are prioritised to improve customer experience and efficiencies, similar tools can be used to enhance diversity and inclusion.
Data-driven decision making is essential to analysing disparities, performance reviews, unfair policies, as well as opportunities, and developing evidence-based strategies to correct them. This also applies to recruitment and talent retention practices. You can’t manage what you can’t measure. Be prepared to strategise, plan and effect real transformation in order to address organisational imbalances.
Choose to challenge
As we celebrate International Women’s Day 2021, we choose to celebrate the strides women have made so far. We celebrate the achievements of our female clients, stakeholders and colleagues, who have challenged the status quo and made their mark and impact on the world. We will continue to offer solutions (like Emerge) and services that make it easier for you to excel. Collectively, we can all help create an inclusive world!
Challenge will lead to change, so let’s all #choosetochallenge!
An organisation and its employees should be a reflection of its market, its people, its values, cultures and aspirations. At Absa, we are proudly African, utilising our broad product and services offering to unlock the continent’s hidden, and often unexplored, possibilities for growth, development and progress. We are a key part of the African success story and our journey, and most importantly, diversity reflects that.
The writer, Abena Osei-Poku, is the Managing Director of Absa Bank Ghana Limited
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