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By Mimi Kalinda


Globally, there has been a notable shift when it comes to the appointment of women in top leadership positions. In fact, according to the 2019 Grant Thornton Women In Business Report, 2019 marked the biggest increase in the proportion of women in executive roles globally. The 2019 figure of 29% of women in leadership roles is a 5% increase from 2018 figures. To put the significance of this into perspective, there was only a 10% reported increase in total in the period between 2009 and 2018. 2020 figures mirror the 2019 statistics at 29%, but still fall short of the minimum 30% margin, which is seen as the turning point for greater diversity at senior management level.


Women In Leadership Roles – Global Trends

While the global rise of women in leadership positions is promising, it is far, far overdue. This is particularly surprising considering the positive business impact of women in top positions. Recent research shows the following trends:

  • Across the African continent, the businesses with the most women on their boards have an operating profit over 20% higher than industry averages (
  • A report done by the Credit Suisse Research Institute revealed that businesses with higher female participation at board level or in top management exhibit higher returns, higher valuations and higher pay-out ratios.
  • Research done by global consulting firm the Hay Group has found that women outperform men in 11 out of 12 key emotional intelligence competencies and soft skills related to professionalism, ability to network, collaboration, communication and critical thinking required for effective leadership.
  • A survey done by Pew Research Centre on American workers show that 34% believe that women have an edge over men when it comes to being ethical and honest, versus only 3% of workers that believe men are better.
  • A study done on companies that prioritise innovation found that companies that had women in top leadership ranks saw greater financial gains.

More concerning is that when it comes to women in leadership positions in Africa, the statistics are nowhere close to the overall worldwide figures. Even now, only 5% of CEOs of major groups are women ( Why is this so – especially since, as the numbers show, women leaders undoubtedly have a tangible positive effect on business results, including financial performance?


Transformational Needs Of African Businesses To Promote Gender Parity In Leadership Roles

To promote gender parity when it comes to leadership roles across the African business landscape, there needs to be a shift in both perceptions and business practices. Barriers to female progress need to be removed and the business environment needs to be more supportive to women holding senior leadership positions. Each company needs to assesses what this would look like within their own organisation – it could mean a change to company policies, or simple adapting internal processes to be more conducive to female advancement. And it’s not about a “hand-out” – it’s about making sure female progression to senior leadership roles takes place when its deserved and due.

In terms of the broader African landscape, female entrepreneurship should also be supported when it comes to investment opportunities, partnerships and business loans. The problems facing women trying to obtain business finance include a lack of confidence from lenders, as well as legal restrictions in many African regions. Outdated patriarchal customary “laws” in many countries restrict women’s access to credit and land ownership for business purposes – some regions require the involvement of a woman’s husband or male relative in order to get business loans, purchase business property etc.



Both female entrepreneurship and leadership have concrete and impactful positive effects, not just on individual businesses or organisations, but on the economic and social landscapes of countries as a whole. The numbers speak for themselves – key decision-makers simply need to recognise and harness these core strengths that women have to offer in leadership roles, and provide the opportunities for their progression and success. This in-turn will drive other success points for the business, society and the economy. The time for talk is over – it’s now time for organisations to act, and act with purpose.


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