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International Women’s Day: What will it take to achieve gender equality?

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“There should be equality for all men and women at all levels, and all ages” was the compelling call from Anna, one of our young female talents at Nestlé CWA Ltd, about gender equality.

During our short conversation in the elevator a few weeks ago, I was struck by the composure, determination and focus of this bright graduate trainee when we talked about her current role – and her inspiring ambition to be a CEO herself in the future.

On this year’s International Women’s Day , her comment really made me think about what this year’s theme, #EachForEqual, actually means. As a senior leader, not only do I feel a responsibility to guide employees to aspire and empower themselves to become who they want to be, it is also about how collectively we can make ambitions like Anna’s a reality for all.

More African companies should step up gender equality initiatives

In Central and West Africa, an increasing number of companies, including Nestlé, have been making progress to boost gender balance. In Ghana, MTN opened a crèche at its new offices in Accra to provide childcare for employees’ children aged 5-15 months and breastfeeding facilities for mothers. Newmont Corporation is also aiming to change its male-dominated workplace by hiring and promoting employees, regardless of gender, and offering breastfeeding amenities on site.

These are just a few examples of companies in the region taking concrete actions to make gender equality a reality in the workplace.

However, these are not enough and progress needs to be accelerated. At the current pace of change, the World Economic Forum predicts that it will take a staggering 99.5 years to attain gender parity. Therefore, all employers should double their efforts to achieve gender balance.

Providing equal opportunities for both men and women

I believe a conscious effort must be made by all organisations, public and private, to offer equal opportunities to both men and women.

In Africa, this is challenging because young women, compared to young men, are less likely to be formally employed or go into education or training, according to The World Bank . Unequal access to education, early marriage rates among women and family responsibilities must be overcome swiftly to increase the number of women in the formal workforce.

Nestlé, as the world’s largest food and beverage company, took action last year to make gender balance a priority and announced the Gender Acceleration Plan , which is based on three pillars: bold leadership, an empowering culture and a set of enabling practices.

In our region, for example, we are actively increasing the number of women in departments that traditionally hire men. At the Technical Training Centres in Côte d’Ivoire and Nigeria, we are balancing out the intake of candidates in training programmes, which were predominantly male in the past.

In fact, there has been nearly an 80% increase in admissions of women, and now there is almost an equal ratio of men to women in these training centres.

We have also recently appointed our first female factory manager, Joëlle Abega-Oyouomi, factory in Côte d’Ivoire that produces MAGGI bouillons. Before she took on this role, she headed Nestlé’s Research and Development Centre in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire. In addition, we appointed the first female production manager for Nestlé CWA, Julia Atta, at the Tema factory in Ghana in 2018. These mark momentous milestones for our company in the region and challenge the ‘non-traditional’ line of work for women. These women are also remarkable role models for young African women aspiring to leadership positions.

Prioritise parental equality

As Anna and I discussed juggling family and work-life, she said that while she isn’t a mother yet, it is clear to her that pregnancy, childbirth and childcare falls heavily on women and could slow down career progression. Current maternity leave in Central and West Africa is better compared to many other countries in the world. However, are they sufficiently addressing the much-needed balance in child-rearing responsibilities?

Parental leave for both men and women helps to close the equality gap. It answers the desire of younger generations who increasingly want equal roles in parenting. Parental leave also has numerous benefits for business, the economy and society, as highlighted by Forbes . It helps transform the perception that caregiving is a female responsibility, it minimizes the ‘motherhood penalty’ in the workplace, and allows parents to invest time to ensure their child has the best start in life.

A trailblazing moment for Nestlé in the region will be the roll out of its gender-neutral parental support policy , which will be completed in 2021. Under this new policy, parental leave for primary caregivers – biological and adoptive – will be extended to 18 weeks fully paid leave and, for the first time, we will also offer a minimum of four weeks for secondary caregivers, like fathers, for whom the global minimum was previously one week.

Also Read: Interview: Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy For Girls Executive Director, Gugulethu Ndebele On Girls And Leadership

Equality starts at home and a company’s parental leave policy should be inclusive to enable employees thrive and achieve their career aspirations.

Lessening bias at work and at home

There are still a lot of preconceived ideas about men and women’s roles in African society.

According to the African Development Bank Group , African women are held back from fulfilling their potential, whether as leaders in public life, in the boardroom or in growing their own businesses. They spend too much time carrying out household activities – tasks that can be shared by both genders. Such traditional barriers are fundamentally unfair and can restrict women achieving their full potential.

A mind-set change from ground level to the top is necessary – there should be equality at entry-level positions, as well as in positions of power, since leadership should be reflective of the change we want to see.

To overcome biases, managers and employees at Nestlé receive diversity and inclusion training to instil a culture of inclusion and reduce bias in the workplace. Job advertisements are now gender neutral to minimize the perception that a specific role is directed at a particular sex.

Employment must be solely based on qualifications, experience and merit, not gender.

Empowering equality to become a reality

Achieving gender balance and equality should be a top priority in our society. This is why supporting #EachForEqual and endorsing equality across the company is part of Nestlé’s commitment to enhance gender balance in our workforce and empower women across the entire value chain .

We encourage other organisations and companies in Central and West Africa, and worldwide, to continue making progress in providing equal opportunities for both men and women, prioritising parental equality and lessening bias at home and at work.

Gender equality can be a reality and it is also up to all of us to instil this mentality and empower young talents like Anna. More women in the workplace makes business sense . It is good for companies, good for the economy and good for Africa.

This is indisputable and we must continue to drive diversity for all.

By Rémy Ejel, CEO of Nestlé Central and West Africa (CWA) Ltd

Nestlé Central and West Africa (CWA) Ltd

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Apply: The African Impact Initiative Challenge

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Speakers at the last African Impact conference at University of Toronto (January 2020). Right to left: Wisdom Tettey (Vice President, University of Toronto), Efosa Obano (Founder, AII), OlutoyinOyelade (Founder, CASA foundation), Sandra Chuma (Founder, Ndini Media), EhiAdemabo (Mindset Surgeon), ObidimmaEzezika (Assistant prof, University of Toronto).

The African Impact Initiative is a non-profit organization with a mission of developing the African community through its youth. Formed and supported at the University of Toronto since 2016, their projects have helped to provide African youth in Canada with better career opportunities and core skills. They also provide a platform for them to learn from experienced professionals, through their workshops and conferences.

As the organization grew, they began to tackle challenges back home as well through community development projects. Their first project in Southern Nigeria was focused on improving healthcare outcomes for the IkotEko Ebon rural community. In partnership with Cottage Hospital and the Akwa Ibom government, they were able to increase the number of people in that village who received quality care by revamping their community hospital with equipment to address their pressing health issues. They also held a campaign, to educate the community members on what was now available in their local dialect.

Members of the African Impact Initiative Healthcare team at the Cottage Hospital in Akwa Ibom (December 2018)

While successful, this project revealed some of the challenges organizations face when trying to bring in solutions from outside. Sustainability was proving hard, due to travel costs and communication gaps. It was clear that they couldn’t replicate this model in different African communities as easily as they had thought. This was what motivated their team to come up with the African Impact Challenge.

The goal of the African Impact Challenge is to enable sustainable development locally across the continent, by investing in youth and empowering them to solve identified problems through technology driven impact entrepreneurship. They are essentially trying to empower African youth to tackle their own challenges locally with technology. Guided by The Prosperity Paradox, it will be run in different African countries over the next 5 years. The target is to successfully kick-start 10 innovations aligned with the selection criteria by 2025. African Impact Initiative will be doing this by providing capital, resources and mentorship necessary to begin from scratch with a $100,000 CAD fund.

Also Read: Women in Tech: Interview With Ellen Fischat, Founder Story Room and Inspiring Fifty SA Ambassador

The first version is taking place in Ghana, and they have partnered with Ashesi University, Ghana Technology University & University of Development Studies to rollout the applications. It is open to students in other universities as well. They have also partnered with BaseCamp Initiative to provide the co-creation space. Selected teams will participate in a paid summer incubator, which will bring their ideas to life and make them market ready;  with funding of up to 20000 GHS available per team.

All Ghanaian youth are welcome to apply! This year’s challenge application is open until April 10th at 11:59PM GMT. Please check out the criteria and apply here: https://www.africanimpact.ca/the-african-impact-challenge

Pictures from the visit to Ghana in December 2019

The founder of African Impact Initiative (Efosa Obano) with the founder of BaseCamp Initiative (SunitaKragbe)
The founder of African Impact Initiative (Efosa Obano) with the GTUC office of research services and innovation faculty (Prince Loko and Mabel Amachie) 

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10 Inspiring Women Share Their Thoughts on IWD 2020 Each for Equal

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International Women’s Day (IWD) is an annual event which holds every March 8 to celebrate women’s achievements, spread the message of women empowerment and gender equality across the world. The theme for International Women’s Women Day 2020 is, I am Generation Equality: Realizing Women’s Rights. Below, 10 inspiring African women in business and social ecosystems shared their thoughts with Alaba Ayinuola on the progress made towards achieving gender equality.

Elisabeth Moreno, Vice President and Managing Director at HP: All Humans beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights …But some Humans are more equal than others. That’s a fact. And an issue for most of the reasonable people in this planet. Whether you’re born in the North or the South, in an Urban or Rural area, Black or White, Girl or Boy, you will not have access to the same equality. Read More

Oyinda Bishi - Marketing Professional and D&I advocate.
Oyinda Bishi – Marketing Professional and D&I advocate.

Oyinda Bishi – Marketing Professional and D&I advocate: As a strong advocate for women in any sphere of life, I grew up in Nigeria in a family of many brothers – I was very lucky to have a father who was an unashamed feminist that believed people generally should be free to chart their course in life and women especially should be able to decide and undecide what their life should look like and that has fueled my passion and self-belief to no end. Now as a mother of 3 daughters – that grit is amplified a million-fold especially in the world today. Read More

Cynthia Musafili Wright, A speaker, Author, Entrepreneur, Aged Care Clinical Consultant and Philanthropist: – Leading with inordinate authenticity as a substitute for the adoption of personalities basing on other’s expectations might crack more governance potentiality in women and, at the same time, hasten their influences within their respective organizations, according to the United Nations. If women are not authentic in society and at the same time are not recognized, appreciated, and respected,most would want to do what is required of them to perform and succeed in most departments. Read More

Oyetola Oduyemi, Executive Director at tengvoX Consulting: Each for equal to me means – Acceptance. Fairness. Partnership. Support. Giving opportunities along lines of competence, skills, interest, desire, ability. Not gender or race or tribe, or any divides irrelevant, or that should be irrelevant, to the pivotal task of nation-building that we have at hand. Read More

Bukola Bankole Partner, TNP: International Women’s Day is a day of reflection and celebration of everything we’ve achieved especially over the past century. This year’s theme #EachForEqual is about equality. There has been an uprising in recent times about the need for constructive inclusiveness of women in all aspects of human life. Read More

Stha Mavundla is a Speaker, Scientist, Life Coach and Educator at First Leap China

“The #EachForEqual movement is a powerful one in the fight against gender inequality. I admire the work of companies and organisations that have taken a stand against inequality, especially in the workplace. Furthermore, I believe that there is a lot more work that needs to be done in reshaping the minds of women. A woman can be the CEO of a large company and still feel as though her opinion is as undervalued as entry-level staff. She simply cannot be a powerful force to be reckoned with if she feels unworthy. I am passionate about being an agent of change in this department. I believe that there should be an investment in the personal development of these women together with high-quality leadership development training. Visit: Stha Mavundla

Christine Ntim – Chief Marketing Officer at Global Startup Ecosystem 

The #EachForEqual campaign is raising a new narrative on gender equality. No more movements filled with the voices of only female voices demanding equality. This is not a women only problem- this is a societal problem. More men are now seeing that limited opportunities for women don’t just hurt their wives, daughters and mothers but also directly limit the possibilities of our sons, fathers and husbands.Thus equality and inclusivity is not an option but a necessity. 

Amira Kamel – Child Abuse Prevention Ambassador, Business Mentor and Educator

Strong women do not have attitudes. They have standards and boundaries. Professional women are not trying to impress anyone. They are doing their jobs in a professional way. Self-confident women are not conceited. They have self-esteem as they believe in and acknowledge their own abilities. Women are unique because they were created that way. This post would never be complete without adding “and men” after “women“ as they are our partners in life. An equal world is an enabled world.

Serah Odende – Founder Tragital and African Harvesters

The International Women’s Day celebration this year theme says it all, equal opportunities especially for both male and female in the agribusiness value chain. Reduced marginalisation of women in agriculture ecosystem, and equal access to funding for female founders of agribusiness among others.

Emmaline DateyLeadership and Personal Growth Coach | HR Manager EIB Network | Founder ICS Africa

This year’s International Women’s Day Theme, Each for Equal, emphasizes yet on how important it is to protect the rights of women as stakeholders of societal, economic, and national growth.

As the theme rightly indicates, an equal world is an enabled world.Both parties, male and female, have the potency to make positive global and local change according to each one’s capability and purpose. We all have equalcollective power to change the narrative by challengingstereotypes, fighting bias, broadening perceptions, improving situations and celebrating women’s achievements.

I believe that even though we are celebrating women who have achieved in the areas of politics, business, health, sports, science and technology, entrepreneurship, and education, there is still more room for improvement. I am particularly excited about the inclusion of our young women in STEM projects. I yearn to see projects that will accelerate the each for equal movement for more women in politics, financial inclusion, and access to business opportunities.

Let’s all be #EachforEqual.

Also Read: Interview: Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy For Girls Executive Director, Gugulethu Ndebele On Girls And Leadership

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Women of Excellence At Alfajiri Hub In Spite Of Corona Virus Scare

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Alfajiri Hub is located in the downtown Johannesburg district of Maboneng which is seen as a symbol of the city’s revival and a centre for creatives and entrepreneurs. The vision for the space which was opened earlier this year is to foster innovation and contribute to urban regeneration efforts already taking place around the Maboneng precinct through events, workshops, seminars, hackathons and meetups aimed at helping to close the digital skills gap.

The esteemed speaker panel at the Women of Excellence event included Alesimo Mwanga of the Youth Entrepreneurship Exchange Program (YEEP) Africa which allows aspiring entrepreneurs and future leaders between ages 16 – 30 to discover opportunities, solve social problems, exchange learning experiences, harness talent and learn about finance principles. Rehema Isa, a women entrepreneurship development expert and the co-founder of OYA was also on the speaker panel along with Thobela Gceya, the program associate at United Nations Women South Africa.

The event was scheduled a week after International Women’s Day as a celebration of women in business leadership. “With support from technology companies focusing on emerging market development and innovation enablement, we are already bringing education around 4IR technologies such as blockchain to people who may not have previously been aware of the transformative technologies that are changing lives of people especially in developing economies,” explained Heath Muchena, Alfajiri’s program director, founder of Proudly Associated and author of Blockchain Applied  

Innovative business models are already unlocking opportunities to access work that does not require advanced tech skills. Although tech-enabled work creation is mostly associated with mid- and high-skill work, there is a real opportunity to scale low-skill domestic work opportunities through digital platforms that connect market participants. “Alfajiri hopes to create sustainable work opportunities and promote digital business models that unlock new opportunities for people to create and access meaningful work,” said Beth Malatji, co-founder of Alfajiri Ventures.

The interactive event touched on some topical issues including how women can learn assertiveness skills to apply in meetings and predominantly male environments in the workplace. The digital skills challenge in Sub-Saharan Africa is significant, but it is addressable and the future workforce must cultivate 21st century survival skills including critical thinking, decision-making, and collaboration.

These are skills that machines cannot replicate and ones that will ensure humans can adapt and transform in a digitally-enabled future. The discussions were wide-ranging from practical advice sharing around issues of self-confidence, developing action plans; recognise strengths and weaknesses, practicing assertive behaviours in challenging situations, negotiation skills, and general business, lifestyle to even relationship issues.

Also Read: Women in Tech: Interview With Anna Collard, Founder Popcorn Training – A KnowBe4 Company

Initiatives such as the educational events offered at hubs like Alfajiri play a crucial role in equipping learners with the knowledge and tools necessary for their advancement in the modern economy. “The concept of twenty-first century skills has gained traction over the past decades and denotes a range of skills, abilities, behaviors, and attitudes that are required for success in this new era,” said Grey Jabesi, a founding member at Alfajiri.

Alfajiri is one of several hubs on the African continent seeking to highlight the demand for specific types of digital skills and provide a solution aimed at creating a balance to the supply and demand in those skills, understanding the anticipated change in demand over time, analysing the market implications of any imbalance in demand and supply of skills to help inform institutions and business on the opportunities Africa can unlock if the issue of digital skills is given the proper attention and measures are put in place to close the digital skills gap.

Visit Alfajiri Hub.

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