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Gender equality isn’t just a social issue but a business imperative

Gender balance means men and women are availed equal opportunities and are judged on their talents and abilities. Therefore, to build future economies that are both dynamic and inclusive, we must ensure that everyone has an equal opportunity.

As the world marked the International Women’s Day (IWD) on March 8, it was gratifying to see the debate on gender equality evolving to one that seeks to level out the field for both genders such that there is fair consideration of aspirations, rights, responsibilities and opportunities; hence this year’s theme – Balance for Better. This theme was arrived at on the basis that everyone has a part to play, and, from grassroots activism to global action, we are entering an exciting period of history where the world expects balance as the critical driver for a better working world.Gender balance means men and women are availed equal opportunities and are judged on their talents and abilities. In the words of World Economic Forum (WEF) founder and chairman Klaus Schwab, talent is one of the most essential factors for growth and competitiveness. Therefore, to build future economies that are both dynamic and inclusive, we must ensure that everyone has an equal opportunity.As it currently stands, no country in the world has fully closed its gender gap, and the most recent survey by the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Index – which examines the gap between men and women in four fundamental pillars of Economic Participation and Opportunity, Educational Attainment, Health and Survival and Political Empowerment – estimates that it will take another 100 years to close the overall global gender gap in a majority of countries.Similarly, a report last year by McKinsey reaffirmed the correlation between diversity and company financial performance. The survey, covering 1,000 companies in 12 countries, concluded that firms in the top-quartile for gender diversity on their executive teams are 21 per cent more likely to have above-average profitability. For ethnic/cultural diversity, top-quartile companies were 33 percent more likely to outperform on profitability.To achieve equality, Nordic countries (Norway, Sweden, Finland, Denmark and Iceland), have been rewriting the rules of work by adopting more family-friendly policies to help both men and women succeed in the work place. These countries frequently top the gender gap index for having the highest women workforce participation rates in the world, with corresponding economic growth levels.

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Here in Kenya, the gender equality debate continues to exercise the minds of policy shapers in the public and private sectors alike. As illustrated by the WEF Global Gender Gap Index, Kenya still has some distance to cover before it can attain gender equality.A 2017 Index placed Kenya in position 76 out of 144 economies surveyed with Rwanda, at position four overall, being the best performing African country. Burundi, which was ranked 22nd overall, emerged first globally for creating a level playing field for economic participation for both genders.Kenya was ranked 44th while Rwanda (7) and Namibia (10) were the only other African countries that made it to the top 10 in this category. Efforts to create laws to support the one third gender requirement as captured by the constitution have repeatedly failed.CAROLINE NDUNG’U, Director of marketing and corporate relations, Barclays Bank of Kenya.

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