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Send  Share  RSS  Twitter  24 Nov 2011

WOMEN IN BUSINESS: Africa Needs to Harness the Power Of Its Women


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A thought-provoking Ernst and Young report, Women of Africa, is set to stimulate debate among global policy-makers, business leaders and development agencies around the appropriate mechanisms needed to support women in Africa to reach their full potential. The paper highlights research evidence and case studies to argue the case for women as critical catalysts for meaningful economic growth and development in Africa.

The publication of the report follows the launch earlier this year of Ernst and Young’s 2011 Africa Attractiveness Survey, in which three-quarters of the 562 business leaders interviewed were positive about the continent’s prospects over the next three years. The survey positions Africa as being on the cusp of a period of significant economic development. Over the past two decades improved regulatory reform, political stability and governance have led to increased investor confidence resulting in six African economies featuring amongst the 10 fastest growing economies in the world between 2001 and 2010.

“The unfolding Africa story is an exciting one. While it is beyond doubt an exceptional time to be doing business in Africa, there are hurdles to overcome. In particular, this growth and turnaround will not be fully leveraged and sustained if the full human potential of Africa remains underutilised,” says Seshni Samuel, Africa People Leader, Ernst and Young. “The fact is that Africa needs to harness the power of one of its strongest assets, its growing population, especially women to drive full economic growth and social development.”

Women of Africa Gives Insight Into Their Part in the Labour Force

Women of Africa highlights the reality that in the seven largest economies in Africa, only 32.7% of women of working age are participating in the labour force. Less than a third of women in these countries are actively involved in the production of goods and services, leaving a significant group of untapped potential outside the economy. This under-representation of women is contrasted with the benefits that broader female participation can bring:

- The creation of a multiplier effect. Women invest 90% of their income back into their families and communities - more than double what men contribute - supporting education, increasing survival rates of children and creating a positive impact on development.

- Increasing GDP growth rates. It is estimated that closing the gap between male and female employment rates will have huge implications for the global economy, boosting US GDP by 9% and Eurozone GDP by 13%. Eliminating gender discrimination in relation to occupation and pay could increase women's wages by about 50% and national output by 5%.

- Women are highly effective leaders and managers. A recent study into Fortune 500 companies demonstrates that, on average, firms with more women on their boards of directors turned out better financial performances, outperforming those with the lowest by an average of 54%.

“When women participate fully in an economy, GDP goes up—it’s a compelling fact supported by the way women invest and direct their income to support families, driving intergenerational benefit,” says Samuel. “We need economies that help put earnings in women's hands in poor households. Women across Africa face multi-faceted challenges when they try to participate actively in economies, whether it's restrictive laws, unconscious bias, infrastructure challenges, the impact of war and conflict or restrictive healthcare systems. We all have to consider how we enable them in practical and innovative ways to achieve their full potential to the benefit of their economies, their communities, their families and themselves.”

Ernst and Young Encourages the Women of Africa

The Ernst and Young report identifies encouraging women entrepreneurship and improving education as two key ways of assisting African women to enter and help grow the economy. Educating girls and women in particular is highlighted as key to gender equality; leading to higher wages, a greater likelihood of working outside the home, lower fertility, reduced maternal and child mortality, and improved intergenerational health and education.

Samuel continues: “Women’s economic participation drives increased GDP, better governance within political structures and improved performance within organisations. The primary focus should be on better education for girls and women to overcome barriers to their full economic participation.

With women making up 50% of the Ernst and Young organisation across Africa, they are passionate about the importance of developing women leaders for the continent and are therefore launching an exciting initiative called the Ernst and Young Women Leaders for Africa Academy . The Academy will focus on enabling outstanding young women from disadvantaged backgrounds to achieve their full potential, through a supplementary leadership programme, mentoring and coaching, life skills training and bursaries to further their education. The pilot project will be launched in South Africa with 30 girls next year and thereafter the Academy will be extended to more African countries.

“While this and other projects will help, what is really needed is for the right policies and practice, as referred to in this report, to be implemented on a grand scale across the continent. But implementation and practice will only succeed if all leaders, male and female, send clear messages that the participation of women is fundamental to the Africa growth story.

“The main point is that we start to promote the understanding of the role that women can, and must play in Africa’s future prosperity. By 2020 it is estimated that the number of Africans of working age will exceed that of India and China. With regards to women of Africa, Africa’s time will only come if its re-awakening considers weaving the full tapestry of human potential into the growth agenda,” concludes Samuel.

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