[Column] Flora Mutahi: Closing the gender gap in the Kenyan workplace
As the world marks International Women’s Day it is time to take stock of our strides as Kenya, towards gender parity, especially in terms of women’s economic contribution.
How are our current workplaces set up to encourage more female employment and retention?
Presently, matters on women employment, equal wages, safe work environments are ideas that the corporate world is yet to fully come to terms with including unique considerations for young mothers and expectant women.
The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development has focused on three key factors that make up the work-life balance. They center on factors such as; what is the share of the labour force that works for longer hours than average (50 hours plus), How much time does the ‘average worker’ spend on leisure, relaxation, family and personal matters, and more importantly, what are the employment rates for women with children?
For the countries that are able to strike this balance successfully – what have they done differently? Denmark for instance was named the best country in the world with regard to work life balance in 2017’s OECD Better Life Index.
The country uses taxes and social spending as a strong avenue to balance out economic inequalities in the country. It is one of the most highly taxed countries but with a tax system that is spotless and transparent and therefore able to efficiently supplement the social welfare programme.
This also points to the fact that there’s a high degree of trust by the citizens on the government to provide social amenities. This is demonstrated in the huge subsidies given in areas such as public transportation, public education, as well as child care support.
Sweden has also been named as the sixth on that index, and has a global reputation for using its parental leave policy to advance efforts in closing the gender parity gap, when it comes women employment.
The Swedish policy provides support for both parents, with the leave quota for new fathers extended to 90 days in the past two years. All of this is backed with high quality childcare and after-school care at subsidized costs.
In Kenya we have made notable strides in terms of striving to reduce the gender gap in the work place; and although we are not yet there we are definitely well on our way to achieving remarkable progress. Some private sector players have demonstrated that it is indeed possible to narrow the gap for women especially those with young children by providing child care services and facilities within their premises.
On the flip side, many who still see it as a cost burden have not developed any structures to support young mothers or mothers-to-be and have unwittingly sent a message to women, both employed and potential employees, that the decision to start a family would cost them in terms of their careers.
Safe working environments is another huge factor in closing the gender gap. We are not just talking of spaces in markets and factory floors but inside offices as well. A safe working environment bolsters productivity.
It also attracts more female employees whose diverse perspectives boost creativity and innovation and thereby positively impacting a company’s return on investments.
Whilst some of these developments in Kenya are happening in an ungoverned and unregulated space, we need to look at global best practice start putting in place tangible policies that will compel institutions to be deliberate and conscious about closing the gender gap, to enable us attain our economic goals as a nation.