[Column] Rémy Ejel: International Women’s Day: What will it take to achieve gender equality?
06-03-2020 11:04:09 | by: Bob Koigi | hits: 4821 | Tags:

“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 organizations, 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.

Prioritize 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.

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.

Rémy Ejel is the CEO of Nestlé Central and West Africa Ltd