How to advance women in Africa’s banking institutions

The tumultuous global events of the past year have arguably crossed diversity off most organisations’ agendas. Despite this, it is clear that innovation and multifaceted approaches will be required to continue to overcome market challenges and ensure profitability and sustainability. Businesses will need to attain the best sector talent and focus on creating flexible and resilient teams. As such, gender diversity should always form an integral part of any company’s ongoing strategy, writes Spencer Moreri, Public and Media Relations Manager, Absa Bank Botswana.

How to advance women in Africa’s banking institutions

According to Mercer’s “When Women Thrive 2020 Sub-Saharan Africa Report,” 88 percent of respondents stated that their organisations are already prioritising inclusion and diversity. With that being said, it is more important that real change and action are achieved, fundamentally transforming organisational culture and norms. With the stability of financial institutions one of the key aspects to accelerating economic growth after the COVID-19 pandemic, how do we ensure that diversity and inclusion penetrate the core of these organisations across Africa?

 

Start at the top

 

It stands to reason that company leaders have to commit to action and subsequently drive employees to engage. Change is always uncomfortable. However, if it starts at the top and filters down, statements and pledges can result in actual implementation and accountability.

 

For Absa, representative teams were a critical component of achieving success when separating from Barclays. The project, led by a woman at the time, was one of the largest and most complex undertakings in the financial services industry. Task teams needed to have varied skills sets and experiences, and to be agile and open enough to broaden their competencies through exposure to new disciplines and ways of working. But organisational and project teams cannot only consist of members who have the same experiences and ideas. At Absa, intra-office mobility and secondments are essential to ensuring that colleagues can share new ideas, skills and learnings from different markets.

 

Diversity matters

 

The separation project was successfully concluded on time and within budget, and today Absa continues to strive to lead the way in terms of empowerment and transforming organisational culture and norms across Africa.

Essentially, there needs to be a specific organisational and leadership mindset, a consciousness or awareness of the importance of diversity and inclusion as part of the overall business strategy.

 

Absa prides itself in its transformative and shaping role in society, particularly across its operations on the continent where it aims to be a leading African bank inspired by the spirit of Africa and Africans in always finding a way to get things done. With over a century of financial services expertise on the continent, Absa is leading the next generation of thinking, innovative offerings, and operations in financial services towards a fully digital landscape where financial inclusion and sustainable growth are a reality and where possibilities are brought to life.

 

Diversity creates a more dynamic and innovative company culture, bringing different points of view to bear on challenges and discouraging groupthink while allowing an organisation to better adapt to rapidly changing circumstances. This was essential when Absa had to deliver on the separation project, and even more so when the COVID-19 pandemic hit and the business was severely stress-tested.  

 

A key foundational block of turning this vision into a reality is the need to build a leadership bench strength that is representative of the markets and the people we serve and their deep or lived experiences.

 

Absa places a high value on the diversity and strength of our leadership, which includes a number of female leaders across all levels of our business. Looking at Absa, numbers reflect a strong trajectory in the right direction – 25 percent of the Board is female, three Managing Directors across Africa are women, and five Exco members across the bank’s Africa Regional Operations (ARO) are female. A number of female leaders were also critical to ensuring the successful completion of separation, the landing of the new Absa brand in all our markets across Africa, and full compliance with all regulatory requirements.

 

Diversify

 

Diversity is especially vital in the banking sector where many transitions are happening at a rapid rate. Banks can no longer be traditional in the face of agile and innovative new market entrants in the form of fin-techs and other start-ups which speak directly to the needs of discerning and less brand-loyal consumers.

 

It stands to reason that different perspectives, world views and opinions can only positively contribute to problem solving and resilience building. Diverse teams spur collaboration and assist with anticipating and meeting the evolving needs of banking customers. Company strategies and executive leadership need to ensure that teams comprise varied backgrounds, points of reference and skills sets.

 

Diversity and inclusion should also be more than just a tick box exercise but should bring meaningful value to an organisation. When attempts are half-hearted, some goals can be achieved, but when real diversity is attained, it results in exceptional performance.

 

Be deliberate

 

One critical aspect to successful transformative processes is mentorship and building in organisational resilience across all spheres of the business so that the drive towards gender equality can withstand changes in leadership and remain sustainable over time. It is up to management to ensure that teams comprise members from different backgrounds, genders and races, with varied experiences and opinions. Diversity should be a reflection of society, as well as the organisation's customer base.

 

Measure

 

For effective transformation to take place, organisations will need to “own” the process. Just as technology advancements are prioritised to improve customer experience and efficiencies, these same tools can be used to enhance diversity and inclusion. Data-driven decision-making is essential to analysing salary disparities, performance reviews, unfair policies, as well as opportunities, and developing evidence-based strategies to correct them. This also applies to recruitment and talent retention practices. You can’t manage what you can’t measure. Be prepared to strategise, plan and effect real change in order to address organisational imbalances.

 

Outcomes

 

When looking at organisational approaches to diversity and inclusion, it is essential that a combination of interventions is implemented. Use data and information to make informed decisions and be brave enough to acknowledge and address discrepancies. Set achievable objectives where success factors can actually be measured. Transformation and a shift in culture need to be fully embraced by leadership. Only then can sustainable organisational behaviour change be achieved.

 

An organisation and its employees should be a reflection of its market, its people, its values, cultures and aspirations. At Absa, we are proudly African, utilising our broad product and service offering to unlock the continent’s hidden, and often unexplored, possibilities for growth, development and progress. We are a key part of the African success story and our journey, and most importantly, diversity, reflects that.