Why do we have a few female board members?

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The number of female CEs in Fortune 500 companies in 2018 actually fell to 24 from 32 in 2017 and last year the boys in private equity in the US started chattering that they are going to hire fewer women in response to the #MeToo movement.

Deborah Peters,consultant

Today, there are at least 12 Fortune companies with no female board members at all, now the state of California is in the middle of passing a Bill to mandate every public company to have at least one female member on its board.

While many are against having a quota, it is the only meaningful way to balance gender, and research shows that companies with diverse boards have better performance. In France and Germany where boards are legally required to have up to 40% members, the introduction of the law has yielded stronger corporate governance as women tend be more thoughtful and ethical in decision-making.

Closer to home, a few years ago I attended a Proweb meeting where fellow members quizzed the ubiquitous Eve Gadzikwa on how she managed to get on many boards while other women could not get their foot inside the door. Eve is that rare woman with the tenacity to get herself appointed on several boards.

When you look at Zimbabwe’s boards, not only are there very few women but, even amongst the men, you get the same individuals on several boards so there are a limited number of people who are considered on almost every board opening. When I asked how many board seats people held, only one person who has two seats disclosed the number. I made an effort to understand the qualities that make you one of those lucky few.

First I interviewed former Harare mayor and Old Mutual chair Muchadeyi Masunda. He went into his background and the path he took to become a successful board member. He has an astonishing ability to recall all sorts of details including the middle names of almost everyone he has ever met. The following is a summary of the key learnings from his journey to the boardroom:

Sport – Masunda, as he is known, has been a top tennis player from high school and when he entered the school of law at the University of Rhodesia, he regularly played against some of the professors. Being a competitive sportsman allowed him to build a network with the faculty and gain exposure far beyond his immediate network. Later on he took up golf and was the first black member at Royal Harare and its first black captain. Everyone knows that business deals are done on the golf course and some of his board memberships are a result of discussions made while playing golf.

Mentors – Masunda’s law professors at university mentored students by entertaining them at their homes and introducing them to their friends and, years later, when he responded to an Anglo American newspaper advertisement for management trainees, he was interviewed by Andrew Lang, an executive he had played tennis with at the home of his professor, Roy Lander’s home during his university days.

Management graduate programmes – Masunda’s first job out of university was in administration in the City of Bulawayo where he gathered information for city planning. Management training programmes allowed new graduates to gain exposure to different aspects of an organisation. I was the only graduate trainee at CAPS when I completed my bachelor’s degree at the University of Zimbabwe and every month I rotated into a different department in order to learn the business.

Reputation for performance – Working for Anglo American, which controlled the economies of Zambia, Malawi and Zimbabwe, gave Masunda experience in a large organisation. He is a man of many firsts because, like Patrick Chinamasa, he then went on to be one of the first two black partners at major law firm Gill, Godlonton and Gerrans. Even though he has many board memberships, Masunda is known for performance and his attention to detail which makes him highly sought after.

Speaking engagements – Another piece of advice Masunda gave is to volunteer for as many speaking engagements as possible, including the Rotary Club and seminars, in order to build a profile.

Principles – He resigned from Stanbic rather than compromise his personal ethics and that is rare in Zimbabwe where there have been numerous corporate scandals.

Next I called Richard Mvududu at Chess Employment to discuss the lack of diversity in Zimbabwe’s boards. Previously he had tried to recruit me for the board of a local bank but since bank directors are liable for deposits and several indigenous banks have gone bankrupt, I thought it was too risky. While I would have loved to join a board and collect those board membership fees, I had consulted for several months for an indigenous bank which paid me so I was cautious.

Richard is a champion of women’s rights and believes that women have equal rights to men. He practices what he preaches by exposing his daughters to business and giving them the same equity in the family business as his sons. However, board seats in Zimbabwe are jobs for the boys, therefore they do not adhere to the best practices of gender balance. There is also a cultural problem where women are not assertive enough to push themselves forward for leadership positions; boardrooms are traditionally a male environment where women are not considered if a position opens up so male directors look for another male director.

Some Zimbabwean men who have made it up the ladder through academic excellence then into boards were raised in very traditional households where women had homemaker roles so they do not readily consider women as equals in the boardroom. The few women who have made it have been determined and used every tool at their disposal including their husbands’ networks, in some cases.

Since boards here are often made up of the same set of individuals, it can also give rise to a situation like that which arose at a prominent medical aid society where directors were chosen to protect each other’s interests with a CE getting paid US$500 000 a month since the board has signed off on it.

While there is no term limit, there is a growing call for term limits worldwide for board membership and the policy for parastatals is a maximum of two 3-year terms while the private sector has 5-year terms. The guidelines for board memberships is 3 to 5 boards in order to give the required attention to a company but popular board members here exceed that number. I spoke to a female board member who was thrilled that she is making the same income through her board seats that she used to make with her job, for much less work. If you throw in a few committees, then the income grows without giving you the burden of having to go to the office every day.

Directors should be selected on account of their skills but in Zimbabwe board seats are often appointed through political connections and once again men have an advantage.
Many family businesses are also passed onto the male heirs to inherit and even the birth of sons is celebrated more than birth of daughters. The girl child is disadvantaged in society so women need mentoring to get them to lead corporations.

Women are entering universities at higher numbers than men and, according to the dean of the School of Mines, Edwin Gwaze, women have been graduating at the top of the class for the past three consecutive years but, when I asked him how many of those female graduates were recruited by mining companies, he claimed not to know. Women lack mentoring and coaching to enable them to get the right opportunities. Corporate giants like Delta and Unilever used to have a management recruiting programme where they used to go to high schools to enrol students for summer internships and many of those trainees went on to become some of the best executives who are scattered all over the world.

Looking back, these companies went to recruit at boys’ high schools. Anglo American was especially strategic in developing human capital and everyone I know who was sponsored by them at university is a man.

Several people recommend that women should join the Zimbabwe Institute of Directors and invest in professional development as a means to become a director, so I called its acting executive director, Patrick Masvikeni, to see if I could get some statistics on the number of female directors in Zimbabwe.

The institute has 36 corporate members and 274 individual members but when I asked him how many of their female members were actually on a board, he did not know so he referred me to their marketing manager, Chengetai Ndundo, who never responded to my requests for statistics.

Furthermore, Masvikeni went on to describe their “Certificate of Company Direction” programme offered throughout the year which covers corporate governance, role of board and comprehensive board functions. He also did not know the cost of the programme but he encouraged me to join their Ladies High Tea Group where they have guest speakers. Masvikeni mentioned an upcoming report on companies’ corporate governance which includes a diversity scorecard which, hopefully, will be a future trend.

Globally investors are starting to demand gender diversity as a factor for investing. State Street, Blackrock and Vanguard will not invest in a company with no female directors. Female directors were 18% in 2017 and 2018 could see the largest number of new female directors because of such activist investors in the US.

My next call was to Canaan Dube, senior partner at Dube, Manikai and Hwacha, who is chairperson of Delta and he also agreed that women are often denied opportunities and discussed the Director Search Services at the Zimbabwe Leadership Forum (Zimlef). Members of Zimlef have their names added onto a database to be considered when companies are searching for directors. Zimlef also offered a number of training courses. Professional up-skilling is big business as ambitious women are willing to invest in professional education as a means to break the glass ceiling.

Finally, I spoke to the CE of ZB Bank, Ron Mutandagayi, who told me the bank recently implemented a new gender balance policy of recruiting 52% women, up from 50:50, in entry-level positions, in order to increase its pool of female executives because women drop out as they move up the career ladder. In one instance, a woman turned down a managerial promotion because she did not want to deal with company politics so women have to be socialised to deal with leadership positions.

Peters is a business and investment consultant. — Twitter:@debbienpeters and e-mail: deb.n.peters@gmail.com

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