Global Resources

Where are the women: inclusive boardrooms in Africa’s top listed companies?

Author: G. J. Fraser-Moleketi, S. Mizrahi
Publisher: African Development Bank
Publication Date: Jan 2015
There was once an assumption that as women became more educated and represented in the workforce, they would naturally continue their advance and rise to the very top of corporate governance. Unfortunately, that dream never materialised, and decades on women are still vastly underrepresented in corporate boardrooms which remain rooted in discriminatory attitudes, and that are often still ignorant even of the positive business case for greater boardroom gender diversity. That is the message of this extensive report by the African Development Bank, which examines the status of corporate boardroom gender diversification efforts in Africa, and presents aggregate data on the number of women serving on the boards of 307 major companies listed in the stock exchanges of twelve countries: Kenya, South Africa, Botswana, Zambia, Tanzania, Ghana, Uganda, Nigeria, Egypt, Tunisia, Morocco, and Cote D’Ivoire. Additionally, the report discusses the major barriers to women’s progress in reaching equality in the boardroom, namely business culture, and corporate and government structural barriers.

The authors note the difficulties they had in compiling the data for the report is itself testament to the urgent need for greater transparency and access to data, equivalent to that available in other regions of the world. The key findings of the research show that, of a total of 2,863 board seats across the 307 companies, only 364 seats were held by women, representing just 12.7%. This compares to 17.3% within Fortune Global 200 companies. Additionally, the average number of board seats available per company was also lower in the study (9.3) than when compared to the Fortune Global 200 (12.7). Of the 12 countries studied, Kenya had the largest percentage of women board members at 19.8%, with Cote D’Ivoire trailing at the rear with just 5.1%, and the north African countries of Morocco, Tunisia, and Egypt all under 10%. In Nigeria, just 11.5% of board seats are held by women. The authors highlight East African Breweries for praise for having five women out of eleven board members (45.5%), the highest of all large market cap companies studied. The best performing medium market cap companies were Stanbic Bank in Uganda and Barclays Bank of Botswana with one-third women, and Camelot Ghana, a small market cap company, has three of six seats held by women.


The report makes extensive recommendations to stakeholders about what should now happen in order to improve the numbers of women appointed to board seats. At the heart of the recommendations is the need for adequate data from all African countries on where and how many women are on the boards of publicly-listed or state-owned companies, especially in the context of providing a baseline necessary for monitoring to begin effectively. Possible candidates for conducting this research could be: Management Schools, who have a natural pool of researchers in the form of graduate students; Institutes of Corporate Directors; African women’s groups, including some who have already undertaken research on the topic with limited resources; or else, government agencies. Beyond this, there are opportunities for specific stakeholders to take the initiative and aid the process of reducing the gender gap within company boardrooms:



  • Stock exchanges: these represent a major source of information on the board composition of member companies, and while stock markets in Nigeria, Botswana, and Ghana publish this information online, most do not. Therefore, stock exchange listing requirements should mandate detailed and public disclosures of board composition annually, and upon any change, to aid transparency and promote competition between companies to improve board diversity.

  • Governments: commissions can be established to provide a report, and provide recommendations for action, on improving women’s access to board seats. Oversight and enforcement of regulations and corporate governance guidelines must be strengthened, and quotas for women directors should be considered. Additionally, it is suggested that rather than seek to introduce an entirely new law, it may be easier to simply add a gender-diversity related amendment to existing Companies Act in each country.

  • Private sector: there is a need for companies to be educated as to the ‘business case’ for diversity, as many CEOs and senior executives in Africa still do not see diversity as a critical component of corporate strategy. Regarding corporate governance codes, it is suggested that they be transparent, allow for regular evolution and adaptation, and consider the disclosure of the percentage of women in all levels in the company. Ideally, gender diversity would be a requirement, rather than a recommendation, and combine with an increase of the number of board members to open up more new places to women.

  • Civil society: without pressure from civil society, change will occur at a much slower pace. This report has shown that women’s groups have often been pivotal in collecting and providing data, and applying pressure through lobbying and the media. African Institutes of Corporate Directors and other professional bodies also have the opportunity to take on the cause of gender equality, and convey to companies how they stand to benefit themselves.