In July 2021, when Guaranty Trust Bank (GTB) appointed Miriam Olusanya as its Managing Director, many industry watchers applauded the development. But the appointment also magnified the contentious issue of gender equality on the boards of Nigerian banks.
To be clear, gender equality issue not limited only to the banking sector as it is virtually a sad reality within every strata of the larger society.
The issue of gender equality and appropriate representation of the female gender in top leadership and managerial positions will continue to be a subject of debate in corporate circles for some time to come.
A look at the numbers
So far, out of 23 commercial banks in the country, six currently have women as MDs. Mrs Yemisi Edun in FCMB, GTBank’s Mrs Miriam Olusanya, Fidelity Bank has Mrs Nneka Onyeali-Ikpe, and Citibank Nigeria has Mrs Ireti Samuel-Ogbu. Others are Mrs Halima Buba of SunTrust Bank Limited and Mrs Tomi Somefun of Unity Bank Plc.
A review of the composition of some of these banks’ board of directors by the International Finance Corporation (IFC) within the last five years shows women composition as follows: Access Bank Plc – 35%, Fidelity Bank Plc – 20%, Guaranty Trust Bank – 24%, United Bank of Africa Plc – 21%, Wema Bank Plc – 27%, Sterling Bank Plc – 25%, Zenith Bank Plc – 14% and Diamond Bank Plc- 22%.
Unfortunately, the issue of gender equality is not just a Nigerian or African thing. It is a global phenomenon.
A review of the composition of Fortune 500 board seats in 2012 and 2016 shows more than 4000 men compared to less than a thousand women in 2012 and just a slight increase in the number of women for 2016.
While the configuration appears to be evolving and changing gradually, it has taken years for the few numbers to show up.
According to Conger, Lawler and Finegold (2001), the board is the most influential decision-making unit of an organization, with responsibilities ranging from making key financial and strategic decisions to choosing the company’s top executive leadership. Given the level of expertise and the amount of information needed to understand and govern today’s complex businesses, it is unrealistic to expect an individual director to be knowledgeable and informed about all phases of business. And this is why the need for an all-inclusive composition.
Gender equality in the Nigerian society
One major reason that could be adduced for the shortage of women on the Board of Nigerian banks and, by extension, leadership roles in the larger society can be traced to the sexual stereotype of social roles, discriminatory traditions and cultural prejudices.
The attributed perspective also permeates the fabric of the entire Nigerian society that places men as de-facto leaders of the society. This is a major factor militating against female participation in corporate Nigeria. Even though women are now blazing the odds, the number is still few compared to men in many organizations.
Several women scattered across Africa who have built multi-million dollar businesses show that the perception that men are better breeds and leaders is not necessarily true.
Women entrepreneurs like Njeri Rionge in Kenya; Isabel do Santos, Angola; Folorunsho Alakija, Nigeria; Sibongile Sambo, South Africa; and Divine Ndhlukula, Zimbabwe; have all gone on to burst this myth by building successful businesses that transcend the shores of their home countries.
A number of women themselves have spoken up on the issue. According to Njideka Harry, President and Chief Executive Officer of Youth for Technology Foundation (YTF), if Nigerian women had the same opportunities as men, they could drive up the GDP by $13.9 billion, while Rahama Wright, Founder of Shea Yeleen Health and Beauty is quoted to have said, “The energy women bring to business – by providing solutions that are community-oriented – we can’t lose that.”
Another factor that influences the number of women in leadership positions to a large extent is religion.
For example, in Islam, women are meant to be home keepers and not expected to work. Educating a girl child is seen more as a waste of resources than a worthy investment since such a girl is expected to end up in the kitchen eventually.
Recently, northern Senators in Nigeria objected to a gender equality bill sponsored by Senator Biodun Olujimi representing Ekiti South, saying Islam does not recognize men and women as equals. The bill was eventually stepped down.
This perhaps is a major challenge to gender equality and more women stepping up the corporate ladder and leadership positions in the corporate environment.
The advantages of having women in leadership roles are, however, numerous. A study by McKinsey & Company, which reviewed more than 1,000 companies in 12 countries, concluded that gender-diverse companies are more likely to outperform their national industry average in terms of profitability. The analysis also shows that companies with more balanced boards tend to outperform others that do not.
CBN, SEC to the Rescue?
Despite the setback suffered by the gender equality bill at the national assembly, regulations put in place by the Central Bank of Nigeria, the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Nigerian Code of Corporate Governance are commendable and signals that this number will increase with time.
CBN regulations mandates that there must be a minimum of 30 per cent female representation on boards of commercial banks, while the SEC Code recommends that publicly listed companies consider gender when selecting board members. Lastly, the CCG encourages boards to set diversity goals and be mindful of them when filling board vacancies. However, both SEC and CCG codes do not prescribe gender quotas.
Most certainly, if these regulatory agencies put a more decisive and measurable policy for financial organizations on mandatory quota to be filled with women, the data will change, but it appears that will take a while to come.
The gender equality situation will undoubtedly get better with time, and we shall see more women on the boards of these financial institutions.