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The Status of Women in Leadership in Economics and Financial Services in Kenya, Ethiopia, Nigeria, and India

A descriptive study of the barriers and enablers for their education and career trajectories.

Photo by Christina on Unsplash

Final Report - 1 MB

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Methodology Supplement - 589 KB

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Policy Brief - 217 KB

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Decision-maker’s challenge

Women are underrepresented in education and later careers in financial services and economics. In partnership with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF), IDinsight sought to address data and knowledge gaps regarding the representation of women in the economics and financial services pipelines through landscape analysis and formative research.

Specifically, we undertook formative research that aimed to 1) improve understanding of the constraints and opportunities to advance women’s leadership in economics and financial services in South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa, with a focus on Ethiopia, India, Kenya, and Nigeria; and 2) inform the foundation’s and other funders’ future investments and advocacy in these sectors and geographies. 

Among other activities, the year-long project (November 2021-December 2022) sought to:

  • Map women’s education and career trajectories in economics and financial services and identify the critical leakage points.
  • Identity enabling factors and barriers to women’s leadership within specific contexts.
  • Develop hypotheses on priority sectors and interventions to advance women’s leadership, including providing an inventory of promising organizations and their ongoing efforts to the foundation.
  • Analyze existing disaggregated data to characterize the differential impacts on women who face discrimination based on multiple social identities (e.g., race, religion, caste, and education).
  • Recommend monitoring, evaluation, and learning activities for future grantmaking. 

Our approach

We conducted primary data collection through 176 qualitative interviews with key informants working in institutions in the economics and financial services sectors. The data from the key informant interviews were complemented by 89 brief tracer surveys targeting institutions that are implementing projects to promote women’s progression into leadership positions and the collation and analysis of publicly available secondary data and literature sources.

The results

  1. The representation of women within the organizations in our sample is lower in leadership positions, including on boards and senior management than among total employees. Employee data on various demographic indicators, including gender, was not easily accessible or publicly available. Governments and funders should encourage organizations to publicly disclose data on women’s representation in various positions to foster transparency in meeting country gender requirements. This data could be made available in annual reports or company websites.
  2. Our study sought to understand gender stereotypes in leadership styles, particularly how assertiveness in women is perceived and whether it is unexpected/punished. Women’s assertiveness in leadership is perceived differently by women and men. A greater share of women (55-65%) than men (20-25%) in each sector agreed that assertive or authoritative women received harsh judgment. Many respondents believed that assertive women could be considered aggressive or authoritarian. In contrast, assertive and authoritative men were considered confident, firm, and structured. These perceptions of women leaders are a double burden for women’s progression into leadership positions. Although national and organizational policies exist to address gender representation, their impact may be limited if these perceptions and norms remain static. Therefore, organizations should set up policies and practices to promote progressive cultures to improve perception regarding women’s leadership. Organizational policies and norms related to promotions, culture, and work environment act as both enablers and barriers to women. Sexual harassment within organizations is systemic and likely driven by imbalances of power. Most women (58%) reported having witnessed or experienced sexual harassment at the workplace, perpetrated mainly by supervisors or senior colleagues. In comparison, most men (72%) reported having neither witnessed nor experienced sexual harassment. Incidences of sexual harassment highlighted during interviews were higher in the economics sector compared to the financial services sector and more common in Kenya and Nigeria. There is a need to create more robust policies and systems to prioritize equitable work environments, such as stronger policies to ensure that formal sexual harassment complaint avenues are effective and national policies to address existing gaps in care and domestic work and strengthen affirmative action quotas. 
  3. Different dimensions of identity intersect with barriers experienced, for example, discrimination based on tribe, ethnicity, age, and religion. While more women cited experiencing bias based on their gender, more men than women cited bias based on religion, race, and ethnicity.
  4. Women experienced various enablers at the societal (including supportive friends and family, supportive peers and colleagues), organizational (including supportive leadership, organizational policies/culture, and the availability of professional development (PD) opportunities), and individual (including own values/characteristics and educational advancement) levels. Women also cited enablers encompassing individual, societal and organizational dimensions, for example, networking and mentorship, often crediting managers who became mentors. While women highlight more communal traits related to their social relationships, men are marginally more likely to mention agentic traits related to their characteristics. In addition, educational advancement was among the most common enablers in economics and financial services, implying that professional development greatly enabled career advancement. 
  5. Interventions to improve processes that support social relationships—including family, friends, and colleagues—and provide more mentorship and networking opportunities seem promising. There is scope for organizations and funders to experiment with these interventions. Organizations can also create more robust career pipelines and trajectories through targeted and more diversified recruitment, capacity building of employees through networking and training opportunities, and tailored mentorship and coaching programs to address individual barriers.