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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.

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Executive Summary

Women are underrepresented in both the early and later stages of education and careers in economics and financial services. About 21% of faculty members in top economics departments globally are women, and in the public sector, only one-third of economists are women.1 Globally, only 15 among 79 central banks are governed by women, and one in five has no women in senior positions. Overall, significant gender gaps exist despite evidence that women’s equal participation in leadership and decision-making is key in advancing other elements of gender equality, including increased access to services and influencing policymaking on gender norms.2

In partnership with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF), IDinsight conducted formative research to address data and knowledge gaps regarding the representation of women in economics and financial services in South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa, with a focus on Ethiopia, India, Kenya, and Nigeria. Applying qualitative methods and a review of available public data and literature, this study sought to understand factors contributing to women’s underrepresentation in leadership roles in these sectors and geographies; and to discern promising programs and investments to address underrepresentation.

Given that this was formative research, we predominantly relied on purposive sampling of the organizations to ensure we had enough variation at the sub-sector level. We used convenience sampling methods to identify respondents through our networks and then snowballed to identify other individuals within those organizations. The findings from this study are largely indicative of the experiences of men and women in the economics and financial services sector in Ethiopia, India, Kenya, and Nigeria. These findings, however, should not be generalized to the broader sectors due to low conversion rates in some subsectors, specifically for organizations that were approached without internal networks.3

The high-level takeaways from this formative research answers the following questions:

  1. What is the current status of women’s representation in leadership in economics and financial services?
  2. What are the barriers and enablers?
  3. Do the barriers and enablers operate the same way for all women?
  4. Do current national and organizational policies that target equitable recruitment and creating conducive work and education environments for women yield benefits?
  5. What interventions can address key barriers?


As highlighted in the findings, employee data is more commonly available for small firms than larger ones. 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.

In both sectors, many women cited policies and norms related to promotions, culture, and work environment as enablers and barriers. There is a need to create stronger 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.

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 stronger 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.

  1. 1. The Women in Economics Index 2021.
  2. 2. Berryhill, A. & Fuentes, L., “Women’s Professional Leadership in Law and Economics: Review of Evidence.” Co-Impact Research Working Paper:
  3. 3. The respondent sample is biased towards our internal networks and those who have an online presence, and are willing to dedicate time and engage on the topic. In addition, our sample is small and does not reach saturation for Ethiopia and for the finance sector in India.