Graphic Business News

Making a business case for qualified women in boardrooms - A case for Marcia Ashong and Tamsin Jones

By: Graphic Business
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Marcia Ashong
Marcia Ashong

After meeting at the African Leadership Network years ago, Marcia Ashong and Tamsin Jones joined forces to start The Boardroom Africa (TBrA) with the objective of accelerating the appointment of women to boards across Africa.

According to TBrA, it might take another 60 years, at the current rate, for gender parity to be achieved if things are left to run their normal course. While there are many qualified women looking to sit on boards, existing systems have evolved to favour men. Recommendations for board positions tend to arise out of closed trust networks or old boy networks. This mostly rules women out, especially if they are not known to these circles. Businesses are left thinking that there are just a few qualified women or none at all to sit on their boards.

Businesses also seek out women with board experience. This leaves highly qualified women with no such experience permanently shut out of these boardrooms; they can never become board members because they never were.

Enter TBrA, which provides corporates competitive board-ready women for positions on their boards.

Through referrals and extensive search, TBrA has compiled a growing database of more than 300 highly qualified board-ready women from 40 countries with over 10 years’ experience each in their fields. With a board certification training programme the TBrA holds in partnership with the globally recognised Institute of Directors, those with no prior board experience will certainly walk into board meetings packing punches.

TBrA makes such a compelling business case that Ashong and Jones have found development finance institutions and private equity funds have taken a strong interest in their efforts. The Commonwealth Development Corporation (CDC Group), owned by the British Government, for instance, is actively engaging TBrA in the appointments it needs to make to the boards of over 600 businesses across Africa that it has investments in. Through organisations with such large footprints, Ashong and Jones hope to make a huge impact and push the needle farther towards the midpoint.

Ashong and Jones
Ashong started out in human rights advocacy when after winning the Upper Midwest human rights fellowship, a prestigious humans rights award in the American Midwest, she returned to Ghana to work with CHRAJ (Commission for Human Rights and Administrative Justice) under then acting Commissioner, Anna Bossman. In the years that followed, she’s worked in oil and gas, first developing best practice policy frameworks for governments and extractive industries in developing economies as part of the World Bank’s Extractive Industries Sourcebook initiative. Ashong then worked with multinationals such as Halliburton and Baker Hughes in managing government relations, sales and project management across four continents and later became Country Manager for Baker Hughes in Ivory Coast.

Jones is a social entrepreneur with an MBA from Oxford’s Skoll Centre for Social Entrepreneurship. She’s worked across Africa to influence change in areas such as technology, health and communications. She is a co-founder of Workshop17, a tech innovation and entrepreneurship hub for Africa in Cape Town, served on the Advisory Board of Off-Grid Electric Tanzania – an organisation that allows rural folk to acquire solar-powered gadgets that they can pay for by instalments. She oversaw strategy and expansion for Mothers2Mothers, a non-governmental organisation in Zambia that employs women living with HIV to help reduce mother to child transmission of HIV/AIDS.

From their early experiences, it’s not too difficult to see why they would embark on this project to right something else that’s wrong in the world. Ashong believes in fairness for all people, and grew up in a family she describes as “full of strong women and enabling men.” Her grandmother, a businesswoman who had been protégé to Grace Ayensu, one of Ghana’s independence era women MPs, travelled and traded extensively with the support of her grandfather. She had always found her home’s nurturing environment to be at odds with Ghana’s male-dominated systems. Jones was influenced by her community preacher father and international figures, such as Nelson Mandela, to see that change requires people who are willing to step up and be leaders for their communities.

After meeting at the African Leadership Network years ago, Marcia Ashong and Tamsin Jones joined forces to start The Boardroom Africa (TBrA) with the objective of accelerating the appointment of women to boards across Africa.

According to TBrA, it might take another 60 years, at the current rate, for gender parity to be achieved if things are left to run their normal course. While there are many qualified women looking to sit on boards, existing systems have evolved to favour men. Recommendations for board positions tend to arise out of closed trust networks or old boy networks. This mostly rules women out, especially if they are not known to these circles. Businesses are left thinking that there are just a few qualified women or none at all to sit on their boards.

Businesses also seek out women with board experience. This leaves highly qualified women with no such experience permanently shut out of these boardrooms; they can never become board members because they never were.

Enter TBrA, which provides corporates competitive board-ready women for positions on their boards.

Through referrals and extensive search, TBrA has compiled a growing database of more than 300 highly qualified board-ready women from 40 countries with over 10 years’ experience each in their fields. With a board certification training programme the TBrA holds in partnership with the globally recognised Institute of Directors, those with no prior board experience will certainly walk into board meetings packing punches.

TBrA makes such a compelling business case that Ashong and Jones have found development finance institutions and private equity funds have taken a strong interest in their efforts. The Commonwealth Development Corporation (CDC Group), owned by the British Government, for instance, is actively engaging TBrA in the appointments it needs to make to the boards of over 600 businesses across Africa that it has investments in. Through organisations with such large footprints, Ashong and Jones hope to make a huge impact and push the needle farther towards the midpoint.

Ashong and Jones
Ashong started out in human rights advocacy when after winning the Upper Midwest human rights fellowship, a prestigious humans rights award in the American Midwest, she returned to Ghana to work with CHRAJ (Commission for Human Rights and Administrative Justice) under then acting Commissioner, Anna Bossman. In the years that followed, she’s worked in oil and gas, first developing best practice policy frameworks for governments and extractive industries in developing economies as part of the World Bank’s Extractive Industries Sourcebook initiative. Ashong then worked with multinationals such as Halliburton and Baker Hughes in managing government relations, sales and project management across four continents and later became Country Manager for Baker Hughes in Ivory Coast.

Jones is a social entrepreneur with an MBA from Oxford’s Skoll Centre for Social Entrepreneurship. She’s worked across Africa to influence change in areas such as technology, health and communications. She is a co-founder of Workshop17, a tech innovation and entrepreneurship hub for Africa in Cape Town, served on the Advisory Board of Off-Grid Electric Tanzania – an organisation that allows rural folk to acquire solar-powered gadgets that they can pay for by instalments. She oversaw strategy and expansion for Mothers2Mothers, a non-governmental organisation in Zambia that employs women living with HIV to help reduce mother to child transmission of HIV/AIDS.

 

Tamsin Jones

From their early experiences, it’s not too difficult to see why they would embark on this project to right something else that’s wrong in the world. Ashong believes in fairness for all people, and grew up in a family she describes as “full of strong women and enabling men.” Her grandmother, a businesswoman who had been protégé to Grace Ayensu, one of Ghana’s independence era women MPs, travelled and traded extensively with the support of her grandfather. She had always found her home’s nurturing environment to be at odds with Ghana’s male-dominated systems. Jones was influenced by her community preacher father and international figures, such as Nelson Mandela, to see that change requires people who are willing to step up and be leaders for their communities.

Gender parity as common sense
Women make up half of the world’s population, but suffer lower access to many of the things that men more easily access, from enrolment in schools to unequal pay in their places of work. The likes of McKinsey & Company and the African Development Bank estimate that the mere 14 per cent representation of women on the boards of the top 300 African companies cost them an average of 20 per cent in potential earnings before interest and taxes.

This disparate treatment of women in labour markets alone in Sub-Saharan Africa costs the region hundreds of billions of dollars annually, according to Ashong and Jones. Anyone would grit their teeth at such a huge loss in earnings. African companies and governments cannot afford such losses, and many business leaders are beginning to understand that the diversity of experiences and opinions that a gender-balanced board would bring to decision-making would show up in their firm’s improved performance. It’s a no-brainer.

In commemoration of this year’s International Women’s Day, this column celebrates Ashong and Jones for their leading efforts on the continent through TBrA to bring balance to boards and big bucks to businesses. It just makes sense. - GB