Rising to the Challenge – the commitment to address gender inequality in the economic sphere

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It has long been known that women suffer significantly from inequality around the world, with those in emerging economies often being the worst victims of this. Despite this reality, while there have been significant advances for women in many regions of the world, the situation has not improved much for women in sub-Saharan Africa. In fact, according to the African Development Bank, “African women are held back from fulfilling their potential by many constraints, whether as leaders in public life, in the boardroom, or in growing their businesses.”

This scenario has compound negative effects. If women are held back from developing their potential in the economic sphere, their families do not benefit from the likely gains of education, better nutrition, and greater opportunities in life. In addition, this situation means that women are less likely to become employers, thus limiting the numbers of jobs that could be created.

It’s fortunate, however, that the issue of gender equality is under the lens far more than used to be the case, with many international bodies weighing in. For instance, the United Nations included gender in its Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – as SDG 5, which focuses on achieving gender equality and empowering all women and girls. The G7 took significant note of the issue in 2019, when it launched the 2X Challenge, a global initiative geared to provide for a commitment from G7 nations to target funds to empower women economically in developing nations.

Private equity (PE) firm Spear Capital has announced its commitment to promoting the meaningful economic participation of women in sub-Saharan Africa by adopting the 2X Challenge Criteria. According to Brondwyn Douglas, Spear Capital’s ESG Officer, “We view the 2X Challenge as a credible way to advance opportunities for women through enterprise support, leadership, career progression, quality employment, and products and services that enhance women’s economic participation.”

Joining in with the 2X Challenge is a great deal more than a commitment only. “We are embedding the principles of the Challenge into our investment strategy,” Douglas explains. “As a private equity firm that invests in businesses on the African continent which have proven themselves to be sustainable and have the potential to grow further, we are now fashioning our investment guidelines so that they include investments geared to improve the situation of women on the continent. In practical terms, this means that we have put together a Gender Smart Investment Strategy, which we have started using when assessing prospective investee companies.”

The Strategy highlights the need for gender diversity in the workplace. “This means,” Douglas explains, “that we will encourage the businesses we partner with to appoint women to their boards, to management positions, and to other employment roles. We want to see consciousness about gender come through in the firm’s human resources approach so that it is top-of-mind when the business is involved in the recruitment of staff, promotion opportunities for employees, and for retention of talent. In addition, the culture of the particular workplace may need to adjust so that gender diversity is respected.”

Spear Capital has already applied this sort of gender lens to its own business, and today its staff complement reflects this: there are four females in professional roles, and just three males. According to Douglas, “This means that our firm meets the criteria to be 2X Eligible – because we exceed 50% of employment roles being held by women.”

The 2X Challenge provides the business world with the framework to achieve positive shifts in gender norms that support meaningful economic participation by women. This is an initiative that is already pushing the world in the right direction – but much more needs to be done in the sub-Saharan region.

This article is sponsored by Spear Capital and does not necessarily reflect the views of Africa Capital Digest.

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