OpinionOpinion, Opinion column

The role of women in financial leadership in Africa

Africa’s business landscape is a complex arena of evolving trends and discarded stereotypes. In recent years, we have seen advancement…

Africa’s business landscape is a complex arena of evolving trends and discarded stereotypes. In recent years, we have seen advancement in how gender is discussed and its effects on how women in leadership are perceived, especially in the financial sector.

As the role of women changes in Africa, the financial sector has their work cut out to catch up with the acceleration of women in entrepreneurship. Increasingly, women in Africa are seeking to create wealth for themselves and start their own businesses. Much has been documented about women as the client or recipient of financial services, but what is the current reality for women who are in leadership and making the financial decisions?

Women who have chosen the entrepreneurial route are demanding financial inclusion at all levels. But there is weak response from traditional banking institutions, some of whom require or insist that “husbands” guarantee loans. Ovamba, a FinTech company based in Cameroon is focused on short term funding to African SMEs and has seen applications for funding where the husband is listed as “proprietor” of the business, but the wife is the actual founder and operator of the business. Full and final responsibility for financial decisions rest in her hands, but some male financial managers do not take women in leadership seriously, so the husband “fronts” the business. For Ovamba, this indicates that women in financial leadership is not uncommon, it just is not easily recognized, let alone celebrated in some regions.

Where African banks and MFIs have been slow on the uptake, alternative financial institutions are picking up the slack. They see an obvious opportunity to interact with a key decision maker, who just happens to be a woman. Women in leadership are very confident of their powerbase of influence at this level. Ovamba sees a trend in women choosing to use their leadership roles to have effect on matters outside of their core business and ensure that communities are protected by their decisions.

Africa’s financial institutions have not been able to create the right risk models for SMEs, let alone women, hence many are left out of the available capital in banking systems where treasury levels are heavily regulated by central banks. This has led to women opening MFIs, and the emergence of small co-ops led by women who only lend to women. Women are more open to the idea of other women having opportunities and so they tend to have long term ambitions as it relates to opportunities that exist for them if they are allowed to make financial decisions that affect other women positively.

Ovamba has found that women in charge of financial decisions have a much better understanding and approach to risk than their male counterparts realise. Female led businesses tend to be better run and have better long term prospects. The presence of women in leadership roles makes the ecosystem for alternative finance and lending a strong and positive place for investors looking at Africa as a destination for investment returns.

However, for women in Africa to realise their full impact on financial leadership they may have to gain a greater foothold at the level of Government to gain influence and affect legislation, and that is a hard ceiling to crack.