Growing up as a girl child in a traditional African society, I took it for granted that I had to be looked after and protected by the male folk. There was a lot of emphasis to be submissive as women and wait to be led.
As I furthered my education, I realised that I could be just as good as the men who were being supported, almost pushed to be at the top. I desperately wanted to prove that being a woman was not going to stand in the way of my dreams and aiming for the sky!
I also quickly realised that I had to work twice as hard to prove that I could play at the top just like the men and this required determination and tenacity. Women, there is no shortcut to success apart from hard work and as long as we do not build ourselves, we will struggle to change the stereotypes of not having earned our positions on merit.
As we celebrate Women’s Day this year, whose United Nations theme is ‘Think equal, build smart, innovate for change’, it is a time to introspect on the strides we have made and look at innovative ways to encourage gender parity so that we create a balanced society.
At Barclays, we are proud to be one of the leading organisations driving gender equality in the workplace in line with SADC protocol on gender development whose target is 30% percent representation in decision making positions. With more than 850 employees, we currently have:
50% representation of women at Board level
33% representation of women at Director level
43% representation of women at Management level
47% representation of women for all employees
This has been achieved through deliberate efforts and policies to promote women empowerment in order to create equal opportunities for our employees. As a Bank, we also encourage men to support and motivate women to aspire for higher leadership positions.
Times are changing and our approaches to gender parity need to be innovative, in line with what is relevant in society. Men and women alike need to support each other to truly embrace the idea of a balanced society because we are equal partners.
I am happy that in Barclays, we have demystified the idea of women not being able to work together. Most notably, our outgoing Group Chief Executive Officer, Maria Ramos is female in addition to our Board Chairman in Zambia, Ms Chishala Kateka as well as a number of other women holding top decision-making positions.
We all need to change our mind sets and focus on collective efforts to support each other’s growth. Only then will men wholeheartedly rally behind our call for equal opportunities and treatment.
I know that as women, it is difficult because whether you are self-employed, running the home full time, a successful business woman or an ambitious career woman, the demands in life are similar. A lot of women want to be successful, send their children to school or ensure that their families have access to quality healthcare. This why it is important for women to support each other and fight against some of the injustices that exist in the world. Let us look at ways of lifting each other up and inspiring the next generation of women to be strong and ambitious.
I am a strong supporter of mentorship and I am pleased that Barclays has deliberate mentorship and leadership programmes to support women through career progression. We also support women’s careers by allowing maternity leave in line with labour laws and flexi-hours for breastfeeding mothers. The men in the Bank are also allowed paternity leave because we understand that in a balanced world, family is important.
As we celebrate Women this year, I do not want to take away from the fact that we are strong, resilient and special beings. If we put our efforts together, we can achieve so much more.
My challenge to society is to think of how we can create an environment where all of us can co-exist with equal opportunities and bring each one’s possibilities to life. Balance is possible; it can be achieved if we build smart and constantly innovate just as the world is changing.
It all starts with us making a mental change and affirm that indeed, let us ‘Balance for Better’.
Mizinga Melu is the Managing Director of Barclays Bank Zambia Plc