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Women play a critical role in Africa’s economy, with some 400 million at work today. Achieving women’s economic inclusion would boost the continent’s GDP significantly. Companies, as core drivers of economic activity, must play a major role in this effort.

To better understand African perspectives on the key barriers to women’s economic inclusion and the private sector’s role in addressing them, Boston Consulting Group (BCG) and the United Nations Global Compact (UNGC) conducted a survey of more than 3,700 men and women in five major African economies: Egypt, Kenya, Morocco, Nigeria, and South Africa. The following three key roadblocks to women’s economic inclusion emerged:

  • Discrimination against women is a reality. Across Africa, women are viewed as less capable than men in terms of analytical and technical skills as well as leadership abilities. This bias, held by men and women alike, impacts women’s success at work and career advancement. It may also help explain why women entrepreneurs have difficulty accessing financial support.
  • Traditional views about women’s domestic roles persist. The belief that a woman’s place is in the home is alive and well in certain parts of Africa. In North Africa, for example, nearly half of women surveyed and a majority of men agree that women do not need to work if they can be financially supported by their husbands.
  • Views about the gender gap are not in sync with reality. Both men and women respondents underestimate the presence of a gender pay gap. This finding is especially surprising given the fact that many have experienced the gap themselves.

Female respondents said that three strategies are most effective for closing the economic gender gap. Enacting policies against discrimination and harassment would send the signal that women are vital to the workplace, as would providing safe transport to work. Training in gender equity, business skills, and financial literacy would also boost women’s performance and careers. And equal pay and benefits such as parental leave would help put women on more equal footing with their male colleagues.

As employers, buyers, investors, and norm setters, companies need to focus on improving the economic position of women in Africa, including those working in the informal sector, entrepreneurs, and those just starting out. Companies must focus not only on their own employees; they must also get suppliers to follow suit. While much of this work falls to individual companies, some of the broader policies, such as parental leave and care facilities, are best addressed through federated groups of companies.

The private sector cannot close the economic gender gap on its own, however. Close collaboration with the public sector along with governmental regulation will also be vital. Only then can women—and the African economy as a whole—reach their full potential.

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