When Shuvai Mugadza first took on a job as a part-time assistant at a shoe shop in 1992, she was not expecting to learn about the harsh realities of life.
Mugadza’s father suggested that the then 13-year-old work at his friend’s shop during the school holidays. He had hoped that the stint would teach her about the value of hard work hard and financial independence.
It taught her much more than that.
As the only female employee at the shop, her male counterparts would write her off, while customers would demand to be served by male employees instead.
Undeterred, she held her ground and focused her energy on closing deals. From physically lifting stocks in the warehouse to helping with the accounts, she did everything to show her male colleagues that she was as good as them, if not better.
The hard work paid off. Within six months, she was appointed to the role of shop supervisor and tasked to lead a team of employees who were almost twice her age.
“I learned at a very young age that through hard work and determination, women have the power to push ahead,” said Mugadza, who has gone on to make even bigger strides in her career, and is now the Country Manager for DHL
Global Forwarding Zimbabwe.
Mugadza, who joined the company as Customer Executive in 2016, is among the rising number of women who are helping to drive gender parity in Africa by taking up leadership roles in major organizations.
Still, Africa has some way to go in achieving gender inclusivity at the workplace.
Across the continent, women hold 25 percent of executive positions, higher than the global average of 17 percent, according to a 2019 report by consulting firm McKinsey.
But it also found that overall progress on gender equality has stalled, with the region’s gender parity score standing at just 0.58 out of 1 — the same as it was in 2015.
While women account for over half of the continent’s population, they generated just 33 percent of its economy in 2018. McKinsey said Africa could add US$316 billion (€289.3 billion) to its GDP by 2025 if every country in the region improved its score to match the best performing country on each indicator.
The reality is, underlying gender biases persist in the workplace. The Middle East and North Africa region performed the worst in terms of gender equality, according to a 2020 report by the World Economic Forum.
Negative perceptions, attitudes and historic gender roles mean that many women in Africa are less likely to be given equal opportunities in the professional world.
But the tide is slowly turning.
As Veronique Ebenye Epangue, Country Manager of DHL Global Forwarding Cameroon explained, things might not be perfect, but they are certainly better than 10 years ago.
For one thing, international groups like the UN Women and World Health Organization have stepped up efforts in Cameroon to ensure that girls have equal access to education from a young age.
These efforts, she said, has helped to change parents’ perceptions and educate them on the benefits of sending their daughters to school.
At the same time, the government and multinational corporations are taking bold measures to ensure fairer and greater female representation at the top. She cited the increasing prevalence of Cameroonian women taking up roles like directors and board members at large corporations within the country.