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Insights | November 2017

Insights – November 2017

Social Responsibility: What Africa’s Working Women Want from Multinationals

What do working women in the developing world want – and how can overseas firms they work for help to improve their lives and promote their advancement? At a time when women in the developed world are rebelling against the harassment and power imbalances that have kept them down for decades, the voices of working women in Africa and other emerging markets are more rarely heard. Yet they too have a lot to say – and the rewards to companies for listening are real, in worker satisfaction and fuller use of available talent.

We found out what women workers in Ghana in three sectors – information technology, garments, and mining – want for their lives and from their employers. This came from polling and focus groups we conducted for Business for Social Responsibility as part of a broader examination of the needs and views of African working women. Although the survey was small – four focus groups and 150 women polled – the research was in-depth. We think the results were revealing. They offer firms a starting point for companies thinking about social responsibility policies towards their employees, and not just in a small country in West Africa. They reflect attitudes and concerns that are likely to be felt by many women throughout the continent and in lower middle-income countries elsewhere. .

Our most important finding was this: as economic actors, the women in the various sectors in the study inhabit the same world – and it is our world. A common set of experiences and concerns unite working women in Ghana. There are differences among women in these sectors, to be sure, but these are outweighed to a considerable extent by the similarities.

They are ambitious and upwardly mobile. They are connected, with mobile phones and internet access. They want more education and training. They’re interested in moving up within their company or becoming entrepreneurs, many hoping to keep a relationship with their current industry by linking into the supply chains of their firm.

The extent to which their jobs have positively impacted the lives of these women workers is both striking yet also familiar.

Their economic progress is matched by a significant degree of progress towards gender equality. They have considerable say at home with respect to the disposition of their earnings and their bodies.

However, Ghana’s women still face the burdens of poverty and gender inequity. Even though their country is the envy of others in Africa for its development record, economic existence for many is precarious. Many still have difficulty making ends meet. Only a few have a permanent contract with their employers. At work a variety of economic and personal factors hold them back, mostly ones that women in the developed world would recognize. Despite their aspirations for social mobility, they have little experience of credit, training in entrepreneurship, or support from their employers.

Moreover, Ghanaian working women face various concerns in and outside the workplace. These include sexual harassment, health care access and costs, childcare, transport, and housing. Yet they express a lack of faith in government to address pressing needs so they will look to their employers to fill the gap.

There are, of course, some differences between the sectors, due in part to the demographics of their work forces. Women in ICT are a comparatively privileged grouping, those in garments are young strivers, while mining attracts a poorer and more narrowly focused female labor force.

Younger women, too, stand out from older women in several ways. They are better educated, more financially self-sufficient, self-confident in speaking up to bosses and harassers, and interested in getting started in the job and housing markets. They are the keenest on education, training, and business development opportunities. Yet here, too, it is worth noting that most of these are differences in degree rather than opposing views.

So what can companies do to help them – and help themselves? The women’s top priorities for business action included:

Better pay and benefits, and job stability: particularly for non-permanent employees.
Sexual harassment: Abuse hotlines
Health and childcare: Free on-site medical care, flex time for mothers
Education and training: More training opportunities at work, in and outside working hours
Entrepreneurship: Incubator space and low-interest credit for startups
Transport: Employer-provided transport to and from work
Housing: Low-cost rental housing

If companies pay attention to these requests, they will reap dividends. Some will come in cash, to be sure, thanks to better morale, greater productivity, lower turnover, and better use of under-utilized talent. Others will be less tangible but also important gains in community acceptance, corporate image, and a more supportive business environment.

The full report is available by clicking here

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