Addressing gender equality has already shown signs of unlocking unlimited potential and unrealised economic value across the world. In Kenya, Safaricom has already exhibited what embracing gender equality and diversity in the company can do by being one of the only companies in Africa to announce a target to achieve 50:50 ration in senior management in 2025 [the initial year of this was to be 2020]. I spoke to Tabie Kioko, the diversity and inclusion lead at the telco to understand why and how the company embraced this path, what it means to them and why the change in years to achieve their 50:50 target:
Kindly tell us who you are and what you do?
My name is Tabie Kioko and I am the diversity and inclusion lead here at Safaricom. I have been in Safaricom for the last 19 years; I worked for Michael Joseph as his P.A for 10 years, then for Bob Collymore for 6 years. I transitioned into this role in mid 2016, when we started looking at aspects for people and how we wanted to make Safaricom a diverse company.
Safaricom is one of the companies in Africa to watch in terms of diverse and an inclusive work force. Why did you decide to go into this direction and what are some of the steps that you took as a company to get here?
Safaricom’s journey is not new to most people, especially considering that we are a Kenyan company and this really gave us the upper hand when we started and as we continued, we garnered a lot of support from the public. Michael put us on a high pedestal and the work he put in to get us here will always make us soar; then Bob (God rest his soul) came in and thought, what would make us different? I mean, we are one of the biggest companies in Africa but what can just change the narrative just to add value to this success agenda? So, he came up with putting people before profit and that was a game changer for us.
We started programs that were people centered, where we made the staff feel they were valued, respected and appreciated and in 2016, the diversity unit was formed. We wanted Safaricom to look like a mini Kenya. We wanted to get representatives of all people in Kenya to be in this organization? Why because it adds so much value to have different diverse people come together. There is such power. You can imagine the ideas and this is what generated the innovation spirit because you come with your own skill set, your own ideas, your own expertise, and your own ability. From there, innovation started popping up left, right and center. We got to a point where we couldn’t even keep up with the products we were putting out there. There was innovation everywhere you looked and overall, looking at the diverse spectrum, we have different generations, people from different areas of the country, women and people with disabilities so we put a special focus on gender and disability
Speaking of SDGs, I noticed that you really advocate for gender parity but the SDG 5 is not included in your mandate of inclusivity. Why is that so?
This is because when we looked at all the 17 goals, we realized that we can’t do all of them, we’ve got to focus so we took 9 SDG goals so we looked at each one of them and tried to eliminate, in terms of the core business.
So we said to ourselves, goal number 5 is gender equality, however, when we talk about gender equality we are just talking about male-female, right because there’s a new other aspect of equality that are not just male-female and we want to look at equality from all aspects, not just gender. We want to look at equality in terms of disability, in terms of treatment, in terms opportunities in terms of everything. So what is the other goal that can actually encompass all the equalities, so its goal number 10 which is reducing inequalities, so we adopted reducing inequalities and because gender is one component, it is also included in reduced inequalities.
We then ask every division to look at what they will adopt; out of the 9 to see now they align with the company goals and everyone is responsible for making sure their KPIs close only when aligned to an SDG goal
Bob also really advocated for women and he started the process to change Safaricom to become a workplace that was and still is very inclusive for women, what are some of the changes that have been made to make women feel more included?
One of the things we added were crèche facilities with professional nurses who can look after babies when their mothers worked. This is after the flexibility of mothers to come to work after their babies have turned one. Mind you, this is paid leave.
We also have fully equipped breastfeeding rooms and recovery rooms where you can go to rest and rejuvenate in the middle of the day if you feel tired.
Another thing Bob loved was checking up on mothers with special needs children. Many people don’t know the struggle of raising special needs children but Bob tried his best to make them feel included in every way. Bob used to go and sit with them and ask them what they were going through. For example if you have an autistic child, he would want to know each and every way the parents, family and child could be supported.
He also had an open day policy every Friday afternoon where you could go talk to him about anything and everything. He loved to listen. And not just to women, even men who felt they wanted to open up and talk. He valued relationships.
There’s an article where Sanda Ojiambo says, “Inclusivity and the reduction of inequality is not purely about philanthropic approaches, which is more traditional. It’s about how business can use its technologies, services, products and its advocacy and thought leadership position to drive social and economic change,”. Please expound on how Safaricom as a business is using its technologies and services to bring about this change.
We listen to our customers. Our customers are the ones driving the innovation that brings about all the products and services that we introduce and because of this, even the people who design these products have to be in the spectrum of our customers. We cannot design products or services that are just for the older generation and we cannot all assume that just because we leave in a fast-paced digital world that everyone is conversant with technology. Many of our customers also come from areas where their primary cares aren’t how to access the internet but where they will get food and water.
It also boils down to how we serve our customers. We see it being more logical that someone from for example Garissa is employed at the Safaricom customer care centre in Garissa because he/she is more conversant with the area, people and language.
In all this, we stick to our purpose of transforming lives.
While Safaricom remains satisfied with the overall gender parity of staff at 50-50 per cent ratio between men and women, the number of women in more senior positions remains low, with only 32% of the senior management and 25 per cent of the executive leadership being female. The target is to achieve gender parity — a 50-50 per cent ratio between men and women — in senior management by 2020. 2020 is just around the corner. Will the public see any change in management before the next quarter?
In the 2018 Sustainable Business report, women occupied 50% of Safaricom as employees and 32% as senior management. While we strived to grow female representation in senior management to 50% parity by 2020, we have not been able to do so. Going back to the drawing board, our CEO Michael Joseph announced to us a new and more achievable target of 50:50 by 2025 so that we can also achieve it well, and not just because we had earlier announced it. It’s not just about ticking boxes for us, we want to hit this milestone in the right way no matter what is thrown at us including the state of the economy. But what I can tell you for sure is that we will get there, and we are leaving no one behind.