Wednesday, August 10, 2022

Lack of women in Botswana’s boardrooms should be a source of national shame

Last Friday, the Botswana Insurance Holdings Limited announced the resignation of its Chief Executive Officer, Regina Vaka.

BIHL is one of the largest and most visible companies in Botswana.

Thus when its CEO resigns ÔÇô for whatever reasons, the resignation is bound to attract public attention.

Through our sister publication, The Sunday Standard, we have in the past vehemently differed and disagreed with Ms Vaka and some of her executive colleagues over an investment vehicle that we felt violated corporate governance.

But we have never for a second doubted her abilities, her depth, her strengths and, above all, her passion to make a difference in other people’s lives.

Thus when she was appointed the founding Chief Executive of BIHL last year, having been at the helm of Botswana Life for years, we celebrated in the full knowledge that it was an appointment well deserved.

Immediately after her appointment, we were particularly impressed by the manner with which she set to assemble her executive team, showing a deliberate bias towards attracting high caliber women to fill senior positions of all the key divisions of the Botswana Stock Exchange listed BIHL.

It is not yet clear to us why she is leaving BIHL only a few months into her contract.
We can only hope that she leaves not as a result of boardroom brawls.

We mention boardroom brawls because Ms Vaka is a very proud woman and would not allow herself to be slighted or disrespected, not even by powerful owners of institutions like Sanlam that own BIHL.
Having said that we also want to say we hope that by leaving BIHL, Ms Vaka is not necessarily lost to Botswana’s corporate world, that she will soon emerge somewhere else in a much more powerful position where she will continue to make a contribution.

Because there are too few women of substance in Botswana’s corporate sector, losing a woman of Ms Vaka’s substance is a source of pain for those who know how difficult it is to nurture and grow talent that ultimately runs such big corporations like BIHL.

Even as we want more women to join the high echelons of the corporate sector, we want to point out that such should be strong and assertive women who will reject any form of condescension or patronizing on the part of their male counterparts.

More importantly, we need women who possess bouts and bouts of self esteem, pride and a deep sense of self-worth.

While still on Vaka’s resignation, it is perhaps fitting to remember that, as a country, Botswana was denied an opportunity to get a woman Chief Executive Officer at Standard Chartered (Botswana) when the Bank of Botswana vetoed a decision by the London head office to appoint Serthy Leburu to that position late last year.

The Bank of Botswana is not obliged to state the reasons for vetting out an individual to such a position.

And true to their culture of secrecy, the Bank conveniently hid behind legalistics while denying Botswana an opportunity to produce a first CEO for Standard Charted (Botswana) ÔÇô an otherwise male dominated juggernaut that has been doing business in Botswana since the 1860s.

There is a strong perception among our people that women are often their biggest enemies.
The belief is that they never want to support each other.

The perception is at its strongest in politics.

When Ian Khama became State President in 2008, he embarked on what amounted to purging of women ministers in cabinet, replacing them with his male cronies who were not necessarily any better performers.

But that is another debate for another day!

Already woman are a majority in all the political parties, they are the least represented at leadership positions.

This is because women never want to support or vote for one another.
They would rather support a man.

We note with curious fascination that the Bank of Botswana happens to be led by a woman.
For far too long, we have had women who were too happy to play second fiddle or be subservient to their male counterpart.

Ms Vaka is a stark departure from that culture. And for that we recognize her and applaud her.
We have had too many women who were all too happy to get themselves laid down if only to advance or enhance their career opportunities.

How we wish those days were behind us. Evidence suggests that such practices are still wide-spread.
This is particularly pronounced across the public service, most especially the civil service where some appointing authorities also double as predatory bedroom bullies ÔÇô demanding sexual favours in return for promotion and professional progression from their female targets.

This creates a culture of tokenism, which also takes away self-esteem from a very important part of our demographics that is women.

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