Towards increased women participation in industry
For decades, the success of women in manufacturing has been mired in cultural perceptions of gender roles.
But now, such old-fashioned attitudes are increasingly becoming obsolete and the true impact of women in industry is being realised.
Though the gaps in labour force participation between men and women remain huge, the slight increase in the number of women joining manufacturing is a clear indication that women are eager to explore new and uncultured opportunities, particularly in manufacturing and value addition.
In Kenya, this is demonstrated by women that have ventured into the steel, building and construction sector. Few of these have been able to supply major projects in the country.
This is a pointer that women now have capacity to challenge norms to scale up. Now more than ever, women are getting engaged in “hard” sectors that provide better capital investments and better returns to ensure sustainable economic growth.
Additionally, we are also seeing more women taking lead in manufacturing companies in the automotive, tobacco, chemical and furniture sectors.
In fact, tremendous growth in the past few years in these sectors has been attributed to the women at the helm of such firms.
These women are now becoming inspirational leaders in business in Kenya and across the continent.
But even with the new drive to include more women in industry, a variety of hindrances continue to pull down efforts, resulting in limited sustainable growth and reduced competitiveness.
Access to finance remains the major hindrance to women participation in industry, particularly the absence of innovative financial products for funding women start-ups in non-traditional manufacturing.
Indeed, an article published by Forbes online articulates that limited funding is the first of eight challenges affecting women in the industry.
It further says it is likely that women will be denied loans because of gender and cultural biases. Most institutions are more inclined to fund male-owned businesses.
The lack of appropriate Business Development Services also plays a role in hindering the success of women in manufacturing.
This inefficiency leads to inappropriate mechanisms for assisting women entrepreneurs to adopt appropriate technology and innovation, which is necessary for enhanced production.
Additionally, the absence of specialised professional and technical support to women-owned manufacturing ventures and inappropriate programmes for training women entrepreneurs deter consistent and sustainable growth.
However, institutions are now starting to pay attention to the intermediate role that women play in growing our industry.
In fact the Women in Manufacturing (WIM) programme housed at Kenya Association of Manufacturers (KAM) steers women to firmly take up their position in industry.
WIM aims to directly drive the women in manufacturing agenda at national level.
A research study by KAM and International Center for Research on Women on the Women in Manufacturing in Kenya set to be unveiled next March will pivot the advocacy drive of the KAM WIM programme in Kenya.
By providing concrete data on necessary areas to improve on, the study will provide the essential foundation to champion for an enabling environment to encourage women to participate in industry.
By increasing participation of women in industry, we seek to achieve our overall economic goals in terms of increasing employment opportunities, advancing skills and innovation and providing them with financial security for themselves and their families, which results in better living conditions for the entire community. —The Writer is the CEO, Kenya Association of Manufacturers. [email protected]