How Absa Group became Africa’s best company for women

Absa is ranked among the top 110 best companies worldwide for women
As well as leading the charge on female-friendly workplace practices in Africa, Absa champions the advancement of women in and outside of the organisation

When it comes to championing women at work, Absa leads the charge in Africa.

The South African lender is ranked among the top 105 companies in the world (and first in Africa) in championing gender equality and creating an inclusive work environment, according to Forbes.

Such accolades come as little surprise, given the banking group’s ongoing commitment to and support of women – both in and outside of the workplace.

Even as South Africa’s economy comes under strain due to high interest and higher inflation, taking a toll on businesses – the Group continues to drive positive societal change by investing in women.

As a pan-African financial organisation operating in diverse, dynamic markets, Absa believes “empowering women is not just an economic imperative, but also a vital social cause that deserves our wholehearted support”.

To that end, the company has committed to the UN Global Compact’s Women Empowerment Principles, to promote gender equality in the workplace – and implemented a deliberate approach to advancing women within the organisation.

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Deliberate approach to advancing women

Absa is making good on its ambition to increase female representation across all management levels throughout its Pan-African business, with an increase in the representation of women in senior management to 35%, up from 33% in 2021, and in middle management to 40%.

Not just that, but top leadership is mostly made up of women.

Such positive change is reflected across Africa, with the WEF 2022 Global Gender Gap Report showing that Sub-Saharan Africa has the sixth-highest regional score and has bridged 67.9% of its gender gap.

Not only does this register the region’s highest gender gap score in 16 years, but South Africa ranks 20th out of 146 countries surveyed.

There is of course much work still to be done, and Absa is more committed than ever to being part of the solution.

Among the bank’s many initiatives, the dedicated Leadership Academy, set up in 2019 with IMD to empower and refine the bank’s leaders, has helped to accelerate the career paths of many women.  

The introduction of a range of women-focused initiatives across the Group aligned to its Women’s Manifesto have also yielded key successes.

Launched too in 2019, the Ignite Her Programme has trained more than 600 female employees, while more than 3,000 male and female colleagues have benefited from the Ignite Her masterclasses, which are built around the premise that men have an equally important role to play in creating a diverse and inclusive organisation.

According to Chief People Officer Jeanett Modise, the programme has “delivered about 4% higher promotion rates, around 3% higher lateral mobility rates and approximately 9% higher retention rates of programme alumni compared to non-participants”.

The numbers speak for themselves. Some 64% of all promotions in Absa were awarded to women in 2022, while over 50% of new hires were women. And crucially, these gains were felt within the leadership ranks, with 44% of promotions going to women at senior management level and 56% at middle management level, up from 2021.

“These are key achievements when we look at ‘future proofing; our gender parity,” says Jeanett.

Chief People Officer Jeanett Modise

Female-friendly policies

As well as its deliberate and continuous promotion plans, Absa provides the female workforce with supportive policies and people practices to ensure employee wellbeing, a sense of belonging, and commitment to a work-life balance.

Measures that have seen the bank secure Top Employer Africa certification by Forbes for five consecutive years, Top Employer Africa by the Top Employers Institute, and Best Employer Brand Award by LinkedIn, acknowledging support of its talent – including women.

The Absa workplace has become known for its innovative female-friendly initiatives, from its breastfeeding pods to maternity and paternity leave that is longer than those provided by law, to its continuation of the hybrid work model and flexible working even after the pandemic.

The bank extends offer of support beyond employees to their families, including medical assistance to social, legal and psychological support 24/7 through partnerships with specialised entities.

In line with a strategic imperative to be an active force for good, Absa also takes its backing of women outside of the organisation and across Africa and globally with external initiatives that create awareness of gender equality and support as many women as it can.

The banking giant, which operates in 12 countries in Africa and has two international offices, works with multiple institutions and partners across the continent and globally to support women-owned enterprises – ensuring always that a portion of public procurement spend is earmarked for businesses run by women.

In 2022, the bank allocated R6.9 billion (US$37 million) to support women-owned businesses.

Absa's supportive people practices has seen the firm land numerous awards

Championing women in technology and beyond

Absa’s work with UN Women to fast-track the implementation of the presidential pronouncement to increase access to public procurement for women-owned businesses to a minimum of 40% was a success – with women-owned enterprises realising a 166% increase in revenue, leading to a doubling of jobs created.

“We actively seek to align with strategic partners to further amplify the call for gender equality and reach a much wider audience,” says Tamu Dutumu, Absa Technology’s head of strategy.

One particular focus for the group is the advancement of women in tech, a focus that saw Absa join forces in April with non-profit Women in Tech and be part of the mission to empower five million women globally in the tech sector by 2030.

Engaging with Women in Tech also provides Absa a pool of talented individuals, as it continues its transformation into a digital bank, and Absa employees with a mentoring programme along with networking events.

Absa is also a 50-50 sponsor of the AWS #She Builds Women in Tech cloud certification programme, with both companies donating funds to cover the cost of the 50 women participating in this programme.

Given that cloud is significant to Absa and cloud skills are in demand, such a partnership is a win-win for the bank.

As is the bank’s partnership with the Maharishi Invincibility Institute and the Hein Wagner Academy for the blind in the creation of a Cybersecurity Academy – aimed at empowering marginalised South African youth to become certified cyber security specialists.

According to Tamu, the academy’s latest cohort of 20 graduating students was 70% female.

Absa’s gender equality efforts don’t end there. A five-year partnership with the Mastercard Foundation in Ghana in the creation of the Absa Young Africa Works is aimed at enabling young people, and young women especially, access work in investing in SMMEs, while its work in promoting STEM education has earned the bank Sustainability and Social Investment Award.


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