Diversity at the top sees dividends for Kenyan East African Breweries
An unwavering focus on innovation, diversification, and investments in digital channels at EABL, along with deliberate policies towards diversity and inclusion, sees the company record its most profitable year yet
Amidst the chaos of a pandemic and a drought, the finance team at East African Breweries Limited (EABL) refused to let these obstacles derail their path to success.
In 2022 they achieved their most profitable year in seven years, group CFO Risper Genga-Ohaga tells The CFO.
Genga-Ohaga credits their triumph to deliberate actions taken by the company’s leadership-comprising mostly women- which includes an unwavering focus on innovation and diversification, along with wise investments in digital channels to connect with consumers more effectively.
“It’s in the brand of leadership. Effective leadership is marked by the level of contribution and discretionary effort it inspires. This is evident in the quality of our delivery,” says Genga-Ohaga adding that studies have shown that companies with more vigorous female representation tend to have better long-term financial outcomes.
In EABL’s 2022 annual report, Genga-Ohaga writes that net cash from operating activities, which was equivalent to $205m grew by 81%, while free cash flow increased by $100m.
She further states that earnings per share increased by 172% reflecting the higher profitability.
“These are concrete facts and figures that underscore the value of diversity. Additionally, there are cultural benefits to having women in leadership positions,” Genga-Ohaga says.
“While every individual is unique, many women bring empathy, self-awareness, and active listening, which counterbalance machoism in organisations, and foster a more positive work environment. Overall, the benefits of having women in leadership roles are clear,” says Genga-Ohaga.
Genga-Ohaga was recently appointed as an independent non-executive director of I&M Group -a public company listed on the Nairobi Stock Exchange (NSE).
Recalling her career journey, Genga-Ohaga shares a poignant moment when she felt she had to choose between advancing her finance career and raising her children.
At 24, in her first year of working, her career was gaining momentum. However, after revealing her pregnancy to her then-manager, she feared she would get no support as pregnancy, according to the company’s policy, was “self-inflicted” and therefore not covered.
“It was a taboo topic, and you couldn’t even discuss being pregnant. Then, if you became pregnant, it was viewed as your problem. Thankfully, times have changed, and we don’t do that anymore,” says Genga-Ohaga.
Genga-Ohaga and her team at EAB take pride in providing female employees with six months of maternity leave and flexible working arrangements, which is also part of the company’s strategy to retain talent. The company has also introduced paternity leave to aid new fathers.
These initiatives are just a few of the company’s concrete measures to foster inclusivity and prioritise the welfare of its staff.
All things equal
Over and above training young women entering finance, Genga-Ohaga says EABL has gone one step further and formulated policies to level the playing field.
“In all our hiring decisions, we strive to ensure a level playing field for all candidates. However, we also refuse to look at a short list that is not diverse.” Genga-Ohaga explains. “This is especially important given the structural barriers many women face, particularly as they enter middle management and begin their childbearing years.”
Genga-Ohaga said she had noted prevalent aggression towards women’s empowerment and their increased presence in the workplace.
“Some people now view it as a problem, and there is a push to shift focus towards the boy child. However, the reality is that many young girls still face significant challenges, such as lack of access to education, sexual abuse, teenage pregnancies, and early marriages.
“Despite this, there is a prevailing sentiment that we have done enough to address these issues. However, we have yet to address equal pay, as no one has been bold enough to tackle it head-on. While it may be a difficult conversation, I believe it is essential that we have it,” says Genga-Ohaga.
The success of the finance team at EABL is a testament to the power of effective leadership, innovation, and diversity. Genga-Ohaga and her primarily female leadership team have demonstrated the value of inclusive policies and initiatives.
But there are still significant challenges that remain for young girls in accessing education and equal pay for women in the workplace. It is essential that these issues are addressed and that the conversation around them continues, Genga-Ohaga says.