Key areas such as advancing and retaining female employees have shown some progress over the past few years, according to the When Women Thrive 2020 Sub-Saharan Africa Report released on 18 August. However, the report by Mercer, an American human resources consulting firm, highlights that despite recent progress and achievements such as equal access to leadership roles in the workplace, there is still more work to be done. Tamara Parker, chief executive officer at Mercer South Africa, says the report is an evidence-based approach to diversity and inclusion, sharing insights from senior human resources and business leaders across sub-Saharan Africa. She says it covers policies and practices related to diversity, inclusion and gender equity including issues pertaining to accountability, leadership engagement, pay equity, career development, health, wellbeing and financial wellness. “Mercer’s research finds women in about 94% of organisations in sub-Saharan Africa have equal access to roles that lead to advancement into leadership positions, significantly higher than the global average of 79%. In our findings, 88% of respondents in this region report their organisations are already focused on improving diversity and inclusion. This is an incredibly positive sign that backs up progress we have seen in a few countries such as Rwanda, South Africa and Ethiopia,” says the CEO. Parker says more women are becoming CEOs, joining corporate boards and being appointed to high-level ministerial positions in governments and 56% of organisations have talent management practices in place for high-potential women compared to 35% globally to advance equal access to opportunities. She says 78% of organisations say women are equally likely as men to move across business units and/or geographies as compared to the global average of 71%. The report highlights that 82% of respondents say pay equity is part of their organisation’s compensation philosophy or strategy compared to 74% globally. Moreover, 78% of organisations have a team formally responsible for conducting pay equity analysis compared to 72% globally. According to Parker, managers in Sub-Saharan Africa are significantly less involved in supporting diversity and inclusion efforts than senior executives, which is a major barrier and missed opportunity to achieving progress. She says a critical part of the solution involves driving culture and tone from the top, a feat that can only be achieved by embracing a deep leadership commitment to taking action and engaging employees. In organisations where a diverse workforce and inclusive culture is flourishing, senior leaders and board members play an important role. Senior executives in sub-Saharan Africa are helping support cultural transformation by sponsoring meetings, publicly positioning diversity and inclusion as a business imperative and participating as members of internal diversity councils with 48% in sub-Saharan Africa versus 43% globally. “Real diversity and inclusion in the workplace could become a force for change, particularly in Africa, where gender inequality remains high across the continent. Viewing women’s health as critical to developing and retaining women and offering targeted programs including gender-specific health education campaigns and parental leave, are reasons why women are better represented in organisations,” says Parker.