Gender-based violence, unequal pay, and limited access to work continue to pose significant challenges for women worldwide, and young women in particular. These obstacles not only impede women from realising their aspirations but also prevent them from making meaningful contributions to society.
Women’s meaningful participation in the labour market is indispensable for a country’s sustainable development, and offers significant benefits to companies as well. Shortlist, a recruitment firm in Kenya, and Challenge Fund for Youth Employment partner organisation, provides executive search and talent technologies and services, is harnessing that potential through its youth and gender advisory board.
Women in Kenya face especially severe challenges in finding work that matches their skill sets and potential and pays them equitably. Historically, the job matching process has favoured male applicants, from the user interface that candidates use to apply, to the wording used in the application questions and the signals recruitment teams give employers.
An Innovative Approach
Shortlist provides young people with IT training and connects them with decent job opportunities. When the company launched its initial program, it quickly became apparent that there was a need for greater youth engagement. As Austen Stranahan, Shortlist Chief Operating Officer, explains, "We realised that we wanted to hear feedback from the youth in our program. We wanted to understand what went well for them and what they would change.”
“This led us to establish a formal youth and gender committee."
Shortlist places gender equity at the core of its business model. It doesn’t merely consult youth on trivial matters but engages them in core organisational activities, such as strengthening gender-inclusive hiring practices. It also acts as a bridge between youth working in the tech industry and those outside of it. By directly collaborating with external youth networks, the board brings critical insights into young women's perceptions of tech jobs, their needs and aspirations.
The Business Case for Engaging Young Women
Gender equality in the workforce is not just a matter of fairness, but also increases creativity and improves business performance, as numerous studies have shown. “We know that organisations that have a diverse workforce perform better, and those companies that ignore adopting practices that promote diversity and break down bias in the future may struggle to create businesses as sustainable as their competitors,” explains Palladium’s Chief Diversity Officer, Rosanna Duncan. “If organisations don’t utilise all of their talent and recognise the importance of different lived experiences, they will struggle to find innovative and sustainable solutions.”
Organisations that attract a variety of perspectives and skill sets improve their team dynamics. Shortlist is a real-life example of this. The youth and gender board encourages young people and women realise their full potential, develop their skills and implement their ideas to make Shortlist more inclusive and in turn, creating stronger and more creative teams.
Taking gender-sensitive initiatives, such as adjusting the language of job posts or providing flexible working hours, has seen positive outcomes for Shortlist in attracting and retaining female talent. According to Stranahan, any (tech) organisation concerned with its business' sustainable growth cannot treat women's inclusion as a nice-to-have. Gender parity efforts must be intentional, and organisations must strive to create an environment that is both welcoming and supportive of women.
By incorporating young women's feedback into every level of its program design, the program, called Accelerating the Rise of Cloud Work, aims to upskill, match, and place 5,000 youth into decent jobs in Kenya through cloud work employers. Shortlist proves that an organisation can set itself up for success when their target audience moves from mere beneficiaries to active program co-creators. “Diversity, equity, and inclusion are firmly embedded into our way of working because It's a win-win situation: good for business and good for society,” Stranahan adds.
How to Establish a Youth and Gender Committee with Few Resources
Promoting gender equity and diversity may seem daunting for companies, especially small and medium-sized enterprises, due to the assumption that it requires large budgets and resources. The good news is that companies can take small steps towards gender equity without overburdening their resources.
• Start small
Setting up a formalised gender committee will take time, but every small step can become a steppingstone to strengthening gender equity. For example, starting by asking for insights from employees or their networks on what makes a job, organisation, or sector attractive for young women.
• Choose youth who are already engaged
Young people who are already active in youth organisations have the right exposure and tools to reach and attract more youth. Engaging them can help create a strong network of youth and gender champions.
• Don’t underestimate young women's abilities
Attracting young women is essential for organisational success, but how you engage them is equally important. Simply giving them tokenistic opportunities is not enough; to fully benefit from their potential, organisations should invite young women to participate in discussions on core activities.
To attract and retain young women, companies must be intentional about creating opportunities for them. Shortlist’s youth and gender board is a shining example of how organisations can promote women's participation and create a more equitable workplace. As Shortlist continues to positively impact young women in Kenya, the hope is that their example will inspire more organisations to invest in promoting women's participation.
The Challenge Fund for Youth Employment (CFYE or the Fund), the flagship program for the Youth@Heart strategy of the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, has pledged to make a difference. The Fund aims to create a prosperous future for 200.000 young women and men in the Middle East, North Africa, Sahel & West Africa, and Horn of Africa. This will be achieved by supporting youth employment initiatives in these regions. For more information, contact email@example.com.