Female board leadership in Africa – a focus on modern governance in Nigeria

November 9, 2022

Edna Twumwaa Frimpong

This post is the fourth in a series of guest-authored commentary pieces spotlighting data and insights from the Board Diversity Gaps report, produced in partnership between Diligent InstituteUniversity of Lagos (Unilag), and  The Center of Excellence for Sustainable Environment and Social Inclusion (COE-SESI), along with 20 other organizations committed to promoting boardroom diversity around the world.

Women’s Inclusion and Equality in business and politics is a very big topic globally and has now become a major discourse in sub-Saharan Africa with regional leaders such as Nigeria, South Africa, Kenya, Rwanda, and Ghana, intensifying efforts to unpack the scope within their geographical contexts. However, like all perceived foreign concepts and culture, it is still facing the expected suspicion of interpretations, hidden meanings, and scope, thus its implementation across major segments of African Countries can be deemed to still be in it’s infancy stage. Nonetheless, the African continent has made some progress in the last two decades with regard to accepting female leadership both politically and in business. This blog presents a review of the state of female board leadership in Nigeria, by providing numbers from listed companies and the general private sector.


Feminism is a set of ideologies that has evolved into a theoretical concept underpinning the advocacy for equality between men and women across political, business, economic and socio-cultural environments. Consequently, the overarching ideology of feminism embodies the fundamental philosophy guiding inclusion and equality. The level of acceptance and practice of the basic tenets of feminism in Africa may provide a valuable guidance to understanding the present approach given to the concept of women inclusion and equality in business and politics across the continent.

Globally, it is noteworthy that politics and business are still predominantly patriarchal, with Diligent Institute’s modern leadership report finding that across its global data set, females hold only approximately 27% of board positions across the globe. However, we may not be able to ignore the fact that progress is being made in certain continents more than in others. Therefore, it is imperative to keep reviewing possible factors that may engender more inclusion and equality of women across board, as their significance in the development of nations is now a dominant view in all literature.

Women inclusion and equality in Nigerian boardrooms

Equality can be described from different perspectives but the dominant representation of gender equality in the context of biological male and female has been more quantitative than qualitative in nature. Therefore, the recent increase in the presence of women in board positions in Nigeria and other African countries does not fully depict the concept of equality.

Women in Business Leadership positions should not only be mere nominees to fulfill a number quota, rather, but they should also have equal opportunities as their male counterparts to access the tangible and intangible resources embedded in those positions to enable them to use their potential fully. Equality for women in business therefore should entail developing and implementing policies that are non-discriminatory and more inclusive for women to make high-quality decisions and influence the directions of organisations without prejudice to their gender identity.

While the argument above is on why numbers should not be the only focus of policymakers within the government and corporate sector, it is important to also work on increasing the current statistics of women’s presence in the board room, to move them slightly away from their current minority status.

The following indicators are used to provide information on Women’s Inclusion and Equality in the boardroom in Nigeria.

Policies around gender diversity emerge

Globally, the discussions around gender diversity, inclusion, and equality have led to some countries introducing legislation mandating quotas for women’s representation on boards. Some states in the United States such as California; and European countries such as Belgium, Norway, France, Italy, The Netherlands, Greece, Austria, and recently Germany are in this category, thus enforcing publicly-quoted companies to limit the proportion of their board membership allocated to a particular sex.

In Nigeria, the practice is still a voluntary business-led approach. However, certain regulatory bodies such as the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) have issued regulations and created frameworks to promote and achieve particular thresholds for gender diversity at Management and Board levels in the institutions under them.

Top 30 capitalised companies listed on the Nigerian Stock Exchange (NSE)

A recent report by KPMG found a gradual increase in the number of women occupying positions of Directors on the top 30 Capitalised Companies on the NSE. Specifically, the report gave significant statistics of women making up 17% of the Chairpersons in these companies and 3% of the Chief Executive Officer position. However, research by PWR  in 2021 found that in the top 20 listed Capitalised Companies on the NSE, there has been a 5% decline in female board membership from 2020 to date. The PWR report also indicated the absence of female representation on the board of two of the 20 top-listed companies in 2021, which was also a negative trend if compared to having only one company listed in that category in 2020.

Despite the positive trend, although with few declines, the problem of inclusivity in female leadership leaves a lot of grey areas within the corporate sector.


According to the most recent 2021 World Bank report, the population of women in Sub-Saharan Africa is approximately 50.1%, this brings to mind that if only half of the population of a continent is predominantly active across all sectors, making most decisions governing the lives of its people, then that continent even at its best, is yet to tap into 50% of its potential. Therefore, toeing the line of arguments presented by several studies with findings suggesting higher corporate governance scores for companies who have more women seated on their boards as directors, it is highly recommended that more need to be done to encourage women’s inclusivity and equality in both listed companies and the public sector in Sub-Saharan Africa.

About the author

Head of International Research

Edna Frimpong is an experienced research analyst with a demonstrated history of working in the information technology and services industry. In her role with the Diligent Institute, Edna oversees and directs corporate governance research projects and partnerships internationally, outside the US.

She joined Diligent Institute in 2021 after six years with CGLytics — a corporate governance analytics firm based in Amsterdam, The Netherlands, acquired by Diligent — where she served as Head of Research for the EMEA region. Previously, Edna held research positions at firms including Sustainanalytics and Carnomise. She received her Master’s Degree in Finance and Law from the Duisenberg School of Finance in Amsterdam, and her Bachelor’s Degree in Administration, Insurance and Risk Management from the University of Ghana.

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