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The female Kenya Airways Captain who expertly landed a plane in the middle of a storm at the Heathrow Airport in London reinforced the often-quoted maxim that says women are just as good as men in all spheres of life; be it economics, politics, science and innovation, among others.

As we commemorate International Women’s Day (IWD), this is the narrative we should be reinforcing and normalising in learning institutions, offices, Parliament, and other social forums to “Break the Bias” against women, which is the theme for this year’s IWD.

The KQ pilot story is not an isolated one. Women are making bold moves in their areas of expertise. For example, the appointment, on merit, of Lady Justice Martha Koome as the first female chief justice in Kenya last year also served to encourage women that they can excel in anything they put their mind, heart, and effort into.

However, there are deeply entrenched stereotypes that we have to tear down to begin breaking the gender bias and allow women to excel. For this article, bias is unconsciously having a particular attitude towards a group of people, in this instance, women.

I wonder if the challenging landing of the KQ plan by Captain Ruth Karauri would have made news if the pilot was a man. We have been unintentionally conditioned to believe that specific careers are a preserve for men.

These stereotypes make it harder for women to pursue specific career paths or be hired or promoted in certain fields.

So how can we break gender biases in different aspects of our lives? What do we need to create an equal world for all?

As a country, we have come a long way in ensuring women, and by extension, girls, have an equal chance as their male counterparts to excel in all areas of their lives.

The government has done a lot in ensuring girls, especially those from marginalised communities, have access to affordable education. To counter an unfounded claim that women do not excel at science, technology, engineering or maths (STEM), which can prevent them from pursuing a career in this sector, girls are constantly encouraged to have a positive attitude towards STEM subjects.

The government and numerous NGOs engage elders and community leaders to do away with deeply entrenched practices that pose a disadvantage to girls and women.

The same has been reciprocated in the political arena. For many years, women’s representation was minimal in Parliament because of the unfounded belief that women don’t have the grit to lead. Most women used to serve in Parliament through party nominations. To encourage more women to participate in politics, the 2010 Constitution created special seats – Woman Representative – to give women a chance to serve in Parliament. Through this affirmative action, more women are squaring it out with their male counterparts to serve in other positions such as governor, senators, MPs, among others.

In the corporate and business world, companies are embracing affirmative action and gender mainstreaming to ensure that they always have a certain number of women on Boards and in top-level management. While men still occupy more leadership positions, the number of women in the workplace is increasing, right from the management level to junior staff. The adoption of such policies reinforces the belief in the junior team that it does not matter your gender, one can still excel in the corporate world.

At Business Partners International (BPI), we are aware that women in business face barriers to success not because they are not capable to run sustainable business enterprises but due to the many barriers they face and gender bias.

Female entrepreneurs face higher barriers in loan applications when attempting to access capital compared to their male counterparts. The World Bank’s Women, Business and the Law 2022 report says: “About 2.4 billion women of working age are not afforded the same equal economic opportunities as men. In 86 countries, women face some form of job restriction and are not guaranteed equal pay for equal work,”

To play our part in minimising gender bias, BPI works to ensure the full potential benefits of financial inclusion for women are met by providing financial capital and offering business skills training for female entrepreneurs. The company also reserves 30 to 40 percent of our lending portfolio for women.

Regrettably, BPI managed to provide 22.8 percent of finance approved in the 2021 financial year to women due to a number of challenges including access to information, the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic and lack of collateral to secure a loan by many female entrepreneurs.

The BPI team is, however, hopeful that with continued upskilling, they will accelerate the financial inclusion of women.

Although the world observed International Women’s Day (IWD) on March 8, 2022, the theme #BreakTheBias is relevant all year.

The BPI team believes that by working together and challenging the stereotypes, they will ‘Break the Bias’ that have long held women back from reaching their full potential.

About the Author: michael

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