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From breaking the glass ceiling to being the shattered glass

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…Agonising tale of women execs

WHEN Grace Muradzikwa was appointed CEO of one of the country’s largest short-term insurance firms — NicozDiamond — after overseeing the merger of Nicoz and Diamond, many popped the champagne, celebrating her rise up the corporate ladder.

BERNARD MPOFU

She had broken the proverbial glass ceiling nearly a decade after the southern African country had become party to the famous Beijing Declaration of 1995, which pushed for equal opportunities regardless of gender, colour or creed.

In years to come, more success stories of female executives were to make headlines in business sections of the country’s legacy media.

For a largely patriarchal society, her achievement would not go unnoticed. Put differently, Muradzikwa became the proverbial “poster girl” of Zimbabwe’s commitment to gender equality at the workplace. Now Muradzikwa head of the Insurance and Pensions Commission, the sector’s regulator.

Zimbabwe’s financial services sector was among the first to adopt equality.

Pindie Nyandoro led Stanbic Bank between 2002 and 2007, making her one of the first females to take charge of a leading corporate in the country.

Her star continues to shine. Now she is Norfund’s regional director for southern Africa. Norfund is the Norwegian Investment Fund for Developing countries.

Nyandoro, whose long career can be traced back to established companies like Unilever, Standard Bank Africa, Stanbic Bank Zimbabwe, and Standard Chartered Bank, also earned her stripes, confirming a study by McKinsey that female executives were generally meticulous in their work.

A few years later, Charity Jinya was to lead MBCA, which later changed its name to Nedbank Zimbabwe. She left the bank after reaching retirement age.

She may have retired but not tired. Her years of experience are being used to shape national policy. In 2021, Finance minister Mthuli Ncube appointed her to the Monetary Policy Committee.

Chipo Mtasa took the reins of one the largest hospitality companies, Rainbow Tourism Group. It was not a bed of roses for her.

Facing active shareholders like Nicholas van Hoogstraten was one of her nightmares notwithstanding the shareholding wrangles which then engulfed the group. Other notable names which emerged after the first 10 years of the new century include Ruth Ncube who was appointed First Mutual Life managing director.

The list goes on and on and no pun intended for those mentioned.

Fast forward. As the momentum gathered, a new breed of women business leaders was introduced. After leading the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Zimbabwe, Gloria Zvaravanhu assumed her new role as Old Mutual Insurance Company managing director.

Lydia Tanyanyiwa also took charge of Minerva Risk Advisors as managing director following changes to its shareholding structure.

Minerva was previously known as Aon Zimbabwe before business mogul Shingi Mutasa’s Masawara took over the entity at a time foreign firms were unnerved by the country’s indigenisation laws which were later relaxed.

As talented young Zimbabweans continued to rise, stories of their unceremonious exits began to emerge. Some fell victim to boardroom fights and could not stand the heat while others were kicked out for corporate delinquency.

In a male-dominated corporate world, the ascendancy of women is widely celebrated and caught the attention of the market but lately there have been purges of several women at the top, dragging backwards the women’s empowerment and gender equality agenda in Zimbabwe.

The past year has seen a handful of female executives leaving their high-paying influential roles under unclear or controversial circumstances after serving for relatively short stints compared to their predecessors or other women luminaries.

Prisca Mutembwa, former Cottco chief executive, could be the most high-profile boss to have the shortest tenure. Her contract was terminated just three months after she was appointed, raising eyebrows on her competence or circumstances surrounding her exit.

She was appointed last October after taking over from Pious Manamike who threw in the towel following a series of corruption-related cases at the entity. The saga continues at Cottco.

Winnie Muchanyuka, Zimbabwe Tourism Authority chief executive, retired in a huff following board purges over alleged corporate governance misdemeanours. It is understood that there is gnashing of teeth at the authority after her exit.

Adelaide Chikunguru, Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC) chief executive, is facing the heat and could be on her way out. She is one the few female executives born after Zimbabwe’s Independence in 1980 to lead large companies such as the publicly owned broadcaster.

Among the first graduates of the Media and Society degree programme at the Midlands State University which began in 2000, Chikunguru took different corporate communications roles such as consultant at Mike Hamilton Public Relations and later spokesperson for the local unit of Tongaat Hullet.

At an editors’ meeting held a few years ago at a restaurant in Harare’s Chisipite suburb, then Information minister Monica Mutsvangwa could not hide her joy when she hinted that the ZBC was on the brink of appointing a young female executive.

Now Chikunguru’s head is on the block. The recently-appointed ZBC board which comprises President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s niece and former executive of the entity — Helliate Rushwaya — is understood to be baying for her blood and her days in office may be numbered. She is being investigated for flouting laid down procedures after she sponsored an advertisement outlining why the previous board left.

This is not the first time she has faced turbulence. After facing an internal revolt over her leadership style which was reportedly master-minded by the old guard, she had to play the political card to live for another day.

Reports show she invoked her parents’ war credentials to remain on the job. Her mother, Margaret Chikunguru, died last year.

Former Edgars group chief executive Tjeludo Ndlovu also typified a new wave of leadership renewal led by relatively young female executives.

Last year she shocked the market when it was announced that she was exiting the clothing retailer on 31 October 2023. Ndlovu had been with the group for 11 years, having joined in 2012 as group accountant.

She has led the group successfully since 2020 at the peak of the Covid-19 pandemic, but the group had lately been facing headwinds, prompting majority shareholder Sub-Sahara Capital Group (SSCG) to effect changes to shore up the struggling apparel retailer.

Her second-in-command, Happiness Vundla, who served as chief financial officer, was also pushed out.

The new CEO is Sevious Mushosho, a former executive of SSCG, who was appointed to the Edgars board after SSCG bought the majority stake from South Africa’s Edcon in 2019.

Before this wave, there were reports that Eunice Ganyawu-Magwali was leaving Nestlé Zimbabwe to pursue other interests after 17 months at the helm of the food.

The food and beverage concern became a talking point as people pondered women’s empowerment and the battles female executives face as they grapple to keep their heads above the water.

Roselyn Chisveto of Turnall and Precious Nyika of Lafarge now Khaya Cement also have stories to tell about Zimbabwe’s corporate politics after leaving their lofty positions.

What is in store in the New Year? Time will tell! But it has not been a season of champagne popping for the sisters in the cockpit.

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