University of Leicester
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Women’s employment and career progression in Zambia: the case of the banking sector

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posted on 2024-04-24, 08:35 authored by Mable N. Sikanyiti

The international trends in growth and importance of the banking sector, its connectedness and highly gendered nature since the 1990s has made the country of Zambia an important place to examine. This growth, though raising almost 20 million people out of poverty, has also created challenges for the state, one of which is how to integrate Zambia into the global economy, and how to create understanding be-tween distinct business practices. Increasing trade between Zambia and the rest of the world has made it necessary to understand different cultural business practices to avoid conflict and misunderstandings. An-other challenge for Zambia is the increasing economic independence of women and the escalating numbers of women in the workplace, which has resulted in the need to address gender inequality in terms of women’s employment and career progression.

This is a case study of the Zambian Banking Sector in an underdeveloped country in the sub-Saharan Africa and I collected the data between 2018 (pilot) and 2019 (main) and follow up data collection in 2021 -a duration of about 3 months each. This includes an examination of 863 documents, and interviews with 41 banking sector employees – 37 women and 4 men. The study focuses specifically on women in the banking sector, and examines how they made their decision to work in the banking sector, how their career progressed and how they understand gender equality and career in the banking sector. Data of the 41 interviewees were analysed using KCM theory and considered Mainero and Sullivan’s A-authenticity; B-balance and C- challenge parameters and the findings indicate that women bank workers joined and remain in the banking sector jobs because of stability, security and benefits. In this case, for organisations to retain workers, policies needed to include more flexibility in scheduling and benefits for workers, partic-ularly women. The study found that the women in the banking sector negotiate their gender positions moving between the established feminine and masculine characteristics known as shimbi and lombe in the Zambian context. However more relevant to the women is the cultural context of working in a Zambian banking sector. The study found that the workplace relations and institutional practice common in the banking sector is known as wako-ni-wako or simply said, ‘blood is thicker than water’ or tribalism. Wako-ni-wako was a prominent feature in this study; this was in terms of recruitment, promotion, discrimination and job allocation. The study argues that wako-ni-wako has adapted to the social and workplace of Zam-bia, but continues to be essential for understanding Zambian culture and gender relations in the banking sector, which would be relevant in other sectors in Zambia. The implication is that, to work with Zambian companies, other countries need to have a deeper understanding of how wako-ni-wako functions if they are able to successfully operate in a Zambian context. In addition, this study also postulates that traditional Zambian values that promote informal flexible work for women, protect their career progress during their maternity leave, encourage cooperation at work, and encourage commitment to the banking sector. This study contributes to the discussion on Zambian women’s career and argues that categories such as collec-tivism, individualism, feminism, and masculinity are too narrow for the complexity of the modern Zambian professional woman. This study extends applicability of the KCM to a population where it has not been used.



Catherine Casey; Paul Brook; Phil Almond

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Author affiliation

School of Business

Awarding institution

University of Leicester

Qualification level

  • Doctoral

Qualification name

  • PhD



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