Reinette van der Merwe has been in the banking industry for more than two decades, and risen to be one of Botswana’s most formidable professionals, but says she still sees glaring gender imbalance in the boardroom – most times, she is the only one woman present.

Van de Merwe, Managing Director of Barclays Bank of Botswana, is aware giant strides need to be made to include more women in corporate Africa.

“I have never really seen gender until a couple of years ago when it was pointed out to me that I am the only woman in the boardroom,” laughs the 47-year-old.

While she never felt discriminated against at any point in her career, her exposure and interactions with other women have highlighted to her that their experiences are not all the same.

While 40% of today’s global workforce is female, only 5% of women hold global chief executive positions in Africa.

This is a far cry from the desired target of 50% to achieve gender equality, according to a study by PricewaterhouseCoopers.

In South Africa, there is only one female chief executive in the Top 40 JSE-listed companies and that’s Maria Ramos of Barclays Africa.

We, Men For Women

Van de Merwe worked her way up the ranks and was appointed Managing Director in 2013 after serving as Chief Internal Audit Executive. She is also an avid equestrian.

“I never thought I’d end up where I am now, but from the time I was a child, I wanted to become a chartered accountant and then one day become the chief financial officer of a company.”

Despite being at the helm of a bank in an industry characterized by an onslaught of fines, slowed market performance and litigation since the financial crisis, Van der Merwe, says: “I really love running a bank and although I develop women and men equally, I see competence, not gender.”

That has been the driving force of Van der Merwe’s leadership.

“For me, talent development and management in a bank [is fundamental]. A bank is made up of the people and we’re a service-orientated organization, so people are your most important assets,” she says.

“So for me the most rewarding element of my job is when I see someone really excelling at what they are doing and being able to promote them.”

Van de Merwe elaborates:  “… when I moved to Botswana, I had a really strong head of IT and in terms of her development, she put up her hand and showed her capability, she’s now my chief operating officer.”

‘The Social Agenda Is A Business Agenda’

Leading a people-centered organization is central to another one of Barclays Bank Botswana’s passions carried through programs initiated by the government.

“The government is actively involved in developing entrepreneurship,” she says.

Another of the bank’s focal points is investing in cutting-edge technology that enhances efficiency levels across the business for the consumer.

“One of the government’s aims in Botswana is to bank the unbanked and we are firmly set on this path.”

Recently, the bank continued its digital journey which started with mobile banking followed by internet banking, and international money transfers, where customers can pay school fees or suppliers across the borders by launching a card-less cash deposit service which allows for real-time card-less cash deposits into its accounts by both customers and non-customers at any time and on their own.

And, despite Barclays PLC’s divestment in Barclays Africa, there are still many opportunities and resources for the bank to explore in this space.

Under Van der Merwe’s leadership, the bank has been named Botswana’s ‘Bank of the Year 2016’ by Acquisition International. She attributes some of the success to policies enabling ease of business drafted by the country’s leadership.

“The future of the bank is very exciting as we look to continue developing it as a pan-African bank,” says Van der Merwe.

“We are looking forward to a lot more creativity in making [Barclays Bank Botswana] Africa relevant. We can determine how we want to do business in Africa for Africans and if you look at the divestment which took place in June, it was oversubscribed, so clearly, the market has a lot of faith in the management of the group.

“There’s nothing that stops this group from expanding into the rest of Africa, Asia and even back into London as an African brand,” she laughs. – Written by Rofhiwa Madzena