Jane Bitek-Langoya FCG

Veteran company secretary and respected corporate governance role model who believes in the power of education for women

The impact of policy on securing equality of opportunity for women

It was back in Uganda in the eighties where it all began for Jane Bitek-Langoya. The foundation of her career success she maintains, was an excellent education. Jane says, 'During the time I was studying at university 1987/88 –1990/91, the Government paid for our tuition, accommodation and upkeep. Conditions were better than they are now. We had book allowances that would cover whatever books you required at the well-stocked university bookshop. Many times after buying all the law books required in the academic year, I would still have a little extra to afford books on anthropology.'

At that time there was only one university in Uganda – Makerere University - and in 1990, the Makerere Senate introduced the 1.5 point scheme where female students’ chances of admission were boosted. The aim of the scheme was to increase the number of female candidates admitted to undergraduate programmes. The scheme was also in line with the Constitution of Uganda which states: ‘Women shall have the right to affirmative action for purposes of redressing the imbalances created by history, tradition or custom’. This boosted the number of female students admitted into the University and the impact is clear now, with many women since having taken up senior positions that were previously dominated by men.

As one of the earliest women to qualify as a company secretary back in 1989, at a time when company secretaries were mostly men, Jane held a number of high-ranking positions, including as company secretary for two government-related companies: Kinyara Sugar Works Ltd, at that time a company with 100% government shareholding and National Housing & Construction Company Ltd – at that time with 51% government shareholding. She also worked as Deputy Registrar General at the Uganda Registration Services Bureau which houses, among other registries, the Companies Registry (which is the equivalent to Companies House in the UK).

The Government of Uganda pursues an empowerment of women policy which requires one-third of every Government organisational structure – including boards – to be women. Similarly, gender diversity is actively practiced in the private sector. Jane says, 'There are a lot of women in senior management and governance posts in Uganda. We sometimes joke that we may need to start a program for "empowering the boy child".'

Jane has since retired from working full-time as a company secretary, to promote corporate governance as a freelance consultant.

She describes her motivation: 'When we train people and see companies and organisations turn around, we realise that this is the way we should be going'.

As a former company secretary, Jane had a formidable reputation for being a firm but fair and friendly leader, respected for being uncompromising when matters involved crossing the legal line at work, even when pressured.

She says that being in a senior governance role has helped her to break the bias at work and gain the respect of the men she works with.

When asked if she is seeing signs now that the government policy of empowering women has paid off and has broken the bias in Uganda, Jane says, 'Yes, it has, absolutely. Just this week it was reported that a former secondary schoolmate, Dr. Gorettie Nabanoga, had taken over from a man as the Dean of a university faculty'.

'Now the dean of the university’s College of Technology and Environmental Sciences is also a woman and the minister in charge of science and technology is a woman. There are also a number of other women Cabinet members.'
'We have slots for women MPs. Every district has a quota for women. It was a deliberate policy under this particular government to empower women.'
'I’ve definitely seen more young women coming though into the governance profession. The chief executive officer of the largest commercial bank in Uganda, Stanbic Bank, is Ms. Anne Juuko. She took over the leadership of the bank from a man in 2019.'

She laughs as she tells me: 'We have a lot of development relating to women in Uganda. We don’t empower the boy child, only the girl child, but that means we are now in danger of being overwhelmed!'

'It’s surprising because we come from a patriarchal culture – but our business culture is the opposite.'
'By empowering the girl child back then, we are seeing that play out now. Women are high up in business and government positions.'

On the subject of how childcare costs in Uganda compare with other countries globally and whether the costs have had a limiting effect on her career and others, Jane remains staunchly positive. She says,

'The difference between here and the UK for women is our ability to be able to afford nannies. Here it is affordable. There’s no reason for me to sit at home so I can go to work!'

Speaking to Jane, it seems that there is much the UK could learn about how to break the bias in the workforce, by following Uganda’s example of explicitly promoting the university education of young women back in the early 1990s and its quota policy for female MPs.

Jane Bitek-Langoya FCG

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