Illovo launches Women in Leadership forum to accelerate equality in top jobs

The country’s leading sugar production company, Illovo Sugar Malawi Plc, has launched a special forum called the Illovo Women in Leadership (I WIL) to assist progress towards female equality in leaderships roles.
At the launch on Friday — graced by Minister of Labour, Vera Kamtukule at Ryalls Hotel in Blantyre — Illovo Sugar Malawi Managing Director, Lekani Katandula said athough the country is slowly starting to see a shift in the way the world looks at and appreciates women, the road to achieving equal and fair representation of women in leadership positions remains long.
“I am thrilled to be standing here today, because the launch of this forum is an example of how deliberate we need to be in finding solutions and interventions around seeing how we can accelerate the lagging progress and bring about substantial change for not only our business but the nation at large.

Vera Kamtukule, Minister of Labour
“I am in a very fortunate position as I am aware that any progress towards female equality in leaderships roles can only be accelerated when men act as advocates and allies towards this most noble cause.”
He quoted Sheryl Sandberg — an American business executive, billionaire, and philanthropist and founder of LeanIn.Org — as once saying: ‘We need women at all levels including the top to change the dynamic, reshape the conversation in order to make sure women’s voices are heard and heeded and not overlooked and ignored’.
The MD explained that it was his belief that “a society free of gender inequality, with equal representation, is our shared goal and working together to achieve that is our shared responsibility.
“We are hopeful that this forum will aid in our goal towards achieving at least 30% women representation in leadership positions at Illovo Sugar Malawi Plc.
“We hope that career talks to girls in secondary school and universities will motivate and empower girls to be change makers and strive to hold leadership positions as they join the corporate world or run their own businesses.
Panel discussion during the launch

“Through active mentorship and the women’s forum initiatives, we hope to see a female workforce that is more confident and empowered to take on the next leadership position whilst also empowering their colleagues and subordinates.”

He emphasized that this is a platform for empowering female leaders, promoting gender equality in the workplace, celebrating success stories and offering opportunities to create positive change — and pledged to share more positive statistics in their next forum.
“The success of this forum does not depend on one person but our collective genius in putting together our ideas, time and effort to ensure that the Illovo Women in Leadership Forum creates a lasting impact.
In her remarks, Khumbo Ntambo Banda, human resources director for Illovo Sugar Malawi, said despite Illovo Sugar Malawi being the market leader in possession of 86% of the market share and employing 4,988 permanent employees, women represent 7% of its total permanent headcount — with only 16% of the managerial roles being held by women.
Group photo of the delegates

“To that end, we have created this forum designed as a platform to oversee the strategies, policies, processes and inclusion practices relating to the advancement of women in leadership roles within our business.

“The aim of the forum will be to strategically prioritize the recruitment, development, advancement and retention of women with the goal of achieving 30% representation of women in leadership by 2026 at Illovo.
She explained that this was also part of the company’s Diversity Equity Inclusion and Belonging (DEIB) agenda within the Illovo Sugar Africa Group, saying “women in this forum will share experiences, build professional relationships and expand the voices of women in the workplace”.
“The forum comprises all women holding different managerial roles within our business across our functions of agriculture, manufacturing, finance, human resources, corporate affairs & legal, business improvement, commercial and supply chain.
She also quoted Gloria Vanderbelt as saying: ‘I’ve always believed that one woman’s success can only help another woman’s success’ — hence the planned activities for this forum will include ‘Women Inspire’, an initiative that will focus on career talks in secondary schools and universities to inspire and encourage other young women.
There will also be ‘Mentorship and Sponsorship’ programs where women will guide and support other female managers within the business, as well sponsorship opportunities that allow to advocate for women within the business.
There will also be ‘Women Connect’, which will be a platform for the company’s female managers to connect with female leaders below the management layer to build a network of empowered women within the organization.
“According to the 2021 World Economic Forum Gender Gap Report, women in Malawi continue to be disadvantaged across several areas of economic participation.
“The country ranks 111 out of 151 countries in the Economic Participation and Opportunity index, lagging many other countries in Sub-Saharan Africa.
“This women’s leadership conference, therefore, seeks to assist women gain valuable, build their confidence and establish the right connections to achieve positive personal and professional growth by addressing the challenges and opportunities facing women in the organization.”
Illovo Sugar Malawi Plc is listed on the Malawi Stock Exchange (MSE) and Illovo Sugar Africa Proprietary Limited (Illovo) — through Sucoma Holdings Limited — holds 76% of the issued share capital with the balance of the shares being held by the public and other institutional investors.
Illovo Sugar Africa is the continent’s largest sugar producer with extensive agricultural and manufacturing operations in six African countries – Malawi, Mozambique, South Africa, Swaziland, Tanzania and Zambia. Illovo Sugar Africa is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Associated British Foods (ABF), in the United Kingdom.
Illovo Malawi has developed considerable agricultural and milling assets at the Dwangwa estate Nkhotakota and at the Nchalo Estate in in Chikwawa.
Both factories produce raw and refined sugar with the Nchalo factory also manufacturing value-added specialty sugars. All Illovo sugar sold into the local direct consumption market is fortified with Vitamin A to help eliminate micronutrient deficiency particularly in children less than five years of age.
Illovo Sugar Malawi spends K1.1 billion for the fortification program benefitting an estimated two million people and it is one of the country’s largest single private-sector employer — providing direct employment for 9,000 people permanent, seasonal and casual employees and an additional 5,000 direct and indirect contractors creating a total of 14,000 jobs.
Illovo is also a major contributor to the Malawian tax authorities through direct and indirect taxes. It generates valuable foreign exchange through export sugar sales.
Many local industries are dependent upon Illovo for their viability and the employment created by these businesses provides an income base for many more families than are directly employed.
The company further supports an estimated 5,200 smallholder cane farmers through various smallholder schemes.

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