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People 'n' Issues

Women’s Day: Equal opportunity not enough

Tomorrow is International Women’s Day, and many businesses will talk about inclusion, but their responsibilities do not end there.

Even though things have changed, women still earn much less than men and are underrepresented in the workforce. In fact, just 25% of top management in the public and private sectors are women, according to a South Africa Women in Business Trends report, and according to UASA, South Africa had a median gender pay gap of between 23% and 35%.

The reality is, however, that while businesses may talk about inclusion and diversity, their responsibilities do not end there. There has been a global trend of women in managerial positions resigning in the past several months. In the United States, this is known as “the great breakup.” Microaggressions, work culture, and being unrecognised are the causes of this separation for many.

The great breakup shows that by just saying that you are giving everyone the same opportunities is not enough. 

Leverage experience 

A growing number of CEOs know they aren’t doing enough to leverage the wealth of experience and education that their women employees have.

”Addressing the challenge of senior women leaving their jobs in what is being referred to as the ‘great breakup’ requires a granular approach to identifying the real choke points and addressing them in a systematic and relevant way, informed by employee data,” says Linda Saunders, director solution engineering, Salesforce South Africa.

Understanding and analysing employee data is an important first step in ensuring the entire employee lifecycle is cared for. For example, the stereotype is that most women leave their jobs to care for family members. But data proves the reality is far different: many women leave jobs  to take up roles that offer more responsibility or higher pay.

“Data also shows women often excel at building trust, collaborating with partners, and leading with empathy, which calls for a reconsideration of the ways soft skills benefit businesses today,” says Saunders. 

Linda Saunders, director solution engineering, Salesforce South Africa.

Embrace perspective 

“International Women’s Day is an important reminder of the unique perspective that women bring to investing,” says Greeff Invest Director Heloise Greeff. “Studies show that diverse teams make better decisions, and women, in particular, tend to take a more long-term, cautious approach to investing. By embracing this perspective and creating a more inclusive work environment that supports women, businesses can unlock the full potential of their teams and drive greater success for themselves and their investors.”

Heloise Greeff, Greeff Invest Director

According to Greeff, mentorship and sponsorship programs can play a critical role in helping women break through the glass ceiling in finance and investing. Additionally, offering flexible work arrangements can help women in these fields balance work and family responsibilities, without sacrificing career progression.

”By creating a more inclusive work environment that values diversity and innovation, businesses can unlock the full potential of all their employees, including women, and drive greater success.”

Unlock a workforce 

The under-representation of women in management roles concerns private equity firm Spear Capital. Bryan Turner, a partner at the firm, points out that economic activity in Africa is generally still very male-dominated. “But if we unlock the other 50% of the workforce on the continent – the women – we will potentially have double the number of entrepreneurs. And this means that there is huge potential for economic growth and for a far greater pool of active consumers.” 

Nyaradzo Nyimo, Principal at Spear Capital 

Ask why women’s underrepresentation is highlighted in retrospect?

Kuppulakshmi Krishnamoorthy, global head at Zoho for Startups, says: “The pandemic helped us with copious notes on the uncertainty of life, that all of us humans, irrespective of gender, race, age, socio-economic background, are all the same in the face of adversity. Yet, the impact on women has been relatively greater. In 2020 alone, women around the globe lost 64 million jobs, accounting for over $800 billion in income.”

Kuppulakshmi Krishnamoorthy, global head at Zoho for Startups

If the pandemic resulted in an unfair increase of women dropping out of the workplace because of increased care-taking responsibilities, the upcoming economic downturn is going to continue causing a similar impact on hiring women for important roles, and in promoting women to leadership roles.

“Not to mention, factors like EQ, culture, upbringing, exposure, unconscious and conscious bias, and the overall mindset of those in power directly interfere with women’s representation in the workplace. Unfortunately, these factors cannot be measured or are not obvious to those eyes who don’t have the courage to do a full reset of the current workplace norms.”

Women representation is not a conversation that should start and stop with hiring women for entry-level work alone. The under-representation of women in leadership roles is only highlighted in hindsight, and that too only in relationship with the economic prosperity or profitability of organisations. To create a workplace that always has its heart rooted in diversity, equity, and inclusion is never going to be a one-time act. There are always areas to improve on, even as the top leadership focuses on hiring people who are resourceful and versatile and even as the HR team would keep its focus on hiring people who will be productive from the get-go.

Krishnamoorthy, says: How many more commemorations of International Women’s Day and Equal Pay Day will it take to achieve parity? – is a question that we should keep finding courageous answers for, even if that would mean we’ll only end up with more questions on what it would take for us to get there and when.”

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