Women have come a long way in transforming the gender demographics in the corporate world, but there is still a long way to go. They need to be proactive in being the change they want to se.
According to the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) Global Gender Gap Report 2020, there is a global labour force participation gender gap with 78% and 55% of adult men and women respectively being active in the labour market. The report further states that the global gender gap widens as seniority levels progress, quoting that only 36% of senior private sector managers and public sector officials are women, only 18,2% of firms globally are led by women, and on average, 22,3% of board members in member countries of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) are women.
A 2018 PwC report, ‘Time to talk: what has to change for women at work’, states that of the 3 627 female professionals interviewed between the ages of 28 and 40, spanning 60 countries worldwide, 63% had aspirations to be a top-level executive. And despite women already being at a disadvantage when joining the workforce, women are possibly dropping out or getting stuck somewhere in the middle of the race to the top. The WEF Global Gender Gap Report 2020 estimates that it will take 99,5 years to close the overall global gender gap, with the economic participation and opportunity gap taking 257 years. The struggle is real! Where are we getting it wrong? Why is there such a rift? How can we explain this?
Despite the dreams and aspirations of female professionals, as of March 2020 there were only 3,3% female CEOs on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange and only one female CEO in the JSE Top 40 companies. According to a 2017 Businesswomen’s Association of South Africa (BWASA) Women in Leadership Census, women held only 20,7% of local director positions, 29,4% of executive manager positions and 11,8% of chairperson positions.
The WEF Global Gender Gap Reports show that South Africa has improved in closing the gender parity, moving from 18th position globally in 2006 to 17th position in 2020. We seem to be making some progress, though on the ground, the reality might seem as if we are far from where we want to be. What we see are women still pushing through numerous hurdles in the workplace in order to be recognised, such as constant proving of their abilities to peers and superiors, inability to put in long hours in the office, lack of mentorship, inability to network after hours, and navigating the gender pay gap, to name a few. This seemingly continuous pressure has resulted in some women deciding to pass on promotion opportunities or step out of the rat race.
To draw on the words of Maya Angelou: ‘If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude.’ In this context, it means that if you can change the perception of those around you, then go for it. If you do not manage to change the minds of the leadership or the culture of an organisation, then change the way you view the matter. It all boils down to how you choose to react to what is happening around you. Do you throw in the towel when the going gets tough or do you push through knowing your strengths and ability to play a transformational role in the seat you occupy? With changing our attitude comes a different mindset, which becomes a force to be reckoned with, especially if we as women stand together.
The reason the stats are so dire is that despite our drive to reach the top, in most cases we give up before we even try or think we need to choose between family and our careers. In the PwC report quoted above, 42% of women said they were nervous of what having a child would do to their careers and 48% said they were overlooked for promotion because they had had children. This demonstrates that more needs to be done to create an equitable environment.
Diversity has been set as a priority area for many organisations and remains one of the biggest challenges, and I applaud the men who stand up for gender parity and drive the cause. There is a greater need for organisations to break out of the mould and innovate new ways of work that allow women to achieve both their work and home goals. Besides, studies have shown higher innovation and revenues for companies with diverse teams. My call is for women to collaborate within our organisations and networks and encourage, support and lift each other up. We need to be proactive in being the change we want to see. We have come a long way in transforming the gender demographics in the corporate world. There is, however, still a long way to go and the only way we can achieve what we endeavour to see is through conscious collaboration and mentorship within our networks. Imagine the creation of networking platforms or organisational solutions that accommodate our various roles and circumstances as women.
It is up to us to actively mentor young women to ensure they do not throw in the towel when the going gets tough. We should encourage younger women to sit at the table, have their voices heard and fully embrace that they equally deserve to sit there. Undoubtedly, like all successful women we need a solid support system, be it in our personal or professional lives. Women such as Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, Indra Nooyi, former CEO of Pepsi, and Nolitha Fakude, former Executive Director at Sasol, have given testimony to having a strong support system which allowed them to achieve success professionally.
Though the current landscape might look dim, there is a glimmer of hope as we continue moving in the right direction. Together, we can stand up when it matters, for what matters and push against what we see as mountains. The world we hope for, for ourselves, for our daughters, for our granddaughters, can be transformed through conscious actions and bringing the next generation up in the knowledge that both boys and girls have what it takes.
AUTHOR │ Janice Rudo Sambaza CA(SA), Director, IVHU Advisors
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