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The Case for Gender Parity

When 20000 women marched to Pretoria on 9 August 1956, they could only dream of the women’s rights that would be enshrined in South Africa’s Constitution in 1996. Unfortunately, it often seems as if those rights are not worth the paper they are written on. South Africa is still a patriarchal society and women are still fighting for space in boardrooms in the corporate world.

Women are underrepresented in the top levels of corporate management. There are no female CEOs running any of the country’s 40 largest listed companies. Only 3.3% of the 365 companies listed on the overall JSE All Share Index have female CEOs, a new report by PwC found. Movements for women rights have expressed their displeasure with the findings of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) wage report’s 2018/19 statistics that stated women in South Africa are paid 19.4% less than men on hourly wages.

Although one could argue that South Africa is below the world average (20%), the gap is still prevalent. Interestingly, women are also underrepresented in the beauty industry’s top leadership. This should come as a shock, given that women are the main target market for these companies. The Estée Lauder Companies and L’Oréal, two of the largest beauty companies, are led by men. Revlon recently appointed the first female CEO in the company’s 86-year history.

The #MeToo and #TimesUp movements may only be two years old and have somewhat managed to shift the global dialogue around patriarchy. Still, it is estimated that the current economic gap between men and women won’t close for a projected 217 years.

Development Goals

Gender equality is one of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals as set out by the United Nations. UN Statement: “Gender equality is not only a fundamental human right but a necessary foundation for a peaceful, prosperous and sustainable world,” the UN says.

While the world has achieved progress towards gender equality and women’s empowerment under the Millennium Development Goals (including equal access to primary education between girls and boys), women and girls continue to suffer discrimination and violence in every part of the world.

Providing women and girls with equal access to education, healthcare, decent work, and representation in political and economic decision-making processes will fuel sustainable economies and benefit societies and humanity at large, the UN says. Implementing new legal frameworks regarding female equality in the workplace and the eradication of harmful practices targeted at women is crucial to ending the gender-based discrimination prevalent in many countries around the world.

Winds of Change

There are, however, strides being made in the representation of women in business. Back in 2002, South Africa only had 407 black female CA(SA)s. By February 2019, the number had grown to 6321.

Webber Wentzel, one of South Africa’s leading law firms has made the claim that there is “no ceiling on success” at the institution. “57% of our staff, 41% of our partners and 44% of our leadership team are women. Our outlook on gender equity is clear,” the company said in an advertisement.

Burger King South Africa is another company that’s recently highlighted its gender parity statistics. “75% of our workforce are women. In the head office, 43% Heads of Departments and 36% of our District Managers are women,” the company advocates.

Another example is that of Women of Kellogg’s (WOK) the Kellogg’s company’s employee resource group, which is the driving force behind initiatives supporting the organisation’s drive towards meeting gender parity, retention, and promotion of women. These initiatives by WOK include a mentorship programme where female middle managers are mentored by senior managers. The Parental Toolkit supports women as they transition to and from maternity leave, a critical time in their lives.

Helping Each Other

The overall sentiment is that the energy of women helping other women is at an all-time high. We’re in a moment where women are less competitive and more willing to help each other succeed. It is being understood that lifting each other up doesn’t mean one put themselves down.

The strides being made, including new coworking spaces, online communities, and events cropping up daily to inspire and unite women, are a positive step, but there’s more to be done. Research has found that while women are supporting each other, 55% of respondents still feel there’s work to be done. This can especially be said in the corporate world, where a lack of female representation can lead to competition and a lack of camaraderie.

Twenty years into democracy, South Africa has made great strides in reforming laws and policies that prohibited women’s full participation in all social, economic and political spheres. These range from the development of a constitution which articulates equality for all persons to the establishment of Chapter Nine institutions which serve to guard against historical injustices and promote human rights for all in the country. Women are still showing the same tenacity as their 20000 predecessors 63 years ago, in the formal and informal sectors, creating their own solutions. Also, important to note is the fact that gender equality is not a ‘women’s issue’ – men are critical agents in the battle for equality.

In the coming years, there is hope that through transformation and inclusion practices across all sectors, women will be duly recognised in the roles they play in creating inclusive social, business and investment environments.