Benefits of gender mainstreaming in workplace are long overdue


Ntombi Mhangwani | Africa Director | Integrated Marketing and Communications | Accenture | mail me |

The world over companies are facing enormous pressure under the ‘new or never normal’, as the COVID-19 pandemic is highlighting, and in some cases, deepening existing workplace inequalities.

Gender mainstreaming in the workplace still has a long way to go and the time is now that we give it the attention it deserves – not only through women’s month, but throughout the year.

Women are still incredibly scarce at the top, comprising only 2.8 percent of FORTUNE Global 500 CEOs, and only one in five start-ups has a woman founder. Locally, the statistics aren’t any better.

According to BWASA, only 20.7 percent of local directors and 29.4 percent of executive managers are women, with just 11.8% holding chairperson positions. Currently, of all companies listed on the JSE, a mere 3.31 percent of their CEOs are female.

With gender equality scarcely featuring as a point of discussion on many JSE-listed companies, it is evident that we have a long way to go before women are included fairly at all levels of the workplace.

In South Africa, issues of gender inequality are prevalent and more pronounced. At the fundamental level, women are less educated and succumb to repressive cultural norms, which also extends to the workplace where unequal pay and continued under-representation in senior positions limit the progress of women and the achievement of gender equity.

SA women have been hit by a triple whammy

While South Africa ranks 17th out of 153 countries in 2019, the country performs badly in terms of economic participation.

South Africa comes in at 121 for wage equality for similar work but ranks in 10th position in political empowerment and opportunity.

Some of the reasons for the economic gender gap include low levels of women in managerial or leadership positions, wage stagnation, labour force participation, and income.

Despite growing awareness, the progress in gender mainstreaming has been slow and at the present rate, it will take 100 years to close this gap.

Our 2020 Getting to Equal research reveals that a triple threat exists for South African women. Firstly, they are more highly represented in roles that have been hit hardest by automation, such as retail and white-collar clerical roles. Secondly, not enough women are entering those professions. Lastly, factors such as lack of care infrastructure and access to capital limit women’s workforce opportunities.

Further research proves that innovation is a powerful multiplier of growth. Employees’ ‘innovation mindset’ – their willingness and ability to innovate at work – is nearly six times higher in SA companies with a robust culture of equality than in least-equal companies.

While diversity factors such as a diverse leadership team and gender-balanced workforce significantly impact innovation mindset, it is a culture of equality that is the essential multiplier to help companies maximise innovation.

The question is why aren’t companies more diverse and inclusive when the business case for it is clear, and why is the number of women in the C-suite still so low?

Well, the commitment of companies to build an inclusive culture remains low. Companies are ticking the boxes on paper but failing to implement them on the ground. This adds to the perception gap in South Africa where 95 percent of employees want to innovate, but only 44 percent feel empowered to.

Is gender mainstreaming necessary?

Research shows that the compounded economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic are felt especially by women and girls who are generally earning less, saving less, holding insecure jobs, or living close to poverty.

However, to enable true gender parity, we must understand the perspective, anxiety, and stresses of our male counterparts to tackle the issue in its entirety. Our goal is to achieve a 50/50 gender split by 2025 and we are well on our way to achieving this target.

Diversity makes us stronger, more innovative, and is an important cornerstone of our business.

Today, our workforce is 44 percent women and the percentage of women managing directors is 24 percent. Treating our gender goals like any other business priority, where we hold leaders accountable, collect data, measure progress, and publish workforce demographics across key geographies has been a key ingredient to this success.

We encourage our women leaders to be a positive role model in their field. Inclusive leadership is when both men and women are genuinely interested in the well-being of others and can inspire diversity by leveraging the talents and motivations of the teams they are responsible for.

Inclusive leaders have ingrained into their leadership style a recognition of the provable benefits to their business that diversity brings, with special emphasis on gender.

Supporting gender mainstreaming initiatives

Gender mainstreaming should be a core business principle. This is why we partnered with Business Engage for their 8th Annual Gender Mainstreaming Awards (GMAs).

The GMAs seeks to encourage the private sector to buy-in to achieving a more meaningful representation of women in the mainstream of business.

It is an initiative to not only advocate against gender inequality in the workplace but also to celebrate companies that embrace the representation of women in the workplace. We recognise the business value that gender mainstreaming brings and celebrate diversity, gender mainstreaming, and the inclusion of women at all levels of authority in the workplace.



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