Achieving An Equal Future
Gender parity has a fundamental bearing on the growth, competitiveness and future-readiness of economies and businesses worldwide. Without equality, there can be no sustainable development and Agenda 2030 becomes a pipedream. The choices companies make today will have consequences on gender equality for decades to come. More than policies and legislation, Africa requires strong leadership to challenge and change the status quo.
The latest UN policy brief on COVID-19 and women in leadership underscores the sad reality that, globally, while women make up 70% of the health sector – frontline workers, professionals, practitioners and so on, only 24.7% of the world’s health ministers are women. In the same report, it is also noted that in only 21 countries worldwide women are heads of state. Yet, in those countries, women leadership has been applauded for the work they have done to manage the pandemic.
It is equally noteworthy that in 2019, prior to the pandemic, nearly half of the world’s population (47%) believed that men make better political leaders than women, according to a UN Economic and Social Council study. Yet today, lower covid-19 death rates and effective virus containment policies in countries led by women disproves all of this.
It also lays bare the discriminatory social norms that are driving these beliefs and creating falsehoods that, for instance, there are not enough suitably qualified women to take up executive leadership positions. Or misperceptions that women have difficulty reconciling their executive positions with family life, or are better suited to positions where they work with people, as opposed to pursuing higher-paying careers in technical and scientific fields.
Just imagine what the outcome of COVID-19 could have been like today if women were leading all the countries. I believe women bring a level of humanitarian understanding and emotional intelligence to the table that will have brought about completely different outcomes worldwide.
Leadership is very one-sided if it is only men sitting around the boardroom table and making decisions about policies and practices. Just consider the latest trend towards stakeholder capitalism, in which companies seek long-term shared value creation by taking into account the needs of all their stakeholders, and society at large. By default, women represent a very important and large stakeholder group that can no longer be silenced or excluded from decision-making levels.
My message to business, in the spirit of #ChooseToChallenge: The time to give women a seat at the boardroom table is now…. or we will bring our folding chairs.
This, in fact, has been the motivation behind the SVAI’s recently published report on Gender Equality and Transformation in JSE-listed Companies. The report aims to provide an insight into women’s representation at an executive leadership level among a pilot study of 14 Johannesburg Stock Exchange (JSE) listed companies. It also seeks to encourage the business community to accelerate the process of achieving gender parity to facilitate much-needed economic growth and societal cohesion.
As we show in the report, the underlying issue goes beyond gender equality to equal opportunity regardless of race. I, for one, support the notion that South Africa has only had an ‘aroma’ of transformation. We have legislation to guide companies along the BBBEE transformation and we have to adhere to certain policies and practices within our organisations – if we want to derive the economic benefit that comes with the black empowerment codes. However, being able to tick all the right boxes is merely a whiff of transformation. Compliance certainly does not equate to sustainable, equitable and future-proof transformation.
Compliance has created a glass ceiling that needs to be shattered. The reality is that gender parity, which is a significant element of women’s equality overall, has a fundamental bearing on whether or not economies and societies thrive.
The SVAI report also underscored the transformation deficit we have in the country. The sample group may be small, but the organisations in question play a huge and important role in the South African economy.
It was evident that across-the-board gender and race transformation remains elusive – six years after the BBBEE Codes first came into effect on 1 May 2015Local companies reaching their 30% minimum requirement from a board representation perspective appear to be resting on their laurels, while some companies in the research sample had no female representation on their executive management teams.
There is a small upside, the increased focus on issues such as gender-based violence (GBV), gender equality and the gender parity in the workplace shows that the world has finally caught on to the fact that it is not only a societal issue, but also a business issue.
The numbers are astronomical and we simply cannot afford to ignore it anymore. According to a KPMG report, gender-based violence costs South Africa between R28.4 billion and R42.4 billion per year – or between 0.9% and 1.3% of GDP; and that is a conservative estimate.
The hard truth is that gender parity, which is a significant element of women’s equality overall, has a fundamental bearing on whether or not economies and societies thrive. Until leadership recognises and acknowledges that gender parity in the workplace can make a difference economically – not only to their own organisation, but also to the country – we are not going to be able to bring about the much-needed paradigm shift and change the status quo.
Unfortunately, business is not going to change by itself. We have to continue to lobby for changes to archaic policies and legislation, but above all, we need strong leadership to step up and drive the change.
I also believe that in order to shift the needle and start a wave of change, it is important that women need to support women – be it in the workplace or socially, wherever you are. If we come together and unite as a force, I think we will be unstoppable.
In the word of Dr. Denis Mukwege, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate DRC: “Until women wake-up and unite and speak up and say no to rape, no to violence against women, no to child abuse, no to atrocities against women, only if they together say no, only then, will the men listen.”
In conclusion, I encourage everyone to review our easy-to-digest report. Through it, we hope to refocus attention on the executive management level, which is responsible for the day-to-day operational decision-making of any business, and demonstrate why it is imperative for each of us to make gender parity a foremost strategic priority, today.
The SVAI report will be supplemented by a more comprehensive study to assess gender and race representations at top management levels across multiple sectors of JSE listed companies. . Professor Corné Davis, senior lecturer at the University of Johannesburg’s Department of Strategic Communication, will undertake the analysis. Honours students at the university will also conduct additional, in-depth GBV and Gender Equality research.