When James Brown sang This Is a Man’s World in 1966, he was right. He did go on to sing: It would be nothing without a woman” but this does little topersuadeus.In equality is still a daily reality.Although sisters are doing it for themselves in the workplace, research conducted by the World Economic Forum reveals that in South Africa, women still earn up to 33% less than men. And women are still grossly under-represented in top leadership roles. Khanyi, 35, will never forget the day she was made a partner at a law firm.“I was shocked when I discovered that although I’d made it I wasn’t considered to be on the same level as my male colleagues,”she says. “I was one of only two women who were partners in the firm but I felt undermined.”
Importance of gender transformation in the workplace
After two years, Khanyi eventually quit to start her own practice. “Many might think I gave up, or wasn’t strong enough,but I’m proud of my decision. I didn’t feel valued and respected,”she says. Janine Hicks from the Commission for Gender Equality says the responsibility of achieving gender equality starts at the top. “We need leadership within companies to understand the importance of gender transformation in the workplace, the value of managing diversity, the legal requirements in terms of international conventions and employment equity legislation – and then put measures in place to drive this process,”says Hicks.
She adds that this would entail making transformation a leadership responsibility, not just the responsibility of a human resources manager to report employment equity. “It requires setting targets, developing appropriate strategies and policies, and assigning accountability for implementation at a senior level. It should also be built into performance management, monitoring and reporting mechanisms, and assigned necessary budgets,” explains Hicks. Forbes Magazine’s recent richest people in the world list features only two women in the top 10.One is in the number eight position and the other in number 10 – and neither of them are black.
Awareness and activism around this issue
Bringing it closer to home, the richest man in South Africa, Ivan Glasenberg of Glencore International, secured a net worth of R61, 5 billion in 2014,while the richest woman, Wendy Appelbaum of Liberty Investors, is worth a total of only R2, 6 billion. On a much smaller scale, most women in leadership positions aren’t getting the same income as their male counterparts. Hicks says: “The issue of equal pay for work of equal value has been an issue in international policy advocacy and the subject of feminist and women’s rights campaigns for decades. “This has enabled the issue to acquire greater traction and response. In South Africa, there’s a gender wage gap that is not adequately addressed. We need more awareness and activism around this issue from women’s organisations, trade unions and Parliament.
We have to force companies to enact measures to eradicate this gap.” To try to rectify the imbalance, the Employment Equity Commission has proposed amending the Employment Equity Act of 1998 to promote gender equality in the workplace. “The workplace is deeply patriarchal, with entrenched institutional cultures and behaviours that have become normalised based on our perceptions and prejudices in relation to the roles and competencies of men and women, and the fundamental discrimination that exists in all social spheres.
There’s insufficient understanding of the set of issues and responsibilities, and we are not seeing CEOs of companies, boards of directors and director generals of government departments who are putting such measures in place.” But there’s hope — the commission is determined to rectify this imbalance. “We walk the path with those entities who haven’t achieved equality. We call them to appear before us to account for their poor performance and ensure they commit to work on this issue.
Representation of women in positions of leadership
We develop recommendations for them on appropriate interventions and have shared best practice in terms of strategies and policies that would be required to address their short comings,” says Hicks. It’s important to know you have rights when it comes to gender inequality in the workplace. And it’s also worth knowing that if you are in a position of leadership or influence, it’s not too late to turn your company around. “Where necessary, we’ve provided training and awareness for the seen tities. We’ve also reported to Parliament and named all the entities that have appeared before us. We’ve given our findings on where they are failing to comply with employment equity measures and constitutional and other labour legislative requirements, such as failure to put in place policy and systems to deal with sexual harassment in the workplace, which is a common area of concern. Should we encounter instances of outright discrimination on the basis of gender, we could take the entity involved to the equality court, being empowered to do so by the Promotion of Equality and Prevention of Unfair Discrimination Act of 2000,” elaborates Hicks.
The South African Development Community’s gender protocol indicated in 2008 that there should be a 50% representation of women in positions of leadership by 2015, but this is not yet the case. However, the Businesswomen’s Association of South Africa (Bwasa) is working to improve those numbers. “Bwasa’s 2015 Women in Leadership census study is likely to continue to reflect lower percentages of women than men at boardroom level,” says Kareema Mitha, the association’s executive director. “It’s vital to note that although many organisations have assisted us with the gathering of information, many have not. With such attitudes and a lack of commitment from organisations to participate in this important study, it is no wonder women are struggling to make it out there and succeed in their careers at higher organisational levels,” she adds. We need to keep fighting for equality.
Even though we may not see the fruits of our labour immediately, future generations will benefit. American feminist Susan Anthony once said: “The day will come when man will recognise woman as his peer, not only at the fireside, but in councils of the nation. Then, and not until then, will there be the perfect comradeship, the ideal union between the sexes that shall result in the highest development oftherace.”■