Each year Women’s Month exposes us to numerous studies and data showcasing the disadvantages still experienced by women at a global scale. In a country like South Africa, lies the disparity of opportunities for women in the workplace, more so aimed at their development, their growth and then contribution to the national economy.
Historically, great progress has been made towards empowering women, however, although theoretically these opportunities are in place, there are still great barriers women need to overcome within the organisational context specifically. This article is aimed at unpacking these complexities in the form of gender disparities and showcasing the importance of a gender diverse workplace and economy to the benefit of institutions and the country as a whole. The suggested approach from a culture and change management perspective would propose various methodologies for leaders to start implementing solutions to close the gap in gender disparity.
Studies have shown that women are less likely to find employment than men due to lack of opportunities presented to women as well (International Labour Organisation, 2022). This, according to STATS SA (2022) is due to the labour markets tendency to favour men over women. This could also be down to the traditional roles women are limited to within their households, making it harder for them to enter workforces dominated by males. Women who do find employment often encounter gender- based societal challenges within the workplace context, based on these traditional views of a women’s role in society. These constructs thus require strategically nuanced approaches to combating the complexities that stem from these biases.
For decades, women have been oppressed by societal pressures that expect nurturers and caregivers who upon giving birth are required to return to male dominated workforces that reinforce oppressive cultures of inequality. According to Bizcommunity’s article, Chief Operations Officer of Hauwei South Africa, Christina Naidoo, highlights the delay of career progression as a result of the “motherhood penalty”, the discrimination linked to this and subsequently the lack of confidence to ask for a promotion (Naidoo, 2021).
Despite the advocacy for equal rights and opportunities in both education and the economic sector, women still lack not only access to, but also the platforms to perform as equals alongside men, evident in the lack of women in leadership positions. Gender disparities within the workplace occurs when a woman’s development becomes stifled by inequalities in access to opportunities, promotions, learning and development (McKinsey, 2022). According to a 2022 Executive Report drafted by PwC, “Only seven of the JSE Top 100 companies are led by female CEOs, and the representation of female CEOs and CFOs across all JSE-listed companies is 8% and 22% respectively. Over the entire executive population of all JSE-listed companies, only 15% is female (PwC, 2022).” While there are industries that welcome the adoption of diverse and inclusive workplaces, this is still marred by issues of discrimination and gender equity, such as the gender pay gap.
Industries and organisations that normalise the exclusion of women based on stereotypical gender roles, continue to perpetuate gender conflict and bias, making it even more challenging for women to pursue their career paths of interest (Rose, 2020). Considering the country’s GDP, it would make economic sense to open up opportunities for women, especially those looking to enter workforces to equally partake in the growth of the economy. This has a direct impact on the unemployment rate, particularly amongst the youth.
Therefore, understanding the process of gender equity and the mechanisms one can use to drive this in achieving gender equality is important. Gender equity denotes to the “fairness of treatment for both women and men, according to the their respective needs.” (Pipeline Equity, Inc. 2018) and with consistent practice results in gender equality. The term is used in the context of rights, benefits, obligations and opportunities, particularly within the workplace and professional environment. A key tool for progressive organisation leaders is to dialogically understand gender equity and how it can be embedded throughout the organisation’s entire infrastructure.
One mechanism for achieving gender equity is by developing a Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging (DEIB) strategy to expedite change within the business and build a progressive organisation that provides fair and inclusive opportunities for growth throughout. Organisation that partner this with their change management strategy can reap the benefits of experiencing a workforce of employees, whom no matter their orientation, are more likely to contribute positively towards productivity and outputs. Organisation leaders will also benefit by building their capabilities within strategy development to ethically harness the diverse potential of their employees to generate economic sustainability and market relevance. Additionally, cultivating an organisational culture that supports gender diversity is more likely to yield improved productivity, collaboration and varied thoughts and input to positively contribute to the growth and success of the business as well as the individual.
To facilitate the process towards gender diversity and inclusion for organisations and their leadership, our consultants embark on the implementation of various participatory methods such as culture workshops and engagements to contextually ground the basis of each complexity within the business, right through to working with internal control systems in an effort to identify the prevailing attitudes and perceptions within the business. Our methodology serves as building blocks for organisations and leaders to exercise effective and efficient teamwork and collaboration to transform the organisation’s culture and environment holistically. Thus it is imperative that management continue to incorporate and sustain the solutions recommended to yield optimal results and success.
We also propose that a strong change management strategy ideally would be successful when partnered by a solid people strategy, which seeks to identify not just the cultural elements but also the skills and competencies present and needed to improve the business environment for all. Some of these include problem- solving, clear communication and learning agility which are needed for collectively building inclusive platforms for all to thrive. We also propose adopting diversity and inclusivity systems as part of our Business Agility Intervention services that assists in encouraging practices that are inclusive as opposed to normalising behaviour that may potentially drive division long term.
Workplaces as such may experience a breakdown in trust within an internal capacity, with a further negative impact on productivity and sustainability. From a socio-economic continuing to support a culture of gender inequality in the workplace, further entrenches gender discrimination, increasing the already alarming percentage of unemployment and instances of gender-based violence within the country. Thus, we recommend that business leaders implement systems and environments that are psychologicaly safe, equitable both economically and socially, and ethically sound in terms of the South African constitution and our stipulated human rights.
While there is much work to be done where gender equity is concerned, change management strategies as such can be adopted to strengthen gender equitable practices by the processes of utilising strategic communication, capacity-building approaches and culture-building initiatives, to demonstrate support for employees and recognition of their immense value.
Having access to opportunity and experiences will see women as taking an active role in solving a global problems, thus bridging the gap between gender bias and equality for all at every level possible.
International Labour Organisation (2022). The gender gap in employment: What’s holding women back? https://www.ilo.org/infostories/en-GB/Stories/Employment/barriers-women#intro
- McKinsey (2022). Women in the Workplace 2022. https://www.mckinsey.com/featured-insights/diversity-and-inclusion/women-in-the-workplace
- Naidoo, C. (2021) . Addressing the challenges women face in leadership. https://www.bizcommunity.com/Article/196/706/218820.html
- PwC (2022). Supporting women’s rise in corporate South Africa. https://www.pwc.co.za/en/press-room/supporting-womens-rise-in-corporate-south-africa.html#:~:text=Only%20seven%20of%20the%20JSE,(13%25%20last%20year).
- Pipeline Equity, Inc. (2018). Gender Equity Vs Gender Equality: What’s the Distinction? https://www.pipelineequity.com/voices-for-equity/gender-equity-vs-gender-equality/
- Rose, V. (2020). Gender Conflict in the Workplace. https://pollackpeacebuilding.com/blog/gender-conflict-in-the-workplace/
- STATS SA (2022). Nearly half od SA women are out of the labour force in Q2: 2022. https://www.statssa.gov.za/?p=15668