How true is it that we are indeed embracing equity for women in the workplace?
In South Africa, where women are the primary caregivers and as well as often the breadwinners in their households, are salaries, career advancements, educational opportunities, employee experiences etc. being equitably distributed by organisations?
We - at 54TwentyFour - are encouraged by several small organisations that are run by conscious leaders who are quietly making decisions that interrupt the status quo. These decisions ensure a more humane, inclusive working environment and it is time for bigger organisations to follow suit.
In our view, the following are key actionable points for companies to holistically embrace equity for South African women in the workplace:
Intentional cooperation from top management:
Embracing equity begins at the executive level for businesses - this means that every company across sectors needs to set and meet a target of having qualified women on their boards and in leadership roles. Companies must ensure their women leaders are equipped with the necessary skills, tools, resources, and infrastructure to ensure they are set up for success. These resources need to be tangible - words alone in eloquent speeches and relatable social media posts will not change anything.
Changes to company working conditions that benefit the working mother:
The "ideal worker norm" in 2023 is still someone who puts in long hours, arrives early, and leaves late. Some companies still consider women to be the less "ideal workers" because they have familial responsibilities.
To ensure equality for women in the workplace, companies should take a long, hard look at their equitable structures and adapt them to accommodate the working mother. Whether that is being flexible with working hours or scheduling meetings for after 9 am so that their employees can manage the school drop-off and be completely present at the office, there is room for equitable growth.
Close the pay gap between men and women:
In 2022, Emily Xin of The Borgen Project shone a spotlight on the disparaging median gender pay gap in South Africa -male workers were earning between 23% to 35% more than their female counterparts. Equally concerning, according to Xin, was that this was 20% above the global average. Ensuring equal pay for women begins with companies’ leaders.
Companies need to do an audit of what the expected salary is for all roles within their organisations, look at whether their pay rate is fair, and then take a look at whether their male and female employees in the same role are being paid equally. If not, rectify this.
Improve the women's employee experience by embracing a culture of care and implementing a favorable benefits programme:
Organisations looking to roll out inclusive employee benefits programme are on the rise. Global brand Unilever recently announced that some of its benefits for women include longer fully paid maternity leave, menstruation leave and leave for grieving women after experiencing a miscarriage or stillbirth.
Various forms of supportive leave are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to rolling out inclusive employee benefits. Fostering a culture of care is important too. Women often get interrupted when they are speaking during a meeting. Business leaders should set no interruption rules for meetings that allow everyone to speak once before a team member who has spoken before, can speak again.
Coming back to the flexible hours discussion, meetings should be scheduled for times that suit everyone and their life commitments. Equally important to the equity infrastructure is creating a trauma-informed environment which means taking sexual harassment cases seriously and providing physical, psychological, and emotional support for women who have been harassed.
Abolishment of gender assumptions in the workplace:
The perceived notion of “office housework”, where leaders, clients, and other stakeholders assume the woman attending meetings should be taking coffee/lunch orders and taking notes, needs to be abolished. This train of thought makes the assumption that women are there to help when they are as equally qualified as their male counterparts in their area of expertise or the proposal they are presenting.
The assumption that women in the workplace are more emotional and therefore unable to handle a crisis is incorrect. All human beings are emotional.
A third incorrect assumption is that child-rearing or pregnant women are not as committed to their careers as their male coworkers. It limits career opportunities for women since management will make decisions on their behalf and avoid giving them promotions or other opportunities because they assume the women will not want to travel or work long hours at the cost of their family life.
Is equity for women in the South African workplace possible?
As a male-led country, we have a long way to go to ensure equity for women in the workplace but we believe that it is possible.