It’s the International Women’s week and the usual talks about gender equality, pay disparities between men and women are again coming to the fore. I however truly took time to reflect on how most organisations function and I thought maybe the talk around gender equality is really a big ask given the socialised status quo in organisation.
From where I am sitting, we are tackling an important project but without the true ground work to enable the project to succeed. For a long time, organisations have existed from a skewed power base of employer and employee; employers had power because they could provide much needed jobs to employees and employees never could assert themselves for bringing much needed labour to achieve organisational goals. The status quo still remains the same to date, miners still work under life threatening situation with neither pay nor benefits commensurate to the inherent job risk. So, most organisations by design are unfair systems.
If we really want to address gender equality in organisations, we need to start first by reimagining different organisations, we need to start by addressing human rights in organisations, we need to reframe values based on fairness and 360 accountabilities, we need to of course think growth but associate it with social relevance and positive impact. So where do we start?
Power Dynamics: We have segmented organisations into levels: lower level, middle level and senior level and executives, it has always bothered me that in most organisations there are very clear and well-defined ways to exert downwards accountability but not to demand upwards accountability. The recent cases with KPMG, Steinhoff, SARS, Eskom are proof of how skewed accountabilities are in organisations. A lower level employee has no power to hold leaders accountable, yet the very decisions of these leaders almost always hit the lower level people the most, case in point, study the impact of retrenchments.
What measures does an engineer in the plant have to speak against processes and procedures that land on her lap even when she fundamentally disagrees with them. What measures are in place for a subordinate who is being ill-treated by a Manager to deal with this ordeal . When I studied coaching, I was made aware of the mindfulness I should exercise when I engage with clients because whether we are aware or not the very nature of titles already shapes propositions when we engage with others. The very idea that some people belong to a lower level class, others to a senior level class already tilts the scale and distort the possibility of creating an equal environment.
Reframe values and accountabilities: Every organisation has values but how many truly live those values , how many know all of their organisational values and most importantly how many are held accountable for living those values. Perhaps we need to humanize the values more and simplify them to the basics, treat others the way you would like to be treated. I know most people will contend at how differently we all like to be treated, but respect, honesty, opportunities, happiness are threads that bind us all together. How would you like to be treated if you made a mistake, if your child was sick, if you didn’t deliver on agreed targets? It has always surprised me that the very things that make us so unique, so human are the very things we leave behind when we enter work doors. I don’t think we ever really did a value for life and realised that we spend so much time at work and for that we should bring our desire to make the working environment a wonderful experience.
Review our rewards system: Why has it never bothered us that two people can work in the same company, one earns so much money to change livelihoods from generation to generation, yet the other remains in the poverty trap from generation to generation? Why is it that we are comfortable with lower level employees struggling to make ends meet and throwing sign-on bonuses, shares, cell phone allowance, car allowance and every available benefit to senior managers and executives? We cannot continue with the business as usual way of remuneration, we need to have the will power to find ways that can reward for livelihood not for someone to travel to work and back while relying heavily on loan sharks. We need to believe that the same quality of life we seek for ourselves, others seek for themselves too.
Be purpose centred: We are all created for a purpose and at the centre of each purpose is bringing something wonderful to the world, we need to challenge ourselves to bring light to the world in whatever roles we play. The easy way to start is to give your best in what you do, then treat others with respect and fairness and be authentic in your dealings. When we can engage from this view point, we will all thrive.
May we create enabling environments that will by design enable and encourage others to grow whether they are an introverted, inexperienced, young, old, differently abled, female, white, black, LGBTQI, educated or not educated. In the words of Nelson Mandela, “It always seems impossible until it is done.”