External pressure has been placed on companies to have women representation in their leadership positions in the workplace.
Barbara-Ann King, chief commercial officer for Investec Wealth and Investment, said this was not only because representation at the higher echelons of executive management was good for women but those who valued diversity have the best growth prospects.
King said the Covid-19 pandemic had shown that companies that take their responsibility to their employees seriously thrive. She said this was because gender equality intersects with environmental, social and governance issues.
“Promoting gender equality is not a women’s issue. It is a global issue, a financial issue and an essential issue,” said King.
Gender equality should not be tackled in silos, or in isolation. It was inextricable from health, work, economic growth and various other issues targeted by the global goals, she added.
According to the Public Servants Association (PSA), gender imbalances are still a present feature of our society. This was a global phenomenon was more acute in the developing world, said the association.
The PSA said South Africa’s workplace and hierarchies within the workplaces are stratified along racial lines.
“Apartheid practices such as jobs reservation were some of the instruments aimed at creating cleavage in South African society, and to achieve differential economic outcomes. These colour bar measures were harsher on women, especially black women who also suffered other forms of oppression that were not recognised as harmful.
“The double whammy of discrimination on the basis of being black and woman and cultural forms of discrimination, continue to subjugate women at home and in the workplace,” said the PSA.
A World Bank report focusing on the high cost of gender inequality on earnings shows that globally women account for only 38% of human capital wealth versus 62% for men.
Nina Benjamin, researcher at the Labour Research Service, said the words “devalued, invisible, exploited and undermined” were often the terms used to describe the situation of working women.
Intellidex released the Sanlam Gauge report last week. According to the report, the majority of CEOs in South Africa are mostly white men while there are still very few women at board level.
The report also found that women representation in mining at all levels remains a challenge.
Thabile Makgala, Implats Eastern Limb executive and former chairperson of Women in Mining SA, said the culture, attitudes and facilities in mines have, historically, not been conducive to or designed for the inclusion of women.
Makgala said to address this challenge Implats last year established gender mainstreaming committees at its operations. This was part of the strategic objective to increase women representation in the sector.
However, the PSA said the struggle for gender equality would not be won in the workplace alone. It said society’s private consciousness was political. “The workplace is an extension of the collective of personal attitudes, social norms, and learned behaviour. Until we change mindsets and norms at the base of society, constitutional commitments, global pledges, and legislation will remain in the doldrums,” the union said.
Investec’s King said even though some research suggested that there had been significant progress towards gender equality in the workplace, companies were still way off the 2030 UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Gender equality and empower all women and girls goal number five of the 17 SDGs.
“The pandemic has shone a spotlight on an existing discrepancy in power distribution. At least 70% of frontline healthcare workers are women while women make up only 25% of national parliaments.
“While women are leading the global effort to save lives, they are not empowered in decision-making,” said King.