Men are the key to gender diversity - CEO

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It is men at executive level who can make the biggest difference in closing the gender gap.

This is according to branding and marketing specialist Donna Rachelson, CEO of Branding & Marketing YOU and author of the book Play to Win: What Women can Learn from Men in Business.  

"In South Africa we haven't made significant strides...Although workplace discrimination is legislated, and awareness is growing of what's holding women back, ultimately it is the men in executive positions who can make the most difference by hiring and promoting women at managerial level," Rachelson said in a statement.

Year after year, the majority of senior executives in South Africa are men and by July 2018, only one of the JSE's Top-40 companies had a woman CEO, Rachelson added.

"[W]e are past debating the integral role women play in growing economies. Research shows that companies with more women in senior positions are more profitable. So, why the disparity?"

Robust discussions with men are needed around thinking differently about women and work, Rachelson believes.

Bolder steps

The two biggest drivers of representation are hiring and promotions, she argues, making these critical areas of focus.

"Companies are disadvantaging women in these areas from the beginning of their careers. Women are less likely to be hired into entry-level jobs.

"At the first critical step up to managerial roles, the disparity widens further."

If mostly male leaders understand gender diversity as a business imperative, they will help work towards it, she believes.

'Get the basics right'

"The first step is to get the basics right. Ensure targets, reporting and accountability reflect a commitment to ensuring more women in senior positions. It should be rare for women to be the only person at their managerial level," says Rachelson.

"Ensure that hiring and promotions are fair and don't make assumptions about what women with families want or don't want.

"Recognise unconscious biases and microaggression and ensure that senior leaders become advocates of diversity. Foster an inclusive and respectful culture that provides opportunities for women to showcase their achievements and ask for promotions on account of their work."

Employees should also be offered flexibility and creative ways to bring women who have taken a break in their careers back into the workplace, Rachelson believes.

It should be underscored that sexual harassment is unacceptable and will not be overlooked, she adds, with HR teams properly trained to investigate and deal with it – even if it involves senior leaders.

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