Irene Charnley | Implementing realistic solutions to tackle gender equality

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Irene Charnley.
Irene Charnley.

  • Women have been fighting for equality in the workplace since they had the right to work.
  • With so many decades gone by, they are still fighting for leadership positions and equal pay for equal work.
  • The answer to this issue remains complex, however implementing realistic solutions might be the beginning.

We all agree and affirm there is a gender problem in the workplace, especially when it comes to women in leadership positions and equal pay for equal work. We know it is not fair.

Employers and employees - men, and women - all affirm bias has a lot to do with why there are few women in leadership positions and why they are still not paid equally for doing the same work as their male colleagues.

I hear you say this is old news. 

After all, these issues are restated in our company diversity and transformation presentations. Let us be honest and truthful, the conversation never earnestly progressed to the next level to genuinely implement realistic solutions that can achieve and sustain the women leadership reality.

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The complexity of gender inequality

So let us cut to the chase: If we agree that these problems in the workplace are obvious, why can't we get past them and implement realistic solutions?

The answer to that question and the issues themselves remain complex.

The conversation about gender equality in leadership is complex and has a history to ensure it stays complex. It goes beyond the inequalities and biases we know exists not only in the workplace but in the mind and structures of our society.

Getting past the complexity requires that we deal with gender inequality by implementing and closely monitoring programmes which will take us to the ultimate goals of gender equality and ethical leadership.

To break down the complexity, we need to recognise the absence of women in leadership positions is not due to the limited resource of these women leaders but embedded in patriarchal tendencies and the deeply embedded perception that women are ineffective or weak leaders not able to deal with tough business calls.

Therefore, to effect real change in the workplace and develop more effective women leaders, we need to focus the conversation and affirm what we do today to break down this complexity.

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Balancing work and family

It is time for purposeful action and realistic implementation of solutions. Let us stop restating the problems with gender and leadership and start focusing on realistic solutions that generates a multitude of women leaders able to solve today and tomorrow's business objectives.

Before discussing realistic solutions, it is important to recognise there are several factors that may curtail women from reaching the highest levels of organisations regardless of their academic, work accomplishments, experience and merits.

Women must navigate balancing work and family more intensely. Women tend to have more domestic responsibilities than men and may not be able to pitch in longer working hours in the office like men and are thus forced to take their work to the car and home.

I am certainly not saying longer hours in office are more effective but affirming that in a predominantly male workplace it is often seen as hard work and effective, being in the physical office when in many respects it is ineffective and inefficient and prejudicial to women.

Women often face outmoded cultural beliefs, religious prohibitions, and even ethnic prejudice.

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Cultural values and stereotypes

There are many cases where talented women are side-lined and excluded from leadership and management positions based on perception of poor cultural fit, stereotypes, and values - like plumbing, electricians, engineering - or are forbidden to work at night, have often led to widespread assumptions certain jobs are reserved for men only, while others can only be performed by women.

Yet, when these norms and policies are abolished, we experience phenomenal growth, employee productivity and growth in financial numbers.

Indeed, cultural values and stereotypes have contributed to the low rate of women in senior management and executive leadership positions in organisations.

Of course, women are starting to step up, not only in corporate businesses, but in public institutions across the nation. More than ever, more women are chief executive officers, leading prominent institutions, serve on executive committees, chair boards, and even acting as role models.

This confirms women are just as qualified as men in contributing to achieving organisations' stated financial and strategic objectives.

Capitalising on the talent of women

But the rising national and social expectations for equal opportunity can no longer be ignored by the gender imbalance in organisations.

Optimising women's contributions in executive management and leadership is necessary to increase overall management and performance of organisations. This can be done by increasing the quality and quantity of women in management and leadership roles.

According to the World Economic Forum's Corporate Gender Gap Report, leading companies were failing to capitalise on the talent of women in the workforce. Therefore, organisations need to focus and devote considerable efforts and investments to train and develop programmes for empowering women.

Enhancing and providing women with the necessary knowledge, skills, and attitudes are fundamental for national and global business organisation success. 

Organisations must take the lead in purposefully developing and expanding opportunities for women. Highly knowledgeable and skilled women in leadership positions generate abundant value in all measures.

Solutions to women leadership

Women aspire to be successful executives within their operating environments and augment their talents. 

To generate a sense of organisational balance and accomplishment, organisations must initiate and make changes that will establish a viable and valuable future for women to lead and manage across industries and transform the policies and norms that inhibit women's ability to excel in leadership roles.

Let us stop regurgitating problems and challenges of gender and leadership and start executing with urgency on realistic solutions.

We at the International Women's Forum South Africa (IWFSA), have partnered with the Finance and Accounting Services Sector Education and Training Authority (FASSET) and Duke University's Duke Corporate Education (DukeCE) to implement realistic solutions.

Among many other unique programmes, IWFSA and FASSET have agreed to develop a further 960 women through its Women Legacy Programme with DukeCE.

Participants will receive imperative mentoring and leadership tools during the next three years to emerge as the future generation of ethical women leaders in the private and public sector.

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The IWFSA is part of the International Women’s Forum (IWF), a global organisation of 7 800 pre-eminent women leaders in 33 countries, driving a common mission of advancing women's leadership and championing equality worldwide.

DukeCE is part of US-based Duke University which delivers leadership development to thousands of organisations and governments around the world.

FASSET is the Sector Education and Training Authority (Seta) for the finance, accounting, management consulting and other financial services sector. It enables the achievement of world-class finance and accounting service skills.

The IWFSA/FASSET Women’s Legacy Programme seeks to empower executive and middle management women in the finance sector on strategic leadership issues.

The programme has two courses, the executive development programme and the middle management programme, both of which will run their first cohorts until January 2024.

The two programmes are open to women who are:

  • Employed in business within the finance, accounting, and related services professionals across various sectors, including PSET institutions and females within the FASSET constituent sector, regardless of the business division they have been placed in, are covered.
  • Females who are professionals within the finance, accounting and/or auditing services across all other sectors.

A key component of the programme is the one-on-one mentoring programme where delegates are mentored by globally acclaimed and successful women leaders who are members of or associated with the IWFSA.

For us, conversations on the absence of women in leadership positions cannot progress unless we yield realistic solutions that will make an immediate and lasting business impact.

We need to move the conversation and realise ways to better support and develop women leaders. We call on every organisation to focus on skills training that will empower women to become the best leaders and professionals they can possibly be.

- Irene Charnley is a successful and seasoned businesswoman and president of the International Women's Forum of South Africa.

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