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Gender Equality in the Workplace: Promoting the employment of females

South Africa, unlike numerous other countries, has progressive legislation in place that protects and promotes the rights of women in general and in the workplace. South African legislation, and more specifically labour legislation, aims to eliminate unfair discrimination and promote equality. The prevention of gender discrimination and the promotion of gender equality are therefore recognised as key legislative and developmental areas in South Africa.

A recent StatsSA publication showed that South Africa has a population of around 58,87 million people, as of September 2019, and women make up more than half of the population (51% or 30 million women). A study conducted by Accenture found that for more than 30 years, South African women have obtained more Bachelor’s degrees than men. Yet, the employment rates and promotion rates for women in the workplace are still drastically low.

The problem is threefold: Why are women not being employed at a rate which is at least equal to the rate of employment of men? Why are women not being promoted as regularly and not occupying as many Senior Management positions as men? And lastly, what can we do to ensure that women are being treated fairly and justly in all employment opportunities?

The overall problem more than likely lies in a company’s hiring and promotion policies. More specifically, the business culture that influences the hiring and promotion policies and procedures. Women are still being faced with discrimination in the workplace, microaggressions and doubts regarding their qualifications, capabilities, intelligence and their willingness to remain committed to an organisation. Women are still being overlooked for recruitment and promotional opportunities due to reasons such as having or wanting a family. In many situations, women are disregarded almost completely in Senior Management positions, because of the suspicion and doubt regarding a woman’s commitment and abilities. Yet, women in Senior Management positions have proven to bring certain qualities and dynamics to their team and organisations. Women in leadership positions offer new skills in the workplace, are able to increase productivity, value creation, leadership effectiveness, collaboration and relationship building, and a variety of other attributes that complement those skills and characteristics that men contribute to organisations.

South Africa is a very traditional country with a rich history in cultural conformity and obligation. While men and women may face different challenges in the workplace, they are also biologically different with different abilities and needs. Many women, who are employed and have achieved Bachelor’s degrees and other qualifications, opt to or may be forced to leave their employment to have a family. Culturally, women have a stronger obligation to be family-orientated and receive more pressure, either from their partners, their families or their places of employment, to leave their jobs and prioritise their families, while the male counterpart remains the breadwinner. This is obviously not applicable to all women in the workplace; however, it does happen very frequently. If women decide to return to the workplace after raising their children for a few years, are the same opportunities still available to them?

So, what can we do to ensure that gender diversity and gender equality in the workplace are not foreign ideals that are unattainable? Organisations need to make gender equality a strategic objective and priority in order to have any kind of influence on organisational culture. Fostering a culture that proactively promotes a respectful, inclusive, gender diverse and equal environment, which allows employees to feel safe and supported at work may well be the first step. This involves making it a priority to consciously hire and promote women, assess them on an equal footing as men, provide the same opportunities, and remunerating and rewarding women on an equitable basis. Taking active steps every day to eliminate gender bias and discrimination is also extremely important. This may include workshopping issues such as gender dynamics, empowerment and how to recognise unconscious biases.

The future of workplace dynamics starts now!

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