A German woman named Clara Zetkin made an appeal for an International Women’s Day. It was her wish that every country should celebrate on the same day – a Women’s Day – to press for their demands. That was in August 1910. Sixty years ago the Pan-African-Woman’s organisation (PAWO) had a mission to ensure that woman’s concerns are integrated in Africa’s liberation agenda and that woman participate equally in the political, economic, social and cultural life on the continent. Africa Woman’s day is marked by PAWO to be on 31 July of each year.
In South Africa, we celebrate Woman’s month in August, and specifically on the day of 9 August. This is to commemorate a historical event in 1956 where woman marched in protest against discriminatory legislation and treatment of woman.
This short historical overview is evidence that a lot has been said and done over more than a century, to place gender equality in the spotlight, to focus on the issues and challenges of women, both in society and in the workplace, and to facilitate strategic engagement at global level. However, the real progress we have made in advancing gender equality, on the African continent specifically, is questionable. There may be pockets of success, but that is mostly at the top of the pyramid. Not much has changed for millions of women in everyday life. In fact, there have been some setbacks during the pandemic from which we are still trying to recover.
From my perspective, the recent focus and shift to the “ESG Agenda” has stalled the progress that needs to be made on gender equality. Gender parity has now become a sub-set on the ESG agenda, which compromises the focus to correct a pressing legacy issue. This new agenda and costs related to implementation, may force corporates to dilute the resources, previously dedicated to gender matters, and split it across the new sub-sets of ESG.
A study conducted by McKinsey in 2019, “The Power of Parity”, states that at the rate of progress we are currently making, it will take Africa 140 years to achieve gender parity. This failure to embrace gender diversity will result in millions of women not reaching their full potential. It will be a sadly missed opportunity and it will compromise the economic health of Africa. The study further claims that “accelerating progress toward parity could boost African economies by the equivalent of 10 percent of their collective GDP by 2025”. A promising, but perhaps academic, prospect!
The World Economic Forum’s 2023 Global gender gap report suggests increasing women’s economic participation and achieving gender parity in leadership, in both business and government, are two key levers for addressing broader gender gaps in households, societies and economies. Collective, coordinated and bold action by private and public sector leaders will be instrumental in accelerating progress towards gender parity and igniting renewed growth and greater resilience. Again, another academic prospect.
The findings and suggested actions from these studies are both valid and valuable. However, mobilisation to implement the actions reflected in the reports does not reflect in the lives of woman. Woman are employed, but often still in poor conditions and exposed to gender discrimination practices. Our continent has so much potential and promise; we are the frontier for business growth and expansion. But the growth potential will only be realised through a sizeable investment. The resources, both financial and people-based, will need to be significantly increased to meet the demands on gender equality. It will require much more than just having a DEI programme documented or reflecting it as a line item on the strategy document. It will need a dedicated driver in the seat, with the authority to be bold and lead activities linked to the programme. It will need to be a female driver with no fear for speed!
As part of Woman’s Month in South Africa, and the overall gender equality challenges on our continent, APAG developed a guide to foster this priority in your workplace. This may need to be tailored to your organisation, contextualised to your culture and made fit-for-purpose to ensure that our collective efforts can shorten the 140 years to achieve parity.
1. Training & Awareness: Implement training programmes to educate the workforce about unconscious bias, the value of diverse teams, equitable behaviour and conduct. Create opportunities for employee feedback and regular engagement about gender equality.
2. Inclusive Policies and Practices: Develop and implement inclusive policies that support work-life balance, flexible work arrangements, equal pay, career development opportunities and further education.
3. Leadership Commitment: Leaders must be held accountable for success through personal performance metrics and evaluations. Consequence management for not setting an example for the rest of the organisation must be in place.
4. Diverse Recruitment Teams: The interview and selection panel to be diverse and representative of the workforce demographic.
5. Employee Resource Groups (ERG’s): Support and empower networking platforms for woman in the workplace.
6. Mentorship and Sponsorship Programmes: Establish role models to mentor and coach your female talent and to support the growth and development of woman in the workplace.
7. Regular Monitoring and Reporting: Develop and track diversity metrics, aligned to the DEI programme, to ensure accountability and oversight of progress. Special focus needs to be placed on how inequality has been addressed.
We look forward to hearing your success stories and to celebrate your achievements with you. May your journey be speedy and a reason for celebration!
Happy Woman’s Month!