By :Ntombi Mhangwani, Accenture Africa’s Director for Integrated Marketing and Communication, and Women’s Forum Lead
Some attempts have been made by the government and NGOs to advocate for more equal rights for women. Few months ago, President Ramaphosa announced his new cabinet in which half of all ministers are women. However, the private sector has been slower on the uptake. The world of business is still very much dominated by men.
Gender equality in the workplace has been a longstanding discussion across the globe for decades. Although progress has been made in recent years to implement policies that favour diversity and gender equality in the workplace, many of the gains are now at risk of being rolled back especially in light of the current COVID-19 pandemic and resultant grim economic outlook.
What is Gender Mainstreaming?
In 1995, at a global setting of the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women, in Beijing (China), the Platform for Action strategy was adopted. It established the concept that gender issues should be brought into the mainstream of society and highlighted the necessity to ensure that gender equality is a primary goal in all areas of social and economic development.
Two years later, gender mainstreaming was clearly defined by the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) as a strategy for making the concerns and experiences of women and men an integral part of the design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of policies and programmes in all political, economic and societal spheres, so that women and men benefit equally, and inequality is not perpetuated. The ultimate goal of mainstreaming is to achieve gender equality.
In South Africa, the challenge to achieve gender equality starts at a fundamental level with less access to education for women and repressive cultural norms. It further extends to the workplace where unequal pay and privileges, as well as continued under-representation in senior positions, limit the progress of women and the achievement of gender equity. With a population that has more than 29 million female inhabitants, gender mainstreaming should be top of mind for the country’s societal and economic growth.
It should be part of the strategic agenda
Intellectuals, rights organisations, business leaders agree – and rational thinking dictates – “women must be equal”. Research shows there are potent economic and societal advantages: equality and advancement for women in the workplace are good for men, for business, for society, and the economy. The policies are in place but why is “getting to equal” taking so long? In Accenture’s 2020 Getting to Equal research, we reveal what’s really happening on the ground.
As it stands, the compounded economic impacts of any world crisis are felt especially by women and girls since they are generally earning less, saving less, holding insecure jobs, or living close to poverty. Besides, women often struggle to balance the manifold roles of being an employee, a spouse, and a parent, as they compete for better compensation, recognition, and growth in the workplace. The issue is that many companies have not yet made gender mainstreaming a priority as it is not part of their workplace culture and are missing out on the benefits thereof.
In 2018, we found that workplace culture is critical for women’s advancement and that when women rise, men rise too. A culture of equality that goes beyond a diverse leadership team and gender-balanced workforce is a powerful multiplier of workplace innovation and growth. Per our 2019 research, employees’ “innovation mindset” – their willingness and ability to innovate at work – is nearly six times higher in companies with a robust culture of equality than in least-equal companies.
Equal cultures will benefit the wider economy and GDP
We recognise the business value that gender mainstreaming brings, and Accenture is committed to accelerating equality in the workplace as responsible business leaders and to drive our innovation agenda. Several years ago we set out to achieve a gender-balanced workforce by 2025 and to have a 25% representation of women among managing directors. Our workforce today boasts 44% of women and 24% are managing directors. Treating our gender goals like any other business priority, we hold leaders accountable, collect data, measure progress, and publish workforce demographics across key geographies.
Statistics show that the proportion of women who feel like a key component of their team with real influence over decisions would rise from one in five, to over three in 10. In turn, female employee turnover is reduced and women planning to stay with their current employer over the next 12 months would rise by from 81 percent to 89 percent.
The benefits do not stop at inclusion and influence but carry economic value too. Research reveals that in more equal cultures, women are 43% more likely to advance to manager level and beyond, and almost four times more likely to advance to senior manager/director level and beyond. Furthermore, women who on average, earn R59 for every R100 that a man earns, could earn as much as R87 for every R100 a man earns. That’s a 47% salary increase. By uplifting 13% of women in the workplace to fill medium rather than low-skill roles, South Africa could add R319 billion to its GDP.
At Accenture, we believe that to build a sustainable economy and recover better after this pandemic, gender mainstreaming should be an important cornerstone of every business. The private sector must work together with the government to maximise the potential of the country’s people and enterprises by implementing wider gender mainstreaming policies at the core of their business. Over our 50 years in business, we have realised that building a sustainable economy is critical to South Africa’s growth and transformation is a key component to make this a reality.