How to enable women to get higher positions

by Portia Moyo

Considering that having women in the workplace has been a common occurrence since at least the 1960s, why do we still harp on about the issue? As long as women at all levels continue to express their dissatisfaction with working conditions, South African companies will have to address the issue of what they should do to make their workplaces more attractive to the fairer sex because, in short, is that it makes economic sense: research has shown that companies with more women on their boards consistently outperform those with fewer women.

According to Catalyst’s report – entitled The Bottom Line: Corporate Performance and Women’s Performance on Boards –  in companies which have women on their boards, the return:

  • In sales was higher by 42%,
  • On invested capital was higher by 66%, and
  • On equity higher by 53%.

From these figures, it’s clear that the world’s future competitive advantage lies with women because key leadership behaviours – such as participative decision-making, role-modelling and people development – come naturally to women.

In South Africa today, women make up about 45% of the workforce and there’s a great drive to promote equal opportunities. However, there’s still a lot to be done to make our work environments more friendly to women, particularly at managerial and executive levels.

We meet ladies at these levels and come across anecdotal evidence which indicates that many are frustrated because of policies and that the challenges which are particular to women aren’t recognised:

  • Some women describe having to put up with sexism and working twice as hard to prove themselves, while
  • Other women give up and either settle for middle-management positions, or leave to start their own small businesses.

The statistics show that this is not a uniquely South African problem, as shown by the statistics.

  • Out of 195 countries, only 17 have female leaders,
  • Among the Fortune 500 companies in the US, only 5% of the top positions are held by women, and
  • Globally, only 20% of parliamentary seats are held by women.

How can SA companies make themselves more attractive to women?

During a recent executive leadership symposium that was held by the local branch of the International Women’s Forum, participants identified factors that contribute to a ‘women-unfriendly’ environment, e.g:

  • It’s usually the woman who has to take a sick child to the doctor and look after him or her if there’s no one else to do it. This can create the impression that the woman is not serious about her career.

  • Women aren’t only judged on how good they are at their jobs but also on their capability as mothers, wives and housekeepers. Women therefore appreciate companies that allow them to strike a balance between work and home life, and are supportive of working mothers.

  • Women also prefer to work for companies where they’re given the opportunity to develop and are offered coaching as well as mentoring, which is particularly important as some women feel that they can’t navigate the corporate world successfully.

This article first appeared on HR Pulse.

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