Fresh opportunities for women as South African Equity Act amended
As the amended Employment Equity Act comes into force, Liz de Wet, convenor of the University Of Cape Town Graduate School Of Business Women in Leadership programme, has outlined how businesses can seize the renewed opportunity to reduce the gender divide, despite some disheartening statistics.
In short, the Act: “Protects workers and job seekers from unfair discrimination, and also provides a framework for implementing affirmative action.”
One of the most telling aspects of the workplace gender divide was revealed in study of Hewlett-Packard employees; it found that women applied for promotion only when they met 100 percent of the job requirements, whereas men put themselves forward if they met just 60 percent of the criteria.
De Wet summed up these gloomy findings, she said: “One of the biggest issues for women leaders is confidence.”
Moreover, a 2014 report by Grant Thornton, noted that the number of senior business positions occupied by women in South Africa actually declined by 2 percent to 26 percent that year.
The report also highlighted the stark fact that nearly a quarter of all local businesses had no women in senior management positions at all; the recently amended Employment Equity Act will potentially see businesses fined heavily for non-compliance.
De Wet noted that companies can only benefit from compliance with the new amended act, she said: “There is a lot research that shows that gender diversity at board level correlates to better business performance across a wide range of success indicators. Boosting the confidence of women boosts the bottom line.”
Her words are supported by a recent Gallup report that shows that female managers are more likely than male managers to be engaged in their work. People working under women tend to be more dedicated to their jobs, translating into high productivity and better performance.
“The Women in Leadership programme looks at developing women as leaders but in their own way, focusing on the skills and qualities that they bring to the job and how this can be developed into a very particular signature that is authentic. In this way the programme builds confidence and helps women to learn how to stand out,” said De Wet.
While government acts and well directed business programmes support the empowerment of women, it is clear that a broader, cultural change is required, starting with men proactively supporting the successes and ambitions of their female colleagues.