The Gender Agenda

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The BMF’s vision is to be the foremost organisation in the development of managerial leadership and the advancing of socio-economic transformation in South Africa and beyond. This mission entails addressing and dismantling all structural policies, systems and practices which seek to entrench an unequitable and unjust society. Whilst much focus has been directed towards racial inequality in South Africa, we in the BMF have decided to shift our focus this year to elevate the issue of Gender inequality. Our historical context has resulted in black women continuing to face the double discrimination of both racial AND gender discrimination in this country and globally.

This recognition has made gender equality a strategic priority for the BMF in general, and the BMF’s Women Empowerment Desk (WED) in particular. Gender Equality is, in fact, a fundamental pillar for South Africa’s collective societal well-being and economic prosperity. According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), closing gender gaps matters for the development of countries and economies. Greater gender equality can enhance economic productivity, increasing GDP per capita and creating jobs. It can improve development outcomes and make institutions and policies more representative.

International Women’s Day provides an opportune moment to pause and to re-affirm our declaration that gender parity is one of the most critical and urgent challenges that the BMF faces today. In 2022, the BMF WED has dedicated itself to advocating for the elevation of the gender issues within the BMF and in society at large.

Gender parity is multi-faceted. And in order to provide more focussed interventions, we intend to tackle one major issue at a time and give it the requisite robust interrogation and thereby, tailor fit-for-purpose interventions.  The issue which we will tackle in this post is the issue of the Gender Pay Gap.

Former Deputy President of the Republic, Dr Phumzile Malmbo-Ngcuka in a webinar held in October 2020, implored the BMF to focus on this. She called it one of the most structural and formidable ways of discrimination against women and of perpetuating inequality against women.”

 

History of the gender pay gap

In the same webinar, Dr Mlambo-Ngcuka addressed the issue of unequal pay for women. She gave a historical perspective where it used to be assumed that men needed to be better remunerated because they were assumed to be the primary breadwinners for their families. It was taken for granted that men will use the additional resources to take care of their families and support their children. 

According to the International Labour Organisation (ILO), in most countries women are not usually considered as heads of households unless no adult male is living permanently in the household.

The assumption is that the head of the household is always an adult male even if a woman’s economic contribution to the household is the same or greater than that of man.

You only need to look at the queues at South Africa’s maintenance courts to realise that this is a fallacy that we need to completely dispense with as it is not true. In fact, as of 2019, 41,8% of South African households were female-headed. The persistence to hold onto this societal expectation despite glaring evidence of its growing irrelevance – is in itself a form of gender bias – as it then continues to accrue additional benefits to males at the expense of females.

What’s all the fuss: It’s just money…isn’t it?’

This blog post aims to shine a light on the REAL impact of the gender pay gap on women advancement. It is categorically not just about the bank balance. It is about human dignity. It is about a sense of self-worth. It is a subliminal message sent to women about their worth relative to the worth of men. Money is a symbol of independence and of agency. 

It frees women from a financial bondage to men, which is one of the many factors why women feel helpless against gender-based violence – a dependency on men for their livelihoods. Fair and equitable pay are not only important for business leaders, but for society as a whole. It is not just money. It is dignity.

Why is the gender pay gap so stubborn?

The gender pay gap becomes stubbornly self-reproducing as a result of the following vicious cycle:

  1. Women generally do more unpaid work than men like caring for children or elderly parents
  2. Women often have to take career breaks to care for others
  3. This leads to subtle forms of discrimination at work like being side-lined for strategic assignments because “we never know when you might take 4 months off”

This results in women reaching the glass ceiling earlier due to a build-up of the previous three factors.

This is why only 13% of South Africa’s executive directors are female and why one can still count the number of JSE-listed companies with female CEO’s on one hand.

Another factor which perpetuates the gender pay gap is the issue of using salary history to determine the remuneration for a new, often higher job position. What often happens in practice is that the potential employer will be willing to pay below the job pay grade – as long as it is a % higher than previous salary. 

The company then essentially saves on the cost-to-company that they were willing to pay and ends up perpetuating the historical under-rewarding of women. Research shows that, where no historical payslip has been requested, women end up being paid much better and covering up or catching up on the history of underpayment.

In this regard, BMF should question the legality of this HR practice and partner with individuals and organisations who have already begun work towards getting this practice declared illegal.

What is to be done?

There needs to be a societal mindset shift if we are to see a critical mass of women in leadership positions. We need a more equitable way of sharing domestic responsibilities so as to alleviate the pressure on women to be domestic goddesses as well as thriving c-suite executives at the same time. Women are bound to feel like they are lacking in one of these roles. We are simply setting them up for failure and putting them under an inordinate amount of pressure.

Secondly, workplaces need to let go of their long-held traditions, practices and cultures which were designed exclusively for males. “First to arrive at the office and the last to leave” should no longer be seen as the ultimate demonstration of commitment. “He/She sent me an e-mail at 2am. When does he/she ever sleep?” should no longer be lauded as a sign of diligence and dedication. And “I worked all weekend” should be seen as a taboo rather than a norm. We should start to hear more of “I spent the weekend with my family.” Language is power. And we need to change the business language that is rooted in masculinity and frowns upon femininity and family values. It’s time to be the first parent to arrive at your daughter’s ballet concert and the last to leave your son’s cricket match. 

Workplaces need to radically change how they are currently structured in order to accommodate the modern working woman. Like the Nordic countries, South African corporates also need to consider providing on-site childcare facilities and eventually, on-site mini grocery stores, gyms, salons as part of modern office parks. Find out from women, what makes them run frantically out of the office around 4pm. And truly listen and watch. It is picking up kids from school or extra murals, passing by Woolies to put together a decent meal for her family. Oh, and there is the issue of her own health, fitness and well-being, so she may swing by the gym as well – if she can.

These are the women we want to keep in our highest leadership echelons. They are smart. They are dynamic. They are hardworking and full of ideas. They add massive value. But they are also moms and wives and daughters and homemakers. We need to harness all these parts of her to get the best out of her. And in case you haven’t noticed…WE NEED HER.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Esethu Mancotywa is the Deputy President of the BMF| Chairperson of the Women’s Empowerment Desk | CA by profession | Group CFO at Grinaker-LTA | Wife | Mother to 6 kids

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