/ 25 January 2024

Tackling the gender inequality issue in the South African workplace

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It is essential that the needs of working mothers are accommodated  

While there has been significant progress made against gender inequality, the issue still has visible effects, especially in countries like South Africa. African women earn less than men, and they are offered low-skilled jobs, which prevents them from progressing in their careers. Although women in South Africa are ambitious when entering the workforce, they don’t have the same opportunities as men, who are usually more successful in terms of rank and pay. This is due to the stereotypes that are deeply rooted in African society, and the only way to overcome them is to challenge the existing societal norms and create inclusive workplaces where women can thrive.

Pay disparity is huge in South Africa, affecting women’s quality of life

Reports on the pay gender gap show that South African women have a salary that is 23%-35% lower than men having the same role. This significantly hinders women’s wealth creation trajectory in the country, leading to inequalities that can become exponential in the long run. In the broader society, undervaluing the professional contribution of African women can also take a toll on their mental health, at the same time affecting their extended families and children. The pay disparity issue is major, and it is shocking to think how this discrimination limits women from achieving a better quality of life — especially when they do have the skills required to build successful careers.

For instance, women are better investors than men because they are more receptive to advice and more open to learning from their mistakes. They have the right temperament and know how to keep their emotions in check. These aspects play a huge role in successful investing, which is a great tool to improve your financial life. And yet, gender inequality keeps women stuck. This is why it is essential to address the pay disparity challenge through proactive measures, such as equitable remuneration policies and pay transparency. For instance, in the UK, companies are very transparent about their salary, demonstrating fairness and respect for employees. Such a culture of transparency would be incredibly beneficial in South Africa, creating an inclusive work environment where women feel empowered.    

African women are underrepresented in leadership positions

While African women are a major part of the country’s workforce, only 7% of JSE-listed organisations have women working as executives. This is a minor percentage, and having more women in leadership is essential to drive change in South African workplaces. The lack of women in roles requiring decision-making skills stifles innovation, enforcing a male-dominated culture, which only perpetuates gender inequality. Tackling this issue ultimately comes down to promoting diversity and inclusion in the workplace — that’s the only way women (and society) can progress. 

Different barriers prevent women from joining corporate boards in the country. Firstly, the business culture is a significant factor, as from a historical perspective, African women have experienced high rates of unemployment, financial dependence and gender-based violence. Companies aren’t proactive when it comes to hiring women in leadership positions. Moreover, the governance system in place also hinders women’s opportunities to step into leadership roles. Hence, it becomes evident that this problem requires collective effort in order to be effectively addressed and no longer deter women from pursuing flourishing careers.

Caregiving duties place significant pressure on African women

The best work environments are those where employers feel like their wellbeing matters and where they don’t have to claim personal injury compensation due to the company’s failure to prevent accidents in the workplace. In a healthy company culture, employees feel safe and respected, experience a sense of belonging in the workplace, and enjoy life-work balance. However, the latter is a challenging prospect for women in South Africa. This is because careers are interrupted once they give birth, and they find themselves torn between raising their children, taking care of household chores and caring for their ageing parents.

Their caregiving duties significantly impact their professional lives and their ability to earn an income. They feel pressured to meet all the expectations, and finding a balance between professional and personal life gets too overwhelming. There is also a dichotomy between women’s earning and spending that needs to be considered. While they are the ones to make most decisions regarding household purchases, women generate less income than their husbands, which can cause tension in the relationship. Women are considered less than ideal workers due to their responsibilities, and of course, achieving equity in the workplace will never be possible if women are excluded only because they have children to look after. Hence, it becomes essential to accommodate working mothers and help them juggle responsibilities, taking a huge burden off their shoulders. Flexible work arrangements, affordable childcare options and parental leave policies are all practical solutions that should be taken into consideration to enable African women to fulfil their career aspirations.

Creating equitable and diverse workplaces in African society: a matter of collective commitment

South Africa is clearly moving in the right direction when it comes to gender equality, but there’s still a lot to be done to bridge the gender gap. Companies need to do their own part in achieving this goal by prioritising the search for female talent to fulfil executive roles. In the long run, a culture shift would be required to remove stereotypes and gender biases in the workplace. However, this change is a significant one, and it will likely take time to be implemented.

As the world becomes more and more uncertain, it’s essential to have leaders who can lead with empathy and inform through honest and effective communication. And women demonstrate these strengths, making them suitable for leadership positions. Hence, organisations, policymakers, and society should work together to overcome all those barriers and build workplaces that support everyone’s contribution, no matter their gender. Only by tackling the gender diversity issue in South Africa can the country thrive and tap into the full potential of its female top talent. It’s important to remember that women are just as capable as men, and they deserve a chance at a better quality of life, so to see change, it’s essential to work on challenging stereotypes effectively.