“When women thrive, all of society benefits and succeeding generations are given a better start in life.” – Kofi Annan, former UN Secretary-General, who championed women as the key to peace and prosperity.
South Africa is in 17th place out of 149 countries, a slight improvement from 19th place in 2018, in the World Economic Forum’s 2020 Global Gender Gap Report. According to Alexander Forbes Member Watch research, in 2010 more than 85% of females earned less than R240 000. In contrast, in 2019 the proportion of females earning less than R240 000 had decreased by 18.6%, and the proportion of women earning R960 000 and more is seven times more than what it was in 2010.
In 2008, women held 12.6% of directorship positions in JSE listed companies, which increased to 19% by 2017. Leading up to International Women’s Day on 8 March 2020, 20% of directors of JSE listed companies were women according to Women on South African boards: facts, fiction and forward thinking published by the University of Stellenbosch Business School.
Greater pressures on women since the pandemic
Women account for two-thirds of the total net job losses in South Africa according to the National Income Dynamics Study – Coronavirus Rapid Mobile Survey released in July 2020. The Covid-19 pandemic has not only resulted in elevated stress levels for women[i] due to work-life conflict, but has widened the gender pay gap in South Africa, undoing the progress women had made towards equality.
Belinda Sullivan, principal consultant at Alexander Forbes, suggests the following strategies to promote equality in the workplace:
- Promote diversity and inclusion in the workplace
Research shows that millennials and centennials want to work for, invest in and engage with organisations that embrace diversity and inclusion. They make up most of the workforce in South Africa and are referred to as the purpose-driven generations. However, only 50% of organisations globally are publicly documenting commitments to gender equality according to a global report by Mercer, Alexander Forbes’ strategic global partner, entitled, “When Women Thrive 2020”.
- Create individualised retirement solutions for women
Retirement solutions need to be tailored to recognise that women have different needs from men when it comes to financial wellness, health and caregiving. Financial education and gender-specific communication can assist women in attaining their savings goals.
- Regulation drives pay equity
Reporting on pay disparities is on the agenda for many countries. The UK and France have issued new reporting requirements on gender-pay differences and as a result, Europe has seen a dramatic increase in pay equity. In South Africa the law mandates equal remuneration for work of equal value.
The Covid-19 pandemic has evolved our mindset that it is not imperative to be in an office full time to be productive. A culture of flexible working arrangements and balancing other responsibilities has emerged. This trend is key to enabling more women to enter, remain and thrive in the workplace.
- Financially fit females
Research from the Mercer Global 2020 study, When Women Thrive, shows that perceived knowledge is more important than actual knowledge. Women who have financial courage are more likely to engage with their finances, which results in financial well-being. Women who stress about finances tend to have poorer health. By helping women reduce money stress, employers may not only improve productivity but also reduce healthcare costs and absenteeism related to physical illness. This can be supported through an employer’s employee assistance programme that offers professional guidance on different aspects of women’s lives and includes psychiatric services, debt and legal counselling and financial advice.
To ensure the successful advancement of women, they need access to opportunities, flexible benefits, advice, mentors and a work environment that is supportive to enable growth.