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KPMG SA -- The Fallacy Of Feminism And Black Women In Leadership

KPMG has appointed Nhlamu Dlomu to spin the catastrophe into a chapter of black women's leadership in corporate SA.

29/09/2017 08:52 SAST | Updated 29/09/2017 08:52 SAST
PA Wire/ PA Images

The narrative has developed interestingly since the KPMG executives resigned over their role in the SA Revenue Service's "rogue unit" report, which has now been retracted. One of the country's largest auditing firms is at the core of a political scandal that was instrumental in a credit-rating downgrade and the dismissal of Pravin Gordhan as finance minister.

There's no shadow of a doubt that the axe should fall hard on every individual who was an accomplice to corruption on such a grand scale. What the revelations have done is give the single-most visible peek into the tentacles that the private sector extends its business practices into. KPMG has appointed Nhlamulo Dlomu to spin the catastrophe into a chapter of black women's leadership in corporate SA.

There's another conversation bubbling under about transformation during a crisis period, which has brought Dlomu's new role into sharp focus. She assumes her position with the responsibility of providing leadership, changing the public perception of a tainted organisation while keeping KPMG profitable as per her mandate.

From the perspective of a young black woman, the question that has gnawed at me amid the media storm that has now somewhat subsided is about equal participation and visibility for black women in positions that matter be it in corporate South Africa, activism, business, or politics.

I have been stunned at my reluctance to acknowledge that advocating for women's interests as a personal political position and breaking through the proverbial glass ceiling isn't mutually exclusive. With every black woman who transcends beyond the limitations set by systemic oppression, the assumption often leads to an inaccurate and incomplete conclusion that positions them as champions of a black feminist agenda. This is the reality of the balancing act she's likely going to be faced with managing.

The gender pay gap and appointments in non-core management or strategic management roles that allow for patronage networks within the business value-chain to persist.

Which brings me to what Chimamanda Ngozi-Adichie referred to as "feminist lite", cautioning against conditional female equality because "being feminist is like being pregnant. You either are you are not. You either believe in the full equality of men and women or you don't."

What the assumption of feminism lite gives credence to is a superficial transformation that keeps women at the periphery of important decisions. This often translates itself in the gender-pay gap and appointments in noncore management or strategic management roles that allow for patronage networks within the business value-chain to persist.

The Women in Business report released in March this year revealed that women hold 28 percent of senior management roles in businesses, with only 3 percent having a female CEO and that 31 percent of South African companies have no women in senior management positions.

It remains a mystery why women aren't at the centre of the transformation agenda, considering the increased number of skilled, qualified and competent individuals entering the employment sector.

It is no secret that black women come across barriers that compel them to work twice as hard for little recognition in the workplace. For far too long, we have rendered ourselves mute to how racial discrimination and sexism continues to manifest itself in the spaces we occupy –- even in the workplace.

I must say that I'm interested to see the direction that KPMG will set sail under Dlomu's leadership. She has, after all, referred to herself as someone with a vested interest in creating opportunities for a more equitable representation for marginalised groups. But beware of feminism lite.