Many great women have helped mould South Africa. The 1956 Women's March to Pretoria -- to present a petition against the carrying of passes by women to the prime minister -– had once again shown that the stereotype of women as politically inept and immature, and tied to the home, was outdated and inaccurate.
Today, trailblazing women continue to lead the country forward. We are privileged that South Africa recognises the instrumental role that women play in society –- and for that reason, women need to be celebrated daily.
Yet despite increased awareness, conversation and initiatives over the past few years, the boardroom remains an overwhelmingly male-dominated place.
Gender parity at work
Gender parity rightly remains a global issue. South Africa has a huge challenge even though we reside in a country that promotes a non-sexist society. As much as women are celebrated and embraced by our Constitution, there is still so much to be achieved.
Women are the majority of all graduates almost everywhere in the developed world, but they make up a smaller share of the workforce the further up the corporate ladder they go. Around the globe, the demand for greater gender equality in the boardroom is higher than ever before.
The number of FTSE 350 companies with no women on their executive committees in 2017 has risen from 52 to a total of 60. In addition, the number of female executives who manage their company's budget has stalled since 2016 and now sits at just six percent. This figure, revealed in a 2016 report by The Pipeline, a provider of executive leadership training specifically for women, is concerning.
The impact of having more women in the C-suite is bigger than that of having a woman on the board or as the CEO.
At the same time, studies have shown that when women rise in the ranks of a company, the company's bottom line improves. In a Peterson Institute for International Economics survey of nearly 22,000 firms globally, the profitable firms in the sample which had gone from having no women in corporate leadership to a 30 percent female share experienced a 15 percent increase in profitability for a typical firm.
Moreover, it is not just a matter of getting women into the top ranks of management. Instead, the results indicate that the impact of having more women in the C-suite is bigger than that of having a woman on the board or as the CEO.
The researchers concluded that there are at least two channels through which more female senior leaders could contribute to superior performance: increased skill diversity within top management, which increases effectiveness in monitoring staff performance; and less gender discrimination throughout the management ranks, which helps to recruit, promote, and retain talent.
Peterson's research suggests that pursuing policies to help women in the middle of their careers might be better than directly addressing board membership and that the real economic payoffs are from increasing gender diversity in the C-suite.
The communications industry in South Africa is still largely male dominated. Beyond that, as a black African female communications professional, there is no doubt that I would like to see more transformation from a gender and race perspective. I dare say that is a challenge for almost every sector in the country. The result is that you not only have to prove yourself to your male counterparts, you often have to do the same with female colleagues from different backgrounds.
My advice to young women is to start learning much earlier in their careers to be value-driven and to firmly stand up for what they believe in, within our constitutional parameters. Once certain intrinsic values are enshrined in your life, it makes it that much easier to navigate the workplace.
We need to be proactive participants in making the changes we want to see in our society, without being judgemental.
I would also like to see more female leaders supporting each other in our communities and our places of work. Whether at the office, in the home, religious institutions or at the schools and universities that our children attend, every female has a responsibility to walk in the shoes of other women.
If more women in positions of power undertook to do this, we would have a better understanding of the multitude of challenges faced by our colleagues and peers daily. The fact is that no-one else is going to do this -– we need to be proactive participants in making the changes we want to see in our society, without being judgemental.
Personally, women's month gives me an opportunity to celebrate and appreciate my womanhood. It is also a time to reflect on my role as a woman in society –- as a mother, wife and a professional. It is also an opportunity to be grateful for the great women who have had an impact in my life, and who have shaped the woman that I am today.