THE BLOG
09/03/2018 12:43 SAST | Updated 09/03/2018 12:43 SAST

Sadly, The Gender-Equality Gap Is Still Too Wide

Women often have to prove themselves competent, unlike their male counterparts.

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It's time to close the gap.

Thursday was International Women's Day - that day of the year when the women of this world get a whole entire day dedicated to gender equality, and this year it's about pushing for progress in the workplace.

Excuse me if I'm a little jaded, but after a series of interviews with young professional women trying to crack the glass ceiling and secure leadership positions, it seems their dreams of being in leadership is somewhat a pie in the sky, as their challenges keep increasing.

Being a South African law graduate who sat through hours of Gender and Equality lecturers wondering when would I ever use such information, I can see now that those formative years are now coming to fruition, as I compare the challenges that women face in developing countries and first world nations of Europe.

In Germany, of 160 market-listed companies, women make up a mere 6.7 percent of the executive board, i.e. there are only 45 women on the executive board as opposed to 630 men. If things go on at this pace, by 2047 only one-third of the executive board positions will be filled by women.

Last year a law was enacted in Germany to ensure that 101 listed companies fill at least 30 percent of the supervisory board positions by women, however, there is still no legal obligation to promote women to executive board posts.

Ana-Christina Grohnert, a member of the EY management board, confesses that that fulfilment of the quota in the supervisory boards is proof that women are not being held back by their competence, but rather the companies' lack of willingness to hire them. Grohnert said that there are enough qualified women for board positions.

Women tend to give their all even when they don't get what they deserve and this needs to change.

Women often have to prove themselves competent, unlike their male counterparts.

'I often hear women who complain that their bosses make promises in relations to job opportunities but then when their bosses fail to meet these requirements, the women keep serving faithfully instead of enquiring or asking for a better position, as most men would negotiate,' says Anke Nelson* an HR executive in the Netherlands. Women tend to give their all even when they don't get what they deserve and this needs to change.

In sunny South Africa, women have a slightly better chance of heading leading positions. South Africa is ahead of the global average with 28 percent of women in senior roles, whereas the global average is 25 percent of senior roles held by women.

As someone from a third world country now living in a first world country I am astonished by how few women are in leading positions here. Statistics reveal that developing nations continue to lead the charge on diversity while developed economies lag behind, but this does not mean that the journey to the top is without scathing backlash.

Every childbearing woman knows the pain and is not averse to the urge to push for a new life, new opportunities and certainly for progress in the workplace.

According to Mindy Shah*, an Assistant Director at an Investment Bank in Johannesburg reveals that there are many issues that still plague women vying for top positions in SA.

"While diversity is strong at lower levels in banking, it still reduces dramatically the more senior you move up. There are very few senior clients facing women, as they often move to more back-office roles so role models are not easily available to show you how you can progress to the next phase of your career.

I have found that to have progressed to my level, there were a number of things I have had to give up. While men at my level have families and lives outside of work, it was not possible for me to pursue this and a career, because any time taken off works against you. In this industry, you have to work long hours, over weekends and travel, which men can still do with a family but limits what a woman can actually juggle.

I have noticed that while senior men are supportive of people coming up the ranks, it is less so with females and a number of the altercations I have had in a work environment have been precipitated by the actions of females who seem to take things more personally in the workplace.

Once you do get to a senior position you struggle to get the credibility that a male in the same position tends to command. Both younger males and females have an instant respect for men, however, you need to be seen as quite harsh or standoffish as a woman to command the same level of respect. If you do go that way, then the comments about your life (or lack thereof) also increase so it's a lose-lose situation.

It is crazy for me that this dichotomy still exists today, making it hard for females to progress, making us doubt ourselves so much more than men do and also changing us along the way (usually for the worse), which it does not seem my male colleagues have to do.

I will say though if you can get it right it is a rewarding career and there are some women out there trying to change things. Having a female in the team makes a huge difference to the dynamic."

What is the point of educating our girls, if the society they find themselves in does not equally enable and encourage their growth.

Every childbearing woman knows the pain and is not averse to the urge to push for a new life, new opportunities and certainly for progress in the workplace. But how much more do women have to push for parity in the workplace to happen?

My mum dropped out of school to marry my dad and I was born when she was 17 years old. She had very limited knowledge about childbirth at the time, yet she pushed me to complete my law degree so that I would have a better chance at an easier life.

I know this feeling too well now, as my feminism tendencies grew exponentially when I became a mother of a girl child and I stay committed to fighting fiercely for a life of better opportunities. I mean what is the point of educating our girls, if the society they find themselves in does not equally enable and encourage their growth.

* Names have been changed to protect the identity of the women.