Although gender empowerment in South Africa is moving in the right direction across many industry sectors, the lack of female leadership still needs to be addressed. In addition, sectors and companies performing well when it comes to gender empowerment should not rest on their laurels, and instead work to meet and exceed the current standards for their categories. This is according to Karla Fletcher, associate publisher of the Top Women brand.
Speaking in advance of the eighth annual Topco Top Women Awards, Fletcher also called on the South African government to do more when it comes to gender empowerment, and for companies to lead by example and stop pointing fingers at lack of government initiatives and support.
When it comes to women in leadership roles, Fletcher said: “Although many women have the degrees and experience required, they still lack the leadership skills, particularly when it comes to leading in a typically male-dominated environment.” Fletcher says that mentorship, whether by male or other female leaders, is key to rectifying this imbalance and there is an urgent need for education around women in leadership roles. “The reality is that it still takes women longer to advance in an organisation, and mentorship is vital to allowing women to empowering themselves and develop their strengths,” she says.
Playing a role
“Women are able to play any role in any business environment if given the opportunity to do so,” says Nombuyiselo Mokoena, Deputy Director General in the Department of Science and Technology, who will be attending the awards as a VIP. “I also think women are systematic and adapt to change better; people management is better handled by women which is critical in any business environment.”
Time and time again, studies from around the world show that women-owned and managed companies perform better in terms of the bottom line, company ethics and staff morale and loyalty. One such study is McKinsey & Company’s Women Matter 2, which finds that:
“Those leadership behaviours more often applied by women reinforce a company’s organizational performance on several dimensions. Moreover, a survey involving over a thousand managers from a wide range of companies reveals that these leadership behaviours – in short supply in today’s corporations – will be critical to meet the expected challenges companies will face over the coming years. Hence, promoting gender diversity and leadership variety is of strategic importance for companies.”
Success through women
Fletcher echoes this sentiment, pointing out that in the new, more inclusive economic culture, marked by conversations about brands no longer being able to be controlled thanks to open platforms such as social media, the tendency of women leaders to be more stringent custodians of corporate ethics and reputation is going to be a critical success factor.
“Companies that excel when it comes to gender empowerment will be rewarded economically and with happier, better performing staff. However, companies not already compliant will lose out,” she says.
One company that has seen the benefit of gender empowerment is pharmaceutical firm Pfizer, sponsor of the science, bio-technology and healthcare category in the Top Women Awards. Brian Daniel, chief executive and country manager of Pfizer SA, notes that of Pfizer SA’s 517 employees, 68% are women, and that of his 12 direct reports, a similar ratio is female, with eight senior executives being women.
He chalks this up to a long-term programme to creating working conditions that make a role at Pfizer attractive to women. These include flexible working hours and attractive maternity leave benefits. When it comes to mentoring, everyone at Pfizer receives on the job mentoring including working on projects outside of their current experience.
Daniels says the benefits of a gender empowered company are clear: “We have the scope to attract talent from a wider pool as well as the reputation that Pfizer is a good place to work if you are female. In addition, our culture has become more balanced and inclusive.”
Topco’s Fletcher says that although the statistics say South Africa is doing poorly when it comes to gender empowerment in comparison to other countries, if one looks at the relative improvements, we are doing fairly well. In addition given the other challenges South Africa faces, such as, for instance, improving the literacy rate, there is a lot of innovation happening when it comes to tackling gender empowerment.
One of the events that focuses on recognising the top female business achievers in the country, and the companies that are excelling in their gender empowerment programmes is the Topco Media 8th Annual Top Women Awards. The Topco Media Top Women Awards take place tonight at the Gallagher Convention Centre.