According to the World Economic Forum’s 2015 Global Gender Gap Index, South Africa ranked 17th out of 145 countries when it comes to closing the gender gap, ranking above both the UK (18) and the USA (28). These statistics highlight the fact that despite South Africa being a developing nation, the country is definitely progressive in terms of gender equality in the workplace.
This is according to Christelle Colman, CEO of Europ Assistance South Africa – the leading provider of assistance services, who says women are increasingly being recognised for their strong leadership skills and are being taken seriously in South African boardrooms.
“This is largely a result of gender equity policies within our country’s Constitution which has created an environment in which women are respected and encouraged to thrive.”
Colman says there are many big companies, even international corporations, which still do not recognise women’s role in business.
“However, the paradigm is starting to shift in South Africa and I do believe that we are starting to get this right. For example, at Europ Assistance South Africa we have a very strong female leadership team in place at an executive level and we are at the forefront of empowering South African women,” says Colman.
She points to the latest 2016 Women Entrepreneur Cities Index (WE Cities) which indicated that Johannesburg is amongst the top 25 cities in the world that foster high potential female entrepreneurs.
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There is a growing pool of powerful women leading up corporate organisations, government institutions and even entrepreneurial initiatives like Salukazi Dakile-Hlongwane – Director of Nozala Investments, Wendy Appelbaum – Director of Sphere Holdings, Wendy Luhabe – Chair and Founder of Women Private Equity Fund, Lizé Lambrechts – Chief Executive of Santam and Lynette Magasa – Founder and Chief Executive of Boniswa Corporate Solutions.
“They are making great strides in South Africa’s working world which is very encouraging for the future female leaders of the country.”
The way that women are treated in our society and the manner in which male counterparts react towards women have changed for the better, she adds.
“More companies are realising the benefits of employing females in senior positions. Even without implementing rigid gender quota systems, which don’t seem to work internationally, we have managed to witness incredible women flourishing in various industries and making a real difference in the country. I am a firm believer that companies that have leadership teams that reflect the markets they serve in gender make-up, are better equipped to do so.”
When we look at someone like Thuli Madonsela – she is a brilliant example of a true leader for our younger generation, says Colman.
“Her strong leadership presence has contributed to her success, professional standing and the impact that she has had in this country. She is a fearless and determined leader who has taken on some of the most powerful politicians in the country and I would like to see many more females striving to adapt to this type of leadership style.”
Helen Szemerei, Chief Commercial Officer at EASA, says it is encouraging to see how many businesses in South Africa are developing a growing culture of empowered females in an effort to improve the proportion of senior positions held by women.
She points to the 2015 Global Gender Gap Index which indicates that South Africa is a leader in empowering women in Sub-Saharan Africa and was ranked higher in this index when compared to most other developing countries.
“While we are in the process of making great strides, we have to continue working towards fostering a business culture where women, and essentially younger girls, are confident and motivated to pursue their leadership goals and even improve further on our rankings for closing the gender gap.”
Szemerei says all South Africans have a role to play when it comes to creating a safe and adaptive working environment in which women can thrive.
“By providing adequate benefits, flexible working hours and proper maternity benefits, companies can attract more female employees to their organisations. When businesses take into consideration women’s needs to still adhere to their family obligations, they will open themselves up to a vast group of skilled, educated and very equipped women to lead their operations. It is absolutely vital that we nurture women through their various life stages, including the child bearing years, which is a period of time that can be incredibly difficult to navigate for the majority of women.”
Colman advises women looking to grow their careers into senior positions to tap into available resources, such as female networking clubs.
“Women can use these type of platforms to share their experiences with like-minded women who understand their aspirations. At the same time, they also have access to sound advice for overcoming challenges. The value of these networks cannot be underestimated as women are encouraged and inspired by those around them.”
“It takes no great strength to rule with an iron fist, fear will get the job done. However, to birth and nurture the greatness in others has been the job of a woman from the beginning of time,” concludes Colman.