First published in Sunday Times, August 2020 – a year later after writing this piece I can rewrite it and it would still be relevant. So I ask you as a South African woman, does your workplace have a deliberate acquisition and retention strategy for women? Does your workplace have targeted policies relating to employment, upskilling, and/or supplier/funding opportunities for women in the organisation? Does your workplace effectively address shortcomings, internal biases, policy biases and the structural and systemic oppression that have allowed women to be overlooked for so long?
If your answer is ‘no’ or you are unsure of the above, please do read on.
James Brown wrote the much critically acclaimed song “It’s a man’s world, but it wouldn’t be nothing without a woman or a girl” back in 1966. The lyrics are revered worldwide and continue to be part of our everyday conversations till this day, BUT for some reason, society doesn’t seem to resonate with, or completely refuses to acknowledge, the second part of the lyrics. For the longest time, women have been disenfranchised in almost all areas of society and the economy. Almost 10 years prior to the release of the song, close to 20 000 South African women, from all races and across all walks of life, marched to the Union Buildings on the 9th of August 1956 to put up a fight against carrying passes – a discriminatory tool whose purpose was ultimately the suppression of freedom of movement. By limiting movement, you limit the overall potential of human beings. You take away their dreams and sanity. Movement creates opportunities for wealth and prosperity. 64 years later, the movement of women is still restricted, albeit no longer by formal discriminatory legislation and/or an apartheid government, but by society and business, predominantly under the leadership of men. Women have long been in lockdown. Women are still restricted from moving up the corporate ladder. Women are still restricted from moving up the rich list. Women are still restricted from moving freely without fear of being harassed and sexually abused.
Apartheid was declared a crime against humanity. Economic oppression was at the heart of this crime – the ultimate purpose was to minimize the chances of economic prosperity for black people. South African men now live in an apartheid free society, of course still with its long lasting effects on all black people, but South African women, who make up the majority (51,1%) of the population, continue to live in an “apartheid-lite” society that is still intend on limiting their economic participation through various elaborate techniques, including, but not limited to gender pay gaps between men and women, lack of women representation at various levels of corporate organisations. 26 years after the dawn of the new democratic South Africa, it just can’t longer be acceptable that women still make less than 30% of Board representation in JSE-listed companies, less than 4% of CEOs and still earn on average at least 30% less than men. At what point do we, as society, stand up and say enough is enough? At what point do we stop turning the blind eye? Do we wait for these stats to worsen or gradually improve in however many decades, if not centuries, it would take, at the current trajectory?
I, personally, have run out of patience and can no longer sit on the sides and watch on as things get worse for women in this country. I have thus decided to congregate with other women, who have equally run out of patience, to use our voices to
1) voice out our dissatisfaction with the (lack of) progress in the state of economics for women (i.e. the Womenomics), and
2) engage with Corporate SA to push the Womenomics agenda. An agenda that seeks to see women’s economic inclusion at the heart of corporate policies.
So, what do we want to see from Corporate SA?
- Review and take stock of the policies relating to employment, upskilling, and supplier/funding opportunities of women. Take the Womenomics test on www.thewomenomics.com
- Take Accountability of the shortcomings, internal biases, policy biases and the structural and systemic oppression that has allowed for women to be overlooked for so long. Thoroughly interrogate them and take real and tangible steps necessary to address them. Publish findings within the organisation and to the public and let us know what the way forward will be.
- Take Action – Define and publish a sustainable plan for how the Womenomics will be grown to a desirable level over a realistic timeline. Stay accountable and be transparent throughout the process and journey.
Execute the plan!
With that said, dear CEO, CIO, COO, CMO, HR practitioner and all that are pivotal to the hiring, funding and giving women business opportunities, what do your Womenomics look like?
The womenomics agenda “is the idea that women’s economic advancement will improve the economy as a whole” – Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe
Also see: Open Letter to President Cyril Ramaphosa