Workplace governance and policies can promote diversity and inclusion for women

Gender equality is not just a matter of social justice; it’s a fundamental human right and business leaders are in a position to initiate the conversation and bring about change.

According to Stats SA, more than 67% of the total managerial roles in SA were held by men in the second quarter of 2022.

Only 54.3% of women of working age were employed or looking for work. These alarming numbers highlight the need for gender disparity to be urgently addressed.

A recent Business Day Dialogue, in partnership with Coca-Cola Beverages SA (CCBSA), focused on the pivotal role business leaders play in advancing gender equality.

Velaphi Ratshefola, MD of CCBSA, revealed that women occupy 52.1% of the leadership positions at CCBSA.

Most of CCBSA’s customers are women, so it makes business sense to have female representation in all departments including engineering, manufacturing and logistics.

“The biggest progress is when you can see the changes,” he said, referring to profitable manufacturing facilities led by women.

Policies of inclusion and diversity should come from the top, and the CEO must play a central role in reviewing policies and ensuring genuine adherence, said Ratshefola.

“If heads of department don’t comply with a company’s values and culture, they should get off the bus.”

Ratshefola champions forums for both women and men to remove cultural baggage by discussing topics such as family roles.

“Gender should not be a barrier to [reaching] one’s full potential.” he said.

Hosia Malekane, Dijalo Property Group co-founder, chair and CEO, said it is everyone’s responsibility to fight discrimination, not just the CEO’s.

Quoting Martin Luther King, she said: “There comes a time when silence is betrayal.

“Gender equality should be discussed at schools and universities as part of the curriculum across the board and not be relegated to social sciences.

“The primary school-based clubs GEM/BEM [girls/boys education movement] promote equal human rights. At universities, students must be encouraged to disrupt the silence around discrimination and GBV issues.”

Janine Hills, CEO of Janine Hills Authentic Leadership, acknowledged the work done by feminist organisations, but said they now need to include men.

“Patriarchy still rules,” she said, and barriers are not being overcome fast enough. “Women must speak up and speak out if this mindset is to be changed — and leadership needs to be more understanding about women’s needs and issues.”

Gender equality, she added, includes pay equality.

“Step out of the box and do what you know is right,” she advised corporate leaders.

The SA Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) protects and promotes human rights, including gender rights.

Allan Tumbo, research adviser at the rights institution, pointed out that, unlike biological sex, gender refers to one’s role in society.

The SAHRC, continued Tumbo, ensures that gender-rights laws are followed. It focuses on exposing malicious compliance in the private sector, educating the public, reviewing diversity training, and taking non-compliant parties to court.

A key goal of the SAHRC, said Tumbo, is to provide education about human rights at all levels — as part of life orientation at high schools; as part of every curriculum at tertiary level; and as part of the annual Nelson Mandela Moot Court Competition, which challenges students, aiming to encourage deep thinking about human rights issues.

The dialogue concluded with panellists emphasising the importance of private and public sector partnerships to address inequalities in the workplace.

Only by ensuring that business governance and policies promote diversity and inclusion while supporting women’s leadership in the workplace can we reduce the gender divide and realise true economic advancement and equality.