Top Businesswomen share how SA can unlearn the patriarchal past
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Women’s Month might be over but the fight to transform our patriarchal society is far from being over.
According to the Economic Freedom of the World Annual Report, South Africa scores 1.00 on the Gender Disparity Index, indicating that there is no legal difference in how women are treated relative to men under the law.
However, despite this constitutionally protected equality, education and employment inequality still exists.
According to Stats SA, unemployment rate for men currently stands at 31,4%, while rates for women were pegged at almost three percent higher (34,0%).
Of this group, black African women were highlighted as the most vulnerable, with an unemployment rate of 38,3%.
YPO, a global leadership community of extraordinary chief executives, is tackling patriarchy in South Africa and what needs to be done.
Member of YPO South Africa and CEO at Mineworkers Investment Company (MIC) Mary Bomela, believes that gender inequality is more pronounced in Africa than in other parts of the world.
“According to research, female representation in board roles in South Africa is around 17%. In African culture, our lineage entails that boys typically emerge as heads of tribes or households, and these structures are deeply entrenched in society. It stands to reason that this would have a bearing on business.
“Growing up with many sisters and a mother who worked, I didn’t understand the notion of ‘a woman’s place’. I entered the workplace with my ambitions firmly intact. When I entered mining, a male-dominated industry, I was the only woman - and one of colour - around the executive table. It was then that I started to understand that there were those who would treat me differently because of this,” said Bomela.
For Matsi Modise, a YPO South Africa member and founding CEO of Furaha Afrika Holdings, believes that people are still uncomfortable with the concept of a successful woman.
As a woman who she chairs a number of boards and has founded a successful company - among other achievements - Modise knows the struggle only too well.
Modise says the discomfort in the face of female-owned success is a symptom of a patriarchal society, adding that it also “makes relationships challenging.”
She said sponsorship can play a huge role in helping one navigate the playing field and take on obstacles.
Modise said: “Sadly, in my career, my opportunities have not come about from other women opening doors for me. Another unfortunate side effect of a patriarchal society is that it often turns you, as an ambitious women, into an enemy of other women, as it has been ingrained in us that our value rests in a man’s approval - hence we perceive each other’s success as a threat.
“I want to shift this paradigm. I want to sponsor. I strive to be approachable; to be available. I believe it’s our responsibility to help other women up the ladder.
“I always say, change your mindset: be a victor, not a victim. Helping someone else get a foot in the door doesn’t take anything away from our success; it only enriches our own professional and personal development,” Modise said.
Bomela urged South Africans to pay attention to what we are teaching and showing those around us. “We need to unlearn the presiding narrative that exists in our homes, communities, churches and businesses; that a girl child cannot do certain things; that a woman’s needs or dreams are secondary to that of her role in relation to a man - as a sister, wife, or as a mother.
“We need to actively work to change this - as both women and men. We need to watch the language we use, which, in turn, perpetuates certain gender stereotypes. It is not enough to give people equal opportunity, we also need to remove our unconscious bias. Ultimately, wider representation around the boardroom table will bring with it diverse opinions, experiences and learnings, which will only make for richer ideas, and a more resilient business,” she said.
Just as having a sponsor can play a contributing role in helping eradicate the inequality, a good network can be really helpful.
“There is something to be said for belonging to a community of your peers, who are exceptional leaders in their own right. Having this interaction and engagement spurs you on to become a better leader and person, through learning from each other in an inclusive, safe forum.
“My advice to other women is to actively seek or establish a network; nurture and expand it; and then take advantage of the opportunities it unlocks for you,” said Modise.
BUSINESS REPORT ONLINE