Opinion / 14 August 2019, 10:30am / Philippa Larkin
JOHANNESBURG – There is so much noise and marketing that accompanies Women’s Day and month in South Africa each year that it is hard to see the wood for the trees.
In fact, it is hard to see women leaders brightly leading the way.
The only public women that currently hog the limelight appear to be our public protectors.
Thuli Madonsela unexpectedly shot to fame as South Africa’s public protector, slaying state capture before handing over the baton to the embarrassment we now know as Busisiwe Mkhwebane.
Maria Ramos has through the years held her ground in both the public and private sphere and got on with the job with a steady hand. As the former chief executive of Absa Group and as the chief executive of Transnet, she was a force to be reckoned with.
However, when confronted with the eloquence of Nedbank’s Mike Brown and Standard Bank’s Sim Tshabalala, one would like to see more top women stepping out and being vocal about the problems facing South Africa.
It is not surprising, though, that South African leadership seems to be raining men. Just look at the cold facts.
According to data from executive search firm Jack Hammer, the appointment of women in corporate positions is rising consistently year-on-year, from 26 percent in 2015, to 32 percent (2016), 38 percent (2017) and, ultimately, 52 percent last year.
The World Economic Forum (WEF) Global Gender Gap Report 2018 ranked South Africa as 19th overall (no change since 2017) on gender gap equality – with a slight decline in remuneration, where South Africa was ranked 117th (from 114th in 2017).
The report said 3.3 percent of chief executives on the JSE, during the period under review, were women.
Furthermore, women are still not getting equal pay.
Lindiwe Sebesho, an executive committee member of the South African Reward Association, says: “Equal pay for equal work is still a fairy tale. According to the ILO Global Wage report’s 2018/19 statistics, women, on average, continue to be paid 28 percent less than men.”
She says the report highlights that there is a “motherhood penalty”. This refers to research that shows that women see a significant reduction in earnings after having children, something that men are not subjected to.
The magnitude of the drop in earnings varies from country to country, but research says there is a high correlation between the intensity of cultural expectations of women to stay at home with children and the degree to which they experience the motherhood penalty, Sebesho says.
“Those in leadership positions need to use their authority to promote and advocate for women. It is imperative that we lead deliberate and structured approaches towards combating gender inequality in corporate South Africa,” Sebesho says.
The vacuum of women leadership with a strong voice is not South Africa’s alone. Every now and again someone like New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern pop up and it is akin to being in the golden glow of the Madiba years.
This is in stark contrast to patriarchy that still stalks the earth, as evidenced by the bum-slapping smiling US President Donald Trump.
It was only last year that South Africans were treated to the spectacle of Manglin Pillay’s views on women. The now former chief executive of the South African Institute of Civil Engineers shared his opinion that women were more predisposed to caring careers than the fields of science, technology, engineering and maths.
He stated that more men occupy high-profile executive positions, because of their “appetite for workload and extreme performance requirements at that level, choosing what is important and where to allocate time”.
He added: “In this phase, most women prefer to work part-time or to dedicate themselves completely to child rearing or pursuing other meaningful exploits generally related to caring.”
Let us also not forget the verbal no-nos of José dos Santos, needless to say the now former boss of Cell-C, in a radio interview in 2016.
“Women do have a bitch-switch and, boy, if you see two women fighting, it’s worse than two men having an argument,” said Dos Santos.
In the same vain, currently if a women had to promote women’s rights akin to Economic Freedom Fighters’ Julius Malema, who beats the black economic empowerment drum, that woman would get the usual quips women always get such as “She has a bad case of PMS or she needs to get laid.”
That is the problematic heart of the matter. Women are exposed to these type of degrading comments/commentary that unless it is in the public arena it is simply another irritant to deal with.
Women still have to fight to have an equal playground in the workplace, while putting up with the noise of what being a women in the workplace means.
It is easy to forget in 2019 that women’s rights are relatively freshly baked and not out of the frying pan yet.
Women only got the right to vote in the UK in 1918 and the US in 1920. By contrast Saudi Arabia is the most recent country in which women have won the right to vote in 2015. That is only a 100 years of progress in some parts of the world.
One only has to remember the first time Trump visited the Queen of England.
English commentators had much to say on how the jewellery she wore was a sign of protest against Trump.
“The brooch that she chose to wear on day one of Donald Trump’s visit last time was vintage floral brooch that had been given to her by Barack Obama,” according to media reports.
While one can argue the pros and the cons of whether commentators were right, the queen is from an older, muzzled generation. I doubt Millennial or Generation Z women are going to be subtle in the world ahead.
The recent #MeToo movement showed how common sexism, harassment and discrimination are in the workplace and the personal toll it takes on women’s lives.
Mark Manson, the author of The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck, highlights that in life there are only so many things we can give a f**k about, so we need to figure out which ones really matter.
The time for subtlety is over. It’s time for women to value their place in the world.