Fostering gender harmony in your business

28 August 2018: Over the month of August, South Africa has celebrated the women of the country, shining a spotlight on their achievements, while also bringing to light some of the challenges that they still face.

Despite decades of significant progress made towards female empowerment, many challenges still remain and achieving gender equality in the workplace is evidently one of these.

This is according to Gugu Mjadu, executive general manager: marketing at Business Partners Limited, who refers to a survey recently released by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) which reveals that women represent just 20 percent of senior management and executives in South Africa, and that 61 percent are paid less than the median of the sample. 

Business owners have a noble responsibility of contributing towards society achieving gender parity, she says. “Starting within their own businesses, business owners need to play an active role in managing the process to minimise tensions between men and women in their business, and maximise cooperation and harmony.”

To assist with this, Mjadu outlines seven simple tips for achieving greater gender harmony in a business:

  1. Embrace diversity: Trying to keep your business gender exclusive is not only illegal, but will also hinder growth in your business. The advantages of diversity inside a business has been extensively researched and proven. Companies with a diverse workforce are more innovative, grow faster, find it easier to retain market relevance and are ultimately more profitable. By actively working towards diversity, a business owner sets the tone in the company that helps to minimise the tensions.
  2. Get rid of practices that make diversity difficult: Although it is changing, the burden of childcare still falls mainly on women, making it very difficult for working moms to attend early-morning and late-afternoon meetings. Establishing a policy that meetings should be avoided at these times as far as possible is easy to implement while maintaining high business performance. 
  3. Check your pay structures: Make sure that the principle of equal pay for equal work applies in your business. Even if you have a general sense that it is, check the numbers carefully. It is easy for unconscious bias to create a gender pay gap, starting at the recruitment process.
  4. Fight the assumptions of stereotypical lifestyles: The basis of much tension and resentment between genders in the workplace is the assumption by old-school managers that men and women have certain predictable lifestyles. Men who want to be involved in the raising of their children are therefore frowned upon when they request flexible hours for child duties. Women are assumed to be unreliable in the long term because sooner or later they will leave to have children.  These subtle but deeply ingrained assumptions have been around for generations and the change process is far from over. Start with an examination of your own mind-set, and raising awareness about it among your managers.
  5. Fight the assumptions of stereotypical behaviour: Old biases such as the assumption that women are emotional and men are rational, women are care-orientated and submissive and men action-orientated and dominant, often lead to misjudgements and the dismissal of workers’ complaints, suggestions and contributions as irrelevant, causing much frustration in the workplace.  Business owners can do a lot to raise awareness among their staff that men and women are capable of the whole range of behaviours and that pigeonholing colleagues and subordinates into gender stereotypes limits the potential of workers.
  6. Take sexual harassment seriously: Although the global ‘Me Too’ movement has done a lot to shine a light on the problem of sexual harassment in the workplace, the voices of South African women in the workplace are still somewhat muted. It might be that some of your workers are suffering quietly the inappropriate actions of their colleagues. An explicit policy on unacceptable forms of behaviour can help to clear up differences in expectations between different generations and genders in your business.  Most importantly, take allegations of sexual harassment seriously. Confront it by investigating and listening carefully, and taking firm action where necessary.
  7. Keep the conversation flowing: Discussing gender issues and tensions doesn’t need to be a heavy, threatening exercise. With a healthy dose of sensitivity and humour, it can form a regular part of company gatherings and meetings.

“Although South Africa has moved forward in terms of closing the gender gap over the past six decades, there is still much work to do in this respect. As such, it is imperative for all business owners to do what they can in driving greater gender equality within their respective organisations,” Mjadu concludes.

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