Breaking barriers: what leading HR execs are doing to promote gender equality


Promoting women ultimately promotes progress for all, say leading women HR executives.

Recognising that South Africa is rich in diversity, it’s crucial to understand that addressing diversity, equality and inclusion (DEI) in the workplace as an isolated issue is insufficient.

Moreover, gender parity in South African companies is a significant and ongoing challenge.

While progress has been made in recent years, there are still substantial disparities in the representation of women in leadership positions and at all levels of corporate hierarchies.

According to PwC South Africa’s 2022 executive directors’ report, only 15 percent (84 women) of the JSE executive population – including CEOs and CFOs – is female.

To drive change and undo the learnings of the past, companies must first acknowledge the foundational principle of embracing the significant yet critical differences in perspectives, backgrounds and experiences. Furthermore companies need to not only focus on, but also follow through actively with DEI initiatives, as well as address the systemic barriers, such as bias and stereotypes, that are holding back gender equality in workplaces.

CHRO South Africa spoke to forward-thinking members of our community on how best they are working to foster an inclusive environment where these differences are not only acknowledged but celebrated, ensuring that all employees feel valued and heard.

Dr Ntombi Mhangwani, chairperson of Vodacom Women’s Network Forum and executive head of marketing at Vodacom Business, explains that the organisation has established internal network forums, also known as employee resource groups, to drive DEI.

“Internal employee network forums provide a safe space for under-represented groups to connect with others, share their experiences, and find solutions to promote DEI within the workplace. They provide a sense of belonging that fosters greater inclusion. Women’s network forums in business, for example, can play a significant role in improving gender equality by addressing common challenges in traditionally male-dominated corporate structures and boosting female employees’ confidence to succeed.

“The Women’s Network Forum empowers women and enables their professional development, using their voices collaboratively to serve our business better. The forum’s goal is to provide a supportive environment where diverse women can connect, share their stories, receive career advice, unlock their full potential in the workplace, and pave the way for a more inclusive future.”

Nolo Thobejane

Nolo Thobejane, chief people and transformation officer at KFC, says they have a bold ambition to be the most inclusive quick service restaurant (QSR) brand on the continent. The organisation’s Women on the Move Programme is a 12-month blended learning approach that includes formal training courses, personal development interventions, mentorship and peer learning circles, all of which results in bench readiness for leadership and drives a high-performance culture within the organisation.

KFC has also extended the reach and impact of this initiative even further through its Women on the Move Extended Network (WOM.EN) programme, which brings women across the globe together, at all levels – giving them the opportunity to share experiences, learnings, challenges and create growth networks in the workplace

Dineo Sekwele, Nutun’s group HR executive, says the division of JSE-listed firm Transaction Capital recently launched Nutun Empowerment Women (NEW) Programme, which aims to accelerate the careers of female employees across the organisation. According to Dineo, the initiative was born out of Nutun’s workforce demographic, which is 75 percent women.

“Fifty women were selected for the inaugural cohort, hailing from areas ranging from junior staff to the middle management. Duke University partnered with Nutun to design the curriculum, aiming to empower women through learning opportunities. The programme will provide skills building, mentorship, and group coaching, networking and other resources to help Nutun’s women expand their capabilities and advance.”

Dineo stressed that achieving gender equity starts internally: “By investing in the professional growth of our female talent, we hope to empower women within our company and inspire other organisations to follow suit, because promoting women ultimately promotes progress for all."





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