HR Indaba discusses how to create a breeding ground for women leaders

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Panellists said the right environment must be cultivated to see more women in leadership positions.

The right DEI culture will help to ensure more women rise to leadership positions. That was the consensus among panellists at a session titled “Breeding ground: Cultivating a melting pot of women business leaders” at yesterday’s HR Indaba.

Donald Khumalo, HR executive, FNB told the audience it would be right and fair to say diversity and inclusion are hard, since the issues are difficult, deeply rooted, and systemic. He added that at FNB he hired a woman who was seven months pregnant, and who only worked with them for a month before going on maternity leave.

When he told the room the organisation had held a baby shower for her, audience members leapt to their feet in appreciation.

Yvonne Mosadi, HR director at Heineken SA, said the goals of diversity, equity, and inclusion, in their purest form, are to seek out differences, ensure fairness, and actively include all genders. “However, these goals directly compete with thoughts that are fundamental to our corporate upbringing,” she said. “In business, we hold certain truths to be fundamental; among them are the notions captured by these phrases: ‘It’s not personal, it’s just business’ and ‘Manage your career; this is just how we do it.’”

Hellen Lebone, regional HR Director Africa and Indian Ocean, Hilton Hotels, emphasised that for starters, women must be paid equally to their co-workers in the same positions based on their experience, skills and qualifications, and this must be accompanied with incentives and KPIs. “Also, conscious inclusion should be challenged for enabling engagement, as diversity alone can’t win this,” she noted.

Yvonne added that a sense of belonging plays a huge role in advancing more women in positions of power, and these women must guard against gate-keeping, as many try not to develop others, thinking their positions will be in danger. “Other women’s advancement shouldn’t be viewed as threats,” she said, “because leaders who are accountable and have a sense of belonging are role models and mentors to their subordinates.”

Facilitator Abdullah Verachia asked panellists, “Are we there yet?” Yvonne said no – companies had not invested significant funding to address diversity, equity, and inclusion as part of a progressive work culture.

“Reports still show pay disparities for women, lack of diversity in leadership, and biases and micro-aggressions,” she said. “Women in corporate organisations have long known what it’s like to survive and make it work, both inside and outside their corporate homes, experiencing more frustrations than help. “At the end what persists is fatigue, distrust, and to get along without any real expectation of truly belonging.”

The panellists concluded their discussion by saying women in management should remember they are in a position to ensure corporate culture is inclusive, and organisations must have the right strategies to address a lack of gender equity.

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