Ways to continue advancing gender equality in the workplace

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While progress has been made to uplift women, there is still room for improvement, says Tariro Mutizwa.

For centuries, women in every corner of the globe have demonstrated their strength and resilience despite the continual and overwhelming challenges before them.

Take for instance, the 20,000 South African women who heroically marched at the Union Buildings on 9 August 1956 to oppose the extension of Pass Laws to women. Or, the Nigerian educator and activist, Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti who fought tirelessly for women’s rights in her country during the first half of the 20th century.

Notwithstanding these impactful acts of bravery by our predecessors, women continue to contend with a myriad of challenges today, especially in the workplace. To demonstrate this, the 2022 Executive Directors Report released by PwC South Africa revealed that within the JSE Top 100, over the same period, there were 77 new appointments into executive positions, of which 21 (26 percent) were female.

When it comes to gender equity in the workplace, I believe we have made progress in some areas over the years. Seeing more women being appointed in executive positions is a step in the right direction, but we can always do more.

Here are four ways we can continue to advance gender equity:

1. Build your network. In your career and within your work environment, look for senior female professionals who can support and coach you. There are many accomplished women who are always willing to support other women both in their organisations and on professional platforms like LinkedIn. Likewise, there are senior male professionals that are committed to mentoring younger colleagues. This presents an opportunity for female professionals who need the support to progress in their respective careers. Don’t hesitate to reach out: the worst they can say is no.

2. Ask for flexibility. Flexibility, such as flexible work hours, split days or remote work, has been found to be the biggest driver of employee commitment and engagement in the workplace, and the good news is a majority of organisations are seeing this. For women, flexibility means being able to dedicate some time to self-development; finding the time to keep active for their physical and mental health; and being there for their loved ones.

3. Ask for help and seek other’s perspectives – always. The hard truth is that we cannot do it all alone, and while it might come across as burdensome to ask for help, it is necessary for us to be able to do our jobs or simply fulfil certain needs in our careers. We need to empower ourselves to take our careers to the next level and help other women do the same. Similarly, when you seek others’ perspectives, it will help you enrich your thought process and come up with more effective solutions. Remember that we don’t have to do it alone to “have it all”.

4. Create mentorship programmes with a focus on gender equity. This can be introduced by senior female professionals with greater influence in the organisation. They can create mentorship programmes with a focus on diversity. Have mentors and protégés assigned based on how diverse they are, or instead of allowing mentors to choose their mentees, switch it around. I believe this is an effective way to help unlock women’s potential.

The Association of International Certified Professional Accountants, representing AICPA & CIMA, host several diversity inclusion and equity events, and they include women empowerment-focused events such as the AICPA & CIMA Women’s Global Leadership Summits, which take place throughout the world – including here in Africa. South Africa is set to host the next Africa summit in early 2023, giving us the opportunity to connect as female professionals, be inspired by great leaders and learn from them, share our best experiences, and support each other.

To date, we have made some good progress towards achieving greater gender equity in the workplace and we do not have a choice but to persevere. As Nobel Peace Prize winner and women rights activist Ellen Johnson Sirleaf once said, “If your dreams do not scare you, they are not big enough.” So, I urge you to keep going, leverage your support base, work with your peers and continue to break the glass ceiling.

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