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African organisations do not prioritise gender diversity

Aug 11 2016 17:11
Lameez Omarjee

Johannesburg – Only a third of organisations surveyed in the McKinsey & Company Women Matter Africa report consider achieving gender diversity in leadership as a CEO priority. A quarter of African companies surveyed stated that gender diversity was of no importance.

The report looks at female representation in leadership across the private sector and public sector. It was compiled over 12 months, using data gathered across 14 African countries, including insights from 210 leading companies and interviews with 35 African women leaders.

“Government and organisations need more structured and purposeful approaches to achieve gender diversity,” said Lohini Moodley, partner at McKinsey. And there needs to be greater sponsorship from boards and CEOs, she told Fin24.

This challenge is not unique to Africa. Women leaders across the world have identified unconscious biases in the workplace. Conversely, organisations do not place as high importance on this. 

Women are often held to higher standards and are offered fewer leadership opportunities than men. “Research has shown that one of these unconscious biases is that women are promoted based on their track record, whereas men are promoted based on their potential,” said Moodley.

Rather than women succeeding based on a corporate effort that promotes gender diversity, the report indicates that the 35 women leaders interviewed attribute their success to their robust work ethic, persistence to achieve goals and willingness to take risks, being resilient in the face of adversity, commitment to personal development and support from mentors, sponsors and peer networks. 

Women tend to be given less credit for their success than men, and are criticized more for any failure. This means women are less likely to put themselves up for promotion, due to a lack in confidence. Women also need to compete with the existing maternal bias, that women are less committed to their careers when it comes to motherhood.

These unconscious biases are often developed in early stages of life, added Tania Holt, partner at McKinsey. Organisations often do not fully understand the obstacles women face; as a result existing programs that are in place to address gender balance issues are not successful. Only 67% of companies surveyed had gender diversity initiatives in place and 27% of these companies reported success in developing more women leaders.

“Having a higher awareness of these unconscious biases can help organisations address gender diversity,” said Holt.

Redressing the gender balance

“Much more can be done by organisations to introduce gender diversity,” said Holt. “Organisations should implement a transformation strategy.” Gender diversity needs to become a top board and CEO priority to have real impact research suggests.

“Achieving gender diversity is a compelling business case,” said Moodley. “Organisations are more effective if they have gender diversity,” she added. Organizations with a greater share of women on their boards tend to perform better financially, the report stated.

Further, limiting attitudes toward women in the workplace need to be confronted. Unconscious bias should be addressed. Surveys should be conducted to understand and inform what these attitudes are.

Men should be included in gender diversity transformation initiatives. “In order for organisations to progress, gender diversity is not a conversation for women to have alone. Men need to become a central part of the conversation to enforce change,” said Moodley.

Organisations should also implement a fact-based gender diversity strategy. “Organisations need to keep a track record of diversity in business in a structured way,” said Holt. This will help identify the root causes of under-representation of women. Specific metrics should indicate pay levels of female staff compared to male staff, women’s turnover rates and reasons for exiting, the percentage of women receiving promotions and in which roles and functions, and other organizational health metrics. 

* August is Women's Month and Fin24, in collaboration with the Sanlam Enterprise Supplier Development Programme, invites you to help us celebrate and showcase SA's extraordinary women in business.

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