MOST INFLUENTIAL WOMEN 2015/16

CORPORATE GOVERNANCE |

by Lydia Bundred

 

Gender Diversity on the Rise

The barriers and challenges that women face in male-dominated industries are very real, but, globally, progress is being made towards a standard of gender diversity in the workplace and other areas of life. Previously, certain sectors and recreational activities were dominated by one sex, but, in the last decade, there have been advances in dismantling gender stereotypes. Women have now joined the male-dominated streets of India and the fight ring in the mixed martial arts (MMA).

 

Fortune 1000 companies have seen a rise in the number of women on boards and in high-ranking posts. This development is in large part due to a joint effort by, and mutual support from, both genders. With women comprising just over 50% of the world’s population, it makes good business sense to attract potential employees from the population as a whole.
 

The Barriers
The SA Journal of Industrial Psychology inquired into the challenges faced by women in male-dominated industries and found that, in most cases, organisational practices were a hindrance. Cultural and formal policies showed bias towards the fairer sex and created physical and emotional obstacles. Work–life balance, especially for mothers, was found to be problematic, as the demands and hours in the workplace were interfering with home responsibilities. The study also revealed that women entering such organisations had to adopt certain male characteristics and seek out male mentors in order to integrate into the organisational culture. These findings can help organisations re-evaluate their formal policies so as to be more inclusive and accommodating of the needs of both genders. The investigation discovered that, even though some woman changed occupations because of the barriers, the majority persevered, adapted, and grew to enjoy the challenge.

 

Female Cabbies
A new breed of cab which caters for female clients navigates the hostile and male-dominated streets of New Delhi, India. ‘Cabs for women, by women’ is the slogan of Sakha Consulting Wings, a company that trains women to be drivers and chauffeurs in a country known for its gender-based violence and that has been ranked as one of the worst for women. Sakha provides comprehensive training for its female employees and educates them on their rights and their legal recourse should their rights be violated. This education provides young women with confidence not only to drive assertively but also to live assertively, women such as 21-year-old Chandni Gautam. Though the job has its dangers and prejudices for women, she says it is because “people think small”, but she embraces the change and loves her job. This initiative is not only empowering for the female cab drivers, but for their clientele as well. Women who travel alone or with small children feel more at ease using the woman cab service, especially in the evenings.

 

A Woman’s Fight
Dr Santa-Marié Venter, MMA fighter by night and life-saving surgeon by day, has made an incredible name for herself both inside and out of the ring in South Africa. “I grew up in a female-run household… So I was brought up realising that there is nothing that men can do that women can’t do as well,” she says. As a woman excelling in a male-dominated sport, she has been met with huge support from the opposite sex. She says her male mentors “acknowledge me as a woman, but don’t dwell on that too much” by ensuring that she receives fair and thorough training as an MMA fighter. Her focus is on “competing with myself and being a better person than I was yesterday”.

 

Her advice to other women entering a male dominated field? “There are no rules as to what a woman can or cannot do. Be feminine, be confident and work hard.” In her profession as an orthopaedic surgeon, she has found that “once you earn the respect of your colleagues by performing your job well, the gender divide disappears”. For her, breaking into the “boys’ club” of orthopaedic surgery wasn’t about doing away with her femininity but proving her abilities. “The masculinity crisis and female ultra-feminist movements are overemphasised. We should just embrace each other’s differences and unite in our diversity,” she emphasises.
 

Benefits
“Research shows that there is a strong correlation between financial performance and the participation of women on boards,” states Gerald Seegers, PwC director for human resources services, Southern Africa. Gender-diverse boards and teams offer organisations different points of views and talents. In studies conducted in the United States, evidence emerged of a 42% higher return on sales in companies with men and women board members than those with one gender only. Diversity brings different views and different ways of thinking, and it ensures that both men and women as consumers are represented. An appreciation of both male and female traits in organisations will go a long way towards encouraging gender diversity. Moreover, not only will individuals benefit, but organisations as a whole.

annelizew@ceomag.co.za 

 

 

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