by Karin Ireton

DIVERSITY DEFICIT WILL AFFECT STRATEGY

This August, we celebrate “Women’s month” remembering the women who marched to Pretoria in 1956 in protest against the apartheid pass laws. Their actions remain brave and remarkable and, even today, should make all South Africans proud.

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The guts, gumption and leadership are there, so why are so many of today’s women still nudging the top positions?

Why are so many still dancing to the tune of second-rate men? Believe me, I am not looking for token nominations to the Presidential race, I am simply wondering why the good strong women of this country aren’t achieving those positions based on merit.

Whether in business, in politics or in society, it seems South African women are still too deferential, they are still not demanding what is rightfully theirs. In part, legislation is to blame. We have reduced the merit of diversity—of bringing new and different perspectives—to an accounting for “one of these and two of those and a smattering of the next”.

Don’t get me wrong. I think the legal push for transformation was and is needed. But why is it not happening for women? Are they being co-opted into thinking like men and behaving like men when they achieve a position, and neglecting to ensure that other women will have an equal chance of success?

When the President of the ANC Women’s League won’t field a full team of women to participate in deliberations because she thinks they are too emotional, why is she not sent packing from both that role and all others?

There are remarkable women everywhere in South Africa: without position and often without pay, they are the stalwarts who keep communities going, who find ways of turning their meagre resources into food for the multitudes of hungry children; they take their positions on the political benches, in the constitutional court and in business. But, that’s where the celebration has to stop.

We have a negligible number of women CEOs, an equally dismal number of women on boards and, even within companies, an analysis of the critical roles shows how few of those are held by women. Yet, when companies report their employment statistics, the number of female employees in junior and middle management positions is appropriate.

One of the few exceptions one sees is in the number of women leading in sustainability roles within companies. But, is that yet another ghetto into which they have been trapped? King IV—our world leading corporate governance code—calls for inclusive thinking in the leadership of organisations.

One has to ask whether leadership so skewed to exclude women so effectively is capable of holistically appraising the risks and opportunities that will confront them in the future.

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