100 years’ of Women on the rise in the global workplace

Definite trends reveal that great strides have been made in solving the gender balance equation

Are women really on the rise in the global workplace?  In the closing years of the second decade of the 21st Century how close really have we come to closing the gender equality gap when it comes to the modern day workplace?  In order for us to understand the great strides that have, in fact, been made let us travel back in time and take a look at what has happened over the past 100 years.  While we still have a way to go, definite trends reveal that great strides have been made.

Travelling back in time

To understand how women first began to make their mark in the global workplace at large, let us for a moment travel 100 years back in time to WW1.    During WW1 (1914 – 1918) a large number of women were recruited into jobs that were vacated by men who had gone away to fight the war.  As part of the war effort, new jobs were also created that saw even larger numbers of women migrating into the workforce.  For example, the high demand for weapons during this time resulted in the munitions factories becoming the largest single employer of women during 1918.

Amidst initial resistance to hiring women for what was seen as ‘men’s work’ the introduction of conscription in 1916 increased the urgency for the need for women.  This led to women taking up occupations such as railway guards and ticket collectors, firefighters, bus and tram conductors, postal workers, police workers, civil service workers as well as jobs in the financial sector such as bank tellers and bank clerks; all of which were formerly reserved for men.  Some women also earned their livelihood through manual labour occupations involving the operation of heavy or precision machinery in engineering.  Even then there were no holds barred where physical labour is concerned with women leading cart horses on farms and serving long hours in factories.

But, back to what is paving the way to the future to take a look at a few global trends

Over to the UK

Still, a recent Work in Progress study undertaken in the UK indicates that the trends in present decades indicate that women have made their way into the labour market in larger numbers than ever before.  Previously male-dominated occupations such as medicine and law now hold equal levels of participation.

USA working women trends

In the USA, another study undertaken by Forbes reveals that more and more women are starting to take up management and professional roles that require a higher level of education which translates into higher pay as well as elevated status.   According to the Department of Labor’s women’s Bureau, women are now dominating some of the occupations that traditionally used to belong to men.  Accounting and tax preparation roles noticeably skew towards female dominance, with 61.8% accountants and auditors, 65.9% tax preparers and 73.8% tax examiners and collectors.  The same study reveals that women now receive three Bachelor’s degrees for every two earned by men and are graduating in near equal numbers from law and medical schools according to the U.S. Department of Education.  However, because women remain primary parents and take on the majority of household and domestic responsibilities, well-paying professional jobs that allow a degree of flexibility to cope with these responsibilities hold greater general appeal.

South African women in the workforce:

South African women in the workforce are by no means behind the global curve.  In 2015, to commemorate Women’s Month in South Africa, Careers 24 compiled a list of some of the careers that women were largely excluded from 20 years ago and that are now taking over from men which, amongst others, includes:

  1. Pharmacists

The 2014 National Pharmacist Workforce study revealed that 57.1% of actively practicing pharmacists are women.  The study also publicised that 55.2% of women held pharmacy managerial positions.

  1. Accountants

As things currently stand, accounting and tax preparation positions noticeably skew towards a female bias at 60% female accountants, a significant portion within the financial industry.

  1. Photographers

The percentage of female photographers now stands at 53%.  While this field is predominantly still male orientated, the trend started to change since the early 90’s.  Of note:  Constance Stuart Larrabee was South Africa’s first female World War II correspondent and is best known for her images of South Africa, with one of her most renown compilations being ‘the vanishing tribes of Southern Africa’.  Her exhibitions created national attention which led to her being appointed as a war photographer.

  1. Psychologists

According to the Health Professionals Council of South Africa, in the past two decades more women registered with the Professional Board of Psychology than men, a trend that has notably seen the increase of women in this field to 67%.

  1. Entrepreneurs

When it comes to start-ups and entrepreneurship, South African women are on the rise.  In 2001, 8.7% of South African men between the ages of 18 to 65 were involved in early stage entrepreneurial activities compared to only 4.5% of women.  However, by 2013, the gap began to close with 9% of women and 12.3% of men entrepreneurs.    Thuli Sibeko, Founder of Girls Invent Tomorrow, suggests that women entrepreneurs “Need to create a global environment that empowers and encourages girls and young women to consider careers in growing fields, such as in ICT.”

  1. Security guards and police services

The security industry and South African Police Service (SAPS) have grown at an alarming rate in recent years.  Since 2001, private security officers have increased by 111.30%.  Of note, 15% of the overall security workforce is now made up of women, which is worth special mention since women were once prohibited from working in law enforcement.

What will the landscape of the working woman look like in 100 years’ time?  How will these statistics grow and change as we approach the third decade of the 21st Century?  We cannot be exactly sure but, with even more and more women reaching for even greater opportunities, time will certainly tell.

Overcome the challenges facing women in business today

‘Dig in your heels’, take centre stage and give yourself a fair chance at a leading role

Traditionally, what happens on the business stage typically presents itself against a backdrop of the Forbes’ list of observably male-dominated business leaders. Yet, the ever-changing face of Twenty-first Century economies means that, more and more, business women, historically often cast into the shadows; are now putting in a discernible performance.  But, when it comes to assuming a role traditionally held by men, rising to centre stage routinely requires that women in business ‘dig in their heels’ in order to give themselves a fair chance at a leading role, whilst often having to overcome challenges specifically common to women and ones that only they can solve.

But, it’s not only all about performance, whether in the boardroom or the establishment of a healthy bottom line.  As we shall see, some of the obstacles that business women face present themselves as a very different basket of eggs when compared to that of their male counterparts.

In this article we investigate behind-the-scenes, from backdrop to forefront.  We put all our eggs in one basket that is uniquely feminine to identify and explore certain significant challenges that ‘make up’ the face of what women routinely encounter in business; with keys that unlock the potential of developing a recipe for success.

You have to break some eggs if you want to make omelettes – women are frequently more emotional than men

Generally speaking, for women, business is not only about the bottom line but also involves an emotional connection.  Women are more relationship orientated, and they tend to feel that relationship building invariably results in sales.  This is often the case.  But, it can also mean that women tend to hold back in the face of making tough decisions.  The key to overcoming this tendency is to try at all costs to be direct and maintain a keen focus on business goals and objectives.

You don’t have to try to be ‘one of the boys’ just because you are surrounded by boys

Women often feel intimidated when primarily talking business with only male executives.  Negotiating deals with all types of people on a regular basis is a given when one is in a leading role.  As a consequence, in order to protect themselves, some women have a tendency to over compensate.  Often, they feel the need to adopt conventional male behaviours such as being overly harsh, aggressive or over-competitive.  In dealing with this challenge, the idea is not to compromise your nature as a woman in trying to conform to a man’s idea of how a leader should present ‘herself’.

The challenge of the ‘Mompreneur’

The question of whether or not one has achieved a healthy state when it comes to sustaining a work/life balance is often raised, especially among mothers who work in the corporate world or who are entrepreneurs, also commonly referred to as ‘Mompreneurs’.  The ‘dual’ nature of a corporate Mom or Mompreneur’s responsibility towards both business and family often presents a unique challenge in itself.  Balancing the books on one hand and the toddler on the other is by no means an easy task but, the key to resolving this issue is to develop effective time management skills in order to create a realistic and manageable balance between family and business priorities.

Dealing with ‘old school’ values – overcoming the rules and dictates of tradition

Commonly experienced among business women in Africa, a significant challenge that is often encountered is that of overcoming the ‘rules and dictates’ of tradition, where certain ‘cultural’ values require that the ‘man or husband’ should be the breadwinner.   When a woman aspires towards entrepreneurship or taking on a leadership position within a large corporate, this is often seen as her wanting to assume the leadership role of her husband.  This challenge sometimes appears in situations where the husband or father is himself a business owner.  Male children are often shown preferential treatment towards being groomed to one day take over the role of the husband or father in business and female children are frequently overlooked.  To effectively deal with the sensitivities involving this type of challenge one needs to believe in oneself and know that, especially in this day and age, in order to succeed one need not be bound by gender-based limitations that belong to the past.

Don’t let the fear of failure hold you back – aim for an Oscar!

The fear of failure is a major concern amongst women who are otherwise well-equipped to tackle a leading role, according to Babson College’s 2012 Global Entrepreneur Monitor.  To overcome this challenge the key is to pay minor attention to this major concern –  don’t hold back – give your best performance at working hard at ignoring the persistent inner voice of doubt that tries to talk you out of aiming for that Oscar!

South Africa would get a massive economic boost by fast-tracking gender parity

Monday, 6 June 2016: Improving societal and work parity between men and women in South Africa will realise substantial economic benefits, but deep-rooted negative attitudes and behaviours towards women must first be addressed.

This is according to business woman, entrepreneur and author of South Africa’s best-selling book Play to Win: What women can learn from men in business, Donna Rachelson who has lauded a report released by the McKinsey Global Institute (MGI) that shows how advancing women’s equality could add $12 trillion to global growth.

The report rigorously interrogated the gender inequality landscape in 95 countries, including sub-Saharan Africa. Despite accounting for 50% of the global working-age population, the report shows that women only generate 37% of global GDP. Some 40 out of 95 countries involved in the research have high or extremely high levels of gender inequality.

Rachelson explains, “This report is the first to link gender equality in society with gender equality in work. It has particular relevance for South Africa where more than 50% of the population is female. The potential of women to contribute to South Africa’s economic growth is considerable, but gender initiatives in South Africa need to more effectively tackle deep-rooted attitudes and behaviour towards women and their role in society.

“Gender inequality is a disturbing moral and social issue but also a critical economic challenge. If women do not achieve their full economic potential, South Africa’s economy will continue to suffer.

“All agencies in SA need to understand that narrowing the gender gap will significantly boost the contribution of women to the economy. Our current approach to advancing women has become ‘business-as-usual’ and far more needs to be done.”

Rachelson says the MGI report underscores the economic prize of gender parity and calls on policy makers, business leaders, and other stakeholders to address fundamental drivers of the gap in work equality. These are education, health, connectivity, security, and the role of women in unpaid work.

She believes that South Africa has made headway in the key interventions the report identifies as critical in bridging the gender gap, namely, financial incentives and support; technology and infrastructure; the creation of economic opportunity; capability building; advocacy and shaping attitudes; and laws, policies, and regulations.

“However, a lot more work needs to be done to ensure that women in South Africa enjoy the dignity and power they deserve at home and at work.”

“South Africa’s public and private companies, and civil society, should take heed of the findings of this report that highlights:

  • the economic benefits of closing the gender gap in South Africa;
  • that initiatives led by a single stakeholder are insufficient to drive change;
  • and that public- and private-sector organisations must work together to address gender issues.”

She says all role players involved in empowering women in South Africa should note the findings of this report, which show how progress in four key areas facilitate progress:

  • education levels,
  • financial and digital inclusion,
  • legal protection, and
  • unpaid care work.

Rachelson says there are many organisations involved in women’s rights and issues, and they are playing an important part, including the media.

“But, these role players would do well to align their knowledge to understand the gender inequality landscape in South Africa in sufficient detail to have a positive systemic outcome.”

Rachelson says the report has two clear messages for the private sector:

  • firstly, to pursue interventions on their own or in partnership with government, and to view these as opportunities rather than a source of additional cost; and
  • secondly, to proactively ensure companies are having a positive impact on female employees as well as on participants in their supply chains, distributors, and customers, and the broader communities in which they work.

The MGI report is entitled, ‘The power of parity: How advancing women’s equality can add $12 trillion to global growth’.

Morning Live Interview: Women representation in boardrooms

I recently spoke to Morning Live about the underrepresentation of women in boardrooms across South Africa.

Women in Senior Management positions have significant impact on the company’s bottom line. The challenge is getting them there.

Rather than focusing on soft skills, we should focus on the ‘missing third’…

You can watch the full interview here:

Low female board representation in SA is limiting competitiveness

A recent study researched almost 22 000 firms globally and found that when women comprise a third of executives, companies are more profitable. Companies that increased the number of women on boards reported significant increases in profitability (about 15%).

Who wouldn’t want a more profitable business? Yet, the percentage of senior roles held by women has declined. Women hold less than a quarter (23%) of senior management positions at South African companies and 39% of local businesses do not have any women at all in leadership positions, according to Grant Thornton research released on International Women’s Day this week. The Thirty Percent Club pegs women representation for southern Africa at 17.1% of JSE/FTSE Top 40 and state owned companies.

The low rate of women sitting on boards is worryingly low, but the problem is not unique to South Africa. In fact, female quotas have been mandated in a number of EU states for board posts in an attempt to grow these numbers.

Why having women on boards matters

In addition to evidence that companies with more women in senior positions outperform those with less female representation, the MSCI World Index found that many institutional investors are increasingly focused on the gender composition of company boards.

Companies with a more diverse board composition tend to be more innovative and make better decisions. Put simply, having more women in business leadership results in higher returns in sales, a greater return on invested capital and a higher return on equity.

So how do we get more women into these upper ranks? Are quotas the answer?

Female advancement needs to be encouraged throughout the corporate structure. In the South African context, I have no doubt that just as with enterprise supplier development, those companies which embrace diversity will be much richer businesses. There isn’t a board in this country that wouldn’t benefit from the increased collaborative approach, relationship building skills and intuition that women bring.

In my view, the implementation of quotas will not make the critical and immediate difference we need in South Africa. Rather, a recognition that diversity drives transformation, while giving businesses access to new markets and new thinking, is the key to unlocking greater participation.

One of the reasons for poor female representation in business leadership is the tendency for women to be concentrated in specific managerial functions ­that don’t position them on the correct path to the chief executive, such as HR and Marketing.

While researching my recently released book, Play to win: What women can learn from men in business, it became clear that strong role models are especially powerful. Successful women should mentor and support other women where they can and more importantly, they should accelerate progress by recommending other women.

It is time to get more active and more organised. The Institute of Directors (IoD) has the ability to filter all of its candidate CVs for female directors, so the tool is there for companies which have made a top-level commitment to support women leaders. The IoD also runs a number of programmes to encourage greater participation by women at board level, including training and knowledge sharing.

Now is the time to act to get more women in key decision-making positions. This is not a gender issue, it makes business sense to ensure a more diverse board. Only if more women join boards and demonstrate the value they add, can this no-brainer approach gain momentum.

Low female board representation in SA is limiting competitiveness A recent study…

Low female board representation in SA is limiting competitiveness A recent study researched almost 22 000 firms globally and found that when women comprise a third of executives, companies are more profitable. Companies that increased the number of women on boards reported significant increases in profitability (about 15%). Who wouldn’t want a more profitable business? Yet, the percentage of senior roles held by women […] Women play a substantial role in growing the economy – Radio 2000 interview.

Women play a very substantial role is growing the economy and the lack in participation of women in South Africa’s economy is manifesting in less innovation, fewer exports and fewer jobs being created.

In this interview on Radio 2000, Seed Academy CEO, Donna Rachelson, sheds some light on the matter, what is needed for the development of women and how women can combine their natural strengths with an understanding of the ‘rules’ of business.

Listen to the full interview here:

What’s really needed to fast-track the development of women – SAfm Interview

‘Uplifting women in the workforce could have a far reaching impact.’

I recently spoke to SAfm’s Stephen Kirker about what’s needed to fast track women in both entrepreneurship and the corporate sector.

You can listen to the full interview here:

Innovation needed to fast track SA women entrepreneurs

This article was originally published in the Business Report.

Women play a substantial role in growing the economy and the lagging participation of women in South Africa’s economy is manifesting in less innovation, fewer exports and fewer jobs being created.

Many Enterprise and Supplier Development (ESD) programmes in South Africa favour the development of women and youth and in 2016 we need fast track approaches for women entrepreneurs given the unconscious bias that exists against them.

This bias manifests in the stats. Under 40% of South Africa’s businesses are women-owned. The multi-country GEM survey has shown conclusively that firms owned by women tend to be smaller in both turnover and number of employees than those owned by men. And men in South Africa are up to 1.6 times more likely than women to be involved in early stage entrepreneurial ventures.

Some of the solutions are obvious: more education, more networking and more support and representation on various programmes.

Government has made some effort to include women in the various charters such as a 33% target for black women in the financial sector charter, expanding opportunities for the historically disadvantaged including women in the mining sector charter and the ICT Sector Charter states that black women should form between 40 – 50% of the beneficiaries of all elements of the scorecard.

There are also a couple of women economic empowerment programmes such at the South African Women Entrepreneurs Network, The Isivande Women’s Fund and the B’avumile Skills Development Initiative. Government has these few initiatives but are they visible and impactful enough?

To fast-track women’s development efforts, a more critical look and edgier approaches are needed to give women a distinct advantage. Some practical and innovative solutions have been effectively implemented overseas and would be worth exploring in South Africa.

In India for example, income tax rules provide a higher tax exemption limit for women, which leaves more money in their hands. There are also banks which have special incentives for women entrepreneurs such as a five percent reduction in the interest rate, no processing fee, easy payment options and no penalty for repayment. Hello FNB, Standard Bank, Absa and Nedbank – is there anything specific you can do for women in South Africa? It would be a serious differentiator for you.

In Bangladesh, India’s neighbour, the Bangladesh Women’s Chamber of Commerce and Industry (BWCCI) made 30 recommendations to improve the policy environment for women entrepreneurs. The central bank issued an instruction to commercial banks to increase lending to women-owned businesses, including collateral-free loans, at a reduced interest rate. Imagine the results of an initiative like this if the South African Reserve Bank were to do something similar? It would help to create thousands of new jobs. In Bangladesh, loans for women entrepreneurs increased from 19 percent in 2007 to over 50 percent today.

Additionally, more than 65 percent of Bangladeshi banks have dedicated desks for women borrowers, with specifically trained staff who cater to the needs of women entrepreneurs.

The US has ‘setaside’ programmes for women and minority owned small businesses. An equivalent programme would require tweaking of our broad based economic empowerment initiatives. In the US, work contracts are set aside for diversity suppliers with the goals of boosting diversity and business ownership. Essentially these programmes put women-owned businesses in a stronger position to bid for work for major corporates and government. Women-owned businesses apply to have their businesses certified if at least 51 percent of the business is owned by at least one woman.

While researching my recently released book, Play to win: What women can learn from men in business, I spoke to many women about their experiences in corporate South Africa. In my role as CEO of Seed Academy, which offers fast-track, practical training and mentoring to startups and early phase entrepreneurs, I engage with many female entrepreneurs. It is clear that strong role models are especially powerful. I would therefore encourage successful women to mentor and support other women where they can. Successful women entrepreneurs are both an example of what is possible and a source of funding for other women.

Uplifiting women in the workforce and in their own businesses could have far-reaching impact. In South Africa, women are generally supporting entire families and research has shown that they are more likely to make a social contribution than men. It is a monumental tragedy to keep women on the outskirts of the economy.

© Donna Rachelson. All Rights Reserved.