How to foster gender harmony in business
OVER the month of August, South Africa celebrates the women of the country and puts a spotlight on their achievements and some of the challenges that they still face in societies across the world.
Despite decades of significant progress towards women equality and empowerment over the past 60 years, many challenges still remain and achieving gender equality in the workplace is evidently one.
According to a survey recently released by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), women represent just 20 percent of senior management and executives in South Africa.
The survey also found that 61 percent of women were paid less than the median of the sample. As a result, it is unfortunately inevitable that tensions will arise as old-school attitudes clash with an assertive generation of women taking their rightful place in the world of work.
Business owners have an important task in contributing towards society achieving gender parity, starting in their own businesses.
In pursuit of this endeavour, they need to play an active role in managing the process to minimise tensions between men and women in their business, and maximise co-operation and harmony. Following these seven simple tips is a good place to start:
Embrace diversity: Trying to keep your business gender exclusive is not only illegal, but also works against your business’s growth. The advantages of diversity inside a business have been extensively researched and proven. Companies with a diverse make-up are more innovative, grow faster, find it easier to retain market relevance and are more profitable.
Get rid of practices that make diversity difficult: Although it is changing, the burden of childcare falls mainly on women, making it difficult for working moms to attend early-morning and late-afternoon meetings that run too close to the time children need to be picked up from day-care. Establishing a policy that meetings should be avoided at these times is easy, without much cost to anyone except those who don’t like change.
Change the venue of your Friday afternoon social from a male-oriented sports bar to more gender-neutral venue.
Check your pay structures: make sure that the principle of equal pay for equal work applies in your business.
Fight assumptions of stereotypical lifestyles: The basis of tension and resentment between genders in the workplace is the assumption by old-school managers that men and women have predictable lifestyles. Men who want to be involved in the raising of their children are therefore frowned upon when they request flexible hours for child duties. Women are assumed to be unreliable in the long term because sooner or later they will leave to have children. At worst this leads to them losing out on promotions and at best not being taken seriously as a permanent member of the team.
Fight assumptions of stereotypical behaviour: Old biases like the assumption that women are emotional and men are rational, women are careoriented and submissive and men action-orientated and dominant, often lead to misjudgements and the dismissal of workers’ complaints, suggestions and contributions as irrelevant, causing much frustration in the workplace.
Business owners can do a lot to raise awareness among their staff that men and women are capable of the whole range of behaviours and that pigeon-holing colleagues and subordinates into gender stereotypes limits the potential of workers.
Take sexual harassment seriously: Although the global “Me Too” movement has done a lot to shine a light on the problem of sexual harassment in the workplace, the voices of South African women are still somewhat muted. It might be that some of your workers are suffering quietly the inappropriate actions of their colleagues. An explicit policy on unacceptable forms of behaviour can help to clear up differences in expectations between different generations in your business.
Take allegations of sexual harassment seriously.
Although South Africa has moved forward in terms of closing the gender gap over the past six decades, there is still much work to do.
It is imperative for all business owners to do what they can in driving greater gender equality.
Company owners have an important role to play in contributing towards society achieving gender parity.
Ben Bierman is the managing director of Business Partners