How to fos­ter gen­der har­mony in busi­ness

Weekend Argus (Sunday Edition) - - FEATURES - BUSI­NESS 101 Ben Bier­man

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

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