Black women dealt a poor hand at work

Black women dealt a poor hand at work

THE position of South African women in the workplace does not reflect the government’s commitment to gender equity as embodied in the Constitution, especially not for black women, according to yet to be published research in the International Handbook on Diversity Management at Work.

“While great strides have been made on gender, gender equality has become invisible and has been subsumed by issues of race. White males still dominate top, senior and middle management positions as well as professional jobs, followed by white females, black males and black females.

“Black, Indian and coloured women are the most underrepresented groups on all levels of management,” Prof Lize Booysen, an expert in organisational behaviour and leadership at Antioch University in the US, says.

Booysen writes about this in an added chapter, new developments in employment equity and diversity management in South Africa, written in collaboration with Prof Stella Nkomo – an expert in women and leadership from the University of Pretoria.

Booysen’s research was confirmed in the Commission for Employment Equity annual’s report for 2013, released on April 18.

While it shows women are moving up the ranks in the workplace, this progress continues at a snail’s pace.

The report shows that women occupy 45.2% of the economically active population in South Africa, but men continue to dominate the number of senior management positions, occupying more than double that of women, who hold 30.7%, a number which has increased drastically from 2010 when the figure stood at a meagre 19%.

The research was released at the Employment Equity and Transformation Indaba under the theme, “bridging the equity gap”.

“With the new Women’s Empowerment and Gender Equality Bill, renewed focus on gender equality can be expected,” Booysen adds.

This bill calls for equal representation and participation, stating that “all entities must, within their ambit of responsibilities, develop measures to achieve at least 50% representation and meaningful participation of women in decision-making structures.”

Christinah Ngobeza, a security guard at a business park in Johannesburg, a profession and industry which has traditionally been dominated by men, has welcomed the new bill.

She says some of her male co-workers were supportive but “sometimes it is hard because some men try to take advantage of you as a woman, proposing to you and not treating you like the other men they work with.”

Melanie Costa, the director of strategy and health policy at Netcare, who was the first female to have been appointed chairperson of the Hospital Association of South Africa, highlights the importance of gender-specific representation.

“Women can be great mentors to other women by being role models in demonstrating work and home balance,” she says.

Costa has successfully worked her way up into a leadership position which she says has “not necessarily been reserved for men”.

Costa explains that “perhaps a woman just did not step forward to take on the role until now”.

And that “women are increasingly making an impact in the South African healthcare sector”.

“More women would stay in the workplace and potentially become tomorrow’s leaders if they could find the perfect way to balance home and work life.”

Sehlapi Dawu Sibanda, who wrote the article, “trade unions still have a male face”, says: “women are under-represented in the mainstream economy where a wage is often negotiated between employer and employee and through collective bargaining between employers and trade unions.”

However, Sibanda’s article highlights that although women are often seen in “large numbers at service delivery protests” and were present during the “strike season” in the mining and farming industries earlier this year, there is an apparent and potentially concerning lack of female representation in South African trade unions.

Booysen says it is important for women to have female unionists fighting their cause, but “it will be even better if male and female unionists fight shoulder to shoulder together for women’s equality in the workplace”.

Cosatu spokesperson, Patrick Craven, acknowledged that “there is very slow progress” in increasing the representation of women as a whole, not only in trade unions.

He added that Cosatu does recognise the need for “strong women leaders in place”.

Craven says that the female workforce continue to face gender-related discrimination and issues of sexual harassment and assault in the workplace, explaining that there is a need for an increase in consciousness of these issues, which having a female representative would aid.

Trade union Solidarity’s senior researcher Piet le Roux says that within the union “there are many women in senior positions and in some divisions there are more women than men, while in other divisions it is the reverse”.

“About a third of Solidarity’s members are women and later this year we will be launching an initiative to increase that significantly, because we feel that Solidarity has a lot to offer women in and outside of their workplace,” Le Roux added.

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