The Bill requires that women occupy 50% of all decision-making positions within an organisation. Current statistics show that women comprise about 15.5% of all directorship positions. No statistics are yet available on a national basis for the number of women in senior management positions, or of membership of executive committees, but it won’t be higher than 15.5% (the reason for this is that non-executive director positions are easier to fill with ‘minorities’ if required; it’s more difficult to ‘fix the numbers’ below Board level where staff are full-time employed and operational).
So what, on the surface, are the first impressions of this new proviso for business – is it going to be good or bad for the economy? – is it a friend or a foe?
- This legislation has not fallen from the sky for no apparent reason, other than that women comprise half the population and the workforce. On the contrary, it comes in the wake of a global trend that is seeing large numbers of women move into positions of influence in business.
- Sometimes this trend is driven by quotas (as will be the case in SA), but in other countries it’s being driven by social pressure and voluntary measures based on the expedience of this shift.
- At the heart of this change, and fundamental to the success of this pending law, is the powerful business case that supports it. A body of evidence now exists that shows that:
- Women are already the largest, most qualified pool of Talent in the world (and every year, the gap between qualified women and men widens)
- The consumer is king/queen – every business will tell you that it is focused on its end-user. 70% of consumer spending world-wide is now in the hands of women, even in areas such as cars and computers (more traditionally male domains)
- Having women in senior management positions improves corporate governance, leads to better teamwork and cooperation and improves consultation
- Most importantly of all, the presence of only one woman director on a Board in comparison with Boards which are male-only, improves the bottom-line by, on average, 28%!
- A woman’s salary has been proved to be almost twice as effective at alleviating poverty as compared with a man’s
- Gender experts who have been exposed to ‘gender balanced’ companies throughout the world can attest to the happier atmosphere, the greater sense of belonging and job satisfaction, better communication and better retention of staff
- The greatest enemy of this Bill, and one which will surely cause it to fail, would be to regard it as ‘a woman’s movement’. In fact, one problem I have is that this legislation has been put forward by the Department for Women, Children and Physically Disabled People. This is not a good start. Ideally, the Bill should have been proposed by the Department of Trade and Industry because this is a business issue, supported by sound business principles. This is not a case of doing women favours or of advancing them simply because of their numbers. All the information listed above shows why this is good for business and not something being done ‘by women, for women’.
- Those companies that will fail to gender balance are those who have not recognized that they need women in ever-increasing numbers at the top levels of their organisations to help them steer the new course required by the changing social environment in which we live. If this legislation is seen as ‘filling a quota’, without any attempt to change the organisation from within, the efforts will not succeed.
- SA is already 20 years into a huge socio-economic shift with Black Economic Empowerment. Companies are thus used to quotas, reports and penalties for non-performance. However, it is vital that the WEGE Bill is not seen as ‘just another quota’. The culture change required to introduce women into all levels of business is very different from that required for black empowerment. Serious auditing and awareness is needed before a business can be re-aligned.
- In short, great change is needed in order for this new legislation to succeed. And by ‘succeed’ is not meant that numbers will be found simply because quotas are in place. True success means creating companies where the benefits of gender balance are fully utilised, allowing both men and women to thrive. This means a vast cultural shift from the somewhat Alpha-Male driven businesses we see around us today.
- Women spent much of the 20th Century changing – becoming highly educated, becoming masters at balancing domestic and business roles, and honing their skills of negotiation and consultation to fit into a male-driven economic world. In the 21st Century, it is the men who need to change – to recognize that there are 2 genders and both deserve a place at the table; that the rules of the game have changed; that they need the skills of women to balance their organisations and to address the new consumer-base; and that power-driven, top-down management styles are now simply outdated.
The success of the WEGE Bill will depend on important changes being made – it cannot simply be ‘business as usual’ with a few more women walking the corridors of power. It is going to require a great deal of honest scrutiny of long-held traditions and the shedding of outworn practices even if these practices are comfortable and the alternatives are scary.
Ultimately, the whole of humanity can be likened to a bird with 2 wings – one wing being masculine and one feminine. Only when both wings are of equal strength can the bird fly. This is perfectly true of business as well – too long the masculine business wing has kept the feminine economic wing without real power; without realizing that the progress of all is held back as a result. The WEGE Bill is going to provide enormous challenges but even greater opportunities for real growth.
Are you ready to fly?