Gender equality is a business imperative for success
There is no doubt that business is increasingly acknowledging that diverse teams bring value to organisations and that companies with high levels of diversity substantially outperform those without. Yet despite the proven business case, many black women continue to face significant income inequality compared to their male counterparts. They also suffer from the absence of support systems and limited opportunities to advance into senior leadership positions.
Over the past five years, important factors and forces have emerged and evolved, resulting in increased pressure on organisations for greater progress. This pressure is coming from many directions and few organisations remain untouched in some way.
All these developments come at a time when the fundamental role of business is shifting. It redefines the purpose of a company as serving not only its shareholders, but all its stakeholders – employees, customers, suppliers, local communities, and society at large – in the creation of shared and sustained value. Add the business case has been proved, time and time again.
The coronavirus pandemic has also highlighted the unique challenges faced by different populations with women and lower income households hit the hardest. There is therefore increasing urgency for businesses across all industries to take more action on gender diversity. In a world of rapidly changing business models and constant need for innovation, organisations need to attract and retain the best talent. As we strive to build resilient and agile teams and enterprises, we as business leaders need access to the best talent – male or female. Put simply, gender diversity is a business imperative for success.
According to Mercer’s When Women Thrive Report, organisations in sub-Saharan Africa are actively engaged and taking steps to change the trajectory – with many scores exceeding those of the global average. At least 82% say pay equity is part of their organisation’s compensation philosophy or strategy (compared to 74% globally), 79% set formal quantitative Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DE&I) goals or targets for DE&I outcomes (compared to only 50% globally) and 78% of organisations have a team formally responsible for conducting pay equity analysis (compared to 72% globally). In addition, 76% of organisations say senior executives are actively involved/engaged in DE&I programmes and initiatives (compared to 66% globally).
About 88% of respondents in sub-Saharan Africa report that their organisations are already focused on improving diversity, equity and inclusion. This is an incredibly positive sign that backs up progress we have seen in a few countries such as Rwanda, South Africa and Ethiopia, where more women are becoming CEOs, joining corporate boards, and being appointed to high-level ministerial positions in government. Yet, this is not reflective of most countries in our region.
As leaders, we know much more must be done to shift Diversity, Equity & Inclusion from a box-ticking exercise to real action where inclusion permeates the cultures and values of an organisation at its very core. We also must challenge our traditional concept of the classic family constellation, with childcare responsibilities falling predominantly on women. This holds many talented women back from remaining in the workforce and advancing into senior positions. We need workplace and government policies that better support childcare needs. Such steps are critical to support women’s ability to be both mothers and working professionals.
Gender equality can thrive in organisations that:
Organisations say they agree on the imperatives of gender equality, diversity and inclusion, so why is progress so slow? In our opinion, there is insufficient accountability. We need leaders who not only believe in the business value of diversity, equity and inclusion but also take responsibility for it, ensuring that it flows throughout the organisation — not as a mandate, but as a powerful component of culture.
For those organisations that are ready to make real change, they must start by understanding what women expect from their companies and careers. That means creating a creative and dynamic work environment where leaders support career development and employees are inspired by the work they do. It means creating an employee experience that is challenging and rewarding, and above all flexible and inclusive.