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Circulate Newsletter

27 October 2016


Although gender diversity is regarded an archaic issue in many circles, with most organizations having attempted to address this challenge, it continues to be a stumbling block in most businesses.

McKinsey’s recent research found that that only 5% of CEOs are female in Africa’s private sector, while female CEOs account for only 4% globally. This is a clear indication that the so-called “glass ceiling”, a barrier blocking women’s advancement in the workforce, is still very much present and intact. We still have a long way to go in our quest to promote our female staff to executive positions.

In light of this, it is rather astounding to witness how businesses continue to transform despite this gender skew, because more often than not, women are the drivers or primary agents of change behind these transformations. Their leadership behaviour qualifies them as drivers of businesses in the digital age.

In this edition of the Circulate, I will take a look at the issue of gender diversity and how businesses should address it. I firmly believe that this relevant topic, still an issue of great contention despite the passing of many generations, should not only be topical in a month dedicated to us.

Kay Vittee



Gender diversity is not only a social issue, but also a pressing business challenge. In the current digital age, women still account for a miniscule 5% of c-suit level positions in the private sector in Africa.

In South Africa, the battle to combat gender inequality has been making little impact – something which is rather obvious given the fact that less than 4% of JSE-listed companies have female CEOs. This is unfortunately a common trend globally too, as only 4% of women are CEOs. We thus have a long way to go.

Having said this, diversity in business cannot be stressed enough. In fact, promoting women into positions for which they qualify makes business sense. The promotion of women as business leaders, which includes female entrepreneurs, needs to be at the top of the agenda.

On the other hand, one has to question why female leaders are in short supply in business. Why are women executives still under-represented in boardrooms? Will the glass ceiling in work environments ever break open? Will the progress of women in a corporate context ever be smooth?

Perhaps we need to establish the positive influence female leaders have on corporate performance. This is a question that McKinsey raised in their 2007 Women Matter study. McKinsey established a correlation between how well a company performs, versus the proportion of women it has on its management team. Amongst some of its findings, the study indicated that women’s leadership behaviours had more impact on the company’s organisational performance.

The corporate landscape is never consistent, and change is inevitable. As a result, there is a dire need for leaders, especially who wish to consider themselves effective, to deal with these day-to-day and future business challenges.


The current and future business challenges include:

  • The intensifying competition for talent, which is becoming global.
  • The increasing need for gender diversity in the workplace.
  • More demand for corporate social responsibility, businesses products and services will come under more scrutiny.
  • Accelerating pace of innovation.
  • Rapidly growing organisations.

The reality remains that gender diversity is the ideal in the above scenarios. Women are better candidates to deal with these challenges than men – this is mainly due to the fact that men and women differ in how they apply themselves and the behaviours the display when given the opportunity to lead. For businesses, female leadership is thus a competitive edge of the future. As leaders, women’s agendas always include: people development, expectation & rewards, role models, inspiration, and participative decision making.

Without unnecessary comparison to our male counterparts, it is important to mention that what makes women especially formidable in the workplace, is the challenges that they face in most spheres of their lives. Other than being employees within various organisations, we are also wives, daughters, sisters, aunts, and most of all – we are mothers (nurturers). We worry about the growth of our own children and loved ones, and in turn, we then take this innate skill of nurturing to the workplace.

Bridging the gender diversity gap in the workplace

In order to bridge the gender diversity gap in the workplace, companies need to start doing the following:

  • Allow flexible working hours for the staff, and career flexibility to support their work-life balance. Do not prevent your staff from working remotely, but rather give them a flexible schedule in terms of start and finish times, and the option of child day-care at the office itself.
  • Be proactive and promote your female employees before they put themselves up for a promotion. Pay close attention to their successes and accomplishments and promote them based on that. This should pave the way for deserving female employees to be promoted at the same rate as their male peers.    
  • Establish a policy which ensures that both men and women are compensated equally for performing the same work. Beyond equal pay for equal work, the policy should also ensure that both genders are treated equally in recruitment, training, hiring and promotion.
  • Acknowledge your company's successful women - whether they hold management positions or are rank-and-file employees. There is nothing as demonstrative of your efforts to promote equality, as the women who have achieved success because of it.

My tips to women:

  • Women must not be afraid to take on male-dominated careers and roles.
  • Be tenacious and accept roles which are bigger than you are – worry about being “ready enough” later.
  • Take the pressure off yourself, but never – and I mean never – stop learning. Remain true to who you are, be politically savvy, do good for others, be the nurturing self which God designed you to be.
  • Don’t feed the stereotype of what a woman’s role should look like. Ladies, remember to breathe and have fun.
  • Put your family first, adopt an attitude of fearing failure and above all – never forget where you came from, and the lessons you learned, as this will be your springboard into a life of infinite possibilities.