Gender equality is a business imperative for success



There is no doubt that companies increasingly recognize that diverse teams bring value to organizations and that companies with high levels of diversity significantly outperform others. Yet despite the proven business case, many black women continue to face significant income inequalities compared to their male counterparts. They also suffer from the lack of support systems and limited opportunities to access leadership positions.

Over the past five years, important factors and forces have emerged and evolved, placing increased pressure on organizations to progress further. This pressure comes from many directions and few organizations remain intact in one way or another.


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  • Societal and Cultural Awareness: Women – and men – in many African countries are increasingly aware of the need to address violence against women which has been a feature of our society for too long. In recent years, we have seen protests and marches calling not only for an end to violence, but also for more rights for women in general.
  • Disclosure: Globally, we’ve seen an increase in voluntary disclosure of gender representation by organizations, especially in the tech sector, and growing recognition among business leaders that gender parity offers competitive advantage.
  • Shareholder activism: Shareholder activism is also on the rise, with resolutions promoting further progress and diversity gaining increasing support.
  • Government actions: More and more countries around the world are passing laws to improve gender balance in the workplace. Most African countries have at least one gender quota in place, including 13 countries that have seats reserved specifically for women in parliament, which allows for diverse perspectives in legislative decision-making.
  • Pay Equity Mandates: And, of course, mandates to close pervasive pay gaps are high on the global agenda. Governments have published new reporting requirements on gender pay differences. In sub-Saharan Africa, there is increasing pressure from advocacy groups for pay transparency.
  • Millennial and Generation Z Demands: These generations have experienced greater equality of opportunity and experience in education, sport and more. They also expect it in the workplace, as well as equal pay, and actively work to make sure they get it.

All of these developments come at a time when the fundamental role of business is changing. It redefines the raison d’être of a company as being at the service not only of its shareholders, but of all of its stakeholders – employees, customers, suppliers, local communities and society in general – in the creation of shared value. and sustainable. Add that the business case has been proven time and time again.

The coronavirus pandemic has also highlighted the unique challenges facing different populations, with women and low-income households being the hardest hit. It is therefore increasingly urgent for companies in all sectors to act more on gender diversity. In a world characterized by rapidly changing business models and a constant need for innovation, organizations must attract and retain the best talent. As we strive to build resilient and agile teams and businesses, we as business leaders must have access to the best talent, male and female. Simply put, gender diversity is a business imperative for success.

According to Mercer’s When Women Thrive report, organizations in sub-Saharan Africa are actively engaged and taking action to change course – with many scores exceeding the global average. At least 82% say pay equity is part of their organization’s compensation philosophy or strategy (compared to 74% globally), 79% have set formal quantitative goals for diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) for DE&I results (compared to only 50% globally) and 78% of organizations have a team formally responsible for pay equity analysis (compared to 72% globally). world). In addition, 76% of organizations report that senior managers are actively involved / engaged in DE&I programs and initiatives (compared to 66% globally).

About 88% of respondents in sub-Saharan Africa say their organizations are already focused on improving diversity, equity and inclusion. This is an incredibly positive sign that confirms the progress we have seen in a few countries like Rwanda, South Africa and Ethiopia, where more and more women are becoming CEOs, joining boards of directors and being appointed to senior ministerial positions in government. Yet this does not reflect most of the countries in our region.

As leaders, we know that much more needs to be done to take diversity, equity and inclusion from a tick-mark exercise to real action where inclusion permeates the cultures and values ​​of an organization. in his heart. We also need to challenge our traditional concept of the classic family constellation, with childcare responsibilities falling primarily on women. This prevents many talented women from staying in the workforce and accessing managerial positions. We need workplace and government policies that better meet child care needs. Such measures are essential to support the capacity of women to be both mothers and working professionals.

Gender equality can thrive in organizations that:

  1. Use data-driven insights to inform decisions and measure success
  2. Set clear, measurable and visible goals that ensure values ​​are not diluted
  3. Offer flexibility and a work-life balance
  4. Provide opportunities for career growth and development
  5. Foster the culture and tone of the top, embracing a deep leadership commitment to take action and engage employees, as a critical part of the solution

Organizations 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 who also take responsibility for it, ensuring that it flows throughout the world. organization, not as a mandate, but as a powerful component of culture.

For organizations that are ready to make real change, they need to start by understanding what women want from their business and their careers. It 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 stimulating and rewarding, and most importantly, flexible and inclusive.

Keletjo Chiloane, Senior Partner at Mercer.


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