An organisations stakeholders, such as shareholders, customers, employees, and the community, all benefit when it focuses on the deliberate advancement of women. 
Empirical evidence shows that workplaces with a diverse workforce, including women at all levels of the hierarchy, are more progressive and successful.

 That’s why organisations that are positioning for success should be aiming to recruit and retain the best female talent; developing, mentoring and coaching women to take up positions at every level and in every discipline of the business. 

The importance of empowering women is also acknowledged in the framework of the law, through legislation such as the Employment Equity Act.

The Act refers to affirmative action measures to be put in place to ensure the advancement of women in the workplace. It classifies South African women as a designated group, meaning people who were previously disadvantaged as a result of the country’s history. The goal is to ensure equal opportunities for all designated groups.

Women empowerment is not about equality, but about equitability. Equality assumes all have an equal start and are able to compete on an equal footing. Equitability, however, acknowledges that the past was inequitable, thus requires a deliberate effort to fast-track the development and progress of women in the workplace.

Empowerment of women in the workplace includes creating a conducive workplace where:

• Women are treated with dignity and respect;
• Women are safe and free from any form of harassment;
• There is awareness of the challenges women face;
• Women are provided with facilities for nursing babies and nursery schools where possible;
• Women have access to opportunities to learn, develop and grow;
• Women are promoted to decision-making roles that affect the bottom line of the company;
• Women are allowed to make mistakes and failure is regarded as an opportunity to learn;
• Women’s earnings are determined by equal-pay-for-equal-job principle and not by their sex;
• Women’s performance is based on their contribution, competence and capability, not on their sex.

There is not much here with which the average HR director or CEO would disagree. Yet the recently released Commission for Employment Equity (CEE) report for 2018 found that top and senior management posts in South Africa remain male dominated.

 Three quarters of top management are men, as are two thirds of senior managers. Organisations could and should do better.
It is time for business leaders in South Africa to go beyond paying lip service to empowering women, and take tangible steps to bring more women into the boardroom. It is imperative that we unleash the power of our female talent if we are to catalyse sustainable economic growth that makes our country more prosperous, fair and equal.

Mathulwane Mpshe is a ReimagineSA board member.

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