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South Africa must do more to empower women

In Africa more than 30% of SMMEs are female owned.
Image: Shutterstock

Only 11% of the construction industry work is made up of women according to the Construction Education and Training Authority (CETA).

This statistic, an illustration of the skewed gender ratios that continues across industries, is not good enough. For real change to happen, decisive intervention is needed. Empowering women should not be viewed as a nice to have or a corporate social investment project, but rather as an imperative and an opportunity for driving overall economic growth.

The World Bank emphasises that equal access to resources and economic opportunities to women enhances productivity and economic growth. This implies that there is both an economic and a business case for gender equality. Empowering women to participate equally in the global economy could add $28 trillion in GDP growth by 2025 according to the World Economic Forum (WEF).

In Africa, most women entrepreneurs run micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMMEs) – more than 30% of SMMEs are owned by women. Female-owned businesses contribute significantly to the world economy generating millions of new jobs and spurring economic growth. The cherry on the cake is that the WEF found that societies with greater gender equality not only offer better socioeconomic opportunities for women but also tend to grow faster and more equitably.

There are gains in poverty reduction, environmental sustainability, consumer choice, innovation and decision-making on a wider set of issues. The perennial question then becomes – how can women’s participation in the mainstream economy be accelerated? Perhaps the place to start is focussing on the creation of an enabling environment that encourages women’s participation.

While we understand that the gender gap cannot be obliterated overnight, progress must start with the political will in both a private and public sector that embraces the need to substantially increase the number of women in business, in boardrooms and the workplace.

An enabling environment means creating partnerships across business, government and education to promote traditional male-dominated sectors to women in a way that changes the perceptions thereof to both genders. For example, education curriculums must be designed so that girls find non-traditional sectors such as construction and mining, appealing. But we cannot stop there, we must underpin our education efforts with tangible actions including bursaries and career path programmes, among others so that the advancement of women becomes a holistic endeavour.

Take the case of environmental health management graduate Mpho Sono, who started TMT Cleaning Hygiene in 2001. After struggling along for several years, she joined a business accelerator in 2016. Over two years on the programme, TMT Cleaning Hygiene grew by 20% and now employs 390 workers, most of whom are women. The growth has provided employees with on and off-the-job training, employee handbooks, written employment contracts, health and accident insurance, a pension fund, productivity incentives, and salary increases. Hanging perceptions of course is one element, but we must also ask how we can make women the centre of development in industries that continue to have significant challenges in generating equality.

The African Development Bank found that there is a 34% gap in average profits between male and female-owned firms in Africa and a 65% gap in South Africa.

The finance gap for women-led businesses in sub-Saharan Africa totals R636 billion. In South Africa, the gender financing gap is evident as well. While similar proportions of men and women entrepreneurs applied for funding post-acceleration (42% versus 38% respectively), men were more likely to receive funding, particularly when looking at funds above R250 000.

When it comes to accessing businesses development support, research by Impact Hub, found that globally there is a gender gap in acceleration, with only 13% of applicants being women-led teams compared to 52% male-led and 35% mixed teams. This means that women entrepreneurs are less likely than their male counterparts to access and be able to benefit from the business, network, and investment support crucial for growth that accelerators provide.

What can South Africa do now to ensure not only greater women representation in business and the workplace but also in a position of leadership and influence?

 Education and training

Vast opportunities are available if their skills are developed. Years of disproportionate development has meant that women in the sector are under-skilled compared to their male counterparts. Clearly, the largest chunk of support must be aimed at women-led businesses and South Africa needs to prioritise financial and business development programmes like Sono and TMT Hygiene. Training must be customised for their situations and needs and incorporate the specific challenges women face in business. How we train women who are running companies must be different because they must face an unconscious (and in some cases conscious) bias that still pervades many industries. There needs to be stand-alone programmes specifically aimed at enrolling and building women at all levels. Whether it be business incubators or artisanal schools, if no space is allocated all other interventions will amount to lip service.

Make women empowerment policy

Progress is being made. President Cyril Ramaphosa noted in his State of the Nation Address that cabinet had approved a policy that 40% of public procurement should go to women-owned business. He noted that several departments have started implementing this policy and they are making progress. The CETA, for example, has launched a programme that stipulates that all apprenticeship programmes must have 50% women participation. In the workplace, we need to circumvent bias through affirmative hiring policy, which will help organisations drive equality and reap the benefits of diversity.

Such public and private sector commitments to female empowerment through policy will see a significant increase in the number of women who break through the glass ceiling of male-dominated industries and business in general. When diversity and gender equality become policy and are included in the organisation’s strategy, they will thrive.

 Encourage entrepreneurship

Business must launch programmes exclusively for women-owned businesses, these ring-fenced programmes are key to making a concrete difference. Today’s SME and entrepreneurship culture empowers women to be their own boss and pay their own salary, defining how they want to work and making the balance of career and family life easier. Entrepreneurship presents a path for women to close the pay gap and rise to leadership positions, on their own terms. Running their own companies also offers the opportunity for women to collaborate with and hire other ambitious, like-minded women, fostering a new generation of women in leadership roles.

We have seen tangible and real examples of women who are excellent in the construction sector only because they have been given a chance. That is all they ask.

Shawn Theunissen of Property Point.

COMMENTS   31

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Empowerment starts with getting off your butt and start doing things !!

The problem with an article such as this is that the author is hell bent on being woke but has not done his homework and thus ends up with ovarian albumin on his face for suggesting the solution is “decisive intervention”. The data from studying tens of thousands of people is in and the conclusions are clear: gender differences are not socially constructed. Men and women are much more the same than they are different. That much much is true. However, the differences manifest themselves at the peripheries of the distribution. In general, women like people and men like things. To be an engineer you must really like things a lot. The number of people falling into this category is overwhelmingly men. In the Scandinavian countries they have moved heaven and earth to socially engineer gender quality. Yet 1 in 20 people in the computer science field are women. The reverse is true for nursing. Ironically, gender differences are maximised in these countries where the most has been done to equalise the playing field. We see more differences, not fewer. If you take out all the sociological differences in the landscape in which men and women are raised, all you have left is biological and genetic differences- so they maximise. This is what you see in the Scandinavian countries. It is morally wrong to overlook the gender differences between men and women.

100%. males and females are not blank slates…… We both very differently hardwired. Not just physically but mentally aswell.
Why else do u think they have a male chess league as well as a womans……… The top ranked female seed chess player can only start dominating the board once she’s down to playing against the top ranked 45 – 55seed male player…..

Men and women are not equal. We compatible.

Next time , just put your comment in inverted commas and say Jordan Peterson

Correct- largely out of the JP playbook. JP’s reference all check out and his logic is impeccable. An incredible individual.

@the oracle of RSA if Richardthe Great is quoting JP the all the power to him. JP is a giant of an intellectual. Do you know that many other great scholars like Thomas Sowell would agree with JP on many of his arguments?

Let us fix that title: South Africa must do more to encourage merit

I’m not saying that Jordan Peterson is wrong.

I’m saying if you are taking his ideas and posting it on a forum , just give credit where it is due.

Peterson is the best thing to happen in the last 5 years. The left will cause worldwide economic destruction if left unchecked

Empowerment of women starts at home.

Problem is that Africa’s indigenous cultures are based on male dominated patronage and not on gender equity.

Just look at access to education and resources and money spent on women’s sport versus men’s sports and the world’s big commercial companies and brands work to keep in inequalities.

Just by sponsoring clubs such as Kaiser Chiefs, without insisting that 50% of the sponsorship money is channeled to women’s soccer, for example makes the following companies complicit in the problem, as an simple example:

-VODACOM
-NIKE
-DSTV/Supersport
-AB Inbev/Black label
-Toyota
-Medshield
-Kaelo

If corporations want to make the change they and the governing FIFA/SAFA bodies should make control and allocation od resources preconditioned on equitable distribution, irrespective of current viewership and incomes.

…. So if we gave the females rugby team more support… ( financial, coaching, emotional,, add whatever u want here…)
Than the males rugby team – the females will start to dominate the male team????? Lol
…. Go do abit more research – it’s almost as thu u just WOKE up……. Start with chess… A purely mental game – they have still had to keep a male and female league separate….. Wonder why… Don’t confuse compatibility with equality.

You are part of the problem.

We will have to search far and wide to find something further from the truth or more removed from reality. The author should simply ask himself what empowered him to be what he is. Was it due to special intervention by central planning authorities, ring-fenced handouts, extortion of the taxpayer, or a quota system as he suggests?

This is how you select for failure and throw good money after bad. This is how you destroy a nation and dumps them in poverty. This is a recipe for the degradation and disempowerment of a nation. To suggest that they are inferior beings who need special treatment is degrading to women.

Only smaller government, less intervention, less central planning, fewer quotas and subsidies, less red tape and gatekeeping, and equal opportunities and property rights can empower women.

Women are not stupid or weak. They simply need government to get out of their way.

The opening sentence is exactly what’s the problem.

11% of workers in construction are female, now that’s a problem.

The leftest are insane. What about free will and interest , maybe women aren’t too interested. So what if it’s a geneer stereo type , it is what it is. Don’t pretend that everything must have equal outcome , it’s about equal opportunity

Such nuances are beyond the intellectually challenged individuals who propagate this equal outcome poppycock.

In Ethiopia I saw females with picks labouring on a new road construction. They must really need jobs while the men are too lazy.

In other African countries I saw men and women sweeping the roads and doing general cleanup. Here is SA this is beneath us, much easier to collect the social grant and make babies.

Ag shame these suffering females getting males to do extra work in the mining and construction sector because they are not strong enough to lift these heavy things or operate the equipment.

One’s race or gender do not equal the ability to do the job or to run a successful business. You can’t somehow force people to become good entrepreneurs by some type of government meddling.

Cannot believe it is guy who wrote this article. This agenda to be politically correct irrespective of logic just does not make sense.

If you want more females at the top you need more females throughout all workforce levels.

That means that the number of females that need to start shovelling concrete, throwing bricks from one level to the next, pushing wheelbarrows and lay bricks need to increase by more than 1 000% to get more representatives at the top level.

Naturally we are made different, if females prefer to do a less stressful job because she takes on enough stress trying to be a caring mother and having a job at the same time who are you to now say where all these 1000’s of female bricklayers are going to come from.

But females aren’t queuing to be brick layers ( never have… And never will.)
They just want the top job.
Anything less is frankly degrading to them.

Stop with this empowerment nonsense. More woman must take the initiative and start businesses. We South Africa must stop with this entitlement narrative.

Why is S A so besotted with race and gender ?

Because identity politics is all this country has been reduced to. It has marginalized skilled and qualified people to the countries detriment. When we have all been reduced to an small and uncompetitive economy, we will al be equal…equally poor!

” we must make the construction / mining industry more appealing to women..”

What, like let them wear high heels to work, make them the boss and let them sit in air conditioned offices while the men sweat working outdoors all day……

This isn’t about equity in the workplace , it’s about speacail treatment.

What woke balderdash. Having equality and being equal is not the same thing. Men are physically stronger and have more generally a natural inclination to that activity. Its like saying we need more polar bears on the savanna. Its just PC nonsense. We need good schools, a clean government, power and to be safe in our homes. The genitals of the person who builds my roof means nothing

SA must disempower politicians.

Lol Shaun, she’s still not gonna bang u.

Bwahahaha!

Simps be simpin’.

After empowering electricity black outs , airline failings, potholes, policing collapse, state hospital collapse, education disaster , liberating railway tracks etc.
Yeah – why not try your golden touch on females ? ( Ladies be warned ! )

Political correctness washes over us like froth on a murky sea. The silent majority suffers all this noise without really questioning the people who have these things on their agenda.

What is the world coming to when our cricket team has to perform all sorts of maneuvers with their hands and knees before they get to play for our country.

My three daughters are engineers with post graduate qualifications in engineering. My wife and I both have technical qualifications, but did not influence their choice of career. Yes, the environment was there, but they could have become nurses and we would still have supported their choice. They work hard and are intimidated by no man in their workplace. They also agree on one thing. They have attended their first – and last- meeting of “Women in Engineering”, because the underlying theme of the movement is to “down” the men in their workplace, instead of to work hard, study and improve and become the best engineer you can be.
I think what government and society must do, is to create the environment for women to make their own choices. They are smart enough to do that.

End of comments.

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