Author: Sixolile Ngcobo , MD of The Well health Company , Gender and Sustainable Development Specialist at the Commission for Gender Equality and a Womaniko Associate.
International Women’s Day (IWD) is a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women, celebrated on the 8th of March annually. The day used to make a call to action for accelerating gender equality and as a reminder that a lot still needs to be done. The day’s activities are guided by a global theme to that seek to highlight the urgency of women worldwide and has occurred since the first gathering in 1911.
The 2021 theme is #ChooseToChallenge gender bias and inequality in the workplace, strikes a chord for me as we have witnessed a number of #’s like. #me too, #am I next as more and more women started using social media to tell their stories on their lived experiences of gender-based violence and other forms of gender bias and inequality.
“2021 theme is #ChooseToChallenge gender bias and inequality in the workplace…”
Whilst IWD has an element of celebrating women’s achievement, the day is also used to surface the day to day struggles of women and raise awareness on women’s rights and the importance of gender equality for a peaceful and just society. Gender bias is the tendency to prefer one gender over another, in other words it is the prejudiced actions or thoughts based on gender-based perceptions that women are not equal to men.
Government has put in place laws and policies that regulate the workplace and promote gender equality and no discrimination such as the Employment Equity Act no. 56 of 1998 and the Promotion of Equality and Prevention of Unfair Discrimination Act no.4 of 2000 , to name a few. Despite the progress that has been made toward gender equality, women are sometimes held back by company practices and structure that are biased toward men. From a high-level view, it seems that the company policies and practises have not activated desired changes in terms of promoting gender equality and the elimination of gender bias. Some of the current workplace policies and practices seem to be addressing the tip of the iceberg resulting is slow movements towards achieving substantive gender equality.
- Catherine Albertyn (2007) Substantive Equality and Transformation in South Africa, South African Journal on Human Rights, 23:2, 253-276, DOI: 10.1080/19962126.2007.11864921
Solution focussed discussion
There are numerous contributing factors to the continued presence of gender bias and inequality in the workplace for example workplace norms may hinder women’s careers, in other words when the culture and the environment is not conducive for women to participate fully and flourish. It becomes important for companies to assess gender bias in their operations and measure its impact on staff and overall performance. Companies can use a variety of methods, including perceptions surveys, language analysis, analysis of gender gaps in pay and career advancement to inform their response and interventions.
“Gender bias in language extends beyond vacancy announcements into other kinds of communication. Catalyst, a leading research and advisory organization, analysed talent management systems data collected from 110 corporations representing 19 different industries (the research included interviews, analysis of documents of some of the participating companies and an online survey). The analysis showed that stereotypically masculine behaviours appeared more frequently in talent management documents focusing on senior leadership positions than in other talent management documents.” (Gaucher and Friesen: 2011)
- Hiding a job applicants’ physical attributes can prevent implicit bias from influencing the selection process, thus borrowing from blind evaluations approaches.
- Using a structured recruitment process to minimize the impact of unconscious gender bias on recruitment decisions.
- Adoption of completely transparent career advancement process in which employees self-assess their progress and determine steps they should take to develop the skills and experience for promotion to the next level.
- Using data to be analysing patterns and identifying gender gaps as these gaps can be assessed as potential areas for intervention and improvement.
In conclusion as we celebrate the International Women’s Day on the 8th of March 2021 and heed to the call to action #to choose challenge this must serve as a reminder that more work still needs to be done with intention to eliminate all forms of gender bias , inequality and discrimination in the world of work.
Ms Sixolile Ngcobo
Gender and Development Specialist and EAP Practitioner
Sixolile Ngcobo is a gender and development specialist and EAP Practitioner with over 20 years’ experience, extensive knowledge and expertise in gender equality with a special focus on women’s rights and development in Africa. She joined EAPA-SA Free State Chapter in 2016 and has relocated to the Western Cape. Expert in organisational development providing executive leadership, strategic and management support to institutions focused on gender inequalities within the African social political and cultural context. Fully conversant with process and protocol of engaging with and negotiation at international, regional and national levels with a clear focus on women’s rights and gender equality. In 2015, Ms. Ngcobo founded The Well Health Company a consulting firm that advises institutions on future workplaces and has been a practising EAP Practioners since 2016, Ms. Ngcobo works as the Provincial Manager for the Commission for Gender Equality (CGE) a Constitutional Body mandated by the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa Section 187 to promote respect for gender equality and the protection, development and attainment of gender equality. Ms. Ngcobo, has acquired research and analytical skills on policy and practice of institutions in relation to gender equality and gender diversity in the workplace. Her current job at the CGE exposes her to monitor and evaluate the policies and practice of both public and private institutions.