– By Agnes Yeboah
Gender diversity in the workplace is not a big ask. It is a small and simple goal. It is the basic ambition of having an equal number of men and women in an organisation. Also known as gender parity, it can specifically be defined as having an equal number of men and women hired at a similar rate, compensated equally for the same job, and given the same access to opportunities in the workplace.
The impact of German colonialism and later South African segregation (Apartheid) laws resulted in disparities in the distribution of jobs in pre-independence Namibia. Sadly, the legacy of these laws continues to frame the social dynamic in the workplace more than 30 years after independence. Race and gender continue to influence access to professional employment opportunities, particularly within senior and executive roles.
Also, paid labour participation of women worldwide is still below 50%. Women contribute more than 70% of the unpaid workforce such as domestic labour, and care for children, elderly and ill. Since women make up 50% of the world’s population, there is both an economic, and moral case to ensure their full participation in gainful economic activities specifically in workplaces.
According to the Namibia Statistics Agency Labour Force Survey of 2018, more than 50% of the employed population of Namibia are women. Signalling that inclusion efforts are yielding the required results for gender parity. This could be attributed to Affirmative Action; the attempt to leverage labour market disparities towards equitable representation at all levels of employment. However, this representation of women is mostly evident in administrative, generalist, and back-office job roles and scarcely in executive roles. Senior, executive, and board level roles are still (white) male dominated with only 21% of women in top level management positions with a lower representation of black women. Additionally, women continue to be paid less (wage gap) for the same job role as compared to their male counterparts.
In addition, although Namibian women are presented with pseudo-equal and in some instances seemingly advantageous opportunities to advance to executive or senior management level positions because of reformative legislation, they are conspicuously invisible in decision-making roles within the higher echelons of organisations. Many, Namibian women, particularly black women, generally face complex challenges within the workplace that make it difficult for them to advance vertically through their various organisations. This unique barrier that women face in the workspace has been termed the “glass ceiling” which alludes to the limited heights to which they can grow within an organisation. Black women hit the glass ceiling notably sooner than their peers.
Another aspect of note are the barriers to career advancement and workplace integration for women resulting from a lack of gender and race diversity within executive and board-level committees. Put simply, if you don’t have a diverse board, it seems to be really hard to ensure an equitable workplace.
In addition, women:
- Have the primary responsibility for domestic responsibilities;
- Face systemic discrimination in the form of bias;
- Are assessed and appraised using skewed performance development models that generally favour male performance attributes;
- Lack access to specialised learning and development leadership programs and appropriate mentoring and sponsorship programs.
Furthermore, most organisations fail to correctly facilitate a talent pipeline that is pro-women; and fail to create work environments that are designed to accept the unique value that women bring to the workplace.
As if that’s not enough, tokenism is rife when it comes to the matter of gender parity in the workplace. Women are oftentimes appointed as Managing Directors, or Chief Executives in organisations, and supported by male dominated senior management teams and board of directors. This perfunctory or symbolic effort to recruiting a small number of people from under-represented groups in order to give the appearance of gender or racial equality within a workforce is what is called “tokenism”. This type of tokenism is used to suggest equality that actually only exists symbolically and fails to tap into the real resources and strengths of under-represented groups. It obviously fails to capacitate this group. Not only does such practice undermine the true value-add of women in the workplace, but it can also lead to adverse circumstances such as sexual harassment, gender conflict and higher attrition of women in management.
The benefits of diversity, particularly gender diversity in the workplace far outweigh the possible negative outcomes such as gender and group conflict. Gender equality in the workplace has benefits for both organisation and economy. Organisations have access to a wider talent pool which gives rise to innovative and diverse approaches to problem-solving. A diverse talent is better positioned to serve a diverse demographic of clients which leads to deeper market penetration yielding more revenues for such organisations.
Also, gender equality supports the reduction of violence against women because financially empowered women do not rely on men to provide for their basic needs, which in many instances is the cause of gender-based violence.
Globally, and nationally much has been done to improve the absorption of women into the workforce for gainful employment through legislation, bargaining units and lobby groups, however there is still more intentional work to be done to build on that in the path to retain, and advance women in the workplace. More employed women lead to economic stability, reduces unemployment rates and poverty rates, and moves us closer in attaining goal some of the United Nations Sustainable Goals, specifically Goal 5- gender equality.
One such initiative is to deliberately create inclusive workplace environments. Inclusion practices have shown amazing success at enhancing the retention and upward movement of women generally in organisations and more specifically of black women. It renders effective support to human resource management activities, policies, and frameworks that aim to leverage barriers to access, retention and advancement of women in the workplace.
Further to organisations creating inclusive workplaces for the retention and advancement of women, women themselves need to actively take responsibility for their respective career development. The time is ripe for you to use the resources made available to pivot your career to where you envision it to be.
I would like to share some thoughts to trigger your explorative journey in the workplace as a (black) Namibian woman, to ensure relevance, value and significance- all of which cement the value that women bring to the workplace.
Bias has become somewhat of a buzz word in recent years with the rise of worldwide movements such as #blacklivesmatter, #choosetochallenge, and #metoo. Bias refers to the attitudes, and stereotypes that affect our understanding of others, how we act towards others, and decisions we make in an unconscious manner. Everyone has bias, however, being aware of these biases is critical to success. It can help to be aware of your own bias of others but also of the bias that others put on you, and even the bias you may have of yourself. Challenge them all.
Secondly, how others perceive you affects your career trajectory because it can either be progressive or dismissive. The onus is on you to ensure that you advocate for yourself in the workplace and influence others’ perception of you. At no given time should you allow wrong perceptions of your character, competency, skills, and brand. Your reputation at work should be able to speak for you in your presence and in your absence.
Thirdly, “show up” for all your engagements. Whether small or big, show up and be present. Prepare for meetings, presentations, and all the nitty gritty work deliverables that are required of you every day at the workplace. Remain focused on your career objectives while serving in your adding value to the role you play.
Finally, building a successful relationship with your supervisor/manager is essential to your career success. Your supervisor/manager is the individual who potentially can amplify your value or diminish it. This individual has insight into your performance and appraises you on your productivity. So, knowing and understanding their view of the standard of your performance is vital to your career advancement
Having done all this, carry the following ‘success toolbox’ to better position you for success in the workplace:
- Understand how your organisation/workplace recognises performance – what does recognition look like?
- Use your voice to clarify your expectations, and those required from you; and to advocate for yourself.
- Validate yourself, don’t wait for anyone to do that.
- Invest in building a stable, influential, and powerful personal brand.
- Learn to be yourself, authentic and integral
- Learn to rest when you are tired, but don’t give up.
- Build a valuable network inside and outside of your organisation
- Invest in your personal and professional development – become a person who is learning, stretching, reaching for more.
- Have a mentor, someone who has walked the path before and can guide you through the maze of the corporate world.
- Seek out a sponsor – an advocate who can amplify your voice, and is presence in spaces that you are not yet in.
The journey toward representation has been a long and arduous one for women. Those who came before us fought hard and unpopular battles to allow the current generation of women to partake in the freedoms we enjoy today. However, although representation has given women access to some boardrooms and workspaces, there still remains the battle to ensure that the space, we occupy is one of relevance, value and capable of leaving a lasting legacy. I wish you a successful and bright journey to your success!
More about Agnes Yeboah:
“Focusing on helping individuals (employees) reach their potential so that they can provide great customer service within the value-chain is what sparks joy in my line of work” – Agnes has a degree in Economics and a Post Graduate degree in Human Resources. She is currently doing her Masters in Philosophy in People Management at the University of Cape Town and believes employee’s experience becomes the company’s customer’s lived experience. She therefore works together with the employee and employer to make a positive experience.
Agnes is currently an HR Business Partner at Bank Windhoek. The most exciting part about her job is knowing she has made an employee’s work life better at one or several points in the employee’s life cycle. She currently partners with business and functional leads to maximise performance potential in the delivery of objectives. She achieves this through advising on people management issues and organisational solutions.”