- Female representation in management and strategic positions still low
- Diversity should be a board driven initiative rather than a compliance exercise
- The work environment should recognise women as both professionals and working mothers
- Gender diversity and transformation makes good business sense
Three women occupying leadership positions in the SA financial services sector believe more needs to be done to break the male domination in the sector where gender diversity and transformation is still low particularly in senior and leadership positions.
They say nearly three decades after democracy, discussions on a transformed sector should now be more about the success of gender parity rather than the lack of progress thereof. Male domination is a reality and qualified and capable women are being prevented or denied from occupying leadership positions in the sector. There is also wage disparity with women being paid less for the same positions males occupy.
Polo Leteka-Radebe, President of the Association of Black Securities and Investment Professionals (ABSIP), says female representation in positions of power remains low relative to SA’s population demographics as well as the targets as set out in the Financial Services B-BBEE Codes.
“Historically we didn’t have a robust pipeline of women professionals entering the sector. Since 1995 when ABSIP was launched, we had started seeing an increasing number of women professionals entering the sector. As a result, we are starting to see progress at the lower employment levels but aren’t yet seeing the throughput in the upper echelons. This is in our view partly has to do with corporate culture remaining supporting of males versus females. This essentially translates to women having to assimilate into a male dominated culture,” says Leteka-Radebe.
As a result, many women feel like they are just “imposters” in a male dominate sector. “There is a clear need for more training particularly for our leaders in the sector, on culture and inclusivity. So whilst we’re starting to see some shift in gender diversity, the cultures of these organisations are not yet inclusive of women. This needs to change if we’re to see any sustainable transformation and gender inclusion in the sector,” she says.
Leteka-Radebe believes transformation and gender parity should be seen as a strategic business imperative that is good for business, and also aligns with ESG targets. “We now have scientific evidence that having both gender as well as racially diverse teams contributes significantly to the financial performance of companies,” she says.
Ann Leepile, CEO of Alexforbes Investments, says it is not so much about lack of women to promote, but more to do with reluctance to give them opportunities that are already offered to their male counterparts. Leepile says promotion should be on merit, and not necessarily based on gender, a strategic and business policy and imperative that guides transformation at Alexforbes Investments.
“The corporate structure in the sector is not yet fully inclusive and we have to create an environment to make women feel welcome not just appointed. While we see an almost equal gender representation at junior levels, this is different the higher in the corporate ladder you go,” she says.
Leepile says we need an environment where women “can be effectively working moms and corporate people without needing to sacrifice.” The corporate environment should embrace working mothers because currently, some companies do not take the responsibility to give support for working moms.
“Society has strong role to play to support working mothers. And we must continue to develop women by making sure they have the right mentors, right coaches and development. We have to understand that if am sitting as the only female in senior management level, I can do little to help advance other women, but once we normalise having women in senior levels, it is much easier at the top to see through a crowd of male domination,” she says
Khadeeja Bassier, Chief Operating Officer at asset manager Ninety One, says diversity and inclusion makes business sense.
“I believe that we have largely moved past the days of egregious and explicit discrimination. The challenge is on the micro (e.g. gendered assumptions, mansplaining and talking over women) and structural (certain roles require tenure and therefore female participation takes longer). The micro can be addressed through enough women in the workforce who can constructively help course correction and critical mass is key in empowering change. The structural requires leadership intentionality; a roadmap where commitment to change is demonstrated, even if this can’t happen overnight,” says Bassier.
She believes women are equally capable of leading businesses in a disruptive environment, similar to the changes and impact on businesses caused by the Covid-19.
“Disruption is synonymous with change and innovation, both of which are contemporary pre-requisites for commercial success. A big part of this is having a leadership team that is truly representative of the people they lead. Leaders unafraid to own the grittiness and complexity of what it means to be human; leading from a place of courage and vulnerability and leaders who listen to the teams they lead to shape the solutions of tomorrow,” she says.
The three leaders agree that gender diversity and empowerment should be driven at all levels of the business.
Bassier says this means applying a “top-down and bottom-up” approach, while Leepile says company leaders have the responsibility to achieve a more diverse inclusive workforce. “It has to be the norm and not be a big ask,” she says. Leteka-Radebe agrees, saying gender diversity must be moved from being a moral imperative to a commercial and business imperative. “Any board or executive team that doesn’t yet understand this is failing their key stakeholders in enhancing value in the businesses they’re responsible for,” she says.