With 2018 highlighting movements such as #MeToo and #TimesUp, which actively denounce the unequal treatment of women, one could argue that women are finally on their way towards meaningful change, even in the workplace, but is this the case? LIANA SHAW reports

“JP Morgan: Is Wall Street’s first female boss a step closer?” That this headline was chosen by the BBC to announce Marianne Lake’s April appointment to head of consumer lending business, speaks volumes for the lack of progress on gender equality in the workforce.

Lake’s promotion instantly raised the question of succession within the company with many speculating whether she was being earmarked to take over from chief executive Jamie Dimon. Whether or not she will, only time will tell.

According to Shelley Zalis, CEO of the Female Quotient, while 2018 generated a lot of awareness and conversation around the need for change and parity, there is still much progress to be made.

In an article for Forbes, published on January 4, Zalis claimed: “Less than five percent of CEOs at Fortune 500 companies are women, and only about 34 percent of global managers are women, according to the latest Global Gender Gap Report.”

In the United States (US), change, although somewhat slow, is occurring with more companies now offering equal paid family leave, rethinking the “nine to five” work model in favour of flexible schedules that allow for work-from-home days, introducing quotas to get more women on boards, and more states now making it illegal to ask for previous salary history. All this has occurred after the release of a McKinsey Global Institute report that stated that closing the wage gap could add US$ 2,1 trillion to the US economy.

Business Report of April 17, 2018, states that in South Africa, while women have made considerable advancements in business and politics, in other avenues they still lag far behind their male counterparts – particularly when it comes to gender equality in the workplace.

In fact, the World Economic Forum’s 2017 Global Gender Report findings revealed that gender parity is more than 200 years away, with South Africa ranked 19th in the global index report on gender inequality, and men still earning two percent more than women.

Another study, conducted at the University of Johannesburg, estimates that the South African gender gap is on average between 15 and 17 percent.

More alarming still, the National Bureau of Economic Research claims that it takes women an additional ten working years to earn a salary equivalent to that of a man.

While gender inequality in the workplace remains a hot topic, realistically, women are still likely to earn less, or be passed over for some posts or promotions, due to their gender.

The corporate environment is becoming more and more cut-throat with employers often expecting a 24-hour commitment to the job ahead of child-bearing and familial responsibilities. Small wonder then that the majority of prestigious board and corporate appointments go to males.

Interestingly, as of 2017 and for the seventh year running, Iceland has topped the World Economic Forum’s survey for gender equality, particularly when it comes to closing the gender income gap.

This tiny island has implemented corporate quotas which ensure that women hold as much as 44 percent of representation on company boards. Even more impressive, over 80 percent of women in Iceland make up part of the workforce. And lest we forget, Iceland elected its first female prime minister, Johanna Sigurdardottir, in 2009 for a term than ran to 2013.

According to The Guide to Iceland, the nation’s female population is proud of these progressive statistics. Fighting for progress and gender equality is not new to this part of the world with Iceland and Scandinavia coming second, third and fourth respectively in the 2016 World Economic Forum survey.

However, closer to home, Bridgette Mokoetle, industrial relations and legal services executive at the Steel and Engineering Industries Federation of South Africa, argues that mere quotas alone imposed by government are unlikely to result in real change.

She claims: “The government will have to implement better policies and legislation that make it mandatory for companies to take part in actively advancing women and particularly closing the gender wage gap.”

According to fin24, women remain under-represented at executive level in South African companies with only one female CEO in the JSE top 40 (according to a research report by PricewaterhouseCoopers).

The report states that for every ten men, only eight women are employed or actively looking for work. This report, released in 2018, calls for the implementation of legislature to address the issue, proposing quotas for women on boards and in executive positions to address the gender gap.

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