Glass Ceilings and Pearl Walls

Is it time to change our thinking on women in the workplace?

Within the twenty-first century, female participation in the workplace has certainly increased. For example, in an article by an eNCA Reporter – Danelle Wessels, she stipulates that “South Africa is ranked fifth in the 2013 category by The World Economic Forum – gender equality index. South Africa has a high percentage of female members in Parliament. This is a direct indication of women representation in the public spheres”. In recent years, there has been an increase, whereby women are now occupying senior executive positions in the private sector. Examples include Nicky Newton-King, the CEO of the Johannesburg Stock Exchange, Christine Ramon, the CFO of Anglo Ashanti, and Khanyi Dhlomo, the Managing Director of Ndalo Media. Yes, we have had senior positions held by women but the overall picture is of male majoritarian and favoritism.

There are at least two dimensions at play. Vertically, there is the glass ceiling that blocks upward mobility. However the lateral constraints causing inequality – the “pearl wall”– is a more fundamental problem. We pay women less for work of equal value, we input less effort into training and mentoring women; women are rated on pulchritude in a way men are not. The final result in that we fail to nurture and benefit from a substantial source of intellectual capital. Women are generally disadvantaged compared to their male counterparts, in terms of their earnings, benefits and promotional opportunities.

In a report released by the Department of Women on “Status of Women in the South African Economy 2015”, it states that the gender wage gap is evident throughout the world, with women earning on average less than their male counterparts. Factors that contribute to the unequal wage gap are social and cultural contexts, education, and career choices since men have more employment experience than women. The higher the returns for experience the larger the gender wage gap is.

There are some notable historic examples worth considering of prejudice against women in terms of little recognition of their contributions to science – computer machines (Babbage), the discovery of penicillin and the elucidation of DNA structure.

Hopefully, we can find a way to change the DNA of the business world.

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