Women empowering women will enhance SA’s future

August 17, 2022

We’re approaching the end of Women’s Month, which possibly has impacted us, both men and women of South Africa, one way or another – acknowledging the huge role that women play in the smooth running of our workplaces, homes and communities.

But if we take this thinking a bit further, we can see that there’s more that can be done by women for women. Women form the foundation of the hospitality industry’s employee base, delivering service excellence that’s both proactive and responsive to the needs of people within the sectors. But gender inequity becomes obvious when considering senior leadership and ownership positions within those sectors.

Chantel Bellora, head of Pple Hospitality, says women themselves are often in a position to boost gender and transformational equity within organisations where they are decision-makers in hiring staff. “The benefits of a more gender equitable and transformational work environment are well documented. A diverse staff base brings a wide variety of people with different experiences, skills and insights together to solve problems, which increases innovation, creativity and strategic thinking; it encourages smarter decision-making, which can lead to increased productivity and profits. Likewise, leadership within departments and businesses also benefits when it is more diverse.”

South Africa’s track record in gender equality has room for improvement, and while great strides are being made in some areas and within some sectors and organisations, there are others where change is needed, and where gender equity and empowerment must be a focus area for change.

Inspiration and motivation for this ‘women empowering women’ standpoint starts 66 years ago, when women led the 9 August 1956 Women’s March to the Union Buildings to protest pass laws being promulgated against women. On that day, the spirit of diversity and inclusion was highlighted clearly by the four key leaders of the 9 August 1956 women’s march – Lilian Ngoyi, Helen Joseph, Rahima Moosa and Sophie de Bruyn. If reignited in South Africa today, that same spirit of unity could significantly impact gender equality across the country.

Michael Charton, in his talk about the march leaders titled ‘You Strike the Rock’ addresses their diversity: “Each had emerged from different cultural backgrounds; each from different parts of the country; and each born to a different decade. Yet, they came together. Uniting, in order to lead decisive action against the state.”

Earlier this month, on Women’s Day, the last surviving leader of the march, Sophie de Bruyn, visited the graves of the other three leaders of the Women’s March where she encouraged young women to get involved in pushing to make the country a better place for women. “As young people it’s incumbent on you to get involved. You have to be committed. You have to be bold and brave. Your enemies are many. You have the enemies of poverty, unemployment, and gender-based violence.”

Lindiwe Sangweni-Siddo, COO of City Lodge Hotel Group and Chair of the Tourism Transformation Council of SA (TTCSA), says the TTCSA takes the following elements into account when addressing transformation – ownership, management control, skills development, enterprise and supplier development, and social economic development. In terms of these elements, South Africa’s hospitality sector falls short of the targets.

“As an example, under management control, all enterprises across all bands were required to achieve 50% of black board members, executive directors and senior top management using adjusted recognition of gender. Only 12% of large enterprises had achieved the 50% target, while 4% achieved the 25% target for black female directorship. This shows that there’s much work to be done by everyone to speed up the pace of change in both gender equity and transformation to grow our domestic tourism market sustainably. The absence of black women around boardroom tables is conspicuous, even though women form the core of the tourism sector’s workforce.”

Sangweni-Siddo says this means that when ideas are shared and decisions made, they’re done from a skewed perspective. “Women bring a different perspective to an environment, and it could be that excluding them from problem-solving and innovation could be detrimental to the growth of those organisations.”

South Africa can be a better place for everyone if more women look around at their fellow women and recognise a need, an injustice in their lives, an opportunity to help them advance in their career, a story to share, a problem to solve, and then get involved, harnessing the strengths they have and remembering that they are standing on the shoulders of giants in South Africa’s history.

As Global Citizen noted towards the end of 2020, “It’s no coincidence that all four of this year’s finalists for the prestigious Global Citizen Prize for World Leaders happen to be women. While women only lead 21 countries and have been hit hardest socially and economically during the Covid pandemic, they are also behind the most effective response plans, with female-led countries being praised throughout the pandemic as examples to follow.”