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It seems that conversations around women’s leadership have come full circle. Topics that were regarded as somewhat offbeat are becoming so much more mainstream that even men are offering their version of “why we all need feminine business principles” to the speaking circuit.
But whether you think that this is expedient or a sign of how far we’ve come, the fact that a niche is becoming more popular does not mean that our work is done.
So I’m always a little wary at suggestions that the focus on women’s development is becoming a little tired and that we should focus on a gender-free conversation.
In her article on Women as the next smart business strategy, Candice Silverstone of Deloitte Consulting writes that “While South Africa may be more progressive than its global counterparts in boasting females in management positions (attributed largely to legislated gender equality and employment equity, this finding falls short at more senior positions, with glaring absences of women at CxO and Board levels.”
And although this struggle is fundamental, the sad truth is that for the millions of women who come from less privileged, far crueller circumstances, the reality is much more stark.
“Just taking our own country as an example will expose you to rape and domestic violence statistics that will make you want to weep. In most places in South Africa, the phrase ‘single, working mother’ can conveniently be shortened to ‘mother’ because there is no other kind,” writes Fiona Snyckers, mother, feminist and author.
Pregs Govender, one of South Africa’s most outspoken and most accessible feminists, fielded a potentially charged area with signature warmth and ease at our Cape Town women’s leadership conference in May when a delegate posed a question about “bra-burning feminists”.
In fact feminists never burned their bras at all, she explained, and gently pointed out that anyone who supports human rights must by definition support feminism too.
As the newly elected president of IWFSA (The International Women’s Forum of South Africa) Vuyo Mahlati tells us, rather than being overdone, women’s development needs to increase as long as the gender picture remains skewed (see Vuyo’s interview below).
Thankfully there is more research emerging to prove that organisations that advance women are harnessing numerous competitive advantages. But even more urgent is the fact that we need more women leaders to help solve the world’s most pressing problems. No, our work is far from over.