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Having recently attended the Western Cape Women’s Parliament, the SA gender pay gap was brought into sharp focus as one of the central issues prohibiting the attainment of gender equality.

According to a paper prepared by the Women’s Parliament, the SA gender pay gap  sits at 30% (10% higher than the global average), meaning SA women are paid about 30% less than men. This has a major impact on women’s economic independence, with a knock-on long-term impact affecting their abilities to accumulate wealth and look after themselves in their old age.

Another more concerning aspect of the gender pay gap pointed out by the Women’s Parliament is that, even though SA women are more highly educated than SA men, they’re increasingly occupying fewer top level positions in the corporate sector. Only 5.8% of CEOs listed on the JSE are women, with only 20.7% of the directors of these listed companies being women. The top-level wage distribution gap in SA is widening.

Though women were emancipated decades ago and there are no visible barriers to entry for them in the workplace, the corporate sector has never accommodated, nor attempted to accommodate, women. This is because the character and persona of corporate SA and the global corporate sector, is masculine. In fact, the corporate sector is a man — a white man to be precise — who we’ll call “Jim”.

Jim has grown more impatient over the years with increasingly unreasonable output turnaround times. He does not see his participants as human and completely disregards their personal responsibilities. In fact, Jim perceives any sign of human need or personal responsibility as a weakness that competes with professional responsibilities.

It is well known that women are disproportionately burdened with personal responsibilities compared to their male counterparts, with the majority of unpaid and undervalued domestic and care work falling on them. Female professionals are not spared these personal responsibilities, yet Jim has been unwavering in his sexist views on personal responsibility. He has been unwilling to adjust his persona — to become more of a Jamila — thus failing to truly accommodate and welcome women as participants.

The diehard Jim means corporate culture has gone unchanged. If anything, the culture has become more toxic as Jim clings on in a sector where he is no longer representative of his diversified participation intake.

As a result, the handful of successful women participants in the sector have had to adjust their personas and characters to conform to Jim’s. As for the rest, SA women have gradually exited the corporate sector, or remained in less senior positions after reaching their glass ceiling, because of their ever increasing personal responsibilities and Jim’s intolerance.

This is why, in 2021, the country is faced with a widening gap in top-level wage distribution. Women are inevitably worked out of the corporate world because of Jim’s failure, or outright refusal, to adjust his masculine stance and amalgamate his persona with a feminine one.

Placing requirements on corporates to show female faces in management positions in an environment that does not accommodate them is not the whole answer either. As a young female professional, my own peers — brilliant women professionals — have either already exited the corporate sector or are planning to do so because of the lack of accommodation for their personal responsibilities as they increase with time. If there is to be equal participation of women in the workplace in general, the corporate culture requires a serious facelift — perhaps even reconstructive surgery.

The first step requires the removal of the masculine stigma attached to the fulfilment of personal responsibilities. This can only be eradicated through targeted corporate policies that place value on personal responsibilities (for men and women alike) — recognising that only when personal responsibilities are fulfilled can optimum professional performance be attained.

The culture of lauding work after hours — the later the better — in a world where everyone is required always to be “switched on” feeds the toxic masculine corporate culture. This might be unhealthy for all participants, but it is generally women who end up leaving because of the disproportionate personal responsibilities they are required to juggle alongside this culture — something men do not have to do to the same extent.

The short of it is that until Jim becomes Jamila, SA women will not attain equality and economic independence. It doesn’t end there. Gender inequality and economic dependence contribute to the perpetuation of many other social issues facing SA, including gender-based violence.

• Germanos is director and cofounder of The Embrace Project.

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