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Overcoming gender and race inequality in the business sector

Mahadi Buthelezi drew attention to the gender pay gap during a 10 September webinar that advocated for greater gender equality for women. South African women typically earn up to a quarter less than men. She identifies some restorative policies that can promote greater participation from women in the business sector.

As the CEO of the Catholic Business Forum (CBF), I co-hosted a livestreaming webinar on 10 September with the Minister in the Presidency Maite Nkoana-Mashabane entitled: “Generation Equality: Breaking the shackles of traditions for women’s economic freedom.”

Several government ministers, provincial heads and Catholic business owners and professionals attended. The purpose of the webinar was to highlight the struggles that women face in business and in the workplace. It also presented workable solutions that government agencies and the private sector can implement.

The role of the CBF

The CBF was founded in 2018 after a fundraising event organised by the Radio Veritas Warriors, a Catholic men’s volunteer group. The Forum seeks to promote Catholic ethos and morals among business leaders and to implement these in business activities.

Although it is a national forum, the CBF was founded within the Archdiocese of Johannesburg. Archbishop Buti Tlhagale is its spiritual guide and patron to ensure that it lives up to its Catholic ethos.

The CBF strives to apply the principles of the Catholic faith to their daily lives in the marketplace.

The CBF is comprised of women and men who strive to apply the principles of the Catholic faith to their daily lives in the marketplace. It seeks to strengthen the Catholic faith by sharing professional experiences, fostering business ethics and social responsibility, and promoting community service.

As a black, married, mother, businesswoman and a Catholic, I have faced many challenges in business trying to follow Catholic teaching while simultaneously building a profitable business.

Sign of the Times

The Scriptures hold a stark warning for those who cannot recognise the most pressing issues of their generation: “And in the morning, ‘It will be foul weather today, for the sky is red and threatening.’ Hypocrites! You know how to discern the face of the sky, but you cannot discern the signs of the times” (Matthew 16:3).

These words challenge today’s business and government leaders to be “woke” and recognise the direction the world is taking. This is especially true at a time when we are realising that it’s no longer business as usual. The signs of the times clearly indicate that gender-based violence and femicide, racism, sexism, and social injustice can no longer be tolerated. Women in 21st century South Africa can no longer be excluded from mainstream business and leadership roles.

Income disparity based on gender and race

The webinar addressed the concern that South African women are consistently paid less than men. There is no industry where they are paid more than men, according to a 2019 report by PricwaterhouseCoopers (PwC).

The PwC executive directors report for South Africa showed that men in healthcare are paid roughly 28.1% more than women. Men working in media and general retail earn about 25.1% more than women.

In South Africa’s technology industry, men are paid 22.9% more than women, and 21.8% more than women in the financial sector. World Bank statistics showed that in 2019, women comprise 50.72% of the population. but in April 2019, women only represented 3.31% of all the CEOs of companies listed in the Johannesburg Stock Exchange. In the top 40 JSE-listed companies there is not a single woman CEO.

You know how to discern the face of the sky, but you cannot discern the signs of the times.”

Matthew 16:3

The picture here is clearly distorted! The report analyses gender representation in listed companies across all sectors. It is notable that 96.6% of all CEOs on the JSE are male, 87.2% of CFOs are male, and 91% of executive directors are male. Women continue to remain under-represented in corporate leadership positions.

In 2018, the World Economic Forum (WEF) Global Gender Gap Report found that although South Africa has the nineteenth smallest gender pay gap out of 149 countries and has the smallest gender pay gap in Africa, the PwC report found that 85.9% of CEOs of listed South Africa companies are white, followed by 10.2% black and 2.2% Indian or Asian. This is of great concern.

Equally concerning is that the few women CEOs and directors who reach the top, have a tendency of kicking the ladder once they reach the top. They hamper opportunities for succession and equipping youths and persons with disabilities to reach the upper echelons of management. The continued oppression of women is worsened by women who oppress other women on their way up the corporate ladder.

Practical solutions

We need commitment from business leaders and the government to promote legislation and incentives to favour companies owned by women, youth and persons with disabilities. Business sector procurement policies should similarly give preferential treatment to businesses owned by these groups.

Women hold up the other half of the sky

Former Burkinabe President Thomas Sankara

We need better, quicker, solid commitment by business leaders to appoint more women senior managers, directors, and CEOs. We need to set measurable targets and goals that are achievable within specific time frames.

The exclusion of women from key decision-making processes denies society a crucial voice that could add immeasurable value. Businesses would greatly benefit from the set of skills that women bring. This in turn can promote better economic and social values. A board of directors without women is incomplete because it disregards unique perspectives and intuition that women add to corporate decision-making.

The Burkinabe revolutionary and former President Thomas Sankara once remarked that “we do not talk of women’s emancipation as an act of charity or because of a surge of human compassion. It is a basic necessity for the triumph of the revolution. Women hold up the other half of the sky.” As Africans we cannot change our fortunes until we have empowered our women!

Click here to read Mahadi Buthezi’s address at the Generation Equality webinar.

* The opinions expressed here by Spotlight.Africa contributors and editors are their own and not official statements of the Society of Jesus in South Africa or of the Catholic Church unless explicitly stated.


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Mahadi Buthelezi
Mahadi Buthelezi is a daughter, a wife and a mother of five children. She is the CEO of the Catholic Business Forum and the Group CEO for RB Property Fund. She is a member of the SACBC Marriage and Family Life Office's Working Group and the Archdiocese of Johannesburg's Marriage and Family Life Synod Committee. Mahadi is the lead organizer of the ecumenical Women's World Day of Prayer in S.A for the Catholic Church, is the secretary for the Southern African World Union of Catholic Women Organization. She is a member of the UN Women SA and The Department of Women, Youth and People with Disabilities' Generation Equality and FBO's (Faith Based Organization) National Task Team. She is a Marriage and Family Life Coach, and serves on the PPC of the Catholic Church of the Resurrection in Bryanston.

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