How has the employment landscape changed for women in South Africa over the past few years?
I think in order to answer this question, it is important to look at trends overall in the job marketplace. The employment landscape has evolved dramatically in the last ten years and is changing at an ever increasing rate. Roles that weren't even thought of two years ago are now common place in many companies. There has been a massive shift in the career landscape due to the rise in technology and advancement in information sharing. Sectors that have seen a dramatic change for example are both the marketing and technology areas, combining the two and creating roles such as Social Media Managers, SEO experts, Google Analytics Certified managers, etc. This has also given rise to legal positions specialising in online reputations, social media policies and privacy rights. In the engineering sector there has been a trend towards all things "Green" and alternative energy and positions such as Sustainability Managers and Environmental Consultants have sprung up.
Leading on from this, women have started to target very specific industries with their beliefs, aspirations and interests. It is no longer common place to enter a career path that is traditionally suitable for a mother, e.g. teaching or nursing but rather these paths are chosen by women that truly want to make a difference in these sectors and not because it gives them flexibility to raise a family. There has been a trend in the financial industry creating opportunities for women. The University of Johannesburg conducted a study (2012/08/27 - Women in Workplace - Research Report - Keeping South Africa's female CAs in public practice: Part One - the impact of job demands) that showed they had more female than male graduates in their Chartered Accounting courses. This is also an excellent sector to target for any school leaver as more than 22,000 financial skills will be needed in the near future in companies across South Africa. There is an ever-increasing focus on women in the IT, sciences and medical fields, almost matching the amount of male counterparts in similar roles.
Having said all this however there are still many challenges that women face in the workplace and these may be the factors that attribute to them leaving their jobs. The main factors include:
Work/Family conflict: There not being a large enough support structure for meeting the demands in these areas at both ends, leading to frustration and despondency in both areas.
Work overload: This results in not being able to perform the job completely, which leads to frustration and a feeling of failure.
Job Insecurity - the idea that for example taking maternity leave may lead to job loss.
Certain corporate cultures may have very outdated policies that in fact close off barriers to advancement for women. These outdated policies won't include things like flexi-hours, part time opportunities and job sharing, all of which could ease the burden for a working mother/wife and ease the work/family conflict, work overload and job insecurity.
There are still companies that believe that a woman's family life will affect her ability to perform her role successfully and may in fact hinder her performance. There is also a belief that women can't handle stress as well as men and this in turn creates the perception that they can't perform their roles as effectively. As much as these two beliefs aren't true, it is still a factor in preventing women from attaining leadership roles in some instances - and these beliefs are what need to be abolished from a young age, starting at primary school level.
For the majority of South African companies, women in the workplace are highly regarded and respected and usually have the below in place. For those that don't, there are strategies that companies can implement in order to retain their talented female staff:
Of utmost importance is to foster a culture that supports women in leadership positions, from a respect and promotions point of view. This belief comes from the top down and cannot be implemented until all senior staff are on the same page.
Opportunities to learn and grow need to be available, such as offering study loans and support as well as training and mentorship programs.
Organisations should work to accommodate women's career aspirations. Regular meetings to discuss performance, goals and ideas should be held so that these aspirations can be discussed and acted on.
Family friendly policies need to be implemented which may include flexi-hours, working from home, etc. This will do a lot to ease enormous amounts of pressure and eliminate work overload.
In essence there is just as much opportunity for women as men in South Africa, perhaps even more. Passion, hard work and dedication will always find their place in any company and as long as everyone in the worklplace is respected and listened to, each individual will reach their own full potential.
Juliette Attwell - Head Marketing & Operations Recruitgroup
Juliette Attwell is Head of Marketing & Operations at Recruitgroup. Recruitgroup has won Careerjunction Recruiter of the Year in 2010, 2012, 2013 and 2014 as well as Fast Growth Business of the Year at the National Business Awards 2014. Juliette holds a Bcom Honours in Marketing Management and is the resident "agony aunt" on the BizCareers Column, she was also a finalist in the Top Young Executive at the National Business Awards 2014.
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