By Ashnee Maharaj, founder and managing director of FemDivine

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has significantly and irreversibly altered the way we live, work and relate to one another

Its most profound impact has arguably been on the way we do business and how businesses define themselves to remain relevant.

This new normal is ushering in a definitive new style of leadership

Women are set to become the trailblazers who will lead business into a new era of inclusivity, creativity, innovation and collaboration – bringing much-needed balance to the harder, more exclusive and competitive leadership style of decades past.

Women’s leadership is the secret ingredient that will propel today’s business into the new era – an era that champions a more sustainable, creative and inclusive way to achieve a company’s end goals.

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South African women are finding their voice & taking a more strategic seat at the boardroom table

This may make some people uncomfortable, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Making people feel uncomfortable is the only way things are going to change.

Elevating women into positions of corporate leadership is no longer just a matter of leveling the playing field. It is a business imperative that modern and forward-thinking enterprises can no longer afford to ignore if they wish to thrive in the new reality.

“Women are set to become the trailblazers who will lead business into a new era of inclusivity, creativity, innovation and collaboration”

It’s all in the numbers

According to the McKinsey Global Institute, women’s equality in the workplace could significantly enhance the ultimate reward, adding as much US $28 trillion (R468 trillion) to global annual gross domestic product by 2025.

Similarly, the Peterson Institute for International Economics completed a survey of 21 980 firms from 91 countries and found that having women at the C-Suite level significantly increases net margins.

A large female presence is also associated with higher status

According to the GFP Index, Fortune’s “most admired” companies have twice as many women at the senior management level than less reputable companies.

The research is stacking up that gender diversity is good for people, productivity and – not least of all – for profit.

In 2017, the Business and Sustainable Development Commission released its Better Business, Better World report, which is especially poignant now as we face a global economic recession, and which now demands that a new business paradigm evolve, especially pertaining to gender equality in society and, more specifically, in the workplace.

The discussion around women’s rights and equality has intensified in South Africa and in many other parts of the world, due to movements initiated by women who have found their voice, and by the men who support them.

These movements are not just about how gender equality benefits women as individuals.

“The research is stacking up that gender diversity is good for people, productivity and – not least of all – for profit.”

Benefits to society

They highlight how all of society benefits when women have equal representation at the table of power – within their communities, as well as in business and government – to lead and strive for the world we want.

Women demonstrate 6 leadership competencies critical to success

According to research, women demonstrate six leadership competencies critical to success in developing business: long-term thinking, innovation, collaboration, transparency, environmental management, and social inclusiveness.

Businesses that promote these leadership competencies and values will be more likely to succeed in developing sustainable and rewarding opportunities.

Diversity is not only a moral imperative, but a tried & tested route to profit & productivity

Hence, the research is unequivocal: diversity is not only a moral imperative, but a tried and tested route to profit and productivity. It should be prioritised as a way to boost resilience in South African business and government, as the country faces a tough road ahead to rebuild the economy and society.

Diversity is no longer a cosmetic, nice-to-have. In these particularly tough economic times, it will make the difference between success and failure. The bottom line is that investing in diversity is good for business.

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Great strides have been made, but…

Although South Africa has made great strides, there is still some way to go. While women are paving the way when it comes to education and closing the gap on pay, there are still more men in management and senior management positions (39%) than women (31%), according to a study by Career Junction.

Sectors such as engineering and construction, for example, remain male-dominated where the ratio of men to women is 16% versus 6%, as well as the manufacturing and logistics sector with 10% (M) versus 4% (F).

Parliament fares a lot better. South Africa is ranked as the 10th country in the world with the most number of females in parliament, according to the Inter-Parliamentary Union, with just over four in every 10 benches held by a women.

South African women are well prepared to take a bigger piece of the business equality pie. It’s clear that the narrative is slowly starting to change as more women start stepping into their rightful place of leadership in society and business.

The Coronavirus pandemic is providing the tipping point impetus for this change

Never before has the need for creativity, innovation and collaboration been more important – in both business and in society. Women will drive South Africa’s socio-economic agenda by recognising the power they have to effect change through their roles in business.

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