Companies today recognise that fostering gender equality is not merely a matter of social justice and moral imperative but a foundational cornerstone for business success and innovation. Embracing gender equality is a strategic move that drives growth, enriches workplace culture, and ensures sustainable progress in an increasingly interconnected world. We brought together two experts to delve into this seemingly simple yet intricately complex topic: Dr. Myriam Blin, Gender Economist, Head of the Charles Telfair Centre and Head of the Faculty of Accounting, Finance and Law at Curtin Mauritius, and Jeremy Stockdale, CEO and Founder of YLead, a South-African consultancy specialising in leadership and culture. Discover their thoughtprovoking interview!

What does “gender equality in the workplace” mean to you?

Myriam: Gender equality is a state. Achieving this state requires acknowledging that not everyone starts from the same point in life. Gender norms and societal structures, like patriarchy, create unique challenges for women. Equity, not mere equality, is needed to level the playing field.

Jeremy: I completely agree with you. It's about fairness and having access to the same opportunities, ensuring everyone feels included, regardless of their background.

Following the national budget 2023/2024, the Government now demands that corporate boards have 25% female representation. What are your views on this?

Jeremy: I hope this serves as a catalyst for change. But it is still insufficient. As inclusion strategist Vernā Myers says, “Diversity is being invited to the party; inclusion is being asked to dance.” Mere numbers on boards won't suffice; we must harness the unique insights and perspectives of women to make real progress.

Myriam: I welcome this initiative. Presently, only 20% of listed companies have at least 25% women on their boards. There are 40% of women in the labour market. Ideally, we should strive for, on average, 40 to 50% women on boards. I believe that better representation of women in senior executive positions will help other women project themselves as senior leaders. However, a minimum of 30% representation is crucial for women's voices to be truly heard. This entails addressing the challenges and unconscious biases women face. Quotas are effective, but under certain conditions.

Jeremy: When men get to board positions, they are assumed to be competent. But a woman has to prove herself due to ingrained social conditioning. Myriam is right: the boards must be trained to embrace diversity effectively.

How can companies create an inclusive culture that truly fosters gender equality and diversity?

Myriam: The challenge lies in the inverted funnel effect within corporate structures, where gender balance erodes as we move up the ladder. Addressing this requires a sustained commitment at all levels, and a clear organisational dedication. It has to start with an unambiguous strategic decision aimed at achieving gender equality in a meaningful manner within an organisation.

Jeremy: Before I set up my company, I spent 27 years in a corporate environment. Looking back, I must say the diversity efforts were mostly tokenistic. True progress demands long-term commitment, ambitious goal setting, and data-driven tracking. Creating inclusive cultures involves addressing learned behaviours and hidden barriers. It requires ongoing efforts, not quick fixes. Many underestimate long-term change potential. A shift in thinking can yield remarkable results!

Mariam: It is also essential to create a safe space and normalise conversations about diversity and inclusion. This starts with senior leaders and middle managers showing the way.

Jeremy: Conversations challenging deeply held beliefs can be quite confronting. It takes vulnerability and humility to understand that one's perspective may be conditioned. These traits are vital in fostering psychologically safe and inclusive environments, and enabling meaningful breakthroughs.

How can men help create this safe space, both at work and in society at large?

Myriam: By sharing household responsibilities, particularly in places like Mauritius where women bear a significant unpaid care burden. In the workplace, educating oneself on gender issues, avoiding assumptions about women's roles, encouraging flexible policies, and actively sponsoring women to advance their careers are crucial steps… In other words, becoming an ally for the cause!

Jeremy: It is important to understand that gender equity benefits everyone, addressing issues like unpaid work (women carry out 2-3 times more unpaid work than men) and getting men to talk about their feelings, hence improving the mental health. Allyship is crucial; when people realise the benefits extend to all aspects of life, they can make a significant difference by listening (research shows men interrupt women three times as much as they interrupt other men), learning, and taking informed action. I personally believe that engaging in gender equity efforts make us happier and better leaders; more compassionate and able to build meaningful relationships.

According to a McKinsey research…

  • Global gender equity would add $12 trillion to the global economy by 2025.
  • Gender-diverse companies are 15% more likely to outperform their peers.
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