Author: Yasmin Masithela, Managing Executive: Transactional Banking, Absa Corporate and Investment Bank
The notion of Women Empowerment can be a tough concept to grasp.
Considering that August commemorated Women’s Month in South Africa, estimates released by the World Economic Forum (WEF) Gender Gap report (2023) are disheartening, if we carry on at the same trajectory, it will take 131 years to achieve gender-parity. It is evident that there is immense work to be done.
We need to rethink how we do this, and it must start at a policy level. We cannot change the present trajectory or bridge the gender gap with the current policy framework. Change needs to happen at a policy level first, and this will then filter down to boards and recruitment committees.
Importantly, in South Africa, this cannot simply be linked to the current Employment Equity and Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment (B-BBEE) frameworks.
There are a variety of studies which show that investing in women delivers financial returns at all levels and both as a country and as the financial services sector, we need to start recognising that an investment in women is an economic imperative. There has been some progress – not enough arguably – around economic participation for women but we cannot get away from the 131 years figure mentioned earlier.
If you are clear about the policy, you are not chasing a statistic.
One of the areas where Absa has set itself apart is that it has made a deliberate investment to develop women inside of its ecosystem.
Take our focus on technology, for example. The world of financial services is increasingly dependent on technology skills, and we are at risk as more skilled people in emerging markets are in high demand globally. Absa has taken a longer-term view where we have started to identify young women in technology at a tertiary level, and we are tracking their progress through their careers and bringing them into the organisation. The bank has also developed dedicated coding programmes, specifically for women.
Similarly, “Banking on Women,” a body in Absa CIB, has an initiative called “Masedi” that provides training and support to young women within the bank which creates opportunities and exposure to leadership. They gain access to multiple ecosystems across the bank, from product to sales and most importantly the relationship networks which helps them identify where they could best fit within bank. The focus is on imparting skills and gaining support and not merely job shadowing. We are becoming more deliberate and wanting to do more research to understand what happens when women move between various stages in their careers and how it aligns with their personal lives. A talented young middle-manager who is growing their family needs different support to an executive level leader – we need to understand what these support levers are and how best to introduce support at various stages.
Absa is also incredibly proud of its membership and partnership with “100 Women in Finance” a global body which has a deliberate target of driving for 30% of executive leadership roles in the finance to be filled by women by 2040.
If this bold goal is achieved, it could prove transformative for global financial services sector.
Invariably there will be those who read this article and look at the comments around policy and women-only coding initiatives and argue that the best way to move forward is that men and women should be equal. For those, the response is to look at the top-performing* schools when it comes to the Matric marks each year. These are now dominated by the all-girls schools and yet we are not seeing this academic talent finding its way into leadership roles in business and society. 131 years is not enough if we think it is going to change with the status quo.
If you are a leader in a business – especially in the financial services sector – and this sentiment resonates with you, consider this question: Why are women always in “development”?
The answer is simple.
It is not the job of a woman to lead the outcomes for women – it is the job of a leader.