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Is gender mainstreaming working?

 As a concept, it’s been around for 30 years.   Every time I mention it, though, I have to explain what it is!
Personal Case Study
Some years ago I was the president of a mostly male IT Association.  (I believe I am still the only female president they have had since 1934).  We needed to hire a new Executive Director.   As a member of the ManCo, we interviewed a number of candidates, shortlisted them to three (two men, one woman) and conducted final interviews.
Two were particularly strong (one man, one woman).   I liked both, but felt the male candidate was a better fit for the position.   My three male colleagues disagreed, and we hired the woman.
At our next Executive meeting, we announced the appointment, to a flurry of comments and jokes that, of course we hired the female candidate, Teryl was on the selection panel!
We, equally light heartedly, informed them they were wrong.   However, it was a great decision, she was an excellent Executive Director.
I thought a lot about this subsequently:
  • Was I unconsciously biased against the woman candidate because I thought the men would think that gender was part of my decision making process?
  • Did this create a double bias against women ie that women are not hiring/promoting other women in case it is seen negatively, and men promote men (I know this is a generalisation, please forgive me)
After some thought, I believe that I made a reasonably objective decision, and the fact that he has also gone on to do extremely well does add to my conviction…..

 What has this got to do with Gender Mainstreaming? 
It was interesting to me that the men in the room all genuinely believed that a woman would only have received the position if there was a woman on the selection committee.
This led me to a lot of reading and digging into organisations where women were rising to the top in numbers and, while not formal research, my findings were that if women were at executive level, they hired and promoted more women than men do in similar positions.  
The 30% Club, an international organisation, has built their organisation around the model that 30% participation gives you a voice.  So if 30% of your board is female, they will be heard, not just given air time, but genuinely heard.  
In South Africa, we now have Gender Mainstreaming Awards, recognising companies who are creating environments where men and women are working towards the common goal of a more gender diverse workplace across all the layers.

There is statistical data that clearly indicates that a diverse board and senior management team has a positive effect on the bottom line.
While I am proud that our holding company, Business Connexion Group, is the current Gender Mainstreaming Champion in South Africa, I am also very much aware that diversity is like a pot plant, it needs constant attention of the right kind to live and flourish.

I have been spending time with a cross section of South African women who have shared some of the challenges they face in getting heard, without sounding like they are complaining.
There are concerns that continual focus on women’s issues devalues the way the women are perceived by their male colleagues.
When you read that Catalyst has found that companies with the highest representation of women on their senior management teams had a 35% higher ROE as well as a 34% higher TRS than companies with the lowest women’s representation, you know that it is not just an equality issue, it has to be a bottom line objective.
It is also true that globally, women are underrepresented in positions of power, politically and economically.  When you are on the bottom tier of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, fighting for equal rights in the workplace is not a priority.

If more women are in positions of financial and economic power, the drive to improve the lives of women internationally will continue to get a strong focus.

Links, References and Notes
· ·
  • Colleen Larsen – Business Engage, Gender Mainstreaming Awards, 30% Club and more!
  • Winner : Accsys (Pty) Ltd; Second Place: McDonald's; Third : Sasol
  • Business Connexion
  • Debby Edelstein – Quality Life, We Lead Circles, Wired Women and the rest!

The strategy of mainstreaming is defined in the ECOSOC agreed conclusions, 1997/2, as: “…the process of assessing the implications for women and men of any planned action, including legislation, policies or programmes, in all areas and at all levels. It is a strategy for making women’s as well as men’s concerns and experiences an integral dimension of the design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of policies and programmes in all political, economic and societal spheres so that women and men benefit equally and inequality is not perpetuated. The ultimate goal is to achieve gender equality.”


Thank you for reading Teryl@Work.   Should you wish to use any of the material, please acknowledge this blog as the source.

twitter:   @TerylSchroenn

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