By: Dr S N E Seoka, Chairman of the PPS Holdings Trust
We’re living in exciting times. Following years of almost completely male leadership, with only the occasional woman infiltrating the ranks, South Africa has, for the first time, seen that almost 50% of the post-election ministerial appointments are women.
This is great as it shows that women are well on their way to attain economic and political status equal to men. This transformation though, has not yet occurred in many sectors.
For example, according to PwC’s 2018 Executive Directors’ Practices & Remuneration report, for every 10 men, only eight women are employed or actively looking for work. In the financial services sector specifically, 72% of executives are male and only 28% are female. The report further revealed that 48% of women felt that they are often overlooked when it comes to promotion and advancement in the workplace because they bear and/or raise children.
There are several factors contributing to why women feel like they have not been prioritised. Firstly, as women move up the ranks, they systematically face challenges such as gender inequality which keep them back. This happens even in well-meaning companies.
Secondly, there may not be policies in place that ensure women are empowered in the workplace. There needs to be action and commitment from all stakeholders including but not limited to government and organised business to ensure women grow in their professional capacity and occupy executive and leadership positions. It is important to have women represented in leadership positions, where they are able to influence outcomes and policy-making decisions that improve the livelihoods of all women.
We must remain mindful that more needs be done to substantially transform businesses and the country’s economy. The World Economic Forum’s 2017 Global Gender Gap report concluded that at the current rate of change, gender equality in the global workforce won’t be realised for another five generations or the next 217 years. However, it’s not just businesses that need to change, women themselves need to change to the way in which they relate to and treat one another.
The truth is that we all need allies and supporters in this critical part of our lives as professional women. We need women who understand our journey. This speaks to mutuality and shared success among women. By working together, we can ensure a shift in our society that encourages women to take their rightful place and contribute to South Africa’s socio-economic growth and development.
Remember, sometimes it’s the small gestures of support and affirmation that we need to convince us that we have as much right as the next person to be where we are as professionals, women, mothers and partners, and the many other roles we fulfil.
The empowerment of women in South Africa is about dealing with the legacy of our past and the transformation of our society, particularly the transformation of power relations between women, men, institutions and laws. It is also about addressing structural gender inequality, patriarchy and sexism.
I will always be grateful to the Pharmaceutical Society of South Africa for affording me the opportunity to lead this organisation as its president, especially the women that encouraged and supported me to take up this leadership position. Being in this position enabled the executive head of the Society to have confidence in my ability and nominate me to the board of the PPS Group, the financial services company which focuses exclusively on providing financial products and solutions to graduate professionals. Today, I am the company’s first female chairperson of the board.
People often ask me “who has mentored me” and “who do I mentor?” And my answer is always the same, every interaction I have has provided me with an opportunity to learn and grow and I see that as a form of mentorship.
South African women are ready for equality and positions of leadership. They want to feel empowered and to break down barriers that pull them down. Equally important, businesses need the financial benefits that come from gender diversity and female leadership.
It’s important that women remember that their dreams are valid, that they are fit to take up opportunities and turn them into success. As we grow in our careers, we must take stock and remember the memorable milestones and the women that propelled us to the positions that we are in now. These are some of lessons that I have learned:
“Every closed door isn’t locked and even if it is …YOU just might have the keys. Search within to unlock a world of possibilities!” Sanjo Jendayi.
About Dr Seoka
Dr Seoka holds a PhD in pharmacy from the University of Illinois, Chicago. She has worked for international and local pharmaceutical companies and is currently the Managing Director of a medical products distribution company and the Chairman of the PPS Holdings Trust Board. She has also served on the SA Medical Devices Association as chairman and on the executive committee of the National Association of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers (now rebranded as the Generic and Biosimilar Medicines of Southern Africa)
PPS is an authorised FSP.