Lack of female representation in the workforce is a barrier to gender equality

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Photo by Christina Morillo from Pexels.

In the month of August every year, South Africa commemorates and celebrates the strides made by women. It is in this month that the bells and whistles go off and South Africa goes the extra mile to acknowledge and appreciate women and the different roles they occupy, not only in their respective homes, the various organisations or entities they belong to but also for their contribution to the economy. 

With a population of over 59 million in this country, women account for over 50% of the population. Statistics South Africa reflects that 43,5% of women in South Africa are unemployed and for those that are employed, according to the Giraffe gender pay gap study conducted in 2019, earn 25% less than men.

Moreover, the Executive Directors Report 2020 published by Price Water House Coopers (PWC) indicated that on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange (JSE), only 20,7% of the directors are female, the chairperson positions held by women are only 11,8% and only 3,31% females account for CEO positions of company’s listed on the JSE.

These statistics apply across the different career fields and highlight how the current strategies such as transformation agendas, promises of change and various other measures employed by both the state and private sector are not at a speed rapid enough to equalise on the economic imbalances between men and women.

In an article published on BizCommunity, it is said, that the proportion of females to males who graduate with STEM-related (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) degrees is out of balance. Women are underrepresented in maths and statistics (4:5), ICT and technology (2:5), as well as engineering, manufacturing and construction (3:10). As a result, there is a significantly smaller pool of female STEM talent, further entrenching perceptions about the engineering and built environment industry.

In the 2017/18 financial year, the number of registered persons in the database of the Engineering Council of South Africa was standing at 52 557. At the end of the 2018/19 financial year, the numbers were at 57 869 showing an upward trajectory of 10%. However, of 57 869 registered engineers, only 7687 were female and the rest were male.

As the regulator of the engineering industry in South Africa, equal representation of both men and women within an industry that is predominantly male-dominated requires intentional strides by the industry to ensure that this gap is closed.

This calls upon organisations, schools and universities to work together and change the narrative for women; change the perceptions about industries that are known to be male-dominated. This will afford more women who are capable of equal opportunities to hold strategic positions at technical and executive level in boardroom table alongside men.

The Engineering Council of South Africa has successfully alluded to this through its Engenius Programme, which aims to highlight the importance of the engineering field to primary and high school learners. This is achieved through school visits and exhibitions around the country. The programme also encourages students to choose STEM subjects. This is but one step to ensure that gender imbalances are levelled from an early age and that girls know that they too can excel in the engineering and technology industries.

Moreover, there needs to be a deviation from the way the youth is taught and supported in terms of education and skills development and how they make use of those skills in the education system and ultimately in the labour market and economy. We need to constantly ask ourselves, is the youth being taught content that aligns to the demands of the Fourth Industrial Revolution and how through this revolution are we levelling the gender disparities in STEM uptake; furthermore, will the content taught serve the future needs of this country?

The imbalance of gender at all levels is a barrier to economic growth and organisations should strive to create the right platforms as well as conducive environments to close the gender gap and ensure that females have the same opportunities as their male counterparts in terms of skills development, pay-checks and career advancement.

Sipho Madonsela Pr. Eng. CEO Engineering Council of South Africa.