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More women than men in SA leadership roles, but not in foreign affairs

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Despite annual statistics indicating that more women than men landed leadership roles in South Africa than ever before, there is still a concern that too few are in foreign affairs.

According to Africa’s largest independent executive search firm Jack Hammer more women secured management and senior in 2018 than previous years. COO Advaita Naidoo said the strong focus on equality in the work place is a good sign.

“In 2015 it started with 26% and last year it was the first time that there were more women and men in the workforce- 52% of roles that opened were filled by women. We are experiencing a social change where more and more companies are being called out for their lack of diversity at their boardroom tables.”

She said the new study has proven that South African companies have started to take gender transformation more seriously. However, this is not the case when it comes to foreign affairs.

Professor in International Politics at the University of South Africa and researcher Jo Ansie van Wyk explained that often calling for more women in leadership is seen as a “feminist approach”- but the word itself carries a different perception. The main focus, she said, is to improve the status of women and women representation.

“The word feminist is loaded and I’d prefer saying a ‘gender sensitive policy’. A trend we are seeing is that strong language is used when discussing these issues. The focus is to to put women’s agenda policy to paper and get them in top positions, as well as removing patriarchal structures.”

Van Wyk noted that a tactic companies use is to employ more women but restrict the reach of their positions.

“To have the numbers right is one thing, but to have this practically implemented is different. The diplomatic core has less women present in foreign affairs in the county. Also, in terms of representatives abroad, like high commissioners, ambassadors, for example- we have less (women). Its typically because women are not deployed to the “A” class types of embassies.”

She added that it is an issue that ‘is bolder than South African history’ and that it’s the same type of system seen in many South African political parties, ‘despite there being strong women that can do the job.’

She echoed the sentiments of Naidoo who explained that women have a differing approach to management.

“Women bring a different set of skills and different thinking. Very often when companies are being run by the same people for years, they are not going to experience much change,” said Naidoo.

Van Wyk added that South Africa has a strong women representation for fields catering to developmental issues, but this does not extend to the real policy pronouncements that government has made. She highlighted that more awareness should be brought to the national agenda about women.

“(This applies particularly) when it comes to the re-structuring of our services and ministry. This is a repeated scene for the 20-25 years, but it has not translated into a real commitment. So ‘Women’s Days’ are being commemorated but it seems to be a very patriarchal set-up. In that sense it is the pre-94 type of approach in forging affairs that continues.”

Van Wyk called on the existing patriarchal systems to be relooked at.

“The very fact that the country has a defense force is a very patriarchal form of protection. We want a feminine forging policy but that doesn’t mean terminating military relations and protection borders but its rather giving women and men of merit the opportunity to drive the interest of the country.”



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