Gender Equality: An area where small steps are making huge differences
Ms Makhosazana Mavimbela, Executive Director of the Forest Sector Charter Council
In the last decade, gender equality in the workplace has quite rightly been in the spotlight. It has been championed by women such as Michelle Obama and Melinda Gates who see no acceptable reason why women should not have equal opportunities, pay and recognition as their male colleagues. However, with equal pay, recognition and opportunities also come equal accountability, equal responsibility and equal workload and for many women, whose share of the home life responsibilities may not be equal with their male partner. Is this even possible?
Certainly, across the forestry industry and its value chain, the last 10 years has seen more women enter the industry and be promoted to Junior and Senior managerial positions, with the latest Annual Status of Transformation Report, showing a slight improvement in the number of women representatives sitting on forestry boards. But, we are still not seeing this being translated at a C-Suite or Executive Level, although it should be noted that some companies within the Sector are hitting these targets.
I often ask myself why this is? Certainly, there are enough talented women out there in our industry that every C-suite level position could be filled by one. There also is not the resistance from our male colleagues that many might suspect, or even want to blame. In fact, in my role as FSCC Executive Director I have had nothing but support and encouragement from male counterparts from across the sector. It has been the support and assistance of both male and female colleagues that has ensured She Is Forestry objectives are met and projects like the Women in Forestry Webinar are a success. So, if we already have the women and the men in our industry are not standing in the way, why are we not seeing more women taking their place around the C-Suite table?
I firmly believe many women are simply not in the position to be able to elevate themselves into these roles. They understand the demands and pressures, the workloads and responsibilities only too well and know how unrealistic it is to balance these with a homelife that has its own responsibilities, demands and pressures, many of which fall solely on the shoulders of women. Women are having to make tough career choices about what they are willing to sacrifice, and I believe a career above a certain managerial level is the point where most women may be unwilling or unable to commit to due to their other home life responsibilities.
So how do we breakdown this barrier? Here is where I have no easy solution, although I know what we should not do. In the rush to see women being represented in the right ratios at C-suite and executive levels, there might be the temptation to promote women on the basis they are willing to take on the role, rather than their ability to perform in it. For me, this is an absolute no go. Having the right woman in a high-ranking position is more important than having just any woman there to make up the numbers. We must remember these women are not just representing themselves in these roles, they are representing women in general. They have the reputation of all women on their shoulders.
In the future, I think it will be easier for women who have a family to fulfil these high-ranking positions. Society is beginning to see men as a women’s equal in the home, and in the future I think we will see gender roles being completely broken down and men just as willing to step back from their career to be at home and women able to pursue their career dreams. When there is gender equality at home then there will be a greater opportunity for women to take on the workloads, responsibilities and demands of C-level positions, knowing their male partners will take on a greater chunk of the home life responsibilities. Until then, I think women will remain in the very difficult position of having to choose between a career with no ceiling and family responsibilities.
It leaves us, as an industry and as society in general, in the same conundrum of how do we reach our gender equity targets that want to see more women on boards, in C-Suite and executive positions? My view is we start with small steps.
The 2020 Women’s Month webinars, initiated by FSCC and Forestry South Africa in partnership with the forestry industry, forestry associations and Government, has shone a spotlight on the amazing amount of female talent in our sector. It has enabled us to elevate these women to be role models for future generations and helped in identifying barriers that some of these women have faced.
By dismantling these, we will make the path into forestry for future generations of women a lot easier to follow. We have seen the birth of “She Is Forestry”, a non-profit organisation with the founding objective of breaking down barriers that are preventing women from succeeding and we have this year’s webinar, where female-centric entrepreneurial programmes and awards will be announced.
We need to look at ways to help upskill women already in the sector, aiding them with their progression into Junior and Senior or Top Managerial Roles, but also equipping them with the entrepreneurial training that enables them to become CEOs of their own forestry-related businesses which could be more flexible in terms of fitting alongside their family commitments. We also need to look at women’s role within the context of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) and how, as an industry, we facilitate this. In particular, getting women and girls involved in forestry research, development and innovation; an area, where I know, as a Sector, we are making huge steps forwards.
I believe we are at a tipping point, a place where women are in the spotlight and under a great amount of pressure. The doors have been opened for them to stand shoulder to shoulder with their male colleagues, but the playing field is still not level. They are trying to juggle careers and family lives and are often left feeling overwhelmed and guilty of not fulfilling either adequately. Only when there is gender equality at home also, in terms of family responsibilities, will women be able to take up C-Suite and executive roles on an equal footing as their male colleagues. Until then, I believe we measure the success of women in our industry – and our industry’s success in the inclusion of women – based on the number of capable, talented, hardworking and driven women found throughout the forestry sector. I am heartened by this year’s FSA Women’s Month Instagram posts, which include submissions from General Workers, Junior Management and Executive Directors, all of whom are equally proud of their contribution to our sector. We have an incredible depth of female talent emerging across the forestry industry and its value chain, and this is something we really should be promoting. There will be those who see this as small steps, but when you look back over the last ten years, these small steps equate into a giant leap that has taken us from a sector where the scope for career minded women was very limited to one where there are no limits at all, just 101 hands wanting to help you up the career ladder. It is this, that makes me proud and happy to be a woman in forestry.
Meet Ms Makhosazana Mavimbela, Executive Director of the Forest Sector Charter Council
Khosi is the current Executive Director of the Forest Sector Charter Council (FSCC/Council), an institution mandated to facilitate, monitor and report on transformation within the South African Forestry Sector. She started working for the FSCC in 2008 as a Researcher, building on the experience she gained during her her MSc. Khosi’s deep understanding of the role of Council and the Amended Forest Sector Code, commitment to transformation and empowerment in particular, led to her appointment as an Executive Director in 2018. Her role is focused on governance, strategy and managing and providing leadership in portfolios such as research, policy alignment and stakeholder interaction and relationship. Khosi also interrelates with industry, community and government representatives and provides guidance on transformation.