JSE adopts gender-neutral leave policy as more companies vow to accelerate empowering women

The JSE has adopted a gender-neutral parental leave policy. MTN has set a goal to make 50% of its workforce women by 2030.

The JSE has adopted a gender-neutral parental leave policy. MTN has set a goal to make 50% of its workforce women by 2030. iStock

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  • More than 100 global stock exchanges joined the Annual Ring the Bell for Gender Equality event on Tuesday.
  • But despite these events and other noise about gender equality, few women occupy top seats in big corporations.
  • But some companies are setting targets to force the inclusion of women in top jobs, while others are making changes in their parental leave policies.

The Johannesburg Stock Exchange (JSE) has adopted a gender-neutral parental leave policy, while cellular services provider MTN has set a goal to make 50% of its workforce women by 2030. And The 30% Club is working around the clock to have at least 30% representation of women on all boards and C-suite positions globally.

These are a few of the companies making deliberate efforts to ensure that women play a more meaningful role in corporate leadership, where the glass ceiling persists despite a chorus of sustainability and diversity slogans each year.

Even as more than 100 stock exchanges around the globe joined in on the Annual Ring the Bell for Gender Equality event on Tuesday, the few women present who occupy top corporate positions lamented the slow progress in installing more female CEOs, CFOs and board members.

MTN’s chief sustainability officer, Nompilo Morafo, said even relatively new top jobs that have been created as companies’ response to show that they take diversity issues seriously still employ mostly men.

“I look around at how many other [women] in South Africa are sustainability officers. I found very few… ESG is such a new area, but we are not seeing a lot of inclusion of women in that field, too,” she said.

She said at MTN, diversity and inclusion are now part of every manager’s measured key performance area because talking about it without written targets is the reason women’s representation in top jobs is not advancing, despite all the noise made about it.

So, managers have to make sure that half of MTN’s workforce is made up of women by 2030. Currently, that sits at 38%.

“There’s a reason why these things are not moving as fast. So, what we are trying to do is to accelerate our progress as much as possible,” she said.

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The JSE’s chief risk officer, Nicola Comninos, said when companies talk about ESG – environmental, social and governance issues – they too often focus on the environmental concerns. But it’s important not to neglect the social component of ESG, especially in a country like South Africa, which has one of the most unequal societies.

A look at parental leave policies

Comninos said looking at parental leave policies was one place to start balancing the scale between men and women. She said that the JSE has adopted a gender-neutral parental leave policy. All its employees now qualify for four months of paid parental leave, regardless of their gender.

Michelle Noth, the co-chairperson of Women in ETF’s SA, said the current policies, which give men only a few days of paternity leave, have cemented the notion that childcare should be left to women.

“By the same token, as we want equality for women in the workplace, we also want to have equality for men in the domestic arena. We have to be cognisant of that and make a big effort around it,” she said.

Noth made an example of Nordic countries where parents get to choose how they want to divide their one year of parental leave between them.

“In South Africa, financially, we are not in a position to offer as much paternity leave, but I think we can certainly identify that as a place we’d like to get to,” she added.

Old Mutual’s employee engagement consultancy Remchannel said even the existing maternity leave provisions aren’t always enough to protect women in the workplace. This is because South Africa’s current maternity leave policy provides both paid and unpaid maternity leave.

Remchannel’s new study indicates that 24% of businesses who participated in the survey indicated that their employees don’t get a salary during maternity leave.

Remchannel’s MD René Richter said changing the laws to allow for fully paid maternity leave policies is long overdue, especially because global research indicates that about 50% of women feel that their careers were negatively impacted due to pregnancy.

“The advantage of changing to a paid maternity leave policy will mean that women no longer have to choose between a career and having a family. They will be able to enjoy the time with their newborn baby without financial concerns,” said Richter.

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