Advancing the women agenda through inclusive leadership

Recently, we facilitated a client focus group with women in a traditionally male-dominated industry, where a female participant described speaking up about the lack of expressing facilities at work for new moms, only to be met with the response from a male colleague who said, “Well you [women] want to be treated like men, so…”.

In 2021, women don’t want to be treated like men. Women want to be treated like women, and to be valued for what they can bring to the workplace as women, not as women acting like men. As we come to the end of Women’s Month in South Africa, we’ve reflected on the unique strengths that women bring to the workplace and to leadership, and the ways in which inclusion - and inclusive leadership specifically - will catapult women into a more equitable future in these more senior roles.

Women at work

When women joined the workforce, they joined a pre-existing, all-male environment, and a culture built predominantly around masculine traits. Fast forward to today, where women have taken huge strides to become equals in the workplace; a workplace designed by and for men, where women have adapted by exaggerating their more masculine traits (think individualistic, tough, self-reliant, confident, assertive), and oppressing their feminine ones (think empathetic, nurturing, collaborative, creative, intuitive) in order to fit in, to equally compete, and to achieve success.

Nonetheless, progress has been made. However, post-pandemic, we run the risk of this progress regressing based on the higher impact the pandemic has had on women. Additionally, the ‘Great Resignation’ currently taking place is seeing a large number of women leaving the workforce; not changing jobs, but actually opting out of the workforce, due to working environments that are not serving them best as women.

Even without this setback, there’s a lot still to be done - pay equity and representation in upper management and leadership positions are just two of the most obvious examples of the obstacles yet to be overcome. In order to advance, or accelerate, the Women Agenda in South African organisations (and the world), inclusive leadership needs to be the top priority.

Inclusive leadership

Many South African organisations are taking the initiative and starting their journey to becoming more mature with regards to Diversity and Inclusion (D&I). Currently, D&I in South Africa still takes the shape of legislated Employment Equity plans and representation targets/quotas; however, these organisations need to move beyond compliance to see real, sustainable transformation. We need to practice inclusivity every day, and to lead inclusively requires intentional action, and behaviour change. Below, we have outlined Deloitte’s Six Signature Traits of Inclusive Leadership, including what each trait means within the context of advancing the Women Agenda in the workplace, and questions to ask yourself – no matter your gender – in order to better support the women around you.

Traits of The Six Signature Inclusive Leadership

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