Issues affecting women in the workplace: get a seat, and voice, at the table

In this article, Deputy CEO of Momentum Metropolitan Holdings Jeanette Marais looks at the value of connectedness in business – particularly as we continue to navigate a global pandemic. Through this lens, she examines issues affecting women in the workplace, and tips women can use to get a seat, and voice, at the table.

Broader representation in the business

Women leaders are not the anomaly they once were. Much-needed change has started to creep into workplaces and governments. My own story is an example of this: I am one of three women on our Group executive committee and five on our Group board. We don’t exist in a vacuum either – this reflects our broader representation in the business, where 64% of employees are female and 56% of our appointments in the past year were women.

Perhaps even more importantly, though, 48% of top earners in the Group identify as female – and we don’t have a gender pay gap; we have managed to close that through dedicated effort.

While I am heartened by these signs of progress and proud to be part of an organisation that is leading the change we need, it is still very much the exception rather than the rule. Women remain under-represented in other positions of authority, only making up 32 percent of Supreme Court of Appeal judges, 31 percent of advocates, 30 percent of ambassadors and 24 percent of executive heads of state-owned enterprises (SOEs)[1].

The corporate world fares little better: nearly a third of organisations in the country have no women in senior management positions[2] and less than five percent of companies have women CEOs. On the Johannesburg Stock Exchange, about 96 percent of companies listed have male CEOs, 87 percent have male Chief Financial Officers and 91 percent have male executive directors – even though research shows that businesses that use female talent effectively are 45 percent more likely to report improved market share[3].

Unlocking the value of voices that are heard

This shows that women’s value in the workplace cannot and should not be underestimated – but that there is still a long way to go before that value can be truly realised. The only way to see this change is to drive it, and not only give women a seat at the table but also create a space where our voices can be heard and appreciated.

There is a quote that captures perfectly how I feel modern companies can do this. Diversity and inclusion consultant Verna Myers said, “Diversity is being invited to the party, inclusion is being asked to dance, and belonging is dancing like no one’s watching”.

Put simply, this means overcoming unconscious bias and embracing the richness of diversity by creating an enabling environment where women’s voices are heard and respected. It means empowering people by giving them the freedom to bring their authentic selves and voices to the workplace.

Valuable lessons

Authenticity is an approach I have followed my entire career, and which helped get me where I am and become the leader that I am today. And I believe that there are valuable lessons that I have learnt over the years that have the potential to help other women who are still working to get their spot at the boardroom table and ensure that their voices can be heard:

  1. Be willing to take risks and put your hand up even for opportunities that scare you: I grew up on a farm in the Free State, so if I can be successful, anyone can. What I did was take risks and challenge and stretch myself with no example of a successful career woman to follow, even when I was scared. I put my hand up to take on challenges and opportunities where others didn’t necessarily, and that gave me an edge. I also continuously looked for ways in which I could better myself by learning new skills. You need to make yourself visible and ensure you are on the radar when opportunities arise.
  2. Have confidence and believe in yourself: the only way you will be able to reach your goals and get where you want to go is to fully believe in yourself and your capabilities. This confidence will help you to put your hand up, take on challenges and push yourself further and harder to ensure you succeed.
  3. Set your standards high, have the right attitude and direct your energy into the right places: only by setting your sights high can you hope to reach your dreams and even exceed your own expectations. This means constantly challenging yourself, getting yourself out of the comfort zone and working harder.

Although there is undoubtedly still some way to go before we see greater equality in boardrooms in South Africa, and more broadly, the good news is that women are increasingly finding their place and voice at the table – and it is critical that we keep this momentum going.


Jeanette Marais
Deputy CEO
Momentum Metropolitan Holdings