Putting Women At The Heart Of Diverse, Inclusive Workplaces



There are many quotes about the strength, power and potential of women, but perhaps one of the best comes from one of our own African leaders. Former President of Malawi Joyce Banda said, “The seeds of success in every nation on Earth are best planted in women and children”. There is a growing body of proof to back up this claim, and illustrate why there needs to be greater representation of women at all levels in business, government and civil society.

Research, for instance, shows that businesses that use female talent effectively are 45 percent more likely to report improved market share. Good female leaders have also been found to reduce feelings of job stress, burnout, anxiety and depression because they have a different approach to leadership. This approach is more focused on building and maintaining relationships, and allaying concerns and frustrations which leads to a better sense of well-being and productivity overall.

On a broader level, countries with female leaders such as New Zealand and Germany were found to have handled the outbreak of the pandemic “significantly better”, seeing fewer cases and deaths in the early stages because they were more likely to consider human life than economic risks and outcomes. 

“Despite this evidence of the role that women are able to play, and the tangible benefits that they can bring to their workplaces and national economies, there are still significant barriers that they face,” says Cebile Xulu, People Lead: Sub Sahara Africa, Mondelēz International.

Women remain under-represented in positions of authority in the corporate world: nearly a third of organisations in South Africa have no women in senior management positions and less than five percent of companies have women CEOs. Additionally, about 96 percent of the companies listed on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange have male CEOs and 87 percent have male Chief Financial Officers.

Nationally, women also only make 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).

This dearth of representation is matched by a gender pay gap: a South African digital recruitment platform revealed in August last year that women earn 25 percent less than their male counterparts, on average.

Proactively bringing women to the boardroom table

“These findings indicate there is still a long way to go to level the playing field, but it is heartening to see that many companies are actively working to bring more women to the boardroom table, and create workplaces that are both diverse and inclusive,” says Xulu.

Women empowerment and greater representation of women in leadership is one of Mondelez’s three diversity and inclusion (D&I) focus areas between 2019 and 2022. It is also part of a four-year strategic roadmap target.

“Creating an enabling environment to help drive more women in leadership, as well as to ensure an equal gender split in the company’s early careers programme, are priorities for Mondelez as we believe in taking responsibility for the transformation of workplaces,” says Xulu. “We have a genuine belief that diversity is the right thing to do and a commitment to remove obstacles, and having these basic ingredients has resulted in us making great strides in both representation and inclusion.”

These strides include exceeding industry benchmarks for women in leadership: with 45 percent of women in manager and senior manager roles globally, compared to an average of 37 percent; and 35 percent in roles of associate director and above, compared to an industry average of 34 percent.

The Mondelez Sub Saharan African business has already seen success in this area, with 66 percent of the extended leadership team comprised of women – exceeding the target of 50 percent. The South African business has almost reached its 45 percent target of representation of women, currently sitting at 40 percent, and does well in bringing different types of talent into the business, specifically through investment in its early careers programme which enables a pipeline that is diverse.

“As a case in point, the company’s Field Sales traineeship in partnership with Smollan has a 50 percent complement of women out of 45 trainees. The Commercial (Sales) Graduate Programme has 25% women – in an area where we have previously struggled to bring in women,” says Xulu. “Women are also well represented on the organisation’s newly established SSA D&I Council: of 12 people on council, 7 are women.”

The Sub-Saharan African business does not have a gender pay gap, either. “We do not make salary decisions based on gender to begin with. Our compensation follows a structure that is applied equally to everyone regardless of gender. Our philosophy to a large degree is pay for performance and value,” says Xulu.

Inclusivity and equality as a fundamental

The company also offers flexibility and maternity leave policies, and mentoring and leadership development programmes tailored for locally-relevant underrepresented groups, to not only promote work-life integration for all, but to create a workplace where women can truly thrive because inclusivity and equality is a fundamental part of the way the organisation does business.

This goal has been part of Mondelez’s DNA for many years, with the company signing the UN Women’s Empowerment Principles in 2013 to express support for advancing equality between women and men – and the company continues to work towards this equality.

Steps taken include appointing the company’s first Global D&I Officer to promote diversity-boosting initiatives, and action plans to accelerate women’s empowerment across four cocoa origin countries as part of Cocoa Life, the company’s cocoa sustainability programme – with targets to empower more than 100,000 women in over 1,000 communities in four countries.

Greater inclusivity and representation of women in the workplace can no longer be a matter of lip service – companies need to actively prioritise and drive this change, and need to be able to show the steps they are taking to build diverse and inclusive workplaces to remain relevant in an age when brands need to be defined by purpose.

“However, it is also important to note that diversity by its very meaning is multidimensional and this means gender equality cannot be the only focus of organisations. It goes way deeper than just having the right gender mix – race, age, perspectives, educational backgrounds, and experiences remain equally important when building a truly diverse and inclusive environment,” says Xulu. 

“It is not an easy balance to strike and it will never be a perfect science, however, leaders must be consistently deliberate in their approach. In attracting diverse talent, the focus needs to be on the unique value that people bring to the organisation, rather than rigidly trying to find clones to fit into your organisation’s culture.” 


Read Also: