The Gender “LEAK” Must Stop for Socio-Economic Sake!

Gender Diversity

 If we are to curb the scourge of gender-based violence (GBV) and empower women economically, then we have to find ways to stop the talent gender leak in the economy by looking at why women are leaving their careers and what can be done to stop the pipeline leak. 

In South Africa, there are more female graduates (58%) than male graduates (42%) from universities, yet an alarmingly low rate of top female executives and even fewer CEO's.  This, despite many companies hiring a 1:1 ratio male: female entry-level graduates.  

In a 2017 study titled ‘The Martha effect” conducted by Dr Spaull & Broekhuizen from the University of Stellenbosch’s Department of Economics, showed that women rank higher than men when it comes to completing matric and completing an undergraduate degree. (source: South Africa women much more likely to complete a degree than men)

The reality of women in the home

The day-to-day reality in most homes, particularly third world countries,  is that the care requirements of the family lie largely with the mother of the home. WHO and UNICEF recommend an exclusive breastfeeding period of six months and supplemented breastfeeding of up to two years, and early childhood development and homework assistance is required by parents in an ailing education system. Not forgetting the day to day running of the home or supporting loved ones affected or infected with illnesses such as HIV, TB, cancer and more, most women carry the brunt of family and home care.

Despite the reality of the primary care being done by the Mom in the home, most women, when asked, want to remain in the workplace and earn an income. In the USA a study shows that 57% of stay at home Moms wish to return to work. Not only is this good news for employers, but it’s also good news for society at large. 

Gender Diversity is an economically sound business practice

An ever-growing body of research reinforces the link between gender diversity and inclusion and above-average company financial performance compared to those who don’t embrace gender or culture diversity.  Research conducted by McKinsey (2019) analysis finds that companies in the top quartile for gender diversity on executive teams were 25 percent more likely to have above-average profitability than companies in the fourth quartile.  Companies with more than 30 percent women executives were more likely to outperform companies where this percentage ranged from 10 to 30, and in turn, these companies were more likely to outperform those with even fewer women executives or none at all. (Source: https://www.mckinsey.com/featured-insights/diversity-and-inclusion/diversity-wins-how-inclusion-matters)

What is gender leak in the workplace?

Gender leak is the natural attrition that takes place of female employees from middle management to executive management level. It is clearly demonstrated in the diagram below.  If one can imagine a pipeline of talent starting out as equal male and female, the attrition starts to take place as women enter the child-bearing years. 

Source: Your loss: How to win back your Female Talent, 2010

While legislation and social justice go some way in addressing ethnic diversity in South Africa, RecruitMyMom is offering unique solutions to thousands of companies to help stem the “gender leak” by encouraging employers to provide flexible, remote and part-time ways of working for skilled women. "We like to look at how to build a better workplace for women with children."

Studies show that by offering employees the choice to be able to work from home as remote employees or offer more flexibility as to where they work it results in: 

  • Lower quit rates
  • Full shifts worked
  • Increased productivity
  • Significant cost savings for the company

Read:  Remote or no-remote is that the question?

As for society as a whole, we can be grateful that these talented and highly skilled women are willing to remain in employment when given the right opportunity, work environment and flexible work arrangements. The skills shortage we experience in South Africa would be far worse if we had no way of attracting skilled, often highly educated and experienced women back into the economy. 

The idea that employers continually lose these valuable skills during the family rearing years because of inflexible work arrangements is economic suicide we can ill afford.

How can you stop the gender leak?

How does a company go about stopping the gender attrition or gender leak? 

PWC released "The leaking pipeline - where are our female leaders" in which they identified several ways to stem the leak of female talent. In a study conducted by RecruitMyMom in 2017 we asked over 1000 women why they thought there were so few women in senior places of management in South Africa.

Here's how to retain top female talent: 

  1. Companies need to be more pro-active in their succession planning for female employees
  2. More men are needed to step up and mentor women
  3. Companies need more female role models.
  4. Senior women role models need to be able to model work-life integration well. 
  5. Women need to lean in and aspire to more senior roles within organisations. This can be encouraged by sponsors and intentional feedback sessions. 
  6. Allow your employees to work flexibly if they want to. Post COVID-19 there is no reason why companies cannot adopt flexible work policies. Overnight millions of people moved to work remotely and showed that it works! 
  7. Measure productivity, not presence. This avoids micromanaging employees who may need more flexibility during the day. 
  8. Trust your employees to get on with their jobs by putting in place measurable output-based work plans that deliver the required company results. 
  9. Thoroughly test corporate cultures that are patriarchal and set motions in place to change. 
  10. Respect that many of your employees have families and that good, healthy, safe families translate into good, healthy, safe societies for all. 

In summary, gender diversity in companies delivers financially proven results and more females will graduate from high school and tertiary institutions than males.  If we as South African’s are going to take gender diversity seriously because it makes social and financial sense, then we cannot ignore the gender leak that takes place during family-rearing years. For far too long has the gender leak been considered an inevitable inconvenience to employing women. Solutions exist to stemming the gender leak if the will exists to make a positive difference. Offering different and flexible work arrangements is one of the obvious and not too difficult to implement solutions towards making this change.


About the Author: Phillipa Geard Founder and CEO of RecruitMyMom.co.za. RecruitMyMom is a national online recruitment agency that matches forward-thinking employers to skilled women seeking part-time and flexible employment including lawyers, accountants, marketers, digital experts, office support and many more.

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