In South Africa, women make up 51% of the population and 45% of the workforce.
As nearly 80% of South African women between the ages of 20 and 50 are mothers (Baggallay, 2011), organisations that employ and wish to retain highly qualified women need to look at the challenges facing professional women who integrate motherhood and career breaks into their working lives.
These career breaks (maternity leave) will need to be accommodated in order to maximum the training and development invested in female employees to benefit both employers and the women returning from maternity leave.
We need to create opportunities for women, and make the necessary adjustments to facilitate lifestyle changes such as maternity.
Here are five strategies that can be implemented to embrace maternity as a means of growing the quality of our workforce by retaining female talent.
Building flexi time into company culture, allows a working mother to put in the work needed and achieve the required outcomes, while acknowledging the responsibilities associated with caring for children.
There are two rewards for a company’s responsiveness to a working mother’s needs: higher retention of their best people and greatly improved performance and satisfaction (Schwartz in Faulds et al, 2008:22) (Judite Lucas) 6.
Further benefits of flexi time, according to a 2015 study by Citrix and Cebr, found that remote working could add R17 billion to the South African economy.
The report found that workers could save 320 million hours a year by not commuting – which has implications for increased productivity and developing strategies to maximise this opportunity.
Women at home and the workplace
A woman’s role and involvement in society is multifaceted, with many areas overlapping due to responsibilities both at work and in the home.
This can result in pressures and expectations for her to perform well in both environments.
According to a 2015 Harvard Study, employed women and men in two-parent households in developed countries reported that they spend an average of 17.7 and nine hours a week respectively caring for family members.
At the same time, women and men report spending an average of 17.8 and 8.8 hours per week on housework respectively.
We need to start exploring solutions that can provide both genders with the necessary support to ensure that duties are more equally shared both at work and at home.
We have seen a definite shift in role sharing with feedback and comments from parents on our BabyYumYum platforms.
Parents need to become more conscious of the messages they give boys and girls when it comes to creating stereotypical perceptions of gender-based stereotypes.
In a two-parent household, there is also the opportunity to model the sharing of responsibilities, so that the future generation of men and women are more inclined to actively share labour and responsibilities around the home (and workplace).
Family-friendly work environment
On-site crèche facilities send a strong message of support to parents and children, while accommodating female talent.
Modern companies need to provide working environments that consider the change in lifestyles and work situations.
This not only gives the parent peace of mind, but also impacts on the quality of work, allowing a mother to focus on her work while knowing her child is safe and being cared for.
M-Net and Multichoice, Nedbank, Liberty Life and Discovery Health are South African companies leading the way in providing education and care facilities for their employees’ children up to Grade R.
Breastfeeding in the workplace
In South Africa, breastfeeding at work is protected under the Basic Conditions of Employment Act, allowing feeding mothers two breaks of 30 minutes a day to feed their baby or express milk until the child is six months old.
However, interventions are still needed to facilitate companies in changing attitudes and supporting nursing mothers in their work environment.
The concept of women in the workplace is to a large extent still in its infancy.
If we think back to the historical women’s march to the Union Buildings in 1956 (commemorated annually as Women’s Month in August), it is only 62 years ago.
Although this was a powerful protest against the apartheid government’s pass laws, it also highlighted the struggle of women’s rights, calling for a non-racist and non-sexist South Africa.
Thinking into the future
Corporate culture does not allow for talented women to return to the workplace or continue to operate effectively in the workplace while managing their domestic responsibilities.
This directly influences the retention of women and their progression into senior positions of female talent.
While women comprise more than half of the total population, they remain relatively unrepresented in positions of authority and power.
According to labour data release for Q2 of 2017, 44 in every 100 employed individuals are women.
However, women only fill 44% of skilled posts, which includes managers, professionals and technicians, a figure which has remained unchanged since September 2002.
Stats SA cites figures of women comprising 32% of Supreme Court of Appeal judges, 31% of advocates, 30% of ambassadors and 24% of heads of state-owned enterprises.
Additionally, of the Top 40 JSE listed companies, Maria Ramos is the only female chief executive.
The stats show that we still have a way to go in creating equal opportunities for men and women, which in turn will facilitate accommodating the natural cycles of life, of which maternity plays a central role.
Employers open to the evolution of best practice for maternity leave, the management of family responsibilities, and striking a balance between employee productivity and fulfilment will position themselves as an employer of choice, thereby attracting high-calibre talent.
We need to start finding new ways of creating a society that benefits from the talents of both our men and women.
However, few things change in the world without a catalyst – be it a demonstration of 20 000 women walking to the Union Buildings or the implementation of a corporate culture that acknowledges motherhood as an acceptable part of the workplace.
This change can be done without relegating mothers to the side-lines of mediocrity.
Instead we can find a way to embrace maternity as a natural stepping stone in a woman’s career.
Let’s start being agents of change and enhancing our workforce by retaining female talent while contributing to the nurture, care and development of the next generation of adults in our country.
• Amanda Rogaly is an entrepreneur and founder of BabyYumYum, one of the leading parenting lifestyle portals. Her experience as both a businesswoman and mother of two little girls, has infused a passion to create awareness of women’s roles in the workplace.