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The Broad-based Black Economic Empowerment (B-BBEE) Commission recently challenged the government and the private sector to increase the number of women appointed to company boards and ensure at least 30% procurement from black women-owned enterprises.

The call was prompted by the 2017 report produced by the B-BBEE Commission, which shows that JSE listed companies have only 38% representation by black persons on their boards, with males accounting for 20% while females stand at 18%. Furthermore, black ownership has declined by 5.75% standing at 27% and black-female ownership by 1.96% which is at 9% compared to the 2016 report (indicating black ownership at 32.75% and female ownership as 10.32%).

One could therefore ask: “Is B-BBEE Commissioner Zodwa Ntuli’s challenge a pipe dream?” Despite significant proof that having a diverse workforce improves company performance as well as its bottom line, organisations are still struggling to attract and retain women, particularly black women, in leadership roles.

Companies that are serious about equity, should be transparent about their intention to shift organisational culture and follow up with real, shared action. The following strategies could help companies reach these targets:

  1. Inclusive Hiring

Organisations must change how they hire and for what they are hiring. Women bring a different perspective to business and we need to acknowledge and leverage it. Instead of trying to mould women into the roles that men have been doing for decades, we should be more interested in hiring smart women to develop new roles.

Furthermore, companies should have recruiting programmes that target black women. Not only should all applications for top positions include black women in the group of viable candidates, but recruiters must also be trained in unconscious bias and interviewing candidates of different races and genders. Basically, if you want more black women hired in top positions, you need to have more black women doing the interviewing.

  1. Sponsorship

Commissioner Ntuli has challenged businesses to provide financial assistance in reaching these goals, including, but not limited to, incentive schemes such as the black industrialist incentive programme of the Department of Trade and Industry, which is aimed at promoting industrialisation, sustainable economic growth and transformation through the support of black-owned entities in the manufacturing sector.

Apart from these schemes, companies can also provide in-house sponsorship and incentives. Black women are often at a disadvantage because, in the words of talent management research firm Catalyst, they are “double outsiders”: They’re neither white, nor men. As a result they’re often shut out from the informal networks that help other people find jobs, mentors, and sponsors. Sponsorship programmes enable sponsors to be paired with future female leaders, which can open career doors for them through promotions, connections and high-visibility assignments.

  1. Mentorship

Mentors provide encouragement, feedback as well as guidance, which can be found at different levels of the organisation. KPMG in New York, for example, created the African-American Mentoring Circles that have group mentoring discussions with senior leaders. IBM and Deloitte currently pair top leaders (often male) with female mentees who have been identified as future leaders. The objectives are to build confidence, give honest feedback, help to course-correct when things go wrong, and expose future leaders to the most strategic work at the company. What makes Deloitte’s programme successful is that coaches are held accountable for the success of his assigned leader in developing new capabilities. The results are directly tied to the coach’s performance review and compensation.

  1. Career Counselling

While mentoring is for individual employees, career counselling takes a broader approach. By designing and promoting company programmes that provide focused career development opportunities to diverse members of staff, you ensure that everyone is aware of the opportunities and the pathways to get to them. These programmes might include developmental plans, certifications, stretch assignments, promotions and networking opportunities. Annual reviews would ensure opportunities are equal for men and women who have been rated with similar capabilities.

  1. Top Earners

The best companies conduct pay audits to look for wage disparities, and ban salary history questions from recruitment and hiring processes. The percentage of multicultural women who are in the top 20 percent of earners at their organisations is still low. The disparity in pay generally occurs when a woman decides to start a family and time constraints become an issue. Companies need to create more flexible options for women including telecommuting, job shares and consulting assignments to retain women and keep financial continuity intact.

  1. Support

As women continue their upward trajectory in business, companies must continue to evolve their employee benefits to ensure that women are able to retain demanding positions. These benefits may be family focused, allow flexible work hours or offer more leadership opportunities.

Making sure qualified black women make it through the corporate gauntlet to the upper ranks requires serious efforts in hiring, mentoring, sponsorship, and development. However, one thing is certain, organisations that commit to these objectives will have a serious competitive advantage in the long term.

Signa Group, a leading business advisory and skills development business, is committed to skills development, community upliftment, training and B-BBEE initiatives that can make a real difference to individuals, communities, companies as well as society as a whole.