RCS deputy CFO Tonia Pavlou, advocates for gender equality in the boardroom

Tonia explains that gender equality in corporate leadership is not an obscure and idealistic concept.

In South Africa, several businesses are actively working towards ensuring that more women are represented in corporate leadership. And with strong women leaders now leading the charge, there has been a significant shift in transformation, but there is still much work to be done.

RCS deputy CFO Tonia Pavlou explains that gender imbalances in the workplace are characteristic of civil society in South Africa and the world. “The closer we get to the boardroom, the greater the inequality gap becomes.”

This, she adds, is particularly true of the financial sector, which is largely male dominated. “Turning the tide against this reality is going to take a concerted and collective effort by public and private sector players.”

According to Stats SA, women make up 50 percent of South Africa’s working age population, but only fill 38 percent of “manager” and “professional” posts. Beyond that, a 2018 study highlighted that a South African woman’s median monthly earnings were 76 percent of that of her male counterpart. Tonia elaborates that this was before the pandemic, which worsened the gender pay gap globally.

“Not only do women possess qualities that allow them to be effective in their role within the workplace, but there is a very compelling case to be made for the fact that investing in women empowerment is also good for business,” she says.

The World Economic Forum estimates that economic gender parity could increase GDP by US$5.3 trillion (about R78.4 trillion) by 2025. “Consider what this could mean for South Africa’s economic growth, where women entrepreneurs play such a critical role in the development of the SME sector,” Tonia adds. “Not only that, a more inclusive workforce makes us a stronger country in terms of tackling both domestic and global challenges.”

Tonia explains that the notion of gender equality in the workplace, and in particular in corporate leadership, is not an obscure and idealistic concept. “There are a number of practical steps that businesses can take towards more equitable representation.”

Drawing from her experience at RCS, a business that has a female employee complement of 76 percent, of which seven hold executive level positions, Tonia provides the following tips for corporates who endeavour to work towards equality in the workplace:

“Prioritise management development for staff using an inclusive policy, close the gender pay gap across all departments including the C-suite, establish a mentorship programme at work where both women and men actively mentor each other and openly share their perspectives, and incorporate skills-based assessments in the recruitment process that go beyond technical and strategic skills. These are measures that can be implemented cost-effectively and at a grassroots level.”

Sharing her advice for aspiring women business leaders, Tonia believes Eleanor Roosevelt said it best: “You must do the things you think you cannot do.”

“Throughout my career I have been aware of the statistics for women in business. I am also acutely aware that any one person has the power to be stronger than a statistic. If you have clarity on what it is that you want for yourself and you put in the work to get there, you will be able to access the opportunities that come up along your journey. Opportunities will be there. Do not hold yourself back from seizing them,” she concludes.