Friday 18 June 2021
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The uphill battle of female technocrats

This week’s suspension of Namibia Wildlife Resorts’ managing director Zelna Hengari has once more resuscitated the intense debate on whether women within SOEs and the public sector at large are punished harsher than their male counterparts, even if the offences are of the same nature.
In the past the suspension of female parastatal bosses such as Saara Naanda(Transnamib), Theo Namases(Air Namibia) and Maria Rukoro(NTA) to mention a few have left a bad taste amongst gender equality activists.
According to PriceWaterhouseCoopers’(PWC) 2013 Chief Executive Study titled “Women’s CEOs of the last 10 Years”, female chief executive officers all around the world are more at risk of being fired than their male counterparts, adding that a higher share of women have been forced out of their jobs compared to men.
While the ruling Swapo Party has implemented the 50/50 gender policy within its ranks to ensure that female politicians have equal access to political positions as their male counterparts, female technocrats do not enjoy the same treatment.
As a result of the 50/50 policy, many male politicians who have hogged the political arena since independence have fallen off the political bandwagon and have since disappeared into oblivion.
But female technocrats still have more hurdles to jump compared to men on their way to the top. Most strategic and top positions in the SOE sector are occupied by men and this is despite the fact that over the years there has been more female graduates than males at the local universities.
In fact, in most cases female students tend to scoop the awards for best academic performance.
So why then do they struggle take up the top positions in the workplace? Technocracy is a proposed system of governance in which decision-makers are selected on the basis of their expertise in a given area of responsibility, particularly with regard to scientific or technical knowledge.
This system explicitly contrasts with the notion that elected representatives should be the primary decision-makers in government.

Equality of opportunity
It comes as no surprise that in countries ruled by former liberation movements such as Namibia, South Africa and Angola-in which society is mostly male-dominated-female technocrats have opted to steer clear of the public sector and SOE sector which has become the playground of politicians who would in most cases prefer to share their political toys with their male counterparts.
Most of the top positions in these countries are occupied by men, in fact, in all three States the top two highest political positions(president and vice president) are occupied by males. So much for gender parity!
The current unequal dispensation of women in strategic positions begs the question as to why the vast majority of our population is made up of women, yet the vast majority of top jobs are occupied by men?
Some might claim that it is because women tend to have more child minding and family oriented roles to execute beyond the workplace, partially true yes, what then is being done to change the culture to ensure that we value women and get the most out of them?
In my view, there is a lack of equality of opportunity for male and female workers.
Men tend to have more opportunities thrown their way compared to women simply because the work system is still structured in an unbalanced manner which makes it easier for men to occupy top positions.
Secondly, the Public Service Commission ought to take blame for the lack of women in strategic roles in the public sector.
Since independence, the commission has dismally failed to promote more flexible working options to encourage women into senior roles, and those who managed to weave their way to the top have not enjoyed the invisible thick layer of protection their male counterparts do.
But female CEO are not entirely innocent because some of them have given antagonists ammunition to point their firing guns at them.
Some of the abovementioned axed CEO’s have made questionable and dubious decisions that bordered on incompetence and corruption, so much that it had a bearing on their ability to execute their jobs. Although more needs to be done, one cannot ignore the fact that women have made gains over the past several years when it comes to labor force participation, wages and access to more lucrative positions. These gains have surely strengthened their position in the Namibian workforce.
Companies often claim that they are highly committed to gender diversity.
But that commitment has not translated into meaningful progress.  The proportion of women at every level in corporate Namibia has hardly changed. Progress isn’t just slow. It’s stalled.

Deliberate steps
According to the Women in the Workplace 2018 report, a study conducted by McKinsey in partnership with LeanIn.Org, companies need to take more decisive action and treat  gender diversity like the business priority it is, this ranges from setting targets to holding leaders accountable for results.
The report states: “It requires closing gender gaps in hiring and promotions, especially early in the pipeline when women are most often overlooked.
And it means taking bolder steps to create a respectful and inclusive culture so women—and all employees—feel safe and supported at work.”
The two biggest drivers of representation are hiring and promotions, and companies are disadvantaging women in these areas from the beginning.
As I indicated earlier, although women earn more bachelor’s degrees than men, and have for decades, they are less likely to be hired into entry-level jobs.
At the first critical step up to manager, the disparity widens further.
Women are less likely to be hired into manager-level jobs, and they are far less likely to be promoted into them.
In conclusion, there is a need to harness the unique skill-set women have to offer in order to foster a society in which equality for positions is the order of the day.
There are certainly women who deserves to come through to senior roles, however, most of them prefer to seek refuge in the private sector where political ploys are minimal.

*Mathias Haufiku is the former Editor of The Patriot newspaper and a former journalist at the state-owned New Era newspaper. Views expressed in this opinion piece are his own.

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