On 9th August South Africa celebrated Women’s Day, with the entire month dedicated to the highlighting their rights and needs in this modern age. Gender-based violence (GBV) was, and continues to be, a key issue and needs to be focused on throughout the year in order to make society safe for everyone.

By the same token, a similar approach should be brought to women and their role in the business and ICT sectors of the country. Much like GBV, diversity and inclusivity have been highlighted as key issues during Women’s Day and Women’s Month in South Africa, but what happens once August ends?

To find out what needs to be done locally, as well as what its organisation is pushing in terms of promoting diversity and inclusivity in the workplace, we recently spoke with Lenovo’s marketing director for Middle East and Africa, Claire Carter.

Claire Carter, Lenovo marketing director, Middle East and Africa.

Strange times

While Women’s Month brings the role of females in the workplace into sharper focus, the past few months have proved testing for many an organisation as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and national lockdown.

It has meant that businesses have had to look at the way they run their operations, and more importantly ensure that their employees can remain as effective and productive while not having access to the office and other resources they normally would.

As Carter points out, these factors have contributed to a widening of the divide that many women in the workplace have experienced in the past, and in most instances, piled on the pressure.

“Many reports indicate that the current situation that the pandemic has left everyone dealing with, is widening the gender parity and divide, with many women on a global scale now having to manage both their children at home all day, as well as their full-time careers. I can personally relate to this being a mom and a marketing director,” she explains.

“A report by McKinsey showed that women are more at risk than men when it comes to COVID-19-related job cuts and restructurings, and the reason for this is that ‘the virus is significantly increasing the burden of unpaid care, which is disproportionately carried by women. This, among other factors, means that women’s employment is dropping faster than average’,” Carter adds.

The marketing director says a suitable way to tackle these challenges is having an agile work environment, which is something that Lenovo has been pushing for years. It is also one of the reasons why the company has been able to remain resilient during the pandemic and lockdown, according to Carter.

“At Lenovo we have always had an agile working culture which we’ve reinforced even further in these difficult times equipping our employees with the tools and flexibility needed to  ensure that they are able to thrive from a remote working set up,” she says.

Staying committed

Carter also stresses that if an organisation is serious about creating a diverse and inclusive culture, it needs to make that a primary focus, even when a global pandemic is ongoing.

“If you are truly committed to something, even in difficult times you keep pushing that agenda, and supporting women in leadership is something Lenovo has believed in for nearly 13 years, even in the current times it remains a key focus for us,” she points out.

The marketing director has highlighted the opportunities that COVID-19 has presented for many organisations too, particularly as it pertains to digital transformation and its acceleration of late.

“The pandemic has changed the way we work and live forever, and has forced a much needed adoption of an agile working culture which is absolutely fantastic news, especially for women in the workplace,” says Carter.

“In a country like South Africa where the COVID-19 crisis has rocked the economy and placed many people in financial difficulty, being able to have a flexible working environment which places emphasis on output vs. location could help working women save on child care costs as they would be able to work from home. Embracing this culture will be a game changer,” she enthuses.

Being authentic

For those organisations looking to drive more diversity and inclusivity within their organisation, Carter believes it will only be successful if done authentically. To that end it should not be a box ticking exercise, and should be an element woven into the very culture of the organisation.

Highlighting how it has been done within Lenovo, Carter points to the company’s WILL initiative, which was spun up in 2007.

“At Lenovo, we established a WILL (Women In Lenovo Leadership) network which gives constant focus to our commitment to women all year round,” she says.

“This initiative is dedicated to address career development needs that support woman’s growth and contribution to the company in order to attract and retain more female talent in technology and increase gender diversity balance in particular in high level and business positions,” the marketing director explains.

The power of words

Looking at what the company has rolled out for Women’s Day, as well as what other plans it has in terms of driving diversity, Carter makes mention of its Equality Spell Check project which is happening throughout the MEA region.

“The Equality Spell Check focuses on certain words which have a very different meaning for men and women. For example ‘POWER’, as in man power has positive connotations where a man would be labelled a strong leader with drive and ambition. However for a women it has a very different sentiment, where powerful women are often labeled as bossy, aggressive or pushy,” Carter unpacks.

“There are many other examples of words which have these dual meanings which our Equality Spell Check creates awareness of,” she concludes.

While there is no doubt a lot of ground to make up in terms of true diversity and inclusivity in the workplace, it’s clearly something that Lenovo will continue to strive for on its end.

[Image – Photo by Aditya Wardhana on Unsplash]