Queen BEEs can offer more to their sisters

Date: January 1, 1970
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Over the past month we have been observing women’s month in South Africa, honouring women, celebrating their accomplishments, and taking stock of what more needs to be done to ensure their rightful place in social, economic, political, and every other spheres of our country.

Women in contemporary South Africa have come a long way. Gone are the days when a woman’s only chance of attaining wealth was through marriage or inheritance. Women have made it to the top of the social ladder in both politics and in the corporate sphere.
In politics, for instance, women occupy key positions in the state and in opposition parties. The deputy president, several senior ministers and provincial premiers are women. In the private sector, women have made their presence felt as company directors, shareholders and senior management appointees.
Recent research shows that that South Africa rates amongst the top five nations to embrace a sound gender policy at corporate and government levels. As South Africans, we should be proud.
In his book Limits to Liberation Dr Henning Melber says that, “the process of economic de-colonisation in Africa’s economic powerhouse has been turned into an exercise for self-enrichment by those aligned to the new power structure.”
Looking at this statement against the backdrop of women’s involvement in the economic transformation of society, the question arises – are women who have succeeded in breaking into the “Old Boys Club” mentality of business making a difference to the lives of less privileged women?
In spite of the advances made in what was traditionally a male-dominated environment, women at the top end of Black Economic Empowerment (BEE), seem to be emulating their male counterparts in encouraging a “Usual Suspects” type of syndrome in the way they conduct business.
Studies show that women’s participation in BEE has yielded a substantially high number of women becoming extremely wealthy in the past four years. These newly rich join the ranks of mega wealthy women in the likes of Bridgette Radebe, Wendy Luhabe and Cheryl Carolus. These “sisters doing it for themselves” are estimated to worth over R100 million each in their own right.
For instance, after sealing a BEE deal with engineering and technology firm Reunert, Cheryl Carolus received shares valued at R135-million, Thandi Orleyn and Dolly Mokgatle R130-million, and fourth partner in empowerment group Peotona, Wendy Lucas-Bull, R70-million.
The so-called “empowerment princesses” are ubiquitous in major empowerment deal announcements, and are well placed in the country’s power structure by membership of or through other connections to the ruling party.
A direct result of this “Usual Suspects” syndrome is that leadership positions in companies are being occupied by the same pools of women simply to satisfy BEE and gender codes. It is a flawed practice in two ways.
Firstly, by appointing the same women to their boards of directors, companies are in essence rotating the same knowledge and experience of a handful of women. Secondly, by doing this, companies are stifling their succession mechanisms, which could rather expose and orientate younger talent to leadership, thus preparing fresh talent to take over when the old guard moves on.
There are many examples of driven women who successfully and independently run their own thriving business start-ups. Is there a justifiable reason for the private sector to ignore the contributions that these women can bring to the table? It would serve them better in the long-term, instead of continuously parading the same faces when they announce their empowerment strategies.
Danisa Baloyi’s involvement in the Fidentia/ Mineworkers Pension Fund fiasco is a situation that carried an important lesson. Out of all the facts that became known because of the probe into financial mismanagement, the most startling was the fact that Baloyi’s reach extended into well over a hundred business entities, of which she was director in seventy one.
Given this, the question that begs to be asked is – is it humanely possible for an individual woman or man, to commit themselves to so much responsibility, and to follow this through efficiently? The answer is of course, no. The correction of gender inequalities should not result in a substitution of the same group of women repeatedly. Women are, indeed, adept at multi-tasking, but there is a limit.
Judging by all this, it is apparent that a scarcity mind-set is pervasive in gender transformation in the economy. The thinking is that one must, at a ferocious speed, grab as much as possible, as quickly as possible. This rationale espoused by Queen BEE`s dictates that there is only so much “honey in the honey pot,” so one should annex as much as possible, lest the pot dries up.
Women are considered naturally caregivers and are nurturing. In the business scenario to deepen, rather than to weaken, the position of women in business, women should use these particularly feminine qualities. The involvement of Queen BEE’S in business transactions should translate into entrepreneurial mentoring, imparting of knowledge and the transferral of skills to women previously disadvantaged. It is only when women bring these unique attributes into the corporate sphere that they will be doing things differently from their male counterparts.
Daluxolo Moloantoa is a freelance journalist based in South Africa. This article, produced during a GL “Business Unusual” training workshop, is part of a South Africa Women’s Day series by the Gender Links Opinion and Commentary Service that provides fresh views on everyday news.

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