To mark International Women’s Day, AHRI CEO Lyn Goodear FAHRI GAICD, provides a brief rundown of women at work and says that we’ve still got a way to go.
As the grandmother of Mila and Jack, I sometimes drive them places when I am given the pleasure of minding them. Inevitably, if we are on a medium-to-long trip in the car, the question from the back seat is a predictable refrain known the world over: “Are we there yet, Ma?” they ask me.
Mila and Jack don’t realise that the question they ask is especially pertinent for me at this time because AHRI is in the throes of making progress on a number of fronts, and one of those is the imminent celebration of International Women’s Day this month.
Women in the workplace
Our speaker this year is Zelda la Grange, a 45-year-old woman who describes herself as a one-time ‘racist’ South African teenager. In 1994, as a 23-year-old in a nation with its first black head of state, Zelda was assigned to the general staff of the person whom she had known from her upbringing as a terrorist and a Communist: Nelson Mandela.
As part of her job, she came to meet Mandela in person and became for 19 years his trusted presidential aide and executive assistant, and her life was dramatically changed. The story of Mandela’s 27 years in prison is universally known and it’s a story in which the question “Are we there yet?” could not legitimately be asked because his sentence was indefinite.
However, International Women’s Day is a time when the question is entirely appropriate. What Mila and Jack want to know when they ask the question is how far we’ve come and how far we still have to go before we get “there”.
It wasn’t until the 19th century that the suffragettes in the West took on the struggle for property rights for women and the right to vote. It’s safe to say we have travelled a distance, mentally at least, since the likes of Germaine Greer and Betty Friedan in the 1960s woke us up to the need for women to fight for sexual and reproductive rights, as well as equal opportunity in education and the workplace.
We’re not there yet…there’s still a way to go
We are now in what some describe as the third feminist wave, which could mean we have passed the halfway mark in terms of getting there. The third wave refers largely to acceptance. We have made headway legally, but we still don’t have equal pay for equal work, and while we have begun to notice glass ceilings in surprising places and we call them out more often, we are still subject to societal mind-sets that give a green light to treating women violently.
Making progress in these areas is slow and somewhat tortuous. And if we push too hard we risk being labelled politically correct and man-haters.
The third wave therefore involves exercising discretion and diplomacy, especially as some women regard the gains already won by their predecessors as enough, and publicly distance themselves from a feminist label. We have made gains and we now fortunately have more male allies, but I am firmly of the view that we have a long way to go before we can say we are close to arriving at where we want to be.
And, professionally, the question posed by Mila and Jack is there for me every day when I gauge the progress made in AHRI’s journey to ensure HR becomes a legitimate profession. The reality is that organisations still appoint anyone at all to HR positions in the false belief “that anyone can do HR”. Such people may have no relevant qualifications or aptitude other than self-belief; and they may not belong to a standard-setting body to which other professionals are required to belong, and that checks they maintain professional currency and behave in accordance with an ethical code.
The number of AHRI members engaged in certification is my measuring stick, and while we are making steady progress, “getting there” cannot come soon enough.
This is an edited version of an article that first appeared in the March edition of HRM magazine.