Women’s rights: A lot said but not enough done

As we end a month of celebrating women around the world, we are reminded that equality is not only about women’s rights. It is about justice, fairness, inclusivity and accountable governance, says Kantha Naicker, Chair of the South African Institute of Professional Accountants (SAIPA).

A lot has been said about women’s rights, but not enough has been done. It took almost 20 years before SAIPA had a female board chair. “Since then, we have had several women in that position. This bodes well for the organization; showing that transformation is about allowing everyone a place at the table.”

The changing face of the profession

Naicker says the face of the accounting profession has been changing for several years and the International Federation of Accountants (IFAC) has led by example.  More than half of its board members are female.

SAIPA, a member of IFAC, has in recent times seen its membership numbers tip towards more than 50% being women. The Institute’s prioritisation of equal representation is also evident even in SAIPA’s Regional and District structures, where the Institute enjoys more than 50% female representation. At the end of February 2022, the institution had 6,602 male members and 6,997 females

SAIPA CEO Shahied Daniels says the growth and transformation of the profession is a core pillar of the institution’s strategy. This includes growth and transformation in terms of both race and gender.

Vital component

“Furthermore, sustainability has become a vital component of SAIPA revised 2022 strategy. Work has commenced to review the institute’s growth and transformation plan with a greater focus to further increase the number of female members in line with the race and gender demographics of the country.”

Daniels says SAIPA will increase initiatives to grow female members enabling them to become chief executives (CEOs) and chief financial officers (CFOs).

According to Faith Ngwenya, Technical & Standards Executive at SAIPA, the limited number of CEOs and CFOs in JSE listed companies indicates that there is still a huge gap in the recognition of women in the boardrooms.

“I do not think there is a lack of talent. It is part of the historical era that we are coming from where it was very difficult to appoint women in these positions. It is still the case and appointments are not happening at the rate they should have,” says Ngwenya.

But women can also be too complacent. They do not challenge the status quo. Nomination and selection board committees are still predominantly male. “Sometimes you must be radical to push for recognition and to see a shift in these committees.”

Accountability in leadership

Naicker adds that professional accountants must persist with their efforts to help both men and women to understand their role in encouraging “equality, tolerance, respect and diversity in our society”.

She quotes US writer Minoli Ediriweera who said that educating yourself about the struggle, whether it is about civil rights or diversity is to show support to the people in the struggle, even if you have not experienced their difficulties yourself.