“A challenged world is an alert world - and from challenge comes change. So, let’s choose to challenge.”
These words – a rallying call to the world on International Women’s Day 2021 to challenge gender stereotypes and bias build inclusive workplaces where women can thrive and celebrate women’s achievements – resonate strongly with Old Mutual.
Across the Group’s Africa footprint, Old Mutual has demonstrated its commitment to women’s empowerment in a multitude of ways – both within and beyond the organisation.
From the Women’s Summit started in 2011 in Namibia to the East African Women’s Network started in 2016 and a number of other initiatives spanning all corners of the continent, over the years, Old Mutual has consistently worked towards fostering gender equality and women’s empowerment.
Citing an outstanding example of how Old Mutual does this, Celiwe Ross, Human Capital Director at Old Mutual Limited, recently noted that in 2019, the group rejuvenated the Old Mutual Women’s Network (OWN) to “bring all of the beautiful women in our business together, grant them a platform to grow and empower themselves as well as make a real difference in the communities we operate and give a voice to those who may be under-represented.”
The brand traverses Old Mutual’s entire Africa footprint, bringing together women from South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Kenya, Malawi, Tanzania, Nigeria, Uganda, Ghana, Rwanda, South Sudan and eSwatini to engage on gendered issues and topics relevant to helping women thrive in the workplace. In honouring International Women’s Day, OWN demonstrated Old Mutual’s pan-African commitment to gender equality in a live virtual broadcast viewed by more than a thousand Mutualites and Old Mutual stakeholders, by raising the voices of four groundbreaking women to provide insight and inspiration on the 2021 IWD theme #ChooseToChallenge.
They included Lillian Barnard – MD at Microsoft South Africa; Gwen Lister – Executive Chairperson of the Namibia Media Trust and renowned anti-apartheid and media activist; Esther Cobbah – CEO of StratComm Africa and Habiba Osman – CEO of the Malawi Human Rights Commission. Collectively, they touched on the various elements of #IWD2021, and shed light on how we may all continue to play a role – individually and collectively – in forging a more gender-equal world. In speaking to the importance of creating inclusive workplaces where women can thrive, Lillian Barnard (South Africa) explained that because corporate cultures are generally masculine, we all have a role to play in ensuring that women feel they are able to excel in any setting. “I want women to know that they have an advocate in the business.” “We will achieve equality when women can walk into a room, and feel that they belong.”
Gwen Lister (Namibia) highlighted the significance of forging a better world, not only in terms of increasing the quantity of women in leadership but doing so with quality leadership. “Women should stand firm, follow their passion in life and lead by example with honesty and integrity in whichever facet of the working world they find themselves, to forge a better world. Yes, it will continue to take courage, but we should not give in.” She also emphasized the importance of challenging all forms of gender discrimination: “Call out prejudice and bias against women when and wherever it occurs. Bullies will soon tire when they see their tactics are not working or frightening us away.”
Celebrating the achievements of women was one of the key elements of #IWD2021, and Esther Cobbah (Ghana) shone a bright light on this theme by noting the importance of women being celebrated as their full selves.
“We tend to celebrate women when they have done things that men normally do. Meaning that men are setting the standard. But we do things that men can never ever do. Let us celebrate all these achievements too.”
At Old Mutual, we are proud of the milestones we have been able to achieve with regards to the representation of women in the Group. 43% of our Exco across Old Mutual Limited are women, and as part of our Responsible Customer Investment Cycle, we are committed to ensuring a “Diverse and inclusive culture that attracts a workforce passionate about serving customers”.
We are cognizant that more remains to be done to bring about true gender equality at Old Mutual and in our world, and remain committed to fostering workplaces where everyone, in all their diversity, feels they can thrive.
Finally, the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the world and its unique effect on women was highlighted, in line with the UN’s IWD theme: “Women in leadership: Achieving an equal future in a Covid-19 world.”
In this regard, Habiba Osman (Malawi) called for inclusive and transformative strategies that regard the voices of women, in ensuring a strong recovery from the pandemic.
“We need more voices for women because the Covid-19 pandemic itself has a woman’s face. We need to recover better by including women’s voices.”
Given the high number of women in our business – who are not only employees but also team leaders, mothers, wives, caregivers and so much more – Old Mutual recognizes the gendered impact of the pandemic and the need to #recoverbetter.
Old Mutual remains committed to creating inclusive workplaces where women can thrive and celebrating the achievements of women in and beyond the organisation and we will continue to #ChooseToChallenge bias and prejudice in all its forms.
*Mauriza Fredericks is the Manager: Communications and Social Responsibility at Old Mutual