8 March 2019

BUSA CEO remarks at ILO and IOE International Women’s Day event in Geneva


Business Unity South Africa (BUSA) CEO Tanya Cohen remarks at the International Labour Organisation and the International Organisation of Employers (IOE) International Women’s Day discussion under the theme: ‘A quantum leap for gender equality: for a better future of work for all’, (11.00am-1pm), in Geneva.





  • We are gathered here as women from different professional spheres under the umbrella the Future of Work and how best to ensure that women are included in this framework. Firstly, before delving deeply into the topic. I want to congratulate the ILO for turning 100 this year. This milestone coincided with the Global Commission Report on the Future of Work, with which we are seized at BUSA. In fact, we are in the process, together with others in the SADC Private Sector Forum, of developing a position in preparation for the International Labour Conference.
  • I am honoured to be here with you today, representing both BUSA and the IOE. BUSA is the apex business organisation in South Africa and represents a cross-section of business organisations, both large and small. BUSA is the business social partner on the National Economic Development and Labour Council (colloquially referred to as Nedlac). The thrust of our work is informed by our vision to create a transformed and inclusive economy through progressive policies. The IOE is the largest private-sector network in the world, with more than 150 business and employer organisation members in more than 140 countries, representing more than 50-million companies, large and small. The IOE is turning 100 next year.
  • Although International Women’s Day is not an official public holiday in South Africa, we celebrate Women’s Day on August 9 annually, which is a public holiday. We observe the day to celebrate and honour women’s role in the struggle against apartheid, as well as the historic women’s anti-pass march.
  • As we celebrate the milestones and breakthroughs women have made in multiple spaces, there a long way to go to inculcate a culture that is fully inclusive of women.
  • In South Africa’s case, the labour laws have improved progressively to incorporate pro-women policies, such as improved paid maternity benefits through unemployment insurance and paternity leave through basic conditions of employment.  In our country, employers are not permitted to discriminate against expectant mothers, nor are they allowed to take punitive measures against women who go on maternity leave. In fact, the law requires that women not be prejudiced professionally for starting families or choosing to have children. These provisions extend to women who also choose to adopt. Our employment equity legislation provides an explicit provision for equal pay for work of equal value, and additional recognition is given in the black economic empowerment codes for black women.
  • That said, we have a long journey ahead in removing the artificial and societal barriers that have prevented women from sitting on boards and becoming captains of industry.
  • The situation in South Africa in that regard mirrors that which has unfolded in the global community – there are too few women heading big enterprises and occupying boardroom seats.



The business case for gender equality


  • According to a recent, joint survey conducted by the IOE and the ILO Bureau for Employers Activities on women’s economic empowerment, women’s inclusion in the economy is an important factor to: build strong economies; establish more stable and just societies; achieve internationally agreed goals for sustainability and human rights; improve quality of life; and boost competitiveness and profitability.
  • All of those pillars are what inform and anchor BUSA’s strategy: a solid economy, stability and equality – although it is important to note that we do not explicitly identify women as central to this.
  • BUSA’s Business Approach to Transformation is cited as an example of enabling policy whose coherent approach could be used as a framework for the inclusion of women in the wider economy. We are incredibly proud of this.
  • In addition, enabling women to acquire qualifications and develop skills, and to join the labour market boosts incomes and wellbeing throughout the society. A woman-centric approach to economic growth has wider benefits for society including: raising healthier, better-educated children and the improved welfare of the family.
  • In South Africa, there are pockets of our society which recognise the benefits of creating an enabling and inclusive environment for women. We have what is called Bring a Girl Child to Work Day, when girls throughout the country experience the diverse world of work through the eyes of women role models in different fields, ranging from the arts and entertainment, to the corporate world and technical fields.
  • BUSA has also recently facilitated a number of initiatives in the Presidential Jobs Summit that will enhance the access of women to work. Notable examples in this regard include:
    • the KYB incubator project that aims to establish 2,400 women-owned early childhood development centres in Gauteng;
    • the commitment for the private sector to assist in the  training of nurses and community careworkers;
    • the access for women, along with men, to access finance for small business development through Finfind;
    • facilitation of pathways for youth to employment through Harambee; and
    • the agreement for the NBI to develop a practical framework on how to implement equal pay for work of equal value for larger employers.
  • International Monetary Fund MD Christine Lagarde[1] recently spoke to the Guardian and said that having more women in the workplace could boost the economy. According to Lagarde, employing more women and tackling sexism in the workplace is the key to making the world economy richer, more equal and less prone to devastating financial collapses. This is also supported by the OECD: OECD research shows that, on average, across its member countries, a 50% reduction in the gender gap in labour-force participation would boost GDP an extra 6% by 2030.


  • Practically, BUSA has lent its support to the African Regional Labour Administration Centre, which recently hosted a workshop on gender equality in the workplace and a high-level symposium on violence and harassment of women AND men at work.
  • BUSA, as the business social partner at Nedlac, is spearheading efforts for greater transparency on executive pay in South Africa, while also advocating for transformation in the broader economy.


Global Commission on the Future of Work report

  • The Global Commission on the Future of Work released its report in January 2019. BUSA endorses many of its principles, especially the focus on a human-centric approach. The inclusion of women therein should go without saying. BUSA notes, however, that a number of the proposals  in the report assume that comprehensive social security is available and affordable. With South Africa’s limited fiscal space, this is harder to achieve.
  • The Global Commission report envisages a number of transitions:
    • From profit and growth centred to a human-centred economy
    • From a command and control workplace to one based on sharing, learning, creativity and innovation
    • From a one size-fits-all approach, to customised practices that meet the individual and the employer (private sector or government’s) operating needs
    • From silo thinking to integrative thinking
    • From classroom foundational and tertiary education to platform connected and online training opportunities and lifelong learning
  • Building a brighter future involves investing in women and girls. Skills, knowledge and know-how – collectively known as human capital – have become an enormous share of global wealth, which is bigger than produced capital such as factories or industry, or natural resources. But human capital wealth is not evenly distributed around the world. How, then, can developing countries build their human capital and prepare for a more technologically demanding future? The answer is they must invest much more in the building blocks of human capital – in nutrition, health, education, social protection, and jobs. And the biggest returns will come from educating and nurturing girls, empowering women, and ensuring that social safety nets increase their resilience.[2]
  • Recommendation 3 of the report makes reference to gender equality: “Adopt a transformative and measurable agenda for gender equality by making care an equal responsibility for men and women, ensuring accountability for progress, strengthening the collective representation of women, eliminating gender-based discrimination, and ending violence and harassment at work.” It further states that gender equality starts at home. It is necessary to adopt policies that promote equal sharing of care and domestic responsibilities between men and women. Accountability for progress on gender equality needs to be ensured. BUSA and the IOE (the global network of employers which BUSA is a part of) agree with this reference.
  • There is a need, however, to do more research on the effectiveness of pay transparency and gender parity policies. Legislating is one part of the solution, but without implementation to deliver systemic empowerment it cannot be successful. Shifting centuries of discrimination and practices that have prevented women from participating fully in the world of work requires a multiplicity of approaches and interventions.



Evidence of progress made by women in the labour market


  • There is evidence of progress made by women in the labour market which needs to be acknowledged:
    • According to UN Women’s Annual Report 2016-2017, empowered women around the world are achieving some visible progress. The Annual Report cites various achievements for women, which have resulted from 72 adapted or amended laws to strengthen women’s rights in 61 countries and the training of 4,000 aspiring and elected women leaders in 51 countries.
    • With regard to the world of work for women, the World Economic Forum Global Gender Gap Report 2017 tracks the evolution of the overall Index since 2006 by geographic region. It highlights the local progress towards gender inclusion undertaken over the past decade in regions such as Western Europe, South Asia, Sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America and the Caribbean. Although more work needs to be done, in all world regions it records a narrower gender gap than the one observed 11 years ago.
    • According to the OECD Report on the Implementation of the OECD Gender Recommendations, there is some cause for optimism – although more women work part time and for low pay, women’s labour force participation rates have moved closer to men’s rates over the past few decades across the OECD.
    • According to the World Bank, the percentage of women participating in the labour workforce between 1990 and 2017 has increased in many developing countries and has increased overall in the Least Developed Countries, Sub-Saharan African countries and low-income countries.


What companies, IOE members and IOE are doing to advance gender equality and promote decent work


  • The IOE is a Steering Committee member of the Equal Pay International Coalition (EPIC), and last September 2018 made a pledge at an ILO side event in New York: ‘Strengthen our action to promote gender equality and non-discrimination good practices as part of our commitment to preserve and defend Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work, while paying special attention to gender-based discrimination in pay.’ Other organisations, governments and companies also made pledges to EPIC.
  • The IOE felt that it was important for it to be a part of EPIC because:
  • The work of EPIC adds value to the IOE’s own work on gender equality and diversity,
  • It provides a platform for the IOE and its member federations to express their views and ideas on how to tackle the gender pay gap, and
  • The ILO, UN Women and the OECD have the resources to better understand the barriers that women face and come up with policy action to tackle this issue at the global level. It therefore gives the IOE access to experts in the field and this will give them a chance to not only learn from the experts but to also give constructive inputs to their work from a business perspective.
  • Examples from other IOE members include:
    • Honduras Private Business Council: provides training and victim support for violence and harassment against women; it educates through a documentary of girls’ stories conveyed by leading actresses; and promotes entrepreneurship among women and youth business development services through Micro, Small and Medium Development Centres, promotes women’s entrepreneurship through the Gender Academy, fairs, business match making services.
    • Montenegro Employer Federation: has Employer’s Code of Ethics which binds all members to respect the principles of the UN Global Compact and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), founded the Business Women Association of Montenegro to support women in entrepreneurship and management, it organises the Annual CSR Award Conference to promote good practices, including gender-related practices; and has developed an assessment mechanism for the “environment for women” which is regularly reviewed.
    • Iran Confederation of Employers’ Associations: has partnered with civil society by forming an umbrella organisation to promote gender equality in the context of the SDGs, offers international expertise and training opportunities to staff on gender equality.
    • Bulgarian Chamber of Commerce and Industry: is a member of the South Eastern Europe Women Business Angels Network (SEEWBAN) which aims to increase the number of Women Business Angels in Europe. Through SEEWBAN, different training courses are provided for female employees and their member affiliates. SEEWBAN facilitates the funding of Women Entrepreneurs by Business Angels. It has mentoring schemes for women professionals in place and participates in different CSR initiatives such as supporting women in the International Women’s Club of Sofia. It uses online platforms to enhance training and mentoring.


BUSA’s initiatives on gender equality


  • BUSA has devised an Ethical Code of Conduct to ensure that the organisation conducts its business in a manner that is transparent and fair. BUSA proactively ensures that is hires staff from diverse backgrounds and through the lense of ensuring gender parity in its skills mix.
  • BUSA follows Board guidelines in appointing representatives to external structures and opportunities. One of the criteria to be considered is demographic composition.
  • Some of BUSA’s members focus on the economic inclusion of women. BUSA supports these members by lending support, seeking opportunities for collaboration and providing strategic direction and opening doors that would otherwise be closed to them.
  • As mentioned earlier, BUSA, with the help of other social partners and its members, has through the Jobs Summit facilitated a number of initiatives that support gender equality and it is working to ensure transparency in executive pay and is part of efforts to ensure that the South African economy is transformed and inclusive.
  • We have been in exploratory talks with women in water, among others, to ensure that women are not left of the national infrastructure conversation.



Concluding remarks


  • The private sector, through the IOE, has been and can continue to play an important role in gender equality. It would, like many global challenges, require a holistic multi-stakeholder and multipronged approach, and BUSA stands ready to play an enabling and constructive role therein.
  • Thank you, once again, for inviting me to this event.

[1] https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/mar/01/more-women-in-the-workplace-could-boost-economy-by-35-says-christine-lagarde

[2] https://blogs.worldbank.org/voices/build-brighter-future-invest-women-and-girls

Sign Up