Levelling the playing field — Lionesses of Africa

By Usha Maharaj 

Unemployment rates are on the rise, retrenchments are commonplace, the job market is transforming, and hope turns to despair everyday as graduates face the reality of a saturated job market. Levelling the playing field matters more today than it ever has before. 

A past work colleague, let’s call her Cindy, gave me a call this week. I remember Cindy from my days in corporate a few years ago. She was an administrator and valued team member who always wore a bright smile to compliment her positive disposition. Cindy was sadly retrenched during a corporate restructure over a year ago and has since been actively seeking employment. Expecting to be greeted by a warm, familiar, bubbly voice on the other end of the line, I was taken aback when all I encountered was sadness. Cindy lost her husband and the family breadwinner to a sudden illness and now finds herself grief stricken and even more desperate in her search for a job. 

The market, already bloated by the significant unemployment rate is further pressured by the many mass retrenchment. What hope is there for Cindy and the thousands just like her who are joining the ranks of the unemployed; having to rapidly re-invent themselves, unprepared and without a clue of where to even start.

Now more than ever, we need to rally together to level the playing field. But if business has, after all these years of trying, visibly failed to level the playing field when it comes to women and minorities earning, developing and climbing the ranks on par with others, what hope is there when the complexity is now tenfold? 

We are no longer just focusing on women and minorities, but also on those who are likely to lose their jobs to restructuring and on those who will lose their jobs to innovation and technology or those who do not evolve at the pace required to take up the new opportunities that replace existing roles when the fourth industrial revolution streamlines their organisations. 

Changing the face of the workforce by including women and minority groups is simple in comparison. While most businesses have failed with this simple transformation, the impact has been bearable. Failure, however, to succeed in this new wave of transformation will not be. 

And not just for people like Cindy, but for their families and the extended communities dependent on them too. As business, alongside our financial pursuits, we have a moral and social obligation to ensure that our workforce adapts and prepares and that we level the playing field for every employee as the new world of work unfolds. 

Moral and ethical business leaders must find a way to match the social needs of their employees, communities and stakeholders to the financial needs of the business and create sustainable solutions to empower the most vulnerable while building a foundation for the new world of work that is rapidly consuming us. 

And whilst employers must act, ultimately, as an employee, it is up to you to chart your own path. Make learning, development, growth and creativity your responsibility; equip yourself with the knowledge and skills required for the next revolution. The time to level your own playing field is now.

This article was first published in the ASA, Accountancy SA Magazine in August 2019.

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