by Carey Finn (@carey_finn) Following in Cape Town’s footsteps, Johannesburg has established the second South African chapter of the global SheSays creative network. The leadership team is passionate about uplifting women and addressing inequality in the workplace, particularly in the media and advertising industries. Here’s how Kirigo Kamore, Lilian van der Merwe, Nicole Adolph and Kgomotso Taje plan to do that.

Collage: SheSays Cape Town
Credit: SheSays Cape Town.

Q5: What are the biggest obstacles to achieving real gender equality in the workplace in South Africa?
Kirigo Kamore: I think there are myriad factors that contribute to the lack of gender equality in the workplace: culture, age discrimination (which my mother is currently facing), unequal pay, policies that don’t cater to working mothers, national regulations that don’t fully hold companies accountable for transparent practices in gender equality and inclusive growth, and the age-old tendency to look at leadership characteristics with a masculine lens, among other issues. In the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report, SA ranks 19th, well above the global average, though far from the national ideals stated in the Employment Equity Act.

These are just a few or the issues working women face, but we also need to consider the nuanced differences women of colour face in the workplace in SA, as I wouldn’t paint all these barriers with a broad brush.

Q5: What learnings can you share from other markets with regard to improving equality?
: For me, Iceland — which often tops the WEF Global Gender Gap rankings and is considered the most gender-equal country in the world according to the report — is always a great case study of how they’ve addressed and scaled gender equality both in the private and public sectors.

Like many cultures, SA culture in all its multiplicities is still rather patriarchal. This continues to influence how people see women within society, as being supporting rather than leading figures, and this mindset is unfortunately carried over into the workplace and in politics. I think Iceland has created policies, that have helped to shape societal behaviour around how women are regarded, by ensuring women are empowered participants of the economy. This includes reducing the gender pay gap, increasing their place in the workforce (Iceland has the highest proportion of women in workforce in the world), increasing access to education for women, and allowing for parental leave for both men and women. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that their prime minister happens to be a woman.

Similarly, Rwanda has transformed societal culture around women, in both the public and private sectors, in such a short timespan, which is quite impressive.

Q5: How can we bring more young women into careers in the advertising and marketing fields?
Lilian van der Merwe: As a first step, we can ban the ‘free internship’. It’s the biggest barrier for young talent. The majority of graduates can’t afford to work for free, so the industry is losing great talent before they even enter [it]. This is also why we’re not transforming like we should, why the work we put out is mostly one-dimensional, and why youngsters (-stars) are losing interest in the creative industry.

Secondly, we want to see where we want to go. So, seeing more women in senior or more-powerful positions is the biggest motivator for younger women to pursue a career in these fields.

Q5: What does membership of SheSays entail, and how can women get involved?
Nicole Adolph: Becoming a member of SheSays means adding your voice to a collective of powerful women that believe in stopping the gender leadership imbalance and focus on solving the challenges standing in the way.

Being a member means having a voice as an individual and a collective. There are no barriers to entry, and everyone can learn and participate equally. We don’t just discuss women’s issues; we provide a platform that acts as a support structure for work and life in general.

You can become a member by simply attending our free events, and, if you’re feeling generous, become a part of your local chapter’s committee.

Q5: Besides supporting SheSays, what practical steps can advertising, marketing and media organisations in SA take to ensure equal treatment — and pay — in the workplace?
Kgomotso Taje: Any organisation that is serious about promoting equal treatment and pay can begin by simply creating educational forums within the company, where employees can access information such as how to negotiate pay, education on discrimination, etc. These could be seminars or workshops held by experts or thought-leaders in the field as a way to equip their staff.

Empowerment comes also in the form of knowledge and education, and, as individuals, we need to create more of these open conversations where we discuss in the media what the fair rate is and stop this vicious cycle in the media industry of withholding information, whether it’s on opportunities or education.


Carey FinnCarey Finn (@carey_finn) is a writer and editor with a decade and a half of industry experience, having covered everything from ethical sushi in Japan to the technicalities of roofing, agriculture, medical stuff and more. She’s also taught English and journalism, and dabbled in various other communications ventures along the way, including risk reporting. As a contributing writer to, her new regular column “Q5” aims to hone in on strategic insights, analysis and data through punchy interviews with experts in media, marketing and design.

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