One of South Africa’s biggest challenges is creating employment opportunities for people from previously disadvantaged communities, particularly its youth and women. And while our thoughts turn to the empowerment of women in August, this is a year-round challenge.
Women face more challenges in securing meaningful employment
The International Labour Organisation (ILO) has found that globally, and in South Africa, the discrimination of women in the labour market persists, with the unemployment rate for women remaining above the national average in 2022. It is harder for women to find work compared to men. Women that find employment are often employed in low-paying jobs, where improvement prospects are limited. And young women face further barriers as they search for employment – they are likely to shoulder more responsibilities in their homes, have less disposable income for data or transport, and they are more likely to face harassment at a job interview.
Many South African women lack the opportunity to further their studies after secondary schooling, for a number of socio-economic reasons. Women who do find work are usually employed in vulnerable employment (often characterised by inadequate earnings, shorter hours, low productivity, and difficult work conditions) compared to men. Yet research from the ILO indicates that 87% of South African women would prefer to be in paid work.
This is a sobering picture for the empowerment of women in the country, yet there are powerful reasons to help women access the workplace and enter permanent employment. Research shows that when women are employed, their families and their entire communities receive the benefit. The World Bank has found that, as young women develop digital skills, they may enjoy greater choice in their personal and professional lives, and access better-paid, better-quality jobs. When women find stable employment, they invest in securing the basic needs for their families, decreasing food poverty, and in education and opportunities for their children.
There is a compelling argument to be made for increasing gender equality in the workforce. Ensuring equality in opportunities and potential to participate in the economy can be catalytic for a faster recovery from recent shocks, and a strong engine of growth for more resilient, sustainable, and inclusive economies.
It makes great business sense too – UN Women has found that companies greatly benefit from increasing employment and leadership opportunities for women, which is shown to increase organisational effectiveness and growth.
Why the BPO industry is a great place for women
Industry body BPESA notes that female contact centre agents and knowledge workers continued to make up about two-thirds of the South African global business services sector. This is particularly noteworthy when you consider that the ILO reports that the gender gap in South Africa between male and female labour force participation is 13.7%.
The BPO sector is an industry where individuals with varied educational backgrounds and qualifications all have an opportunity to enter the workforce. Women who have not been able to complete their education, for whatever reason, find it easy to get employed. Women with minimal to no experience or tertiary training can succeed and thrive in an industry where the right attitude, good communication skills and an aptitude for working with people are highly valued.
There are other reasons that the industry appeals to women. With the opportunity to work with global clients in multiple time zones, the industry offers opportunities to do shift work, which can be beneficial for women who have family obligations to juggle alongside an income-producing job. The BPO industry is also geared towards on-the-job training and allows for mobility within the industry, so there is a wide range of options for women to consider beyond being an agent in a contact centre. Just some of the benefits for women working in the BPO industry include better income, the ability to gain new and varied skills, and a sense of empowerment.
Demand-led training and fast-tracked employment opportunities are an important steps towards achieving sustainable economic growth. Pearl Zikalala is the embodiment of what the industry can offer to someone with a drive to achieve. While looking for a job, she repeatedly encountered feedback that she needed specific skills or industry experience. She found herself at CareerBox, a non-profit organisation that identifies and trains individuals from previously disadvantaged backgrounds, and places them in entry-level, digitally enabled jobs in the BPO industry.
Through CareerBox, Pearl was hired as a contact centre agent. From there, she grasped with both hands countless opportunities to learn, expand her knowledge and get involved. Today she is a senior operations manager at CCI South Africa, having progressed to a senior management role without any tertiary education. “If I look back at my career, it doesn’t just stop once you have a foot in the door. I have been presented with so many growth opportunities. As long as you’ve got the right mindset and you know what you want to achieve, you can do anything,” she says.
Pearl is one of many success stories within the BPO industry. CareerBox supports women of all ages and stages to enter the BPO industry and build their skills on the job while earning a salary. With performance as a metric of success, the BPO industry is built on teamwork and strong, organised and empathetic team leaders. This is an environment where women can thrive and outperform their peers, no matter what their background is.
Source: By Lizelle Strydom, Managing Director, CareerBox Africa