As a speaker and author on the subject of gender mainstreaming, Colleen Larsen has dedicated her career to promoting gender equality in the South African workforce. The chief executive of Business Engage and co-chair of Women Corporate Directors South Africa, Larsen founded the Gender Mainstreaming Awards four years ago.

Basically, gender mainstreaming is the process of promoting equality in the workforce. This is achieved by identifying gender gaps and monitoring and evaluating policies, legislation, and programs in all sectors of life to ensure that women and men benefit equally.

With this goal in mind, Larsen founded Business Engage in 2005 to promote gender mainstreaming in the South African private sector. The company, which has offices in Cape Town and Gauteng, offers gender reviews to businesses. These reviews evaluate the company, identify critical gaps, and recommended ways to address unequal practises. In addition, Business Engage offers networking, mentorship and training programs to both men and women.

‘”Mainstreaming’ goes beyond integrating a women’s or gender equality component in the corporate workplace and in the organisational development of government departments,” Larsen wrote in a post last year. “It taps into the knowledge, interests and experiences of men and women, for optimal organisational performance and for the betterment of the economy.”

Larsen is the author of two books on gender mainstreaming ­– “Best Practices is Gender Mainstreaming for the Private Sector” and “Gender Matters – A Practical Response to the Slippery Ladder” ­– and is accredited by the International Labour Organization as an expert in women entrepreneurship development.

She is also the custodian of the 30% Club Southern Africa. The 30% Club is a global organisation that formed to promote gender balance in business after discovering that only 10 ­– 15% of senior executive roles were filled by women.

The goal of the 30% Club is to raise that percentage to 30%.

“Research suggests that 30% is the proportion when critical mass is reached,” the organisation’s website says. “In a group setting, the voices of the minority group become heard in their own right, rather than simply representing the minority.”

Currently the 30% Club also has chapters in Australia, Canada, the GCC (an alliance of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain, and Oman), Hong Kong, Ireland, Italy, Malaysia, the United Kingdom and the United States.

According to research, companies with women on their boards outperform companies whose boards are entirely male. Women bring diverse opinions and outlooks. Companies with gender equality throughout the organisational structure also perform better compared to their peers.

Research also shows that companies that promote gender equality attract more talent – workplaces that don’t promote gender equality miss out on smart, well-educated, successful women because they might be overlooking them or because such a workplace isn’t attractive for them to work in.

Many South African companies have yet to achieve gender equality. Women earn nearly one-third less than men on average, and for every 100 male business leaders there are only 57 women.

In response to this research, Larsen and Business Engage began the Gender Mainstreaming Awards four years ago. The goal of the awards is to encourage private sector companies to commit to meaningfully representing women in their businesses, and to reward businesses that have already demonstrated a commitment to diversity.

She’s also launched a Gender Mainstreaming online magazine. The first edition of the e-zine came out last November, and the second earlier this April. The magazine tells the stories behind gender mainstreaming in the private sector, including best-practises and practical advice.

“As a country, we are internationally recognised for our propensity for unity in diversity and are well positioned to take our rightful place as a standard bearer for the empowerment of women in the workplace, especially in the higher echelons,” Larsen wrote in a recent post calling for submissions to the magazine. “We do not do it because it is ‘the right thing to do;’ we do it because ‘it makes good business sense.'”

Business Engage is currently accepting submission for their 4th Annual Gender Mainstreaming Awards, which will take place on 25 August. Entries will be accepted until 15 June.

Fourteen awards will be presented this year to both private sector businesses and government departments:

Private Sector Awards

  • Woman on Boards Award
  • Women on Executive Committees in Multinationals
  • Equal Representation and Participation Award
  • Diversity and Transformation Award
  • Women Empowerment in the Workplace Award
  • Economic Empowerment Award
  • Mainstreaming Gender and Disability Award
  • Empowerment of Women in the Community
  • Investing in Young Women Award

Government Awards

  • Women Empowerment in the Workplace Award
  • Mainstreaming Gender and Disability Award
  • Equal Representation and Participation Award
  • Mainstreaming Human Rights

Momentous Award

  • Gender Mainstreaming Champion Award

Past winners include Dell Computer (2015 Diversity and Transportation Award), First National Bank (2015 Women Empowerment in the Workplace Award and Mainstreaming Gender and Disability Award) and Umsinsi Health Care (2015 Equal Representation and Participation Award).

Those interested can visit the Gender Awards website for more information.

“As gender diversity is still fairly new worldwide we understand that many companies are just starting on their journey,” the website states. “Do not be put off by this. You are encouraged to use the awards as a springboard to further achievements.”

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