From the May/June issue of SA Electrical Contractor
WOMENOMICS – A CONCEPT FROM JAPAN WITH LESSONS FOR THE ELECTRICAL CONTRACTING INDUSTRY
By Mark Mfikoe, ECA(SA) National Director
Womenomics is described as a theory that espouses a relationship between the growth of society and advancement of women in that society. It was introduced to the world by Shinzo Abe, the Prime Minister of Japan in a quest to improve the lot of Japanese women in the belief that this would result in the broader development of Japanese society.
A young girl writing on a high school principal’s blog, wrote: “I have always thought that later in my life, I would have to choose to become either a loving mother or a successful career woman”. Why do boys not have the same dilemma? Why is it possible and almost natural, for boys to dream of being both and not having to choose to be either loving husbands or successful careerists?
Interestingly, I have not encountered any literature that espouses womenomics without equally respecting the concept of meritocracy. Simply put, this concept says that people should not be judged on the basis of their gender, age, race, religion or any other discriminants but rather be judged on merit in relation to the task or job at hand. Applied to the concept of womenomics, this would mean that no woman should be appointed simply to fulfil a quota requirement or anything similar. They should be appointed or promoted simply because they fulfil the merit requirements associated with such an appointment.
The adoption of this concept and developing it into a programme of action to deliver on the economic imperatives of Japan has led to more women being employed in Japan than are employed in the United States of America. This has been widely reported and was confirmed in a paper entitled, ‘Abenomics: Japan’s Macro and Markets Outlook’ delivered by Kathy Matsui (Chief Japan Equity Strategist, Goldman Sachs). She further estimated that closing the gender employment gap could boost Japan’s GDP by nearly 13%.
The Electrical Contracting Industry could learn a lot from this change in attitude and be encouraged by the results it has achieved. In recent times, I have had the experience of placing women apprentices with electrical contractors in the industry.
The resistance to taking female apprentices – potential future owners of electrical contracting businesses in South Africa – and training them to become electricians, cannot be ignored. Though women in Germany do not generally choose to study electrics ahead of other careers, my observation during the study tour I undertook with GIZ in that country in early 2018 is that the electrical industry is receptive to accepting young women as part of the Dual Training Approach.
It’s not acceptable that the worst-performing male is admitted into an apprenticeship ahead of the best female there is. I have observed that where employers were given a choice, they chose male candidates ahead of the female applicants. There were some who did not and, to this end, I would like to take my hat off to companies such as ADL Electrical, Datelec Electrical, Duzicube Electrical Contractors, DC Electrical, Macha’s Electrical, Edison Power (Gauteng), Qualelect, Wesley’s Electrical and Vinnies Electrical for giving young lady apprentices an opportunity within the Artisan Development Programme. Thanks to these members, we now have women who do not have to choose between being amazing wives or mothers and having rewarding careers in the electrical industry.
Graham Clarke, First Vice-President of the ECA(SA) and owner of Graham Clarke Electrical based in Port Elizabeth, discussed this matter with me and shared his practical concerns, which are hugely legitimate and centre around the logistics of construction sites, the demands of the construction regulations and the general safety regulations regarding separate amenities for males and females. In the end, he decided to take the lead and employ female apprentices as a host employer. I am thankful to him for this decision and I pray that all the female apprentices employed will open the way for others to be given similar opportunities.
We cannot continue to accept as normal and natural a situation where women have fewer opportunities than men in this industry. There may be some initial hesitation and awkwardness, but we must work together and not block entry to careers simply because the applicants were born female.
Not giving women equal opportunities in the electrical industry and not allowing them to participate meaningfully – because we believe ‘it’s a man’s world’ – could very well deprive the industry of some outstanding electricians. There is nothing in the code or any regulations, not even in the traditional conditions of apprenticeship, that stipulates entry is based on gender.
Let us, as the electrical industry, take the lead and be receptive to women and revolutionise their entry into our industry. As we so do, we should be thankful to the Japanese. We may very well introduce a change in attitude and in the provision of logistical arrangements on sites, which would make it possible for all humanity to strive and reach heights that we would all be proud of.
Who knows, everyone may well join in and we may change perceptions that women are ‘the weaker sex’. Meghan Markle, the Duchess of Sussex, says: “women need a sit at the table, they need an invitation to be seated there, and in some cases where this is not available, well then you know what – then they need to create their own table”.
There is room for all of us and I prefer to invite women to a table where they will know they are welcome to make a meaningful contribution.