Transformation in a Democratic South Africa: The Chronicles of Black Women in Corporate


When you receive an employment agreement, it is accompanied by a job description that specifically details the outcomes that are expected from an employee during the hours they’ll be spending at work. Once you start working, you’re advised on the modus operandi of reporting channels and stakeholders you are required to serve. Occupational Inclusion and fair labour practices, basic rights that should benefit and protect every woman in the workplace, are often disregarded, proven by the continued need for Black women to fight for space in corporate environments that are dominated by men and largely white. Black women encounter a perpetual cycle of gender and continued racial discrimination, creating and reinforcing barriers for Black women to further develop their careers. 

Tackling the reform on equal pay, a necessity for combatting gender and racial biases is long overdue. Not only will it secure equal pay for Black women, gender transparency, equality, fairness and accountability, it will also introduce measures that will enable the monitoring and reporting of discrimination and unfair labour practices.

The challenge experienced by many young Black professionals after entering corporate is falling into a trap of being ” a runner”, a method of psychological bullying that can manipulate the growth and transformation of many hopefuls by having them believe that giving in, doing whatever you are told to do, going the extra mile (even if it means being sent to shops or making tea and making yourself “useful” in tasks that don’t actually develop your skills or relevant experience) will establish good relations, show your “determination” and result in you being recognised for your commitment.

This is a belief that has, in many ways, demeaned the dignity and respect of young Black women in the corporate world. Many have doubted their capabilities and their talents were swallowed by doing the job they weren’t appointed for and that didn’t help them grow. A practice that is within many organisations and has become a culture.

What does it mean to be a Black Woman and a working Class in South Africa?

According to Ms Palesa S, being a Black woman in working class South Africa means, “constantly fighting for space, constantly fighting to be recognised. We are told there is space for us (Black Women). In theory it is true, but practically, there’s no such a thing.

I must constantly fight different battles:

  • To be heard;
  • To be given an opportunity;
  • To be respected;
  • To be seen as capable;
  • To not be harassed and this is not an extensive list.

In that light, it also means I get to conquer certain battles. I get to be proud of myself so often because when things finally come together for me, I know that it was all because of my effort.”

Black women’s to existence is not a nice-to-have. Black women, too, have a right to sit anywhere and everywhere they desire. If and when it is in a space within which they co-exist with other races and genders, the same respect, dignity, support and fair opportunities to lead must be given to them. It is often said, “If you’re not given a seat at the table, bring a folding chair.” This narrative, which has been going on for years, may have encouraged pockets of inclusivity and resolve in Black women to push back against the system. However, it is not the solution because it continues to perpetuate conscious and “unconscious” biases relating to race, gender, inequality and economic exclusion. As much as we need bigger tables in corporate that are inclusive and respectful of Black women and the value they bring, we also need our own spaces that we create to be supported by economically supported by corporates through equal and fair access to opportunities and a commitment to larger procurement spends being directed to Black woman-owned and run businesses, projects, initiatives and causes.

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Bakang Khunou

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