A chartered accountant with almost 18 years of experience, who had previously acted as both a CFO & CEO and served as a board member of approximately 7 companies, was overlooked for a CFO position at AMH. Even though highly qualified, Adila Chowan was reduced to being identified as a “female employment equity” candidate while her white male candidate got the position. Her crime? Being born black and female.
Adila was promised position of CFO at AMH by CEO Mark Lamberti. But she was subsequently told that as a female employment equity candidate, who is technically competent, she requires another 3 to 4 years to gain leadership experience. Adilla laid a grievance about this statement but was later suspended from the company for laying the complaint The job she was promised was further given to a white male candidate who she claims that over and above that, she was expected to assist him.
Adila Chowan could have swept the incidents under the carpet and acted as a typical “good corporate black”. She could have, yet again, believed the new and fanciful promise given to her. She could have waited the apparent 3 to 4 years required to gain additional “leadership experience” in the hopes of finally receiving her promised position. But Adila, with 18 years of corporate experience, , already knew that she had acquired the leadership skills from her experience in corporate. Above and beyond that, she knows the ins and outs and nuances of corporate South Africa. .
Her decision to take this matter to court, despite knowing that she could quite possibly be committing corporate suicide in an industry that doesn’t enjoy hearing about identity politics from black individuals, was about more than just herself. It was about making a statement that we all know to be true in corporate South Africa. :
In the words of Judge Piet Meyer “There is a great public interest in ensuring that the existence of systemic discrimination and inequalities in respect of race and gender be eradicated. As blatant and patent as discrimination was in the days of apartheid, so subtle and latent does it also manifest itself today.”
Judge Meyer speaks on the discrimination and racism that’s dominating the decision making powers of corporate South Africa. This case is of signifance to black individuals in corporate SA because in this industry, we are consistently in the minority. In this industry we regularly, even if it’s subconsciously, have to deal with the idea that we are, “Only employed as a BEE score ” and more often than necessary, treated exactly like that.
After enduring university and graduating with your various degrees, that you worked twice as hard to achieve, alongside your Caucasian counterparts, the last thing anybody would need is entering a system that undermines your efforts and does not consider you equally as capable as your Caucasian colleagues. This was evidently the case with Chowan, and so many other black females..
In promoting black excellence, we need to mentally emancipate ourselves from the harsh stereotypes we face daily. We are capable and we are everything we need to be to get exactly where we want to be. Systemic inequalities are a mere representation of the hurdles along the way, and Chowan has made that hurdle slightly smaller. Not only by raising awareness but also raising red flags around the consequences of racism, however subtle it may seem. This case has taken away some of the power that pushes us to be “good corporate blacks” and it has given it back to us. And for that, I am lost in reverie of the possibility of a new corporate South Africa.
Writer: Irene Chikobvu Photographer: Steve Johnson