• Raeesa Gabriels

I AM proud to be a woman

Born too late, I missed out on the historical protest march spearheaded by women’s rights pioneers Charlotte Maxeke, Helen Joseph, Lilian Ngoyi, Raheema Moosa and Ruth First on 9 August 1956. These phenomenal women led some 20 000 brave activists from diverse ethnic groups to protest for equal rights on the lush lawns of the Union Buildings in Pretoria. I can only imagine the adrenalin rush, the fear and the unwavering determination they felt as they courageously stood their ground against the apartheid regime.

My mother, who sadly passed away earlier this year at the age of 80, was also a political and gender activist who endured countless acts of harassment at the hands of the apartheid police. As a young girl I listened in awe when she reminisced about being an activist. Being raised by a strong woman, I learnt the real magnitude of my worth as a woman and my role in an evolving society. I realized early on that females are born disadvantaged.

Many young girls are intentionally groomed to fit into a preconceived stereotype of what a female must look like, be like and the type of careers we should get into. We are also indoctrinated that men are better at everything. So we readily trust our male partners with our finances. A UBS Global Wealth Management study shows that 58% of women leave their household’s financial management to their male partners. The fact is that we are far more responsible and financially savvy than most men. The TymeBank “More Month Than Money” survey suggests that women are better at budgeting and sticking to it. According to the survey 40% of women budget compared to 34% of men. We also save and invest more. And contrary to misguided myths around our spending habits, we actually do careful research about products before we buy them.

Undervalued and underpaid

In the workplace, we are often sidelined and exploited simply because of our gender.

A glaring example of this is that we get paid up to 35% less than male colleagues who do the same job.

The bad news is that the World Economic Forum estimates it will take 202 years to close this gender pay gap! To add insult to injury, we pay what is commonly known as “pink tax”. This means we generally pay more for clothing, grooming and feminine hygiene products. We’re considered “high risk” by financial institutions, so we pay more insurance and interest than men. Not fair, right? Like most women, I grudgingly accepted this as the status quo.

Then, a turning point happened. My domestic worker admitted to being harassed by an unscrupulous mashonisa (informal money lender). She was unable to pay his exorbitant interest rates on a payday loan she made. He confiscated her ID and threatened her life. Fearing for her safety, she had to abandon her home and move out of the area she had lived in for many years. As her employer, I felt personally responsible for her financial dilemma. As a woman, I felt enough is enough!

She’s a single mother, who is also financially supporting her grandchildren and extended family. I also know that her story isn’t unique. More than a third of South African households are financially supported by women. Female-headed households are commonly 40% poorer than male-headed households because more than half of them also support extended family. Women earn less than men, we have more mouths to feed and as a result we struggle to keep the home fires burning. It’s not surprising that 81% of female-headed households run out of money before payday.

The #LEVEL movement

I discovered that the work-and-earn concept – to help cash-strapped employees pull through financially until the next pay day – is a huge success in the US and the UK. I started toying with the idea that an earned wage access system could be the solution to the problem we face here with payday loans and unsecured lending. Shockingly, unsecured lending has quadrupled to R225 billion between 2009 and 2019! I implemented the earned wage access system, allowing my domestic worker to access pay for hours she had already worked for. The success of this experiment at home, made me realize that the work-and-earn concept should be on offer to all employees who are suffering financially while billions in earned but unpaid income are withheld from them every week.

This money is stuck in the payroll system for weeks, waiting to get disbursed at the end of the 30-day pay cycle. I pitched the idea to my business partners and LEVEL was born. I intentionally created a socially responsible daily money management platform that builds dignity and wealth for employees through savings and budgeting tools. By using LEVEL, you can personally time your pay and maximize your ability to succeed financially. The app also gives you full transparency into your daily salary. LEVEL enables you to either save a portion of your money, access your pay when you need it, or use the smart budgeting tool – before payday arrives.

LEVEL is also a helpful tool for employers.

As an employer, you can register your business for free and immediately start offering your employees a financial lifeline that is not a loan. Employees often have no other option but to apply for loans from payday lenders who charge exorbitant interest rates that propel the employee further into debt. Debt-related stress creates disgruntled employees whose poor performance leads to a decrease in productivity and an increase in turnover, fraud and theft. A loss in productivity costs employers between 11 and 14% of annual payroll.

The app allows your employees to track the hours they’ve worked and the money they’ve earned. If they make a withdrawal to cover an emergency expense before payday, the withdrawal has no impact on your business’ cash flow. Having access to money your employees have already worked for, means they have peace of mind and can focus their attention on work. It's been proven that happy employees are more productive.

You’ve got the power to #LevelUp today.

Happy Women’s Day!

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