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South African women in senior corporate positions down four percentage points

22nd August 2016

By: Anine Kilian

Contributing Editor Online

  

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The number of women in South Africa in senior positions in the country’s corporate space is down four percentage points year-on-year, from 27% last year to only 23% this year, according to the latest Grant Thornton report that surveys women in business.

The report, titled ‘Women in business: Turning promise into practice’ also reveals that 39% of local businesses do not have any women in leadership positions at all.

“We anticipate that this disclosure will enable companies to enter into constructive dialogue regarding the pace and nature of gender transformation and, in doing so, set up an agenda for change,” says JSE marketing and corporate affairs director Zeona Jacobs

The report is based on the International Business Report (IBR), published yearly, which surveys 5 520 businesses in 36 economies. The latest IBR research was conducted from July to December 2015. In South Africa, 200 business executives were surveyed for the 2016 report.

Meanwhile, while government put its planned imposition of gender targets for senior positions on hold two years ago, the JSE has now given listed companies an ultimatum on gender equality at board level. 

Recognising that the proportion of senior roles held by women in South Africa has barely changed over the past decade, the JSE changed its listing requirements in August 2015 to prompt listed companies to disclose the female representation on their boards and drive transformation and diversity at an executive management level.

New JSE requirements stipulate that from January 2017, all listed entities will need to have a policy on the promotion of gender diversity at board level. They will also need to disclose how they are performing against this policy.

“Hopefully the new JSE requirements, together with the changing gender profile of global leaders, will go some way to effecting this much-needed change,” says Grant Thornton advisory services director Lee-Anne Bac.
 
Bac adds that quotas are contentious, particularly in South Africa where certain quota systems are largely perceived to have failed.

The JSE, however, has not set any quotas but instead encourages companies to have voluntary targets.

“Imposed quotas can lead to situations in which firms address diversity because they have to, not because they genuinely believe in its value,” she states.
 
They can also imply that women are in senior positions not on their own merit, but simply to meet quota requirements.

Bac notes that women’s self-esteem is not helped if they are unsure whether they are being hired for their skills and experience, or simply to fulfil a quota system.
 
“There was an outcry from many quarters when government tried to legislate that 50% of all decision-making positions go to women in ‘designated public bodies and designated private bodies’,” she continues.  

Meanwhile, according to Grant Thornton’s report, the Women Empowerment and Gender Equity Bill was withdrawn from Parliament in 2014 for further consultation, a move welcomed by business. 
 
The report further points out that the 50% target was seen to be unrealistic in the South African context and that the provision of the Gender Bill was also likely to benefit women who were already in the workplace – and not the millions of unemployed women.

Edited by Samantha Herbst
Creamer Media Deputy Editor

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