South Africa’s gender equality movement loses steam

15 Mar 2016

Ujuh Reporter

South Africa’s gender equality project is slowing in the boardroom at a time when other countries, mainly in Western Europe are making interesting advancement.

Days before International Women’s Day last week, Germany passed a law obligating some of Europe’s biggest companies to have women occupying 30% of their top jobs by next year. In doing so, Germany joined the ranks of several other countries introducing gender quotas in senior echelons.

This comes mere weeks after entrepreneur extraordinaire, Elon Musk, said he would be auditing employee salaries at his company to ensure gender pay parity, in line with “principles of fairness and justice”.

South Africa’s slowing gender equality movement is reflected in the latest Jack Hammer Executive Report, “Finding the Facts: South Africa’s Future Leaders”. The report shows that of the 334 executives in the JSE’s Top 40 companies, only 17% of executives are female. Female CEOs decreased from 5% in 2012, to only 2.5% in 2015.

Debbie Goodman-Bhyat, CEO of leading executive search firm Jack Hammer, says while racial representation in boardrooms and executive teams rightfully gets an enormous amount of attention, and is a source of countless debates and analyses, the country is in danger of losing steam on gender transformation.

“Once again, hiring practices in top jobs show a bias towards doing things as they have always been done, with tremendous conservativism,” says.

“However this approach no longer makes sense when research repeatedly shows that increased diversity – including on the gender front – leads to improved company performance,” she says.

Goodman-Bhyat notes adds that while it is true that women in South Africa are increasingly being appointed to senior positions, too many of these appointments remain in support or ‘corporate services’ roles.

“While these roles are certainly important, they do not lead to the top jobs,” she says.

“It is therefore imperative that more women be actively sourced and appointed to the critical profit-and-loss jobs, the core business roles, which will enable greater gender transformation at CEO and executive levels in years to come.

“It is time for businesses to address the unconscious biases which not only impact on equality and transformation, but also has a negative effect on bottom line and competitiveness,” says Goodman-Bhyat.

“Companies must become consciously strategic about transformation and focus on appointing black and female professionals into core business roles, in order to sustainably start shifting the seat of influence.”

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