Many years ago, the ruling party set the tone when they took a resolution to have gender equity in parliament. Not quite on a par, South Africa ranks 4th in the world today, after Rwanda, Andorra and Sweden, with 44.5% of those elected to parliament being women.
While in government, women have moved up the ranks and occupy positions of power, private companies and business in South Africa are lagging far behind. In the Businesswomen’s Association’s Annual Women in Leadership Census, it is disappointing to note that while women make up 51.6% of the population of South Africa, and make up 44.6% of the working population, the figures diminish in leadership positions. The 2011 census show the following about JSE listed companies:-
- Women CEO’s and Managing Directors make up 4.4% of all CEO’s and MD’s;
- Women Chairs of Boards make up only 5.2% of all Chairmen;
- Women Directors on Boards make up 15.8% of all directors;
- Women Executive Managers make up 21.6% of all executive managers.
From what can be seen above, female leaders are under-represented in most companies and form a minority within a minority. At this pace, it will take years to reach gender parity in the boardrooms of South Africa.
So, how do we change this? Empowering women in business is a major step towards building a strong, economically viable country. Women at board level play a vital role in making South African businesses globally competitive. They are committed to the on-going success of the business, contribute in multiple ways to the development of those around them and encourage other women to achieve their own goals. At decision making levels, women have a good insight in terms of partnerships and alliances, in areas such as BEE and environmental awareness. Female board members can also make conscious decisions on whether to do business with companies that do not have female representation on their boards or in managerial positions, and have no programme in place that foster the empowerment of women.
In a speech in women’s month this year, Thabo Mbeki laments the fact that our economy, to its detriment, is not using an vital part of our most economically productive people. According to him, this plays an important role in slowing our economic development and entrenching poverty among women. He goes on to say that sexism is entrenched in our society and that structural obstacles hinder the progress of women at all levels, and that conscious and committed interventions are needed.
The presence of women on boards is a powerful indicator of a company’s intentions and environment. The battle for talented employees is one faced by all companies competing in today’s world. As women become more qualified and more discerning in their choice of employers, the presence, or lack thereof of women on boards and in executive management ranks sends a powerful message from a company to potential employees about the organisation’s ability and willingness to attract, promote and retain women.