Twenty percent of South African firms have no women in senior roles

10 April 2018 5 min. read

While the overall business environment for women appears to be improving in South Africa, there is a clear divide between businesses that are gender-equitable and those that aren’t. According to a new report from Grant Thornton, nearly a third of senior positions in South Africa are occupied by women, but 20% of the businesses in the country have no women in senior positions at all.

Gender disparity has come to the fore significantly over the last year, raising questions and debates about the nuances of gender equality and what it really means. Amid the discussion around the issue, the empowerment of women through their appointment to senior roles has been widely accepted as a key remedy to social inequality. 

South Africa offers an interesting case for the issue, historically exemplifying inequality amongst a range of social segments. Last year, a report published by Bain & Company revealed that women in South Africa, despite being qualified and ambitious, were unable to break through the glass ceiling in the business world.

In recent times, however, the country has displayed promising signs of filling these gaps in an all-encompassing manner. In terms of gender, the country saw a number of high-profile female appointments in the last year itself. International oil firm British Petroleum appointed Priscillah Mabelane as its first ever black female CEO late last year, after which Big Four firm KPMG’s new team was announced with Nhlamu Dlomu at the helm and two other female members in senior positions.

Batandwa Mdyesha also features on this list of appointments, having been appointed the Chief Financial Officer of the Beijing Automotive Group (BAIC) late last year. Outside of gender-based equality, the Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment (B-BBEE) stipulations have gained significant momentum in recent times, with a number of firms modifying their ownership structures to meet the stipulations of the act.

20 percent of South African firms have no women in senior roles

In light of the international spotlight on gender issues, professional services firm Grant Thornton has published its International Business Report, which lays special emphasis on the position of women in the international business environment. The findings suggest that these recent developments in South Africa have had a tangible influence. 

According to the firm, 29% of the senior roles in South Africa are occupied by women, which is higher than the global average of 24%. Moreover, although the number of businesses in South Africa with no women in senior positions remains fairly high at 20%, the country still performed better than the global average, which stands at 25%. 

As per the report, these figures signify female appointments just for the sake of appearing gender-equitable, without integrating the true character of diversity, calling for improvements in company policy. To this end, South African firms recorded a relatively poor performance. 

One of the most direct methods of promoting diversity, i.e. linking the pay of senior management to the level of gender diversity in a company, was employed by 14% of South African firms. Further, only 39% of the firms in South Africa offer part-time working arrangements for women, while 37% offer remote working arrangements, both of which have become fairly common across the world. Meanwhile, a dismal 5% offer subsidised childcare.

However, as an indication of gradual integration of equitable policies, the consulting firm found that 93% of South African firms had equal pay irrespective of gender, and 88% had policies in place to prevent discrimination during the recruitment process. Other policies that have gained momentum are paid parental leave, at 71%, and flexible working hours at 51%.

Commenting on the scenario in South Africa, Lee-Anne Bac, Director at Grant Thornton Johannesburg said, “The percentage of women in senior management teams has, on average, been rising slowly but steadily from 26% in 2014. There are still too many businesses without a single woman in their senior management team, however, and this needs to be addressed. Businesses with all-male leadership teams need to act fast if they are to stay competitive.”

She added, “The report highlights that the businesses who are succeeding are those whose policies and practices are rooted in a genuine conviction of the benefit of gender diversity.”