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WOMEN IN BUSINESS: Women in Leadership Census Shows Room for Improvement


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Women make up 52% of the South African population in 2012 but they account for just 3.6% of CEO positions, 5.5% of chairperson positions, 17.1% of directorships and 21.4% of executive management positions. This is one of the central findings from the 2012 Women in Leadership Census undertaken by the Businesswomen’s Association of South Africa (BWA).

While the proportion of women in executive management positions has increased marginally, it is still too low at directorship level, requiring a comprehensive societal shift to achieve more balance between men and women in leadership roles in the public and private sectors.

Other findings from the survey point to a need for the current status quo to be changed, for more women to pursue higher levels of education, for more opportunities to be created for women and for societal structures regarding the roles of men and women to be changed.

Advancement of Women in SA- An Urgent Requirement

“Essentially, the findings of the census show that we have a long way to go to achieve more equality in the upper levels of workplace. The advancement of women in South Africa is no longer an option, it is an urgent requirement,” said Kunyalala Maphisa, President of the BWA.

According to the census, women account for 17.1% of directorships in 2012, up from last year’s 15.8%, while 21.4% of executive managers are women, around the same as last year. These figures are based on 329 companies comprising 252 main board JSE companies, 57 Alt-X companies and 20 state owned enterprises. Just over 89% of the companies included in the census verified their details.

At the top of the pile, 38 companies had more than 25% of their boards and executive management represented by women directors, up by one company from 2011. However, this was still way down on 58 companies that achieved this in 2008.

At the bottom of the pile, 35 companies – or 10.6% of the total companies in the census – had no women in directorship or executive management positions, up from 27 companies in 2011.

Are Black Women in Director Positions Just a Window Dressing

In the public sector, however, women have made greater strides with 40.7% of senior managers in government service being women. However, this should also be seen against the backdrop of women occupying 60.6% of government jobs (excluding the SANDF) in 2012, up from 58.2% in 2011.

When it comes to total numbers of women directors, the number is rising slowly. There are 669 in 2012 compared to 646 in 2011, holding 1,224 directorships compared to 1,127 in 2011. Executive directors number 498, up from 467, while non-executive directors number 726, up from 660. From the companies included in the census, female executive managers number 1,452 in 2012, down slightly from 1,461 in 2011.

Significantly, the census shows that there are more white women than black women in executive manager positions, but more black women in director positions.

“Most of the decision-making powers sit at executive manager level, so the question then becomes are the black women in director positions just a window dressing,” elaborated Maphisa.

Importantly, while much improvement is needed in South Africa, the country does not fare badly against many others. Women account for less than 9% of executive management and director positions in Australia. In Canada, women account for 17.7% of executive management positions and 14.5% of director positions, while in the US, women account for 14.1% of executive manager positions and 16.1% of director positions. In Israel, however, women account for 30% of executive manager positions, higher than in South Africa.

Oil and Gas Sector – Higher Level of Women Director Roles

When it comes to CEOs, the census shows that of the 329 companies included, only 12 have women at the top of the organization, with the biggest penetration (25%) occurring in state owned enterprises. Across all 329 companies the figure is just 3.7%, while in JSE-listed companies included in the total, it drops to just 2.3%.

Another interesting statistic is that only eight of South Africa’s top 25 companies by market capitalization have women occupying more than 25% of their executive management positions. These include: Standard Bank, ABSA, Old Mutual, Tiger Brands, Aspen Pharmaceuticals, African Rainbow Minerals, Anglo Gold Ashanti and RMB Holdings.

Looking across the different industry sectors, only state owned enterprises and the oil and gas sector had a higher level of women in executive management and director roles in 2012 compared to 2011.

Commenting further on the census findings, Maphisa said that although progress is being made in some areas, there is a major need for a targeted focus on increasing the role and depth of women in leadership positions throughout the economy.

“When you consider that women make up more than half of the country’s population, there is a huge scope for women to play a much more significant part in leadership and decision-making,” Maphisa added.

“But this will require a coordinated effort and a deliberate shift in attitude and mindset to take place.”


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