Is South Africa advancing in terms of gender equality?
04 April 2016
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Hello and welcome to another edition of Old Mutual Live Business, my name is Chris Gibbons. In the 22 years since South Africa achieved democracy, a great deal of progress has been made in the area of gender equality. But equally, a great deal still remains to be done, especially in the world of business, with the number of women company directors remains low.
The list of women CEO’s, especially of JSE top 40 companies, it’s even more dismal. How do we set about improving this state of affairs? We’re joined now on Old Mutual Live Business by Farzana Mall who Chairs the Business Women’s Association of South Africa. Farzana, greetings and welcome to Old Mutual Live Business. Let’s start at the very beginning, why is it important to have women in business in the first place?
Why the empowerment of women matters
Farzana Mall: I think there has been many cases that speaks to why the empowerment of women matters. It’s been spoken extensively by the World Economic Forum, the African Union and the United Nations. Simply put, if women make up more than 50% of any population, whether in South Africa or globally; but we aren’t able to capitalise on the productive talent of women in the work place or in management positions, then we’re missing opportunities for growth in business and society.
I think the case as to why it matters, it’s particularly of importance today when the World Economic Forum indicates that we’ll have to wait over 80 years for gender parity in the workplace. We’ve seen in countries that are more progressive with the inclusion of women in management positions and in business. They perform better.
But even at a simple societal level; as mother’s, as sisters, as daughters, as wives, women play a critical role in raising their children. Particularly in more third world countries or in societies where there’s huge disparity and educated women are more likely to contribute to the development of her children and therefore, contribute to socioeconomic development.
CG: Let me be absolutely clear about this, companies run by women or with higher levels of female directors or higher levels of female senior executives are more profitable than those run exclusively by men?
FM: I think the case varies. What has been seen and proven is where there’s diversity in management and senior management positions and there’s alternate thinking in the boardroom and in leadership positions. That has definitely contributed to the bottom line performance of companies and to their profit levels.
Women make up more than 80% of consumers worldwide today. They bring alternate thinking and diversity into the boardroom which has resulted in an increase in countries legislating a minimum number of women in leadership positions. With Japan being the latest country to legislate the minimum number of women in leadership positions.
What we’re also seeing is that there’s a number of men that are actually advocating the support of women in the workplace because they have seen direct benefit for having the diverse thinking in the boardroom.
How much progress has been made in South Africa?
CG: Focus on South Africa for a moment, how much progress have we made over the last couple of decades, have the numbers improved at all?
FM: The Business Women’s Association conducts an annual women in leadership census where we measure the number of women in leadership positions in JSE listed companies and state owned enterprises. In 2015 we looked at 293 organisations, 273 JSE listed companies and 20 state owned enterprises.
Our research has indicated that whilst women make up more than 51% of the South African population, only 45% are employed in the workforce. 29.3% are women executive managers and we only have 21.9% women directors in South Africa and at the top level positions. Of chairpersons and CEO’s, we are sitting with only 11.6%. Of the 11.6%, only 9.2% are chairpersons of the board and only 2.9% of CEO’s are women.
What’s also interesting is that there are more than approximately 935 directorship positions, but there are 500 women holding those directorship positions. There are women who are holding more than one directorship position. Which means that we’re not fully capitalising on the full capability and talent of women within the South African context; and giving them the opportunity to lead and contribute in senior management level.
CG: Farzana, we know that if we look at this globally, we know from the International Labour Organisation that something happens between mid-management where men and women are split roughly 50/50, and the very top of companies where it changes to just 5% women, 95% male. South Africa sounds as though it’s no different from that in broad terms. Why does that shift take place, what happens?
Why equality numbers drop off at management level
FM: I think there’s a number of reasons why the shift occurs, particularly at middle management level and then moving into senior management level. One is organisational practice and having quality that supports the optimisation of women talent within the organisation, particularly in terms of benefit and support systems and work/life balance.
One of the things that we advocate and what we’ve seen work in practice is that unless there is buy in from top leadership in terms of understanding the importance of retention of top talent. Be it men or women, and then capitalising on it. The work place practices may not support women in terms of flexible working hours or benefit and support system that will give them the opportunity to both have a family life and succeed in the work place.
Particularly today with the advancement in technology and the fact that in most industries it doesn’t need to be a desk-based job. Those organisations that have successfully implemented the proper human resource practices, or advanced human resource practices, have capitalised on the women’s talent. They have been able to retain it.
The one thing the International Labour Organisation has indicated is that women are under-utilised by 50% compared to men of 22%. One of the biggest differentiators in business today is optimisation of human talent. That in some instances women working flexible working hours are able to produce more and give more to organisations than their fulltime counterparts.
CG: That old red herring about, it’s women who bear the children, of course, they’ve got to be at home, they have the burden of bringing them up, that in the modern world is rubbish.
Are old stereotypes a thing of the past?
FM: It is because in terms of technology and in terms of the support structures that can be put in place to support both the work life balance. As well as ensuring that you’re capitalising on your human talent in the workplace. In certain countries and in certain industries, they’ve broken every barrier. Showed that there’s such high performance, even in flexible working hours. In fact, in some instances, it’s actually motivating women to do more, give more, be more, to take advantage of the flexible work hours.
CG: We also have a problem Farzana, according to a professor at a leading business school with whom I spoke last year. In that we preach gender equality and equal opportunity in the workplace, but in our schools and in our homes we allow all the old stereotypes to continue.
FM: That is true, for the first time the Business Women’s Association broke convention. We actually held workshops for growing boys to leaders in terms of actually moving into the schooling environment. Talking about the importance of equal opportunity and the importance of an equal culture. It was a very interesting exercise to speak to a group of boys between the ages of 8 and 14/15 and hearing their views in terms of the role of women in the workplace versus the home.
CG: How do we change this pattern? I guess in our companies, but it’s not just the companies, it is the home. How do we change this pattern in our society?
FM: I think it’s through the understanding that collectively we’ll achieve success. Whether you’re in a company, whether you’re in a society, whether you’re a community leader, whether you’re a housewife. Irrespective of where you are in the income band.
It’s the understanding that unless we capacitate all people to their highest capability and ability, we won’t succeed as a society and a country. Particularly in third world countries, considering the income disparities and the societal challenges we face in lower income band groups. It’s an absolute imperative to empower women.
Whether it’s in bartering, whether it’s in entrepreneurship, whether it’s in trade or reading and writing skills. But giving them the opportunity to make wise choices for themselves. It means that they will make wise choices for their families, for their villages, for their societies and their community.
CG: Farzana Mall, Chairman of the Business Women’s Association of South Africa, thank you for being with me on Old Mutual Live Business.
FM: Thanks very much Chris, have a good day.