Corporate SA still crouches under a gender glass ceiling

2011-06-13 16:11

JSE-listed companies: 26. Director positions: 271. Women: 0. Gender groups this week lauded government’s name-and-shame list of ­gender offenders, which contains well-known companies such as Shoprite Holdings, Brait SA, the Mvelaphanda Group and Trans Hex.

The list was publicised by Women’s Minister Lulu Xingwana as she announced plans to present the Gender Equity Bill to Cabinet by March next year.

The bill proposes to give government the power to enforce gender equity and to punish companies or individuals who do not comply.

Some believe complying with the legislation will not be a simple task.

Bernie Krone, CEO of engineering company Esorfranki – one of the companies on the name-and-shame list – said he did not have a problem with the bill in principle but that it was not practical.

He said it was at this point difficult to ­attract and retain qualified black engineers and finding women was even more difficult since “fewer women engineers are ­coming through”.

Krone said he believed the less regulated businesses were the better. “Business should operate in a natural environment to make sure it’s good for the economy.”

A representative of another company on the list, Trans Hex, said that transformation was a priority. “Since the unbundling of the company last year the need to transform the whole company has ­become a priority.

“But if you want to know if there are plans in place to do it tomorrow, I’ll have to say ‘no’. It is a journey.”

Kunyalala Maphisa, president of the Businesswomen’s Association, believes the bill is long overdue.

“Women represent 49% of the workforce of companies listed on the JSE, but the percentage of women in top positions in these companies does not reflect these statistics.”

She said the example of Shoprite – which was singled out in Parliament as one of the offenders during Xingwana’s budget speech – was shocking. ­Xingwana said Shoprite did not have one woman in a top position.

Maphisa said this was surprising, ­considering that 80% of shopping ­decisions were made by women.

City Press sent written questions to Shoprite but the company failed to ­respond.

Nadine Lake, programme director of Gender Studies at the University of the Free State, said the bill, which would force companies to meet government-set gender equity targets, was a move in the right direction.

However, she said it was important that companies were not forced to appoint women as mere tokens, but that there was clear institutional change.

“Companies should be encouraged to commit themselves to undergo institutional changes to allow women to enter their organisation, to educate women and to do away with the so-called glass ceiling.”

Rothea van Biljon, from the Afrikaanse Handelsinstituut in Bloemfontein, said the bill would be good for women who were hard workers and dedicated employees, but she felt it was ­important that women with the right qualifications be appointed.

» Mvelaphanda had a woman CEO, Yolanda Cuba, who resigned in December last year.

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