Cell C CEO: Women have a ‘bitch-switch’

Johannesburg - The chief executive officer of South Africa’s third largest mobile network Cell C has come under fire on social media for his comments about women in a recent interview.

Cell C CEO Jose Dos Santos made the comments in an interview on internet radio station CliffCentral’s Leadership Platform segment.

In the interview, Dos Santos spoke about how Cell C’s representation of women among its staff has increased from around 40% to over 60% since he joined the company in 2012. Dos Santos also spoke about how some of the mobile network's top engineers are women.

But the way in which Dos Santos, in parts of the interview, spoke about female representation at Cell C in the CliffCentral interview has come under focus.

“If I can use the term on the radio station, women do have a bitch-switch and, boy, if you see two women fighting, it’s worse than two men having an argument,” Dos Santos said in the interview.

Cell C’s sponsorship of the Miss South Africa contest has also come under the spotlight in light of Dos Santos’ comments in the CliffCentral interview.

Dos Santos explained in the interview that his company offers participants in Miss South Africa a 12 month internship at the company and that this has an ‘effect’ on male staff at the telco.

“It brought a whole different atmosphere... I mean, can you imagine, you’ve got 12 gorgeous women and say four, five of them walk into your company. Do you know what it does to the atmosphere in that company, the men dress better, they shave every morning,” Dos Santos said in the CliffCentral interview.

Dos Santos in the interview also said: “We have good-looking women, we have clever women, we have smart women and that’s created a different environment”.

The Cell C CEO, though, said that he would ultimately want to see a woman CEO taking over from him.

“There’s not too many women in leadership roles and I’m hoping one day when I step down from Cell C, a woman will be the CEO of the company,” he said.

Social media reacts

A social media storm, meanwhile, has erupted on websites such as Twitter about some of the Cell C CEO’s comments.

On Tuesday afternoon, the term 'Cell C CEO' started trending on Twitter in South Africa, meaning that high volumes of Twitter users where talking about his comments.

“At least the rest of the world now know what a superficial, chauvinistic jackass the Cell C CEO is,” one Twitter user wrote.

Another Twitter user wrote: “Cell C CEO, what a mess.”

UPDATE: Cell C CEO responds

Reacting to the social media storm around his comments, Dos Santos late on Tuesday said his stance on women was taken "out of context"

"The comment I made, when asked about women empowerment was part of a broader interview about leadership on CliffCentral. I regret my choice of words which I realise were offensive," said Dos Santos.

"I mentioned that in my experience, I have seen instances where women do not support each other to get to the top. This has purely been my observation and perhaps one of several reasons why women are underrepresented in leadership positions. This is not an environment that was created by women, but one that has been entrenched in the general workplace. And that is why I have put a lot of effort and focus into the empowerment of all employees, but particularly women at Cell C," Dos Santos said.

Cell C is South Africa's third largest mobile network after Vodacom and MTN with over 22 million subscribers.

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