Women remain on transformation sidelines

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The Businesswomen’s Association of SA’s annual census of corporate leadership defines a top company as one that has one in four women in significant roles – senior management or a director’s seat on the board.

“Success does not happen without intent and effort,” say the authors of the Women in Leadership Census 2015. The census, South Africa’s most definitive, measured 293 organisations – and only 34 met the criteria of being a top company.

Seven organisations made the honours roll for a second consecutive year: they include the JSE, Standard Bank, Adaptit Holdings, Business Connexion, Merafe Resources, the SABC and Transnet.

The census also measured women’s leadership across the largest JSE-listed companies. The ratios of female leaders range from acceptable to excellent.

Companies in the top table come from across sectors, both private and public. The spectrum includes financials, IT, mining and a range of public sector departments and agencies.

Many in the top table are nontraditional for women’s leadership. They include diamond miner Alexcor, Armscor and Air Traffic and Navigation Services. The authors cite six factors these companies share: they provide systems to ensure women have a balance between their roles as leaders of their homes and families; they choose the right people; they offer good benefits; and they have strong support systems in place – including study opportunities, flexible work arrangements and crèche and gym facilities.

The remaining two factors are that women’s empowerment is written into a company’s DNA (it is not a sideshow or paper policy) and there is a generally supportive culture for women.

The outliers include Discovery, where women comprise 62.5% of board leaders and Old Mutual, with an even higher figure of 66.7%. On this ultravalue table, the only laggard is Remgro, the luxury-brand company that has no women on its board.

The graphic at the end of the article consists of the bottom 50 – companies that have no female directors. Their reasons for the lack of balance on their boards included:

. “Our headcount is small and every person must add value.”

. “We are a lean and focused company ... As we grow our team, we will aim to have a more balanced board. However, we are not interested in including women on our board for the numbers.”

. “Male-dominated industries struggle to find women.”

. “While we hire women, they tend to be in the support functions like human resources and finance.”

. “At times, the subsidiary companies in South Africa are small, with smaller numbers than the larger international organisations have.”

The authors say: “The average percentage of women directors for the largest 25 organisations based on market capitalisation is 24.7%. Large organisations are slow to transform in gender parity.”

The overall picture of the census is one of slow progress at the pinnacle of influence and power. It reveals that the public sector is out of the blocks far more quickly than the private sector in advancing women.

The census report notes in conclusion that: “The findings are disappointing. The conversation has continued for decades and yet very little has changed. Women are still a minority at the top echelons of organisations. Even though there have been marginal improvements, South African businesses are well below the 50% target.”

South Africa’s equity laws also set targets for women’s empowerment and have enabled women’s leadership across the economy.

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