Covid-19 is making companies think differently about women in executive leadership – Mazars study

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Change and diversity are coming to the C-suite of big companies, says accounting and advisory firm Mazars.
Change and diversity are coming to the C-suite of big companies, says accounting and advisory firm Mazars.
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  • CEOs, CFOs, COOs and other company chiefs across Africa expect significant transformation in the next five years.
  • Technological transformation is top of mind, but for SA executives particularly, diversity and inclusion are receiving more attention.
  • Eighty-six percent of businesses surveyed by Mazars indicated that men are still the majority decision-makers in their companies.

Change and diversity are coming to the C-suite of big companies, says accounting and advisory firm Mazars.

The company presented the findings of its inaugural C-Suite Barometer based on surveys it conducted among CEOs, CFOs, COOs and other company chiefs in the third and fourth quarters of 2020. One of the survey's key findings was that South African C-suite executives expect a significant technological and cultural transformation in the coming years.

A third of surveyed executives predicted that their organisations were more than 75% likely to undergo a cultural transformation during the next three to five years. These include issues like diversity and inclusion as 2020 opened companies' eyes that they need diverse views to perform at optimal levels.

"We are anticipating change. I think that you'll find now, as we've gone further into [Covid-19], there's even more likelihood of this. Diversity and inclusion are definitely sitting on top of the agenda for many businesses," said Mazars co-CEO Michelle Olckers.

Transformation is in terms of women's leadership might start to take meaningful shape too, said Olckers. Female leadership is still lagging in the whole African continent, with 86% of businesses surveyed by Mazars indicating that core decision makers are still mostly men.

The barometer showed that 59% of companies that participated had less than a third of women in top decision-making positions.

"I often have to stop myself and say, why are we still talking about this? The corporate sector state actually has a long way to go when it comes to female leadership," said Olckers.

She said the survey showed that this underrepresentation of women in decision making cut across the board.

Why might things change now?

SA is preoccupied with the conversation of female representation at the executive level every August when the country observes Women's Month. But year-in, year-out, its report card on the issue comes back showing dismal results.

However, Olckers thinks the pandemic might finally be ringing in change. Because of the way that Covid-19 forced companies to operate remotely, Olckers believes a more diverse workforce may be more valued as businesses try to adapt to flexible, hybrid working environments, and other changes. 

"As we are starting to realise that and are seeing that the difference that women bring into the business is resulting in that change that needs to happen," she said.

Olckers believes businesses that already had female leaders in their ranks are using this to their advantage, as the demands working women have faced in the past mean they can be well placed to adapt to change and juggle multiple tasks or environments.

Another development that promises to accelerate female representation in the C-suite is that there are measuring metrics that are being developed so that companies are held more into account on this.

Olckers said while she hates the idea of forcing transformation through policies and regulations as it can lead to ticking boxes, sometimes such interventions do help.

"We are seeing that more organisations saying, well, let's set targets around these things and start to implement those. I don't see that as a foolproof solution because targets can result in people feeling they're sitting at the table for the wrong reasons," said Olckers.

But, she says, it provides a starting point for businesses to implement change.

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