South Africa has an overall gender gap of 25%, as measured by economic participation and opportunity, education, health and political empowerment, yet its gender pay gap remains static at 35%.
“This means women effectively earn in a full year what men earn in eight months,” says Sandra Burmeister, CEO of executive search firm Amrop Landelahni.
In many of countries across the world, including the United States, the United Kingdom, Brazil and South Africa, earlier gains in closing the pay gap have been reversed.
“This trend is alarming,” says Burmeister. “Even if a slow rate of change were to be maintained, it would take nearly 50 years for women’s pay to reach parity with that of men.”
From a global perspective, South Africa is doing well. It remains among the top 20 in the World Economic Forum overall gender gap rankings.
According to the WEF’s 2013 Global Gender Gap Report, Iceland continues to top the ranks, followed by Finland, Norway and Sweden. The sub-Saharan Africa region has an overall gender gap of 34%.
When it comes to education, South Africa shows a dramatic rise through the ranks to number 57, up from 84 in 2012, and has virtually reached gender parity.
“This is largely because of a higher literacy rate and enrolment in primary education,” says Burmeister. “When it comes to secondary education, women are slightly ahead of men.
“The sub-Saharan Africa region continues to show the largest education gender gap at 17%. This does not bode well for the future. Education serves as the springboard to economic gender equality.
“SA and many of its neighbours fall into the group of countries that are investing in women’s health and education, yet are failing to reap the benefits in terms of economic participation.
“Women are well-represented at junior levels, but diminish swiftly at middle, senior and executive levels with little representation at management or board level.
“Moreover, men profit more from having a higher education than women with similar qualifications.
“This is not unique to Africa. In the US, in 1963, President Kennedy signed into law the Equal Pay Act. Today, 50 years later, the Paycheck Fairness Act remains stalled. Standard & Poor’s data on America’s best-paid executives shows that women who have advanced to the C-suite earn 18% less than their male counterparts do.
“Overall, women’s earnings in the US are 35% lower than men’s, compared with 32% in the UK.”
At the WEF meeting in Davos in January, just 17% of the 2,500 delegates were women. Men dominated the majority of panels, particularly on key economic topics – this despite a new quota system demanding that the largest member nations send one woman for every four men.
“Countries will need to start thinking of human capital very differently – including how they integrate women into leadership roles,” says Klaus Schwab, WEF executive chairperson. “This shift in mindset and practice is not a goal for the future, it is an imperative today.”
Last year, the United Nations appointed Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, as executive director of UN Women, and the African Development Bank appointed Geraldine Fraser-Moleketi as its envoy to grow women representation across Africa.
“These appointments are a tribute to SA’s progressive gender policies and recognise the need for developing women as a resource,” says Burmeister. “They will, hopefully, create opportunities for women in senior executive and board positions across the continent.
“Research shows that women bring different perspectives and leadership styles to business and positively affect organisational performance and financial results.
“As South African companies look north to opportunities across Africa, it makes sound business-sense to draw on the full complement of skills.
“That means maximising the contribution of 100% of the workforce – and paying men and women the same rate for the same job.”
- Davos: if women are the future, where are they? The Guardian, 27 January 2014,
- Frozen in Time, International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) Report, March 2012,
- Gender Pay Gap Statistics, European Commission, March 2013,
- Global Gender Gap Report 2013, World Economic Forum.