Women in top leadership

25 April 2006 Britespark Communications

Results of the 2006 South African Women in Corporate Leadership census reveal that, while the number of women in top leadership positions is growing, there are signs that the momentum is slowing down on some fronts.

The quantitative study, commissioned by the Businesswomens Association and sponsored by Nedbank, examines the advancement of women in South Africas major corporate and state-owned enterprises.  

The 2006 census measured 343 South African companies.  Of these, 326 were JSE listed companies with the remaining 17 being State Owned Enterprises (SOEs).  The analysis was based on data available as at 30 September 2005.

The greatest area of improvement in the advancement of women is at directorship level: while the first study showed that only 7,1% of all directors were women, the latest census places this figure at 11,5 %.   

Although the number of women executive managers has increased, indications are that, in relative terms, women are losing ground in this category. The latest results show that, based on information submitted by respondent companies, 16,8% of executive management positions are held by women, compared to 19,8 % for the previous year.  The decline is significant given the substantial increase in the overall number of executive management positions (from 5558 in the 2005 Census to 7890 in the 2006 study).

So, while there were increased opportunities to appoint female candidates, these were not well utilised, leading to the conclusion that unless criteria and selection processes are monitored it will be difficult to sustain the momentum of improvement.  

Although women continue to be underrepresented in top corporate leadership positions, it would seem that it is easier for women to become chairs of boards than it is for them to become CEOs.  Of the 343 companies measured, only 7 had women at the helm (1 less than last year), while 15 had women chairing their boards. 

The latest results highlight the huge amount of work that still needs to be done to bridge the gender gap, particularly when one takes into account the fact that women make up 42% of the South African working population. 

The race metric, which was introduced last year, reflects that although there is movement towards a more representative profile, there is still a long way to go.  In 2005 and 2006, of the 362 directorships held by women, 48,1% were held by black women. This is in sharp contrast to the race split in executive management positions, which shows that 77% of all women executive managers in South Africa are white. 

Given that one of the major thrusts of economic development in the country is the empowerment of all sectors of the South African community these figures are still cause for concern.

Nevertheless, it would appear that companies are beginning to take the advancement of women more seriously, judging from the census studys high response rate (84%).  

 The release of the third census report in South Africa is an important landmark, as it shows ongoing commitment in the country to growing the number of women in decisionmaking roles in the countrys corporates. The Businesswomens Association appreciates the increasing support and responsiveness it has enjoyed from corporates in South Africa and from SOEs, says Dr. Namane Magau, President of the Businesswomens Association.

This particular study is based on the powerful premise that what gets measured gets done and there is no doubt that the aspects of measurement and public benchmarking are contributing to the progress that organizations are making in the drive for gender equality, says Nedbank CEO Tom Boardman. 

Companies are certainly making an effort to appoint women onto their boards.  Although only 24.5% of South African boards have two or more women directors, with 43.4% of these boards having no women directors at all, the situation has improved considerably since 2004 and 2005, when more than half of all boards had no women directors.

The latest study puts paid to the myth that most directorships are concentrated in the hands of a few women. Results show that power is evenly spread, with the majority of women directors (85.5%) holding only one directorship and only two women holding five or more directorships.
Although women representation on boards of JSE listed companies increased by 1.1% to 10,3%, state-owned enterprises (SOEs) continue to outperform their private sector counterparts in this metric, with 31,3% of all director positions held by women. 

For large private sector organisations, retention is proving to be a challenge. In the 2005 census three of the top 25 companies (by market capitalization) had 25% or more directorships held by women. In the 2006 census however, only two of these leading companies, namely MTN Group Limited and Sanlam Limited, maintained this standing. 

13.7% of South African companies (47 in total) have 25% or more of their director positions held by women. These include (listed alphabetically): Adonis Knitware Holdings Limited, Air Traffic and Navigation Services, Amalgamated Electronics Corporation Limited, Datacentrix Holdings Limited, Development Bank of South Africa, Don Group Limited, Elexir Technology Holdings Limited, Holdings Limited, Global Village Holdings, Independent Development Trust, Infowave Holdings Limited, Lereko Investment Holdings Limited, Paracon Holdings Limited, Rex Trueform Clothing Company Limited, Sekunjalo Investments Limited, South African Broadcasting Corporation, South African Post Office, Trans-Caledon Tunnel Authority, The Spar Group, Transnet and Venter Leisure and Commercial Trailers Limited.

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