Statistics by the 2011 BWA South African Women in Leadership Census reveal that only 4.4% of women currently hold chief executive or managing director positions. Furthermore, only 5.3% of chairperson positions are held by women.
In order to address these figures, businesses are urged not to rely solely on legislation and quotas, but to provide in-house training and support. This is according to Babita Mathur-Helm, Senior Lecturer of Leadership Diversity Management at the University of Stellenbosch Business School, who says that many local organisations place women in senior management roles in order to meet certain quotas, but that they fail to create structures that facilitate long-term and sustainable growth in these positions.
“A key reason for the apparent lack of women in leadership positions in South Africa is inadequate coaching, leadership and management training, as well as rotation through various leadership and management roles.
“Having many women in an organisation does not necessarily mean that the environment will be conducive to their career development. Furthermore, unless organisations can ensure that women placed in top jobs are effective in their roles, meeting the quota will not automatically translate into bottom line success either. These are serious issues that need to be taken into account when companies consider the implications of the new Gender Equality Bill.”
Mathur-Helm believes that in order to create sustainable gender transformation, companies need to evaluate their current business structure and culture and determine any adaptations that need to be made to support women in top positions. She says that this can be achieved by identifying and openly discussing the existing growth barriers that lead their female workforce towards a glass ceiling.
“Lower confidence and ambition born of historical stereotypes tends to put women off the top jobs and companies should take positive steps to nurture them for leadership roles.”
Addressing the ceiling
Mathur-Helm, who has conducted a study on the ‘glass ceiling’ in South Africa says the ceiling certainly exists. She says that in order to address this, both sexes need to change their perceptions of women existence in the workplaces.
“Women are often unfairly compared to men who have traditionally been the bread winners. Women in South Africa are habitually seen as being secondary to men in terms of intellectual and financial strength. Men need to be less protective and patriarchal towards women. At the same time, women must acquire their status on merit and become role models for other women as they climb the corporate ladders.”
Mathur-Helm stresses that South African women need to take responsibility for their own career advancement. She says women, together with their male counterparts, need to have a clear succession plan within the organisation and demonstrate this at all times.
“Women therefore need to help themselves by not only fulfilling, but expanding their role in modern South Africa’s workplace,” concludes Mathur-Helm.