A gender based overview of some of South Africa’s top performing sectors reveals rich insights. (Shutterstock)
Gender diversity is improving at management levels –
but very slowly. Could the answer lie in a more sector-specific approach to the
An industry-specific breakdown of gender inequality
may provide insight into why women still remain vastly underrepresented at
senior management level, management analysts say.
Despite strides being made in greater representation
of women in the workforce and the strong business case for diversity, women
remain in the minority at senior level, with McKinsey reporting in 2016 that just
5% of CEOs in Africa are women.
At policy level, South
Africa is ahead. However, women still struggle to move from
middle to senior management, says Kumeshnee West, Director of Executive
Education at the UCT Graduate School of Business (GSB). There are myriad
reasons, she believes: partly because women may have more family obligations,
lack confidence to pursue more senior positions, or fear coming across as unlikable
if they are ambitious.
“In some industries these pressures are stronger,” she
explains. “In healthcare, for example, there is greater representation of
female workers, perhaps because nurturing is seen as a ‘female’ quality.” Women
make up 80%
of the workforce and just 40% of management – and yet the latter
is still higher than in other sectors.
West believes having a greater appreciation of the
difficulties women face and overcome in different sectors, can help build
better strategies to support them in meaningful ways; “Leadership is a practice
and this will be influenced by the environment in which women find themselves.”
She adds that at the GSB, the school has relationships with many different
sectors through its work in the
customised education space and
that this knowledge translates into its leadership short courses including the
Executive Women in Leadership (EWIL) programme that is
specifically constructed to give women the tools to increase their leadership
impact and visibility wherever they find themselves. Most GSB courses also
encourage delegates to work with a specific challenge they are encountering in
their sector for the duration of the programme.
A quick overview of some of South Africa’s top
performing sectors reveals rich insights, says West.
South Africa’s financial sector has its share of
female role models, notes West, including Gill Marcus, Maria Ramos and Nicky
Internationally, finance has formidable leaders too,
but critics call for greater numbers. Bloomberg
reports that Harvard research indicates female leadership is “stuck in the
single digits”. Yet a CSRI review of over 2000 companies, found that in the
actively managed fund business, female managers consistently outperform their
peers. “Several academic studies conclude that women have better performance -
on both an absolute and a risk-adjusted basis - than their male counterparts,”
reports Bloomberg. According to a Goldman Sachs study, there’s a biological
reason: the higher the testosterone level, the greater the chance of more
frequent trading – which eats away at returns.
Globally, women carry a disproportionate burden of disease
and death, and there have been calls for more women at
decision-making level. West comments that in South Africa, female leaders have
been active in occupational
health or primary healthcare, as well as challenging government
Mental healthcare is crucial in South Africa too. The
country was recently rocked by the Life Esidimeni scandal, and there is a critical
skills shortage alongside a high incidence of mental disorders.
Zerina Royeppen, Managing Director of the South African College of Applied Psychology
(SACAP), and an alumna of the EWIL programme, says at SACAP
gender unevenness is reversed: females dominate, with a shortage of strong male
leaders. “We do business with people, not spreadsheets,” she says. The
challenge, therefore, is to keep interpersonal relationships at the forefront
despite a heavy workload.
Find a job in the healthcare sector on Careers24
Government & Politics
Overall, women are well represented in South African
government and politics. According to UN data, female representation increased
from under 3% pre-1994 to just under 50% in the national assembly in 2017.
Leaders include Thuli Madonsela, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, Naledi Pandor and
Helen Zille. Legislation played a notable role here, believes West.
Find Government and Parastatal jobs on Careers24
Internationally, there is rising
awareness that the legal sector lacks diversity. According to
Women Leading in Law (WOLELA), a national network of women
lawyers committed to personal and professional development, for the first time
in South Africa there are more female than male law graduates. Describing
sectoral transformation, WOLELA says, “Globally research shows that supporting
a more holistic and less adversarial approach to legal practice must include
exploring the ways in which women practise law differently to men.”
is continuing, but, says Head of Knowledge & Learning at Webber Wentzel,
Kathy Colman, there is still “a very significant decline in the number of women
in law firms as they rise in seniority”.
“The low representation of women partners in law firms
is probably compounded by the lengthy career path typical of the legal
profession,” says Colman, another alumna of the GSB’s EWIL programme. “Law firms are knowledge businesses and by necessity invest heavily in
their junior lawyers. It is in no-one’s interests to lose these talented women.
By acting pre-emptively, it is possible for firms to retain and create a
pipeline of women who see fulfilling, long term careers for themselves in the
practice of law and as future law firm leaders.” This should include a
diversity strategy, incorporating flexible working hours, and assigning
existing female leaders as mentors.
Work in the legal industry by finding law jobs on Careers24
Suzie Hüsselman, an adult education specialist for The
Learning Network (TLN) who also attended the EWIL Programme, says she had to work long and hard to become a leader in the sector.
Discrimination equals more competition, which means often women can’t afford to
support each other, she says. However, this is beginning to change with Gen Ys
and Zs in the workforce.
Hüsselman believes a more gender-equal education
system will include gender awareness and mainstreaming: “Not something that is
just spoken about or referred to in Life Orientation subjects, but translates
into lived experience,” she explains. “A recognition and celebration of the
variety of roles played by women leaders, personally and professionally, as
well as women leader networks.” Remaining challenges, she believes, are
changing perceptions and stereotypes, and equal pay for equal work.
Find a job in the education sector here
Entrepreneurship & Business
According to the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM)
study, entrepreneurial activity among women is on the rise
worldwide, albeit mostly because it is need-driven. But in South Africa, a
generation of female trailblazers is undeniably making its mark, whether in
business, natural resources or media: think Ferial Haffajee; Esmare Weideman or
Jane Raphaely; Bridgette Radebe, Christine Ramon and Nolitha Fakude; Basetsane
Kumalo or Sibongile Sambo. West says it’s important to recognise, however, that
female entrepreneurs may start businesses for different reasons and/or face a
different set of challenges.
mirror each other across different sectors,” she says. “But the solutions
cannot always be applied with a cookie cutter. That is why leadership
development is often a transformational experience, particularly for women.
It’s a very individual thing, and the industry context must be taken into account.”
Issued by Rothko on behalf of the GSB.
For more information on the Executive Women in
LeadershipProgrammeat the UCT Graduate School of Business please contact
the Executive Education department on 0860 UCT GSB or email firstname.lastname@example.org
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