Women hold less than a third of senior management roles in SA, according to a report released by Grant Thornton to mark International Women’s Day.

According to the survey, released on Wednesday, only 28 percent of senior management roles in South Africa are held by women.

While this figure is higher than that of last year, the percentage of women business leaders has not changed significantly since the start of Grant Thornton’s research 13 years ago, when this figure was at 26 percent.

“We have made no progress, and the small change is probably only due to sampling variations,” says Lee-Anne Bac, director of Advisory Services at Grant Thornton Johannesburg.

“Unfortunately, we have a very patriarchal culture in Africa, including South Africa. Until we make a concerted effort to change our mindset to the role of women in the workplace, at home and society at large we’re going to continue to battle with inequality in the workplace. Change starts with how we treat children – we should be striving to raise boys and girls equally in a gender neutral environment.”

The annual report, Women in business: New perspectives on risk and reward, based on Grant Thornton’s International Business Report which surveys 5 500 businesses in 36 economies, also shows that almost a third (31 percent) of SA companies have no women at all in senior management positions.

Globally, too, the pace of change towards gender equity remains glacial. South Africa is slightly ahead of the global average of 25 percent of senior roles held by women (SA: 28 percent) and better than the global average of 34 percent of businesses with no women in senior management (SA: 31 percent).

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“We shouldn’t, however, be comparing ourselves against the global situation,” points out Bac. “Instead, we should strive to match those countries that are performing at above average rates.”

Developing leaders

Globally, Grant Thornton’s data shows developing regions continue to lead the charge on diversity while developed economies lag behind. Eastern Europe performs best, with 38 percent of senior roles held by women in 2017 and just 9 percent of businesses with no women in senior management.

“We should set our sights on emulating Eastern Europe, and not benchmarking ourselves against the USA and Europe, particularly at this time,” says Bac.

The MINT economies (Mexico, Indonesia, Nigeria and Turkey) saw the most improvement, with the proportion of senior roles held by women rising from 26 percent in 2016 to 28 percent in 2017 and the percentage of businesses with no women in senior management falling from 36 percent in 2016 to 27 percent in 2017.

This is in significant contrast to the major developed economies of the G7, which have remained static compared to 2016 with 22 percent of senior roles held by women and 39 percent of businesses with no women in senior management.

Common senior roles for women

The report reveals it is still most common for senior women to be in supporting roles, particularly as human resources directors or chief financial officers. However, there has been a slow rise in the number of women in chief executive officer roles in South Africa, from 7 percent in 2015 to 9 percent in 2016 and 10 percent in 2017.

“Again, however, the rise is not very significant,” says Bac, who believes we have reached a point of complacency in this country. “Businesses have put some women in management positions, ticked that box, and now they are not doing anything further.

“Instead, companies should constantly be working to improve gender diversity in the workplace. We have too few women in management positions, and until we tilt that balance it will remain difficult for women to influence the change. Women are fighting from a position of lack of power.”

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