All women should be included
Though the Broad-Based BEE Act definitively rules out white women as BEE beneficiaries, the question of whether they should be considered for affirmative action continues to spur debate.
Statistics show that women are underrepresented in the labour force and even more so higher up the career ladder.
In 2007 Jimmy Manyi, president of the Black Management Forum, caused waves when he said white women were overrepresented at executive levels and should be removed from the list of designated groups under the Employment Equity Act.
Earlier this year another controversy arose when former Absa chairperson Gill Marcus was named to replace Tito Mboweni as governor of the South African Reserve Bank at the end of the year.
Marcus, an ANC stalwart, is highly respected in financial circles and though her appointment is a first for women in the history of the bank, the news was overshadowed by a debate about ‘minorities” in the economic cluster.
Speaking to journalists after the announcement, ANC Youth League president Julius Malema said his organisation had expected ‘an African child to occupy that strategic position”.
But the position of the Businesswomen’s Association (BWA) has always been to ‘stand united” in the face of such debate. ‘The numbers speak for themselves—women are underrepresented. We cannot start talking about degrees of disadvantage because it becomes petty and it takes the debate backwards,” said BWA board member Kunyalala Maphisa, adding that it is possible to take cognisance of these degrees of disadvantage without excluding certain women.
According to Maphisa, the BWA census did not bear out Manyi’s assertion that white women are over- represented.‘Besides, the issue self-corrects when you consider BEE. All these interventions should be taking place concurrently,” said Maphisa.
She said she was not surprised by the findings of the MasterCard index or that affirmative action has failed to help women advance in the workplace.
‘There are two questions. First, is it being implemented correctly, and second, are women taking advantage of it? Affirmative action is about empowerment. If women don’t acquire the requisite skills and experience to hold management positions, it becomes lip service. ‘There’s a lack of commitment on the part of our male counterparts to ensure adequate mentorship and many women choose not to go the managerial route because the environment is hostile.”
Maphisa said a process of ‘collective engagement” is required to get men to appreciate the position of women in the workplace. ‘Women tend to discuss their problems among themselves. That for me counts as a monologue; what you want is a dialogue with men,” she said.
Maphisa said the inclusion of women in the workplace is a matter of policy and will. She pointed to government’s commitment to gender equality as an example of how gender-bias can be corrected.
The BWA’s 2009 census of women leaders in government, state-owned enterprises and JSE-listed companies shows that government is ahead when it comes to gender equity in the workplace.
Although women represent only 0.5% of senior management in government, they make up 55.5% of all government workers and 48.3% of highly skilled workers.
When it comes to women in leadership positions, state-owned enterprises outperform the private sector—women hold 40% of directorships in state-owned enterprises but only 13.2% of directorships in JSE-listed companies.