Which way is up?

Women are still struggling to break the glass ceiling in corporate South Africa, with only 306 directorships out of 2 851 held by women, according to a Businesswomen’s Association census.

Women make up 52% of the adult population and 41% of the working population in South Africa, yet constitute only 19,8% of executive managers and 10,7% of all directors in the country. The census, South African Women in Corporate Leadership, is based on an analysis of the 335 JSE-listed companies and 17 state-owned enterprises.

According to the report, 18,3% of South African boards have two or more women directors and more than half (53,5%) have no women directors. Only three of the top 25 companies listed on the JSE — MTN Group, Pick ‘n Pay Stores and Sanlam — have more than 25% of directorships held by women. Alarmingly, international comparisons with the United States, Canada and Australia show South Africa is actually faring better than the norm.

A second study conducted at the end of last year, by economic empowerment rating agency Empowerdex, highlighted the earnings discrepancies between men and women in South Africa, relative to gender earnings discrepancies in other countries.

The study, Mind the Gap, sampled all companies on the JSE, parastatals and the government. The gender pay gap (average difference in earnings between men and women) in South Africa, across government and business, is 24,6% — poor even by international comparison.


In South Africa, the gender pay gap is least pronounced in the IT and telecommunications sector, at 18,1% and is most pronounced in the resources sector. Statistics on the top 50 most economically influential women in South Africa show that nearly half of the total are in the government (46%), 34% are involved in the private sector through listed companies and 20% work for state-owned enterprises.

In the government, the economic influence of women was measured through the assessment of women at national government level in their capacity as ministers, deputy ministers or director generals as well as at provincial level in their capacity as premiers.

Women’s influence in business in state-owned enterprises and listed corporates was measured by evaluating women at director level, including non-executive and executive director positions.

Findings show that women representation in Cabinet closely reflects the South African population in terms of gender split. Women, as ministers and deputy ministers, hold 42% of all Cabinet positions.

In the public sector, women chair 17,6% of state-owned entities, which illustrates that gender equity at the highest level in stateowned enterprises falls far short of that of the government. Although women representation in government at top level outperforms that of state-owned enterprises, the latter is still ahead of the private sector.

The percentage of women in chair positions on the JSE amounts to a mere 1% and can be traced to the positions of two women alone: Elizabeth Bradley (chairperson of Wesco Investments) and Carol Scott (chairperson of Tourvest).

Women directors in JSE-listed companies showed educational backgrounds that are dominated by degrees in commerce, which account for 37% of degrees and diplomas held by female directors.

In addition, gender equality and transformation figures in the study show that between 50% and 60% of women directors of companies registered with the JSE are black, with 83% of total representation xin senior national and provincial posts comprising blacks.

Women on the ground
According to a special report by South African Women Entrepreneurs (an initiative of the Department of Trade and Industry):

  • 42% of the female population earn between R1 and R750 a month;
  • 27% of women are financially responsible for five or more members per household;
  • of black females who are self-employed, 37% own land and the building they live in;
  • only 20% view their home as a tradable asset and only 50% say they have written proof of ownership of the property; and
  • 29% of black women still do not have bank accounts.

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Vicki Robinson
Guest Author

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