Zuma, whose remarks come hot on the heels of a controversial TV interview in which he made comments about women that outraged gender activists, was speaking at the Businesswoman of the Year awards in Johannesburg.
"Our youth, both male and female, need to be provided with role models to look up to so that we can succeed in creating a winning nation of achievers in all fields," he said. "We also know that the advancement of women in the country, especially in the economic sphere, still needs a lot of attention given the backlogs."
He said the women who had been honoured since the inception of the award were "exceptional".
"The significance of the awards is that they promote positive images of women as achievers in general, but more especially in the male-dominated business sector."
He said the 2012 Women in Leadership Census report painted "a disturbing picture of female representation" in the private sector.
The report found that women held only 3.6% of chief executive or managing director positions, 5.5% of board chair positions, 17.1% of directorships and 21.4% of executive manager positions.
"The situation in the public service [sector] is not better," Zuma said.
Slow pace of gender transformation
The report found women constituted 58.9% of the total workforce in government, but only 0.8% at top management and senior management level.
"To address the slow pace of gender transformation, government's programme of action includes the promotion of gender equality and the advancement of women in all sectors," Zuma said. "In addition, as government we are trying our best to provide support mechanisms for women in the economy."
He said the government would continue to support female-owned enterprises.
"We will also continue to encourage the development and growth of more women-owned enterprises that will take on the opportunities brought about by the localisation initiatives of our industrial policy action plan," Zuma said.
"At a more long-term level, the economic empowerment of women is included in the national development plan [which was] released on August 15 in Parliament by the National Planning Commission."
The Commission for Gender Equality said on Tuesday it had received a complaint from the Democratic Alliance about remarks Zuma made about women on a TV talk show.
"The commission is investigating the complaint and will allow due processes to run its course," the commission said in a statement.
People of the South
Zuma made the comments during an interview on Dali Tambo's TV show People of the South, aired by SABC3 last Sunday.
The interview was conducted at Zuma's house in Inkandla.
Speaking about his daughter Duduzile's marriage to Lonwabo Sambudla, Zuma said he was happy for her.
"I was also happy because I wouldn't want to stay with daughters who are not getting married, because that in itself is a problem in society. I know that people today think being single is nice. It's actually not right. That's a distortion," he said.
"You've got to have kids. Kids are important to a woman because they actually give an extra training to a woman, to be a mother." – Sapa