Business Day (Johannesburg)

29 July 2010

South Africa: Boardroom Gender Change 'Minuscule'

Johannesburg — SOUTH African women are more likely to be working than those in the US and UK, but the slow pace of change means it could take 20 to 40 years for women to reach parity with men as directors on corporate boards and in executive management, Landelahni Recruitment Group CEO Sandra Burmeister said this week.

The law in SA requires that businesses work towards greater employment equity, and research shows a correlation between business success and leadership diversity. But in order for SA to "move beyond the recession and achieve its economic potential", the rate of change would have to be accelerated, Ms Burmeister said.

The recent Business Women's Association (BWA) Women in Leadership Census shows SA has more female directors of listed companies than the 8,3% on the Australian ASX, the UK FTSE 100 (12,2%), the Canadian FP500 (13%) and the US Fortune 500, where 15,2% of directors are women. In SA, between 2008 and last year , the number of female directors of JSE-listed companies increased from 14,6% to 16,6%.

However, t he number of women chairing the boards of JSE- listed groups had fallen in the past year from 4,6% to 4,1%, representing 13 women, she said.

"While SA may be progressing (in terms of gender equity) faster than other countries, the actual numbers of women directors and executives remain small, and the rate of change is miniscule," Ms Burmeister said.

Last year , black women held 10,3% of all director positions on the JSE, occupying 62,3% of female board directorships against 37,3% for white women.

BWA president Khunyalala Maphisa said research by global pro-inclusiveness membership organisation Catalyst showed that on average the Fortune 500 companies with the largest number of female board directors and corporate officers achieved higher financial performance.

The global financial crisis presented an opportunity for businesses and governments to draw on the diversity of skills available in the workforce, Ms Maphisa said in the document's foreword.

The greatest challenge to women's promotion was a lack of confidence in women's ability to do the job. "It's a mind-set, it's not that we don't have enough people who are sufficiently qualified."

That said, it was also true women often chose not to step up to the plate because they simply did not have the same priorities as men.

SA's legislative framework, which promoted race and gender equity, had had a significant effect on diversity, but a lot of work remained to be done, she said.

"The good news is that companies with no female directors dropped from to 33,4% to 21,5% in one year. This compares with the Fortune 500 where companies with no female directors decreased slightly to 12,3%, with the FTSE 100 lagging at 25%."

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