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A recent survey conducted by the Businesswomen’s Association of SA (BWA), found that only 4.4 percent of women in corporate SA hold the position of chief executive or managing director on a JSE-listed company, while only 5.3 percent of chairpersons of listed companies are women.
Ndivhuwo Manyonga, deputy CEO of Aon Hewitt and the first black woman in SA to become a qualified actuary, says that one of the reasons for the lack of female representation could be the talent pool from which CEOs are selected.
“These appointments tend to be chosen from those who are already operating as CFOs (chief financial officers) and COOs (chief operating officers), while women in executive positions tend to be in marketing, HR or stakeholder engagement roles and thus may not be in contention for CEO roles.
“If one of the problems is that there are not enough women represented in the pool, then we need to start looking at the root cause of the problem all the way to tertiary and school level to determine why women are not choosing subjects that would enable them to take on such a profession.”
Research by McKinsey has also shown that having more women in senior positions tends to have a positive influence on a company’s bottom line.
“Intuitively it does make sense that… diversity in top management can only be a positive factor in the company’s performance,” says Manyonga. “While we do need to make strides forward to encourage more women into key industries, these results should also be looked at in context.
“The fact is that women often take career breaks in order to raise children, which may have a detrimental effect on their career progression, especially into senior roles within organisations.
“It is a reality that some women will face the issue of wanting to raise a family while still being productive in the workplace, and the challenge for companies is to show how they are willing to create workable solutions for women that will ultimately be beneficial for the company as well.”
Manyonga believes that if organisations such as the BWA continue to place pressure on companies, then we can have a constructive debate as to what should be done to rectify the situation.
“At a corporate level, there has to be a belief that having women in executive positions is fundamentally good for the company as well.
“Studies which provide empirical evidence to support this should be well publicised. Shareholders, boards and senior management should also be driving this change.”
“Employment should be based on the quality of the individual but the statistics from the BWA study show that we do have some way to go to ensure appropriate representation of women across all levels of corporate South Africa.
“More corporates need to embrace and address the challenge of attracting and retaining women to ensure greater diversity in the working environment,” Manyonga concludes.