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Transformation in SA companies is well underway

AWCA SA President, Zama Khanyile. Image: Supplied.

AWCA SA President, Zama Khanyile. Image: Supplied.

Published Aug 4, 2019


JOHANNESBURG - Another Women’s Month has come around and, depending on where you sit, the cause for women in the corporate perch is well and truly being secured – or is it?

According to data from executive search firm Jack Hammer, the appointment of women in corporate positions is rising consistently year-on-year, from 26% in 2015, to 32% (2016), 38% (2017) and, ultimately, 52% last year – giving credence to the perception that the transformation item on the to-do list of South African companies is now well and truly ticked, and that attention can move to more pressing concerns.

There is a rolling crescendo among gender activists, as the list of female appointments into executive positions grows, some attributing it to the emergence of the “New Dawn”, the euphoria brought about by President Cyril Ramaphosa, whose captivating “Thuma Mina” campaign has spearheaded a new energy in the doing of things business.

He has walked the talk, ensuring a 50% representation in his Cabinet which has washed down to provincial government appointments, that have mirrored the president.


The corporate sector has not been caught napping, last week at least three prominent appointments were made.

Mercer, a global consulting leader in advancing health, wealth, and careers, on Thursday announced the appointment of Tamara Parker as chief executive in South Africa. She is tasked with overseeing the expansion of Mercer’s business in South Africa, in order to drive consistent growth and profitability. 

Additionally, she will lead local initiatives to continue to build Mercer’s brand and reputation, as a leader and trusted adviser, including our important strategic partnership with Alexander Forbes.

Recently the Black Business Council (BBC) waxed lyrical over Anglo American’s decision to diversify their executive team, through the appointment of veteran executive Nolitha Fakude, as chair of the group, which would entail her stepping down from her non-executive director position on the board, by the end of the month.

Anglo also announced the appointment – as non-executive directors applauded the appointment of top businesswomen Nonkululeko Nyembezi-Heita and Hixonia Nyasulu.

Accounting firm PwC put forward Shirley Machaba as its new chief executive for southern Africa, effective from July 1 – the first black African woman to be appointed in this role.

Extolled as Africa’s “most valuable company”, Naspers made history by appointing Phuthi Mahanyele-Dabengwa, 48, as its first black and female chief executive, succeeding a long streak of white, male chief executives leading the 104-year-old company. As chief executive for the South Africa unit, Mahanyele-Dabengwa will lead its daily business activities and also manage the company’s long-held desire to make successful tech investment bets in Africa.

African Bank chief executive Basani Maluleke is another whose rise must have left landmarks visible enough for corporate tradition to follow.


Is this enough for a convincing argument – that the political and corporate sectors are doing all they can to ensure gender parity in leadership positions?

Advaita Naidoo, the chief operations officer of Jack Hammer, Africa’s largest independent executive search firm, with offices across the continent and in Los Angeles, says: “To use a sports metaphor – you can’t score runs if you don’t swing the bat.

“Translated, this means that if companies are truly motivated to try to shift the needle on the gender demographic, when it comes to chief executive and senior supporting roles, they have to start populating their executive teams with a sufficient number of women, in relevant roles. In other words, don’t wait until a position opens up to start searching for the leader. Instead, make sure you have the leaders lined up and ready to step in when the position opens.”

“If you then take a closer look at the roles that the women are occupying, you find that there are far fewer who are running a full-scale business division, or have accountability for profit-and-loss (P&L) or operations or finance.

“Women are mostly to be found in supporting roles, such as human resources, marketing, legal, and compliance,” she says.

Naidoo says companies that are serious about gender transformation, yet find themselves continuously flailing and struggling to make the changes they desire, have to ensure they start actively sourcing and appointing women to critical profit-and-loss, core business roles, as well as board positions.


Worldwide, gender equality remains a focus area for many companies, as the awareness surrounding the gender pay gap continues to gain momentum. The World Economic 

Forum (WEF) Global Gender Gap Report 2018 ranked South Africa as 19th overall (no change since 2017), in terms of gender gap equality – with a slight decline in gender wage equality, where South Africa was ranked 117th (from 114th in 2017).

The report shows 3.3% of chief executives on the JSE, during the period under review, were women.

President of the African Women Chartered Accountants (Awca) Zama Khanyile says it is time that leadership played its role.

Khanyile says gender parity and transformation are a leadership imperative that has been served well in South Africa, as shown by Ramaphosa’s Cabinet appointments.

“The first qualified woman accountant was Elizabeth Kruger, a white woman in 1917. We had to wait 70 years to produce the first black woman chartered accountant,

Nonkululeko Gobodo, in 1987. There has to be proper succession planning in the corporate space,” Khanhyile says.

She should know. 

Awca was started in 2002 with 407 African, Indian and Coloured membership – in an industry of 22 000 professionals and have since grown the membership to 6 600, signifying the enormity of the upliftment task. 

According to Khanyile, the order of march in this cause is a private sector, that has clear roadmaps of its recruitment, training and succession plans – which incorporate the gender parity component.


Gender parity, in terms of appointments of women in the corporate ladder, is still a journey of many paths ahead and, alongside it, winds the rarely walked gender pay gap.

The gender pay gap is the gap between what men and women are paid at total guaranteed package level. It refers to the median annual pay of all women, who work full time and year-round, compared to the pay of a similar cohort of men. 

According to a recently released PwC report, there is no sector in which, overall, female executive directors are paid more than men. The largest pay gaps are in healthcare (28.1%), followed by consumer discretionary (25.1%), technology (22.9%) and financials (21.8%). 

“To bring about real change, companies should not address gender parity and diversity concerns to appease individuals or organisations, but should treat these initiatives as being essential components in their long-term success,” says Anelisa Keke, a senior manager and editor of the PwC report.


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