File image: A woman stands at the end of a boardroom table, addressing colleagues. (Independent UK).

CAPE TOWN - The latest data by Grant Thornton shows that the percentage of women in senior management positions in SA has risen from 26% to 29%. 

This is according to the independent advisory firm's 2018 International Business Report focused on Women in Business. The survey covered majority of industry sectors in SA within the private sector economy. 

Within a four year span, the percentage of women has increased by 3%. 

Are women taking over?

When asked whether this can be seen as transformative, the Director of Advisory Services at Grant Thornton, Lee-Anne Bac said that this figure is actually not very transformative. 

“Given women make up more than 50% of our population, 29% is actually dismal.  When in a minority it is very difficult for women to make a meaningful difference i.e. there is power in numbers.  To really start to see a meaningful change we need to see at least 30% of leadership positions held by women (in each organisation) and then strive to achieve the elusive 50%”, said Bac. 

Bac added that although this increase should be seen as a benchmark for further transformation, SA is still struggling to accept the notion of a woman doing a man’s job. 

“We have to accept that there is an intrinsic bias against women doing a “man’s job” and that this bias is held by both men and women.  We need to call out this bias and raise awareness”, added Bac. 

On equal opportunities for women the benefit of elevating the status quo, Bac says that diverse management teams ultimately benefit the company positively. 

“Diverse management teams make better decisions and are more resilient”. 

Notably, the findings show that emerging economies such as Africa, Eastern Europe and Latin America have mostly driven progress on the number of women in senior roles. 

For instance, in Africa, 89% of businesses have at least one woman in senior management. Eastern Europe has 87% while Latin America has 65% of women in senior roles. 

Change in policy does not mean reform

However, Bac says that the research shows a change in policy but not reform. She says that companies are trying to pay lip service to the issue surrounding women in management positions. 

“In reality, there is little change on the ground when it comes to having women in leadership positions.  So I draw from this that our (male) leaders are trying to show that they are doing something but without actually making meaningful changes”, says Bac. 

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- BUSINESS REPORT ONLINE