While JSE-listed firms might be on a par with global trends when it comes to women representation at board level, there was still a long way to go to reach gender parity levels. File Photo: IOL

CAPE TOWN – Upskilling just 13 percent of women to medium-skills roles from low-skilled jobs could boost gross domestic product (GDP) by R319 billion (about 3.5 percent), Ntombi Mhangwani, Accenture’s communications director head of the firm’s Women’s Forum said yesterday. 

According to a new research report, Getting to Equal 2018, produced by the global professional services firm, only 24 percent of women were employed in high skill roles in South Africa, while the majority, 76 percent, performed low- to medium-skill work. 

In the second quarter of 2019, 31.3 percent of South African females were unemployed, while 27.1 percent of male South Africans were unemployed. 

“Research globally and in South Africa is showing over and over again that when you empower women you feed a community and create more jobs. Our economy is struggling. Why are our leaders and businesses not taking up the challenge of bringing equality to their organisations and unlocking economic growth?” she asked. 

And while JSE-listed firms might be on a par with global trends when it comes to women representation at board level, there was still a long way to go to reach gender parity levels, Mhangwani said.

She cited recent research by 30 percent Club Southern Africa, which showed that of 217 companies polled, there were only opportunities for 84 women at board level, at 62 of the listed companies. Only 37 companies had achieved their own gender policy targets, and 32 had no women on their boards.

The Accenture research, which builds on Accenture’s 2017 research on how digital fluency and technology can close the gender gap in the workplace, grouped the 40 core factors proven to influence advancement into three categories of bold leadership, comprehensive action and an empowering environment. 

South Africa has been ranked 19th in the world out of 149 countries that were assessed for gender equality in the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Report for 2018. The report says South Africa is at a tipping point. 

“The economy needs greater active participation from women who make up just more than 51 percent of the total population, but only accounted for 43.8 percent of total employment in the second quarter of 2018,” the report found,

In 2019, women in South Africa continue to be constrained by cultural, social and economic barriers that hindered their participation in the economy, said Mhangwani.

The Getting to Equal 2018 report said that although women were present in the workplace in South Africa, many were still struggling against inequitable practices, often facing a glass ceiling when it came to ascending through business ranks and losing out on strong promotions to weaker candidates.

Mhangwani said the recent wave of protests by women all over South Africa against the rising tide of violence against women demanded that all citizens stand against this issue, and this included implementing ways of empowering women in all areas.

Recent International Labour Organisation (ILO) studies showed that gender parity could add $5.3 trillion to the world’s GDP by 2025. 

“Leaders of businesses and organisations have the power to close the gender gap in career advancement and pay. It cannot be delayed,” said Mhangwani.