Internationally, March is Women’s Month and, according to some global measures, South Africa has something to celebrate.
Apparently, women here are making advances at the top of the corporate ladder, though this may be scant consolation if you’re stuck at the bottom.
International research from NGO Catalyst – based on 2014 census data – indicates that South Africa is seventh in the world when it comes to women’s representation at board level. But the percentage is still only 17.1 percent of all seats at the strategic table. When women chairpersons are measured, we’re world number two, but that still means only 5.5 percent of South African boards are led by women.
For most career women the issue isn’t “how well are we doing?” but “how can we do better?”.
Thankfully, the way forward is spotlighted by more and more research indicating that women are good for business. Essentially, the message for growth-minded companies is that you should promote more women if you know what’s good for you.
Look at the numbers: A McKinsey survey showed that the 89 STOXX Europe 600 companies with the highest proportion of women leaders and at least two women directors outperformed every other company on the index.
Gender diversity helped to drive a 10 percent higher return on equity, a 17 percent edge in stock price growth and 48 percent higher corporate earnings (before taxes and interest charges).
US research from executive search business Korn Ferry showed that firms with women chief executives deliver better financial performance. Furthermore, firms with a high proportion of women executives do better in uncertain times, due to better processing of risk information.
Brand reputation improves, too. Korn Ferry says gender-diverse boards have better reputations.
But how do individual women move forward?
The contemporary insight – from Korn Ferry – is that a three-pronged approach works best, involving women, managers and the organisation.
Women have to work to remove headwinds that make personal advancement difficult. Managers should actively support their direct reports as they tackle these inhibitors. Organisationally, leaders and HR should strive to remove headwinds as holding back women holds back the company.
Among guidance for women is the need to actively seek experience through visible, important, complex projects, build an executive presence and communication skills and establish strategic networks.
Managers should express support for women subordinates, challenge team members who make stereotypical judgements of women colleagues and promote a diverse leadership style.
* Michelle Moss is a director at Talent Africa, an executive search and talent management company and an alliance of Korn Ferry.