Almost half of South Africa’s female workforce is unsatisfied with their current positions, study finds

Women remain under-represented in the labour force, behind males by 10.6 percentage points, and accounting for just 15% of executives at JSE-listed businesses. Picture: Pexels

Women remain under-represented in the labour force, behind males by 10.6 percentage points, and accounting for just 15% of executives at JSE-listed businesses. Picture: Pexels

Published Feb 15, 2024


The results of South Africa’s largest Working Women Report shed light on both the difficulties and possibilities surrounding the female workforce.

Additionally, significant recommendations for businesses were highlighted to address the country’s skills shortage by tapping into the underutilised skilled female talent pool.

According to the report — which was released on Tuesday — despite 92% of women having a strong desire to work and 78% striving to professional advancement, women remain under-represented in the labour force, behind males by 10.6 percentage points, and accounting for just 15% of executives at JSE-listed businesses.

Based on the survey, 45% of working women are actively looking for alternative jobs owing to a lack of internal career prospects — both progression and horizontal development — as well as salary discrimination, inflexibility, and insufficient mentorship and networking.

The survey, released by top recruiting agency RecruitMyMom, highlights the underutilised pool of competent South African women, particularly given that the skilled worker deficit, ranked as the second-largest impediment to economic development, has yet to be solved.

“In a country with limited data, we are now equipped with quantitative insights that unveil the expectations and preferences of working women in the workplace,” said the chief executive of RecruitMyMom, Phillipa Geard.

“The report provides a wealth of insights for businesses aiming to attract and retain top female talent, encouraging a culture of diversity, inclusion, and economic empowerment.”

Contrary to popular belief, the report’s results defy clichés about what motivates the female workforce, parenting, professional development, and career interruptions.

Women are financially driven

Women are strongly driven to work, with financial gain, self-esteem, societal contributions, and social contacts serving as primary motivators.

The vast majority of women cited financial income as their primary or secondary reason for working, motivated by a desire for financial independence and the capacity to support their family.

The need of competitive and equitable financial compensation is demonstrated by the fact that 80% of working women have dependants (children or family), with 38% being the sole household income earners, and 21% being married and financially supporting their partners as the sole income earners.

A significant 28% care for both children and relatives, known as the sandwich generation, in which working women have the task of aiding family members at various life phases.

Where and how women want to work

The report’s findings contradict the myth that all working moms want to work remotely, part-time, or only half-days.

It found that 55% of women, regardless of age, choose to work full-time hours, demonstrating their desire for financial gain and career advancement.

Of those who wish to work full-time, 32% want a full week, 23% want full-time with a shorter week, and the rest choose fewer work days and hours.

Although moms want flexibility to balance their career and family lives, 60% choose a mixed work paradigm.

Flexibility is also emerging as a significant component for job advancement, with 60% of women in senior positions favouring flexible work hours.

“The report’s findings align with global trends and the outcomes of South Africa’s first 4 Day Week Pilot,” director of 4 Day Week South Africa, Karen Lowe added.

“I encourage business owners to consider these insights and adopt forward-thinking workplace policies that promote a healthier, work-life balance and resonate with the evolving needs and aspirations of women in leadership positions, contributing to a more dynamic, progressive workforce.”

Career pauses

Although gaps in CVs are typically a source of worry for employers, the study discovered that 49% of women had taken a professional hiatus for a variety of justifiable reasons.

Companies lose more than one-fifth of female talent when they put a pause on their careers for parenthood, yet 95% return to work.

In instance, 92% of working women aged 25 to 34 aspire to progress professionally in addition to their parenting responsibilities.

Guidelines for businesses to help women in career endeavours:

Provide competitive pay in accordance with industry norms.

Embrace flexibility by providing a variety of alternatives such as micro-flexibility, hybrid working, complete remote work, flexible hours, and everything in between.

Allow competent women in diverse regions and distant towns to work completely remotely, expanding the talent pool beyond major corporate hubs.

To retain female talent, strategically assist them throughout career breaks.

Provide educational opportunities and consider taking career breaks to study in order to retain valuable talent.

Prioritise training, mentoring, and development for staff growth.

Increase trust by implementing transparent compensation systems.

Encourage age diversity in teams.

Encourage women to negotiate various perks in order to maintain their talent.

Encourage a future senior management talent pipeline by providing flexibility and the opportunity of senior-level career breaks.

IOL Business