But no women at all in senior roles in 20% of South African businesses, is concerning.
Although almost one third (29%) of senior roles in South Africa are now filled by women, one in five local businesses (20%) still have no women at all in senior positions.
These are among the findings of the 2018 Grant Thornton International Business Report focused specifically on research regarding Women in Business. The report, drawn from 4,995 interviews conducted between July and December 2017, is published to coincide with International Women’s Day 2018 on March 8.
The trend in SA is encouraging. The percentage of women in senior management teams has, on average, been rising slowly but steadily from 26% in 2014. There are still too many businesses without a single woman in their senior management team, however, and this needs to be addressed.
There is a wealth of research investigating the commercial impact of women in leadership. For example, Grant Thornton’s Value of Diversity report published in 2015 suggests that the profit foregone by companies with male only boards in India, the UK and the US is a staggering $655 billion. Peter Bodin, global chief executive officer, Grant Thornton International Ltd, notes that gender balanced businesses will be able better to handle the disruption facing every sector. More diverse teams make better decisions and are more resilient.
Businesses with all-male leadership teams need to act fast if they are to stay competitive.
The global position
Globally, the percentage of businesses with no women in senior management has dropped from 34% in 2017 to 25% in 2018. The proportion of senior roles held by women, however, has marginally fallen from 25% to 24% over the same timeframe.
Women are, therefore, spread more thinly than before across the world. This suggests businesses are concentrating on box-ticking at the expense of meaningful progress and means they will not gain from the benefits of true gender diversity.
Progress on the number of businesses with women in senior management has primarily been driven by emerging economies such as Africa (where 89% of businesses have at least one woman in senior management) and Eastern Europe (87%), while Latin America has seen the biggest increase (from 52% to 65%). But there has also been a significant increase in some developed regions such as North America (from 69% to 81%) and the European Union (EU from 64% to 73%).
Emerging economies also continue to see the highest proportion of women in senior roles, including Eastern Europe (36%), Latin America (30%) and Africa (30%).
Gender equality practices
Grant Thornton’s report investigated the role of both business and government policy in bringing about change.
It found that globally, business policy is abundant; equal pay, paid parental leave, flexible hours and other policies are common around the world. But those countries in which businesses have the most policies in place are not necessarily those that demonstrate the most gender diversity. Policy alone, it seems, does not create real progress.
Most South African firms did not score favourably on a number of gender equality practices, including senior management pay linked to progress on gender diversity (14%); part-time working (39%); remote working (37%) and subsidised childcare (5%).
On the other hand, 93% of local companies said they pay men and women equally for the same roles, 88% had non-discrimination policies for recruitment, 71% offered paid parental leave and just over half (51%) offered flexible working hours.
This poses an important question: if policy is not driving more women to the top, despite widespread use, then what will?
The report highlights that the businesses who are succeeding are those whose policies and practices are rooted in a genuine conviction of the benefit of gender diversity.
Interviews conducted with business leaders around the world suggested that the businesses creating real change are those who truly believe in diversity. Their leaders recognise the advantages of gender diversity and create inclusive cultures in which a wide range of voices are listened to. This is about behavioural change rather than a checkbox exercise.