Business Maverick

Women continue to bump their heads against the glass ceiling

By Ruan Jooste 19 July 2019
Caption
SANDTON, SOUTH AFRICA ñ MARCH 01: Absa CEO Maria Ramos during a media conference about Absa's rebranding from Barclays Africa on March 01, 2018 in Sandton, South Africa. (Photo by Gallo Images / Sunday Times / Alon Skuy)

Progress on improving gender diversity in senior roles at large firms across the globe has been mediocre at best. At this rate, the business world won’t significantly address the inequality any time soon, if the many research reports are to believed. And when it comes to the most powerful position in a company‚ women remain conspicuously absent.

The Fortune 500 list of the largest US companies by revenue was released this month. It reveals that over the years, the leadership at top American enterprises has gotten more diverse, but there’s still plenty of room for improvement. A record 33 CEOs of Fortune 500 companies are now women, up from just 24 last year, but that is only 6,6% of the total.

The trend in the UK is not much different according to the diversity specialist The Pipeline. It indicates in its fourth annual Women Count report, also issued in July, which tracks the number of women in executive positions, little to no progress in redressing the gender imbalance. The report shows that only 3.7% of FTSE 350 companies have female CEOs, down from 4.6% two years ago, while more than 85% of companies have no women executives on their main boards.

With former Absa CEO Maria Ramos taking early retirement at the end of February, there are now no female CEOs running any of the country’s 40 largest listed companies.

As a matter of fact, only 3.31% of CEOs of the largest listed entities are women. This according to the PwC report titled Executive directors: Practices and remuneration released last week.  (The study was conducted by analysing the top 40’s integrated reports available until April 30, 2019).

Furthermore, the report states that the pay disparities between men and women CEOs was problematic. The largest pay gaps are in healthcare (28.1%), consumer discretionary (25.1%), technology (22.9%) and financials (21.8%).

But big companies not only remain an old boys club, but are a lighter shade of pale as well. The PwC reports states that 85.9% of CEOs are white, followed by 10.2% black and 2.2% Indian or Asian.

“The overall view of this JSE analysis paints a stark picture of the inequality in representation in companies listed on the stock exchange,” the report says.

It further states that there is consensus regarding the need to transform boards and companies in order to bridge the identified gender gap, both from a representational perspective and in terms of pay. There is furthermore a need for diverse representation in boardrooms throughout corporate South Africa.

“Despite the broad acknowledgement that gender and diversity concerns should be addressed, there is a lack of clarity as to what steps should be taken to effect lasting change in this regard. We explore the progress being made based on recent reporting results on a global and local level, regulatory reform as well as an analysis of the gender and pay gap in South Africa.

The World Economic Forum’s (WEF) Global Gender Gap Report provides results based on its Global Gap Index, which ranks 149 countries on the gap between women and men on health, education, economic and political indicators.

In its 2018 report, it ranked South Africa as 19th overall (no change since 2017) in terms of gender gap equality with a slight decline in gender wage equality, where South Africa was ranked 117th (from 114th in 2017).

The JSE Listings Requirements currently require companies to adopt a policy on the promotion of gender and race diversity at board level. Companies are also required to report on the progress made.

In April this year, following the publication of its consultation white paper last year,  the JSE proposed amendments to their Listings Requirements, which broadened the scope in this regard. This includes “promotion of broader diversity at board level, specifically focusing on the promotion of the diversity attributes of gender, race, culture, age, field of knowledge, skills and experience”.

Meanwhile, female CEOs remain a rarity, and women continue to hit their heads against the glass ceilings.

One of the biggest challenges is that board appointments still tend to be made from within the current board members’ own networks, so a conscious effort has to be made to open up the net and look beyond the ‘old boys’ network’ to find aspiring female candidates.

This is according to Parmi Natesan, Senior Governance Specialist at the Institute of Directors in Southern Africa.

“Instead of trying to find candidates with the existing desired mix of skills, qualifications and experience, there should be an emphasis on building competency, especially in the areas of reported inequality,” she says.

“In today’s complex world, companies can no longer be passive bystanders; they need to be proactive in facilitating the growth of the directors’ range of skills,” Natesan concludes.

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