CityPress - - Business - FERIAL HAF­FA­JEE busi­ness@city­press.co.za top right)

s the glass ceil­ing half-full or half-empty? Like most things, it de­pends on how you look at it. This week, the Brics sum­mit in Rus­sia was at the top of the news cy­cle. If you look at fe­male em­pow­er­ment in busi­ness through the lenses of Brazil, Rus­sia, In­dia and China, then South Africa comes in at the top of the class.

South Africa out­strips the emerg­ing mar­ket giants sig­nif­i­cantly when it comes to the num­ber of fe­male di­rec­tors sit­ting on com­pany boards. Di­rec­tors are the power cen­tres who make key de­ci­sions in the pri­vate, public and not-for-profit sec­tors.

One in five di­rec­tors in South Africa is a woman. Glob­ally, South Africa tracks lower than in­dex lead­ers in Scan­di­navia, but it is among the best in the world.

But drill down a lit­tle to see how the glass ceil­ing has splin­tered, not cracked. The pyra­mids ( of the graphic out­line the make-up of women in so­ci­ety.

The pop­u­la­tion di­vide by sex is con­stant: it is about half, with slightly more women than men in South Africa.

The per­cent­age of women in the work­force is also con­stant, rang­ing from 44.6% to 45.8%, ac­cord­ing to the Busi­ness­women’s As­so­ci­a­tion Women in Lead­er­ship cen­sus that was pub­lished this week.

But then the pyra­mid narrows sub­stan­tially. Fe­male ex­ec­u­tive man­agers mea­sured as a to­tal of the ex­ec­u­tive corps in South Africa grew from 19.3% to 29.3% in the mea­sur­ing pe­riod – which was a sig­nif­i­cant 10 per­cent­age points.

But things are much slower at the pin­na­cle of power. Barely more than one in 10 women are CEOs, show­ing how im­per­vi­ous ma­hogany row can be to gen­der change. The cen­sus in­cludes the public and pri­vate sec­tors. The progress of women in the public sec­tor is sig­nif­i­cant. In gov­ern­ment man­age­ment and in sta­te­owned com­pa­nies, women com­prise 40.5% of top man­agers (the equiv­a­lent of ex­ec­u­tive and CEO lev­els in the pri­vate sec­tor).

The cen­sus re­veals how the public sec­tor can mask the slow progress in the pri­vate sec­tor if you take only a bird’s-eye view of the num­bers.

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