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.