Mirror mirror on the wall
Corporate South Africa is on a collision course with the state if two recent sets of research are pointers. This week, the annual employment equity commission showed that the needle had not moved towards equity at senior and top management rank across corporates, which report annually on the make-up of their staff.
White men continue to preside over mahogany row – and, so, over the economy. Senior management reflects the same pattern, and commissioners say the trend line shows dormancy in progress towards workplaces that reflect the country’s demographics.
The Commission for Employment Equity report says: “Change remains slow and again this means the sunset clause is a ‘pie in the sky’ concept.
“What is further alarming is how in some of the provinces and sectors, we have witnessed a decline in black representation where it matters most.”
However, equity is being reached at the professional level. This should be celebrated as it means greater numbers of black people are qualifying for the professions (lawyers, accountants, actuaries, doctors, scientists, engineers, and the like). But that is where the good news ends. The trend line has set 1 000 companies on a war path with the labour department and the commission for employment equity, which has threatened legal action against them.
And a Businesswomen’s Association Census released earlier this month shows the same pattern for women’s progress. At the pinnacle of power (boards and chief executive positions), white men continue to run things. Senior management levels have changed in the public sector only.
Can it be that corporate South Africa has dug in its heels? Or is there a skills gap in senior management? After 21 years of democracy, the skills pool should no longer be an impediment and, if it is, that should be a corporate concern too. Networks and workplace cultures have not altered sufficiently to spot and grow new talent.
What we witness instead is the mirror effect, where old power continues to see competence and leadership only in those who look the same as these people see in the mirror.