Mir­ror mir­ror on the wall

CityPress - - Voices -

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.

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