Race, rainbows and work
It will take 20 years for South Africa’s black bosses to outnumber their white counterparts. But black senior managers are likely to outpace their white counterparts within five years.
This is the City Press calculation based on the release this week of the annual barometer to measure progress on employment equity.
The Commission on Employment Equity revealed a picture we know well, but it contains signs of important progress and a few “colour caveats”. First, the good news: the number of African, coloured and Indian professionals is growing apace. This means that the black skills base is improving and reaching close to parity with white professionals. This deserves a yip-yip.
Professionally qualified individuals drive the private sector, the state and not-for-profits. It is vital for good race relations that South African workplaces in all three sectors represent South Africa’s demographic. This is necessary if we are to break the apartheid systems of job reservation and racial baaskap. South Africa celebrated 22 years of political freedom this week, but the progress towards diversity and workplace freedom is too slow.
At senior management level, the gap between black and white managers, as a proportion of total, is lagging. It is particularly stubborn in the private sector and the biggest gap is in the powerhouse sectors such as finance. The report finds that, to reach the top C-suites, whites and Indians are doing much better than African and coloured people as a proportion of population. Yet if the number of skilled professionals is growing, what’s the problem?
“There is a pool of employees from designated groups [African, coloured, Indian and all women] who do not receive promotion opportunities and remain stuck at the professionally qualified and skilled technical levels,” says the commission.
The commission believes the private sector has a system of “unwritten quotas” where it will, for example, increase female representation while dropping broad black employment. For women, there is still a shatterproof glass ceiling and female top managers make up only 21.4% of the total, up slightly from 20.9% in 2014. Yet the total number of female professionals is at near parity with men.
This suggests women are not being promoted, even if they are available for bigger jobs.
And, here’s a final line from the report we should all heed: “The labour market is segmented into a dichotomy, where the private sector is the biggest employer for white and Indian groups, while Africans and coloureds are employed to a large extent by government.” If this is correct, it’s a new kind of apartheid. We ought to avoid it.