Among the world’s largest 500 companies, only 10.9 % of senior executives are women, according to Weber Schandwick’s Gender Forward Pioneer Index. The report also revealed that 37% of these companies have a male-only leadership team. In Africa, only 5% of CEOs and 29% of senior managers are women, according to a McKinsey report.
These figures clearly show there’s room for improvement when it comes to women in senior roles, but the numbers are far better than a decade ago. The recognition of the importance of women’s roles in business and governance is growing. In fact, research has proven that having women at the C-suite level significantly increases net margins. Innovation goes up too, with an average of 20% more patents.
Researchers can’t conclusively say that it proves women are better at running a business. It comes down to diversity. A diverse environment, not just across gender – but age, culture and race – encourages companies to be more creative. However, it’s generally agreed that women do bring certain attributes to the boardroom. Brain mapping has shown that women and men have slightly different neural wiring. It’s why men excel at certain tasks involving action and hand-eye coordination, and women possess skills in communication, analytical thinking and intuition.
Men may be wired to take action, while women are more contemplative and scrutinise possible outcomes. Both traits are extremely valuable when a company has to make a major decision. But perhaps one of women’s most valuable roles is empathy.
The 4th industrial revolution is bringing major shifts to our world. It’s ushering in an era of artificial intelligence and big data, which demands that humans develop an entirely new way of thinking. Future skills include complex problem solving, empathy, creativity and people management. Skills that women are naturally gifted at.
In South Africa, one of the top three challenges for business growth is a skills shortage, according to PwC’s ‘Working together, moving forward’ report. At the same time, only 44% of professional posts are held by women (Stats SA). If more women can upskill themselves they can help fill the growing skills gap. This is not just true for South Africa, but around the world. Women, particularly in developing economies, are significantly responsible for the financial situation of their families. Women with higher levels of education also make better use of reproductive health and family planning information and services. A recent McKinsey Global Institute report found that enhancing women’s equality will add $12 trillion to global GDP by 2025.
And it’s not just important in the business sphere. Women leaders need to be at the forefront of society, actively involved in governance and decision-making. South Africa is remarkable if we think that women comprise 41.8% of our national assembly and 35.3% of provincial legislature, according to latest figures from the International Parliamentary Union. This is an incredible achievement considering the meagre 2.7% of women’s political representation before 1994. Interestingly, developing economies fare better when it comes to women in politics. Perhaps it is because of our ability to empathise with all sectors of a growing, vibrant and diverse economy.
In the private sector, again there are more women in senior management in emerging economies including Africa (where 89% of businesses have at least one woman in senior management). But quantity doesn’t always mean influence. It’s still important that women have a recognised voice, and are encouraged to be as assertive as men, without being labelled.
A successful woman is often thought of as a strong and independent, but this does not mean she has to do it all alone. Finding the right support network and mentors is extremely important. This also plays a role for women balancing a career with children. As Angel Jones, founder of Homecoming Revolution says, “The best way to make your children happy is to be a happy parent.” This mantra is what she uses to keep her work and home balance in check.
Another local entrepreneur, Nicole Stephens, founded The Recruitment Specialists, consisting of four women who all operate on flexitime. The Recruitment Specialists don’t have a head office, fixed hours or salaries, but work in a ‘freelance network model’. The growth of the freelance economy is enabling women to better balance careers and family.
I encourage women to take risks, don’t shy away from male dominated environments and also use your peer and support network. At the end of the day the presence of women leaders positively impacts governance, reputation, financial success, and encouraging other women to become leaders – ultimately uplifting the entire global economy.
Author: Laurica Kok