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Despite South Africa’s ongoing push for gender transformation in senior positions, the number of female leaders at SA’s top companies remains exactly the same as it was in 2015, and has even dropped since 2012, new research shows.

The statistics informing the latest Jack Hammer Executive Report, Volume 5, which is due for release later this year, shows that there has been moderate progress in gender transformation at the executive level, but none whatsoever at CEO level.

The research was conducted by leading local and African search firm Jack Hammer, for its annual publication which investigates the leadership landscape in South Africa and the rest of Africa. 

This year, research focused on the management makeup of SA’s Top 40 listed companies, as well as a random selection of 40 other large to medium-sized organisations with offices in SA (The Broad 40).

It really does appear that the corner office is the final frontier for women in the country. What is particularly interesting, is the fact that companies do express their desire to appoint female - particularly black female - leaders.

What is not clear is why, despite this gender transformation agenda, women are simply not being appointed to the top job.

2018’s research showed that in SA’s Top 40 companies, there was only one female CEO (Maria Ramos of the ABSA Group). 

This is a drop from 2012’s research, when there were 2 female CEOs, and exactly the same number – and person - as 2015’s research.

The situation appears somewhat more positive in the Broad 40, with 4 female CEOs (10%). However, this also represents a 0% increase in female representation in the top job, with exactly the same number of female CEOs as measured in the Broad 40 in 2012.

At executive level this year, from a total of 373 executives in the Top 40 companies, 83 (22%) were women. This represents a slight increase from the 17% female representation in 2015.

At executive level, there has been some progress with more women appointed in senior roles. But still, percentage-wise, women remain woefully under-represented. There is a glimmer of hope at the Non-Executive Board level, but clearly, a lot of work must still be done.

This year, the total female representation at board level in SA’s Top40 companies was 32%, with 64% of these women being black females.

Anecdotally, it is clear that companies want to appoint more women in senior positions. We can also see from placement data that shifts are being made at the executive level. But when it comes to the most powerful position in a company, women remain conspicuously absent.

Advaita Naidoo is COO of Jack Hammer 

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