African women's standings in the leadership stakes


African women are still more likely than anywhere else in the world to be blocked from reaching business leadership positions because of gender bias.

This was revealed in Grant Thornton’s “Women in business: the path to leadership” report 2015. According to the study, the proportion of business leadership roles held by women in Africa stands at 23 per cent.

Women ExecsWomen reaching the top tier of business has not advanced at a swift enough rate, said the report. Lee-Anne Bac, director: advisory services at Grant Thornton, drilled down further: “The percentage of women in senior management roles in South Africa is inadequate. 


“The gender bias is subtle at the beginning of a career but it causes a clear separation of career paths between men and women. South Africa has a fine tradition of strong women in business as well as women political leaders but there still is much room for improvement.”

According to the study, globally 22 per cent of senior roles are now held by women – slightly up from 2004 (19 per cent ). Bac said while businesses are talking the talk on gender equality, very few are walking the walk. She said, “If an economy is only using half its most talented people then it immediately cuts its growth potential.”

Bac cited a number of countries, including France, Spain, the UK and Germany which have proposed laws for mandatory quotas on the number of women on boards and brought in their own guidance for businesses around gender diversity.

By a stark contrast, just under half of South African companies (48 per cent) said they would support the introduction of quotas for the number of women on executive boards of large listed companies. This is down from 52 per cent in 2014 and 60 per cent in 2013.

Susan Shabangu, Minister in the Presidency responsible for Women, withdrew a Women Empowerment and Gender Equity Bill in July last year for further consultation. One of its key provisions was that 50% of all decision-making positions must go to women in ‘designated public bodies and designated private bodies’. 

However, the 50 per cent target was seen to be unrealistic in the South African context and resulting in the Bill being pulled for further review.

According to the report, business in South Africa was strongly opposed to government’s quota plans as a way of addressing the shortage of women in senior positions.