I am sick of glass ceiling statistics

By Staff Writer

Every time we have a day dedicated to the female populous, such as International Women’s Day, we get the inevitable survey from some major corporate talking about how women haven’t shattered through the glass ceiling and I am sick of it.

Sure enough, this year was no different. “The percentage of working women in senior management positions in SA is inadequate and has been static for the past six years,” screams Grant Thornton’s 2013 Women in Business survey. The 2013 Grant Thornton International Business Report (IBR) on women in business reveals that just over one quarter of top decision-making roles in SA businesses are filled by women.  “This is a long way off government’s ambition to ensure that 50% of senior management positions are filled by women,” says the report.

But wait, there’s more: “As has been the case since 2009, only 28% of SA senior management positions are filled by women and the statistic has disappointingly flat-lined for five years. This stagnant five-year trend is the same when global averages are reviewed, with international businesses also showing no improvement since 2009, at 24%.”

And more: “Even more concerningis the statistic that 21% of SA businesses surveyed for 2013 have no women at all in senior management positions,” says Grant Thornton.

It is disappointing that more women aren’t in top roles. But there could be many reasons for this and I think it’s time these reasons were explored in more detail. Then perhaps we could finally find the route of the problem instead of churning out these statistics every year. Maybe women are more content playing second fiddle in less senior management roles? Perhaps some of us are still juggling our motherhood and work responsibilities and trying to find a balance? Or, more importantly, there are a bunch of us that don’t want to be ‘on top’, thanks very much. Why has no-one tried to do a survey on that?

Why, in 2013, do we still ‘count the beans’ and measure equality by the number of women that hold top jobs? Will the world suddenly be more ‘equal’ if more women were at the helm? Will the world finally sit back and relax once the 50%, 60% or whatever quota they deem to be fair is reached?

And yes every year the idea of implementing quotas rears its ugly head. “These stats indicate an urgent need for change,” says Jeanette Hern, partner and head of Corporate Finance at Grant Thornton Johannesburg.  “However when SA businesses were asked whether they would support the introduction of quotas to legislate for more women on executive boards of large listed companies, it is pleasing to note that 60% of SA businesses surveyed said they would support the quota system,” says Hern.

I think the only thing worse than whining on about how few women are in power in the corporate world is the idea of implementing quotas. How will that bring about equality and reduce animosity between the sexes? You can almost hear the gossip in the office corridors ‘Yes Jane Doe got the CEO position but, to be honest, we had to award it to her as we had to meet our quotas’.

And what happens if the woman appointed for the top job turns out to be less than competent in her job? Again this will just create unnecessary animosity and tension in the workplace between the sexes. In my opinion, leadership roles should be given to the most competent and deserving person and should not be forced on someone just because they wear a skirt and stilettos.

So what are some of the other ideas milling about to help push women into the CEO’s chair? A critical way in which SA business could make itself more appealing to women is to provide more flexible working hours suggests Grant Thornton. Again, I don’t think this is the best strategy.

Before you say that up until this point I’ve only been dishing out criticism instead of offering solutions, here are my suggestions on creating a level playing field:

I think that, first and foremost, we should rather tackle unequal salaries. The fact that men are still being paid more for doing the same role in the workplace should stop, right here, right now. This problem is something that should be addressed instead of forcing quotas onto companies to employ more female bosses.

Flexi time? I am all for that. But why only offer it to women? Why can’t men be provided with flexi time, particularly if they have children? Are we saying that women are better at looking after our offspring than men? Also, why do men get only a few weeks off if they bring a child into this world and women get four months?

Let's even the playing field and get realistic when it comes to partners with children and stop assuming what women want is to be in high powered jobs with flexi time so they can juggle work and family time. Let’s stop assuming that men don’t want that too. Give dads the time off and allow them to choose their working hours. Then perhaps company bosses will look at men and women that have children in an equal light and hire the right person for the top job. If we do these things I think I will enjoy days, such as International Women’s Day, a lot more.

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