Dr Mamphela Ramphele’s recent announcement of her return to politics and the launch of her political party platform, Agang, has brought to light how the role of women in society has changed immensely over the past few years.

However, given the growing number of equal opportunities available to females in the workplace, women continue to lag in comparison to their male counterparts in both senior management and leadership positions. This is according to Kunyalala Maphisa, President of the Businesswomen’s Association of South Africa (BWASA), who says that while women have become more involved in the workplace, there are still significant challenges that prevent them from holding senior management positions.

According to the recently released 2012 Grant Thornton International Business Report (IBR), only 28% of women occupy senior level positions in South Africa.

“Challenges that women may face and ultimately prevent them from climbing the corporate ladder are largely linked to management’s concerns over women potentially abandoning a career to focus on family life. Females may also be unfairly judged on their ability to juggle corporate as well as household responsibilities,” says Maphisa.

She adds that women also face professional challenges, particularly in traditionally male-dominated careers. “The survey revealed that women are best represented in finance and human resources positions more than other roles. In addition, a recent report by Women in Mining and PricewaterhouseCoopers also highlighted how certain sectors continue to favour employing men over women and reveals that mining is the worse sector for gender diversity with only 5% of board seats being held by women in the Top 500 mining companies.”

Maphisa adds that another alarming statistic is the ratio between men and women in top management positions. According to the 2012 Women in Leadership Census, undertaken by the BWASA, women make up 52% of the South African population, but that they account for just 3.6% of CEO positions, 5.5% of chairperson positions, 17.1% of directorships and 21.4% of executive management positions.  

The IBR survey also revealed that only one in six women hold senior positions on JSE-listed companies. “These figure shows that there is scope for females to play a more significant role when it comes to leadership and managerial positions, and that there is a need for there to be more of a focus to increase the roles of women in leadership positions across all sectors of the economy,” says Maphisa.

She adds that many companies don’t seem to understand the benefits of gender diversity amongst senior management. “Research has shown that the imbalance between men and women in senior management positions can be detrimental to business growth forecasts and that businesses with more women on their boards tend to outperform their competitors.

“But while the benefits of female representation in the senior management positions has been proven, less than one in 10 businesses globally are led by women, signifying that it is harder for women to reach the top of the business world. Women tend to be equal with men at entry-level positions, but lack the networks that men have to move to more senior-level positions.”

Maphisa says this highlights how vital networking is in the workplace environment. “Not only does networking allow connections to be made, but it also provides an opportunity to further develop skills and knowledge.”

She says that judging by the statistics, it is vital that future leaders are continuously mentored and empowered, especially in the case of women. “Networks such as the 2013 DHL Tomorrow’s Leaders Convention, which the Businesswomen’s Association will be participating in, allows for substantial progress in developing and advancing women, and men, on the path to leadership,” concludes Maphisa.   

Kunyalala Maphisa, President of the BWASA, will form part of the discussion panel at the 2013 DHL Tomorrow’s Leaders Convention Enterprise Development breakaway session. Ms Liepollo Pheko, board member of BWASA and Director: Four Rivers, will also be present at the convention and will speak on the topic of ‘Stimulating and boosting female entrepreneurial activity within the SA economy’ during the afternoon plenary session. For further information, please visit


About the DHL Tomorrow’s Leaders Convention:

Hosted by award-winning Leadership magazine, the 2013 DHL Tomorrow’s Leaders Convention engages some 1000 up-and-coming young business leaders with seasoned and established professionals.

Now in its sixth year, the 2013 DHL Tomorrow’s Leaders Convention calls on South Africa’s corporate organisations and government departments to select up to four executives who have the potential to take the helm of their respective organisation within the next two to three years. At the convention, these executives will have the opportunity to engage with and learn from current industry leaders across various sectors of the economy on the key issues that they are likely to face in the future.


About BWASA:

The Businesswomen’s Association of South Africa (BWASA) is the largest and most prominent association of business and professional women in the country. It plays a key role in highlighting the current status of women in leadership and acts as a lobby group that advocates on women’s business issues in an effort to transform the economy.

The non-profit, voluntary association works through strategic partnerships for the interests of its members who include entrepreneurs, corporates, professionals and senior decision makers. Apart from creating networking opportunities for its members, BWASA makes a strong contribution towards developing the next generation of women business leaders.

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