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Despite research confirming the positive correlation between the presence of women in corporate leadership and company performance, women remain grossly underrepresented at the executive level of corporate South Africa.

Thirty-one percent of South African companies don’t have any female representation in senior leadership roles.

Author: Beverley Hancock, Sirdar Group

Sirdar is Africa’s leading educator, appointer and guide of high-performance boards for privately-held and family businesses, weighs in on the topic and shares some insights on matter.

In Africa’s first non-executive and independent directors’ fees, performance and diversity survey for privately-held and family business researched by the Sirdar Group in 2018, the data set indicated that 72.1% of the boards surveyed had at least one woman and that 21.8% of the total number of directors of the boards surveyed, were women.

Read: The simple truth about the gender pay gap in South Africa

There is an increasing awareness of the power of a gender diverse team. We have seen a marked increase in opportunities for women in non-executive director roles but there remains a long way to go as women remain under-represented at executive level.

Certainly not all company and board cultures are proactive in their approach to driving gender diversity and in understanding the benefits and value from having a diverse team or board.

This may be down to an ingrained existing company and / or board culture that does not promote or encourage change. It may also be that organisations or boards are not finding - or being exposed to - women that have the necessary skills, abilities and experience called for, in the role.

What progress has been made?

One can consider all the very real and challenging factors encountered, whether it be a mindshift required within many existing company cultures or a board culture that is still closed to the values that diversity brings, or even the lack of awareness of the power of diversity at C-suite.

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There is a growing awareness of the value of diversity even if this does not necessarily mean change overnight in terms of women being represented in the C suite.

It is the confidence of women themselves, in their ability and the value they bring in the C suite that is key and must continue to grow. Where there is resistance there is also the opportunity.

Gaining the experience and skills needed to take that next step up the ladder is important; not being afraid to say one has the ability and to take the challenges and opportunities presented is just as important.

There are many very experienced, highly skilled and powerful women in business and as these women continue knocking on doors, and as more doors open, the opportunity exists to empower other women along the way.

How can women excel and move up the ladder?

A proactive approach and attitude as well as a confidence and understanding of where YOU actually want to be, or be doing, allows for better focus in targeting positions that allow for your personal and career growth and in attaining the necessary skills and experience that will take you to the next level in your journey.

I know many successful entrepreneurs and executives that, whilst they initially completed their studies as a Chartered Accountant, for example, found their career path being driven not by their qualification but by their passions, natural energies and personality as well as the career opportunities presented - and created - over time.

Networking is key. As Head of Appoint for the Sirdar Group, I have found that in my engagement with successful women in business, across Africa, many of whom are active or aspiring non-executive directors, that there has been a common theme.

This has been a willingness and a desire to refer other women who may be suitable to particular positions or board positions in general. There is also a growing number of online platforms focused on women on boards and in preparing the next generation of female leaders.

Taking practical steps to educate oneself in an applied manner is important. The Sirdar Group delivers an Applied Directorship Programme that both experienced and aspiring directors gain enormous learnings from. The various Institute of Directors across Africa also offer director training as do Corporate Governance associations.  

Seeking a mentor or mentors who will advise, guide and strategise with one will give additional insight and allow for personal and business growth.