Johannesburg - Companies promote women to senior management roles to meet certain quotas, but fail to create structures that facilitate sustainable long-term growth in these positions.
Unless organisations can ensure that women in top jobs are effective in their roles, meeting a quota will not automatically translate into bottom line success.
Businesses should not rely solely on legislation and quotas, but also need to provide in-house training and support to nurture their female leaders.
According to the 2012 Women in Leadership census, women account for only 17.1% of directorships this year.
The census, based on more than 300 listed companies and 20 state-owned enterprises, showed that only 12 women are at the top of their organisations, with the biggest representation (25%) in state-owned enterprises.
"Possible reasons for the results of the 2012 Women in Leadership Census are inadequate coaching, leadership and management training, as well as rotation through various leadership and management roles," said Babita Mathur-Helm, senior lecturer of leadership diversity management at the University of Stellenbosch Business School.
Mathur-Helm believes that to create sustainable gender transformation, companies need to take a good look at their current business structure and culture and then decide what adaptations need to be made to support women in top positions.
She said this can be achieved by identifying and openly discussing the growth barriers that often push the female workforce towards the glass ceiling ñ the discriminatory barrier that prevents women and minorities from rising to positions of power.
"Lower confidence and ambition born of historical stereotypes tends to put women off the top jobs and companies should take positive steps to nurture them for leadership roles," Mathur-Helm said.
South African women need to take responsibility for their own career advancement. Women, together with their male counterparts, need to have a clear succession plan within the organisation and demonstrate this at all times.
"Women in South Africa are habitually seen as being secondary to men in terms of intellectual and financial strength.
"Women need to help themselves by not only fulfilling, but expanding their role in modern South Africa's workplace," concludes Mathur-Helm.
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