Johannesburg - Research from the 2011 Grant Thornton International Business Report (IBR) reveals that South African women currently hold 27% of senior management positions, beating the global average of 20%.
The survey also shows the percentage of private businesses in South Africa that have no women in senior management has declined from 27% in 2009 to 23%, in contrast to the global average which has risen to 38% compared to 35% in 2009.
"The fact that South Africa outperforms the global average can be attributed to the emphasis placed by government on gender equality and employment equity," said Jeanette Hern, partner and head of corporate finance at Grant Thornton Johannesburg.
"However, while the South African government holds an impressive record with many women in senior positions, the private sector business community still has a long way to go, particularly in the roles that women play."
The survey shows that of the companies in South Africa that employ women in senior managerial positions globally, 21% employ them as human resources directors. This is closely followed by financial positions (chief financial officer/finance director) at 20% and then sales director (9%) and marketing officer (8%).
Only 3% of the South African companies surveyed has a female CEO, 5% lower than the global average of 8%.
"Our statistics for the roles that women play in privately held businesses are in line with studies done on companies listed on the JSE," said Hern.
"According to a survey done by the Businesswomen's Association, less than 5% of JSE listed companies have women CEOs.
"Until businesses break out of the mindset that women are only suited for HR and finance positions, we will not be able to properly capture the value that women can add to the workplace."
Regionally, companies in the Eastern Cape have the highest proportion of women in senior management at 33% followed by Gauteng (28%) and Cape Town (27%), with Durban having the lowest proportion at 26%.
The data revealed that Group of Seven countries lag behind the global average with only 16% of women holding senior roles, while by region, Asia Pacific (excluding Japan) scores highest with 27%.
Women have become most successful in increasing their share of senior management roles in Thailand, Hong Kong, Greece, Belgium and Botswana, where the percentage of women in these roles has risen by at least 7% since 2009.