WHILE the percentage of women operating in executive roles
for listed companies on the JSE has increased from 4.2% in 2011 to 8% in 2012,
according to a recent report released by PwC, this figure is still quite low
and highlights the dire need for more women to pursue senior management
positions in South African companies.
This sentiment is mirrored by the recent findings from the
Credit Suisse Research Institute study, which found that shares of companies
with a market capitalisation of more than $10bn (R82bn) and with women board
members outperformed comparable businesses with all-male boards by 26% globally
over a six-year period.
This research indicates the clear benefits of women in
leadership positions, yet women are still underrepresented in this area,
particularly in the financial services industry.
There are a number of reasons why relatively few women
occupy top-level positions in South Africa's boardrooms.
While it may seem controversial to say so, many women choose
not to occupy higher positions in the business world because of the
difficulties involved in balancing a family and a career.
One of the most important factors in being able to strike
the correct balance is not just the ability of the woman involved, but perhaps
more crucially, the attitude of the employer.
It is possible to successfully maintain a career and have a
family, but if you choose to do this then it is vital to choose a company that
supports your outlook on life.
The working environment plays a large role in determining
whether a healthy work and home life can be successfully maintained.
If you have an unsympathetic manager at work, then it is extremely
difficult for a woman to meet business demands at the same time as raising a
family, resulting in women often choose to leave the company.
The first few years of motherhood are already taxing for
women. Juggling this new role and the ordinary pressures of work is hard
enough, but most women also have to catch up on any developments in the
business while on maternity leave at the same time.
As a result, it is important to look for an employer who is
understanding and makes compromises when possible.
For those women wanting to pursue a top-level career, it is
important to be highly organised in both your business and personal life. You
need to have a good support structure in place that can assist with taking care
of family needs, so you can focus 100% on your work while at the office.
It is impossible to have a demanding career, especially if
it involves regular travel, without a decent support structure and a very well
organised schedule. When it comes to scheduling family time and work time, try
not to work long hours but rather put in the extra hours early in the morning,
when everyone is still peacefully at sleep.
Never underestimate the impact a successful career may have
on the balance of family life – know you will have to make many personal
sacrifices to enjoy the thrill of a successful career. There are those
occasions where, as a woman, you need to adapt your way of doing things to fit
in with the rest of the industry. However, being flexible and open to change
are key components for any successful business person.
It is important, however, that businesses do begin to
appreciate the value of having women in executive positions. Women bring a
different dynamic to the boardroom and can offer a fresh perspective on how
business is conducted. However, in order to facilitate further female
representation at board level in South Africa, companies need to accommodate
the differing needs of women.
Whether this involves flexitime or changes to work
procedures, it is in the best interest of the company to accommodate these
needs so that it can retain and motivate its top staff, regardless of their
* Christelle Fourie is the managing director of MUA
Insurance Acceptances. She is the latest
guest columnist taking part in Fin24's Women's Month campaign
celebrating women in business. Fin24 welcomes your participation in the
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