'Female leaders must use their power'

2011-03-15 10:30

Johannesburg - The number of South African women in senior positions may be ahead of other countries, but they do not always exercise their voice, said SA Reserve Bank governor Gill Marcus on Tuesday.

"In essence South Africa is ahead in terms of the promotion of gender equity in position," Marcus told a conference on gender economic empowerment in Johannesburg.

"While this shows South Africa is a leader... it is not sufficient to have the position. It is critical to ask how women use the power."

In Australia, Marcus said, women held 8% of senior positions, in the US 14.4%, and in Canada 16.9%.

South Africa had 19.3% of women in senior positions.

"There is a tendency for women to be much more hesitant to use the power that goes with the position.

"We don't really leverage off the positions we have to the degree that we can," she said during her address titled "Gender economic empowerment: an imperative for long-term balanced growth in South Africa".

Women make up 51.3% of the South African population and 41% of the labour force, however they tend to hold lower paid and less skilled jobs.

South Africa was ahead of the international norm in terms of the number of women serving on boards.

Brazil has four percent, India 4.8%, Australia 8.4% and the US 15.7%.

South Africa, by contrast, has 16.6%.

"Numerically we have made great advances... but why when we have had 100 years of women's day... why do so few women globally hold these positions?" Marcus asked.

South Africa also fared better in terms of women chairs of boards.

Australia had 2.5%, the US 2.6% and Canada 3.2%.

South Africa had 6%t of its board chair positions held by women.

Marcus said it was important that women hold these positions as they can then play an important role in shaping the future.

The chair of a board is a "very important and influential position... that can be used to significantly impact on policy matters", including gender issues, she said.