Absa CEO Maria Ramos. Picture: MOELETSI MABE
Absa CEO Maria Ramos. Picture: MOELETSI MABE

CEO positions remain closed for women in SA‚ with the number of female leaders at the country’s top companies remaining the same as it was in 2015‚ new research shows.

This is despite SA’s push for gender transformation in senior positions at companies.

The report, produced by search firm Jack Hammer, shows that there has been moderate progress in gender transformation at executive level‚ but none whatsoever at CEO level.

The research was conducted for its annual publication.

It investigates the leadership landscape in SA and in the rest of Africa.

This year‚ research focused on the management makeup of SA’s Top 40 listed companies‚ as well as a random selection of 40 other medium-sized to large organisations with offices in SA (called "the Broad 40").

"It really does appear that the corner office is the final frontier for women in the country‚" said Advaita Naidoo‚ the operations chief of Jack Hammer.

What was particularly interesting was the fact that companies did express their desire to appoint female — particularly black female — leaders.


"What is not clear is why‚ despite this gender transformation agenda‚ women are simply not being appointed to the top job‚" said Naidoo.

This year’s research showed that in SA’s Top 40 companies‚ there was only one female CEO, Maria Ramos of Absa.

This is a drop from 2012, when research showed there were two female CEOs.

Naidoo said the situation appeared somewhat more positive in the Broad 40‚ with four female CEOs.

She explained, however, that this represented no increase in female representation in the top job‚ with exactly the same number of female CEOs as measured in the Broad 40 in 2012.

At executive level in 2018‚ from a total of 373 executives in the Top 40 companies‚ 83 (22%) were women.

Slight increase

This represented a slight increase from the 17% female representation in 2015.

"At executive level there has been some progress‚ with more women appointed in senior roles. But still‚ percentage-wise‚ women remain woefully underrepresented. "There is a glimmer of hope at nonexecutive board level‚ but clearly a lot of work must still be done‚" said Naidoo.

In 2018 the total female representation at board level in SA’s Top 40 companies was 32%‚ with 64% of these women being black females.

"Anecdotally‚ it is clear that companies want to appoint more women in senior positions. We can also see from placement data that shifts are being made at executive level.

"But when it comes to the most powerful position in a company‚ women remain conspicuously absent."