Although South African women are making great strides within the workplace, corporate South Africa has more work to do to effectively transform boardrooms. The COVID-19 pandemic has further exposed deep-rooted inequalities in social, political and economic systems, and has demonstrated the importance of the unique skills that women bring to societies.
South Africa does not yet currently legally require the disclosure of gender pay gaps but reporting on the gender pay gap is an opportunity for companies to demonstrate tangible actions relating to their commitments to diversity, equality and inclusion. But further than this, the development and nurturing of female talent is vital to ensure appropriate female representation at all levels.
Gender pay gap
Anastacia Tshesane, Transformation, Diversity & Inclusion Leader for PwC Southern Africa, says: “It is no surprise that companies which actively promote and advance women to the highest levels of management and leadership tend to have more engaged boards with a greater diversity of talent. This serves as a reminder of the urgency for closing gender imbalances in the workplace throughout South Africa.”
PwC’s Executive directors: Practices and remuneration trends report 2020 shows that the gender pay gap between male and female executives is wider for large-cap JSE listed companies and differs according to industry type. Across large-cap companies the gender pay gap is most significant at 45%, with a marginal improvement at medium-cap (39%) and a 25% pay gap at the small-cap sector. On a per industry basis, the differences in pay gaps between industries are stark, ranging from a 7% in financials to a hefty 34% in the real estate industry.
The gender pay gap, in simple terms is the difference between the average wages of men and women, regardless of their seniority. ‘Equal pay’ is a different concept but is a connected issue. Equal pay is about ensuring that there are no unjustified pay differences between employees who perform ‘work of equal value’.
The participation of women
Leila Ebrahimi, Co-lead of PwC Reward, Director in PwC’s People and Organisation department and Editor of PwC’s Executive Directors’: Practices and fees trends report 2020 says: “There is a widespread belief that in order to effectively improve the statistics, wider disclosure should be mandated. Within the reporting framework in South Africa, there is a renewed focus on transparency and improved disclosure. However, very few companies make disclosures in their integrated reports that set out the gender pay gap and the steps they are taking to close the gaps, and to make sure that diversity and gender pay inequality remains a focus area.”
Some countries have adopted mandatory quotas to increase the participation of women on boards. In 2008, Norway obliged listed companies to reserve at least 40% of their director seats for women or face dissolution. In the following five years, more than a dozen countries set similar quotas at 30% to 40%.
PwC’s report focuses on what factors companies should take into account when calibrating their philosophy towards executive pay. The report also looks at the feasibility of turnaround incentives, disparity of pay, the gender gap, as well as retention strategies for employers – all these issues are considered against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Reporting on the gender pay gap is only one leg of any potential solution, and companies should actively assess their internal culture and behaviours that contribute to the underlying problem. Areas such as succession planning, talent management and flexible working arrangements are all vital components of company policy to consider. Organisations should also take steps to identify and better understand how to attract, develop and retain female talent in order to slowly narrow the gap. Active efforts are required by organisations to ensure that the systemic change is achieved.
Many companies, including PwC, have introduced training programmes on unconscious bias in an attempt to stimulate behavioural change. This speaks to the recognition that gender inequality is a deep-rooted problem and cannot be addressed on a superficial level.
Ebrahimi concludes: “As companies shift down a gear to strategise and reposition, they have the chance to consider what is important, and what is realistic. In order to tackle inequality effectively, both from an income disparity and gender pay gap perspective, companies will need to bring these issues to the forefront of their strategy. COVID-19 has highlighted these often-overlooked issues and created a catalyst for change which should be embraced.”