Gender transformation: Past, present and future

South Africa is in the midst of the fourth industrial revolution, but yet we still can’t shake gender inequalities that have been existing for years. Even though progress is evident locally, there is still a lot of work to be done.

A survey conducted by Old Mutual Unit Trusts (in 2019) among almost 500 South African women, reveals that 39% of the respondents believe that the South African gender pay-gap at an executive level is an issue in South Africa. In addition, 23% of the respondents believe that they are not being paid the same as their male counterparts, even though they do the same job.

Financial services in the spotlight

The financial services sector in South Africa and abroad has shown less gender transformation than many other industries. This traditionally male-dominated sector still sees significant gender pay gaps and a notable absence of females in CEO and other senior leadership positions. However, research conducted by the International Monetary Fund revealed that women may be better risk managers than men and that more women on executive boards contribute towards diversity of thought. There are clear benefits of having females in senior positions, but we’re just not there yet.

The barriers are real

Barriers are solidified by the fact that most woman are faced with the family versus career struggle at some point in their life. It is at this point that many of the greatest female financial minds gracefully bow out to tend to their family needs full time. These factors have had a material effect on the rate of gender transformation in South Africa. When these women choose to return to full time work once their children are older, they can’t always get back into the workforce on the same trajectory than before they left.

There are, however, other less imposing factors that contribute towards the slow rate of gender transformation, such as:
• Insufficient flexible working arrangements, along with the negative stigma that is attached to employees, especially women, who opt to maintain a work-life balance.
• The persistent pay gap: unequal pay for equal responsibilities in the workplace.
• Subconscious preconceptions and outdated cultural assumptions such as men being the household breadwinners.
• The loss of confidence experienced as a result of guilt for leaving children with carers in pursuit of a career.

South Africa and abroad

Considering this backdrop, South Africa needs to develop more female leaders and nurture a working environment that is more conducive to gender inclusion. As a country, employment equity is a necessary tool to ensure economic equality. In the same vein, we need to ensure that there is equal sensitivity to the development of women in the workplace.

Some of the numbers need to be considered. Currently 70% of all certified financial planners in South Africa are men. International trends follow the same pattern of male domination within the financial services industry. A report published in the UK in 2018 revealed that men earn about 60% more than their female counterparts within some of the UK’s top financial institutions, for the same jobs. This is the reality; however, it doesn’t mean to say that the future is set to stay that way.

The future is bright

The good news is that the process has started and there is progress, the progress is just not fast enough. In fact, in the 2019 Grant Thornton Women in business: building a blueprint for action report, Africa is listed at one of the two contents leading the way in gender diversity in senior management. The report states that 94% of business in Africa have at least one woman as part of its senior management, and 31% of senior roles are held by women.

The foundation has been laid. It is now simply a matter of building on that foundation with precision, intention and purpose.


Elize Botha

Managing Director of Old Mutual Unit Trusts