South Africa’s ability to embrace transformation is known worldwide, its muscle is flexed once again as it deals with gender diversity in the workplace.

The MasterCard Index results seem to show that gender equality in South Africa still needs major improvement. It highlights that there are still more men in leadership positions than women. The index suggests that for every 100 men, there are 57.5 women in business leadership roles in organisations; and that for every 100 males, there are 25.5 women that own their own businesses.

As alarming as this is, are there benefits that businesses can enjoy by embracing more women participation in senior management? According to an ACCA report titled Increasing gender diversity to boost performance there are many benefits for organisations that choose to embrace this. The report says that organisations that lack a gender balance are unrepresentative of the society in which they operate because women make up roughly half the population.

In the ACCA report it is noted that companies where women accounted for over 15% of senior management achieved an average return on equity of 14.7%, compared with 9.7% by companies where women accounted for fewer than 10% of senior managers. Gender diversity offers women an opportunity to contribute to the success of the companies they work in, and indirectly to the economy of the country. So gender diversity is not a matter that affects one organisation, but it affects the whole economy of the country. If the pool of talent is extended, then the economy stands a better chance of growing than when the pool is limited.

South Africa’s mining sector has the best level of female representation on boards, according to a recent report released by PwC. Research studies have found a link between more gender-diverse company boards and better financial performance. It is clear that companies that take gender diversity seriously benefit, not because the regulators require this, but because gender diversity affects their bottom-line. Helen Brand, the ACCA chief executive, says, “[Gender] Inequality is a genuine business risk and should be treated as such”.

The finance sector has an important role to play in promoting and supporting diversity initiatives. CFOs can act as role models and use their ‘top table’ status to influence the corporate diversity strategies and action by other functions.
Gender equality in the South African business place still needs major improvements. Though they help, it is not regulations that will bring transformation, but it is organisations that understand the benefits of gender diversity that will reap the most rewards.