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A Social Exclusion Issue:
Gender Inequality in the South African Workplace

Miranda Markland

Since the termination of the system of apart­heid, South Africa has been moving towards greater social inclusion by striving for equal opportunities for both black and white citizens. However, the same progress has not been made to ensure equal opportunities for women. This is evident not only in the high rates of domes­tic violence and crimes against women, but also in their treatment in the workplace. Women are prevented from holding executive positions and receiving equal pay. Women are still subjected to prejudices by men in the business world, which sometimes prevent them from entering into fields in which they might excel.


All these inequalities severely diminish a South African woman's quality of life (QOL). It becomes clear that this reduced QOL is due to the social exclusion of women when analyzed using the Equality Measurement Framework (EMF) developed by the Centre for Analysis of Social Exclusion. Women are targets for inequality in society for no other reason than their gender, which satisfies the first criteria of the EMF. They have unequal QOL in all three aspects outlined by the Centre, namely out­comes (such as income), autonomy (achieving the position that has been earned), and processes (being treated with respect in the workplace). These inequalities affect multiple aspects of the woman's life, such as her standard of living, participation. influence, and self-respect (Vizard and Burchardt I 0-11).


Many businesses in South Africa lack female representation in their up­per levels of management; this is the root of the exclusion still taking place in South Africa today. In a study done in 2008, the percentage of female directors in all South African companies registered in the Johan­nesburg Stock Exchange (JSE) is only 14.3 percent, or 419 women. The disparity between men and women executives at the CEO level is even higher, only 3.9 percent women. This means that in the entire country there were 13 women CEO's. These statistics had improved from 2004- 7.2 percent in female directors and 0.9 percent in CEO's-but there is still much room for improvement. While 51 percent of South Africa's population is female, only a quarter of all executive managers and 14.3 percent of all directors are women ("Women in Business" I). The World Bank conducted an Enterprise Survey that found that only l in 26 salaried African women was in a senior management position, compared to every 1 in 6 men ("Africa" I).


This disparity applies to specific trades as well. Chantelle Benjamin from Business Day News wrote about similar under representation of wom­en in top management in the media. She noted that even though South Africa led its neighboring countries in the percentage of women in top management media positions, the number was still only 25 percent. The South African Development Community (SADC), the organization that conducted the survey, noted that "while there was a high level of commit­ment to gender equality in the media, there were no comprehensive and systematic policies to address the gender gap" (Benjamin 1).

The executives of a company decide gender policies. When there is a lack of female representation in the upper levels of management, there is a greater possibility that women employees will experience discrimina­tion. In order to protect all female employees from exclusion in the work­place, women have to penetrate the upper levels of corporations much in the same way the Dutch did to usurp the power of the English in South Africa. Once they become part of the elite group of policy makers, female executives can use their power to make poli­cies that enforce gender equality, thus bringing about lasting social inclusion in the workplace.


The government of South Africa has great po­tential to help get women into the top executive positions. In 1994 after the denouncement of apartheid, women had a right to hope that their own liberation from social exclusion would be soon 1n coming. However, Gail Smith from City Press writes, "Where unity and common purpose once galvanized the women's movement in the early '90s, now a vast chasm exists between women in government and women's rights activists. The women's movement is in tatters" (I). Smith blames the lack of progress in women's rights on the African National Con­gress's (ANC) failure to budget for and imple­ment programs that would "entrench women's substantive equality" (1 ). Without such pro­grams in place, women in business receive little backing from their government. Those who do manage to fight their way up to the top are rare. For each one there are plenty of other qualified young women who are not so successful, and consequently do not reach their full potential.


In addition to women in the government not uniting with the people to create government policies that could bring about greater social inclusion for women, the government system itself also has imperfections that hinder the ad­vancement of women. One of these imperfec­tions is the main agency in the South African government that concerns itself with women's affairs-the Ministry of Women, Children, and People with Disabilities. Smith restates a com­mon view that "lumping women in a ministry with children and people with disabilities un­derscores one of the biggest conceptual prob­lems in dealing with gender equality since I 994: the tendency to conflate women and children's issues" (1 ). This promotes an almost patroniz­ing view of the government towards women, insinuating that they have no more abilities or potential than a child or a disabled person, and therefore any legislation that benefits one group will benefit them all. In a society where sexism is already prevalent, especially in the workplace, the fact that the government has such a ministry only encourages steps backward instead of forward. In order for South Africa to achieve greater social inclusion, its government needs to be consciously aware of the subliminal messages it is sending to its people. Without the clear support of the government for gender equality, women will never be able to pen­etrate upper management and change policies in the workplace that cause the social exclusion of female employees.


One such policy that women executives could enact to create greater inclusion would be a policy that guarantees equal pay for women and men. According to Gordon Institute of Business Science's online service NeXt, men who entered their salary into the site earned an average of 505,334 rand, or 68,860 United States dollars, a year. Women were much further behind, earning 402,875 rand, or 54,730 USD a year. While the survey conducted using NeXt wasn't scientific, it shows there are some women who earn much less than men (Ntuli 3). Benjamin also reported that in the study conducted by SADC, there were sizeable gaps in aver­age incomes between the sexes. The largest gap in annual salaries paid by a media company was a difference of 63,460 rand, or 8,622 USD. The smallest gap was still a difference of five digits in South African currency, which is surprising considering that six of the media sampled employ 50-60 percent women (Benjamin I). The fact that half of a company's employees arc underpaid based on gender is an injustice, and one that could be corrected with the right women in top management changing these sexist policies.


With more power, women executives could help women break into fields typically dominated by men. One such field is mining. Thousands of men labor in South African mines, making decent wages for a job that requires little to no expertise. Therefore, men can easily find jobs without going to school for training. Women, however. have a more difficult time being hired for these positions without previous experience, and even when they are hired, they are often paid less (Ntuli 3). The October Household Survey conducted in i 994 shows the discrepancy in pay and employment rates compared to education for men and women.


The information of particular interest in this table is that in both plant and machine occupations and laboring/vending occupations there is a smaller percentage of women in the labor force, despite the fact that these women were in school for almost a year longer than the men. In order for South Africa to reach greater social inclusion, a woman who is equally or better qualified than a man for a job in any given sector needs to be given pref­erence in selection for the job and then paid accordingly. Furthermore, it will require female superiors to ensure that such preference is given. 

Table 1. Formal Sector Worker by Gender, Occupation, Education and Wages.​

The final policy in South African business that needs to be implemented is one that would prevent male biases against women from being carried over into the workplace. The absence of women in the workplace in the past reflects nothing on their natural abilities or desires. Their role as pri­mary care-giver in the home does not detract from their performance at the office. Yet these long-held beliefs of men in South African society are still negatively affecting the pay and advancement opportunities of South African women. Basetsana Khumalo, the president of the Business­women's Association of South Africa, claims that these effects show "we stilJ live in a patriarchal society in which men still dominate ... Corporate South Africa is still treating women unfairly by penalizing them for being mothers, wives and professionals instead of rewarding them for multi­tasking efficiently" (qtd. in Ntuli I) Khumalo concludes by suggesting that the way to solve these issues of sexism in the workplace is firstly for individual women to point out any inequality they see and clearly state how it should be eliminated, and secondly for women to unite to fight for their equality in pay and representation in upper management (Ntuli I).


The social exclusion of working women in South Africa hurts not only the women who are discriminated against, but also the prosperity of the entire nation. The lack of female executives paired with the inadequacy of government intervention in issues of gender inequality has led to lower pay and employment discrimination against women. This combination has also been a factor in the failure to alleviate the sexist views of men in the workplace. The lack of advancement opportunities crushes the po­tential of some women, while unequal pay and employment opportunities keep others in poverty. There is no way to enumerate how many women have been negatively affected in these ways. However, there have been studies on another negative effect of this social exclusion. This last April the United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon estimated that between 0.1 percent and 0.3 percent of gross domestic product per year is lost due to failure to "promote gender equality and empower women" ("Africa" 1 ). If the South African government is seriously in­terested in achieving social inclusion, then it should invest in projects aimed to promote gen­der equality. When women are finally treated as men's equals in the workplace, then the country as a whole will begin to see returns on its in­vestment, and equality will usher in prosperity for South Africa.

Note: This data is taken from Women Workers in Solllh Africa: Participation, Pay and Prejudice in the Fonna/ Lcibor Market by Carolyn Winter. /999, World Bank lnfonnal Discussio11 Paper Series ( Report No. 19752) p. 24. 


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