By Dr Ivor Blumenthal
August is Women’s Month in South Africa, and it is only fitting that we examine the history and implementation of Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment – or BBBEE.
From 2000 to 2010, white women were officially classified as black for BBBEE purposes. This was because from 1994 onwards, women of all races (including white women) were recognised as having been previously disadvantaged in the workplace. Pre-1994, there was no pay parity in the workplace. Men received significantly more pay for doing the same work as a woman. In addition, women were significantly under-represented at the boardroom table and as shareholders.
From the year 2000, companies were encouraged to recruit, train, and promote women throughout their businesses, as well as sell shares to women of all races. These efforts were an incentive for these companies to achieve compliance with BBBEE scorecards, and gain Measured Entity status. This status would allow them to tender for local, provincial, and national Government contracts, as well as supply other companies in the private sector.
When the first BBBEE Scorecard had been revised in 2010, statistics showed that companies had massively over-invested in white women in order to achieve Measured Entity Status, in comparison to their Black, Indian or Coloured counterparts. This led to an adjustment in the second version of the BBBEE scorecard where it was no longer possible for companies to continue this decade-long favouritism. From this point on, white women were no longer considered in terms of the BBBEE scorecard.
According to the latest BBBEE Report – released in June 2021 – women currently constitute 45% of the economically active population in South Africa. This refers to those actively in the job market, those unemployed but seeking to enter the job market, or those who are in the job market but are not in positions fitting of their qualifications.
Males of all races occupy 75% of top management jobs in South Africa, while women collectively only account for 25% of those incumbents. This contrasts to the fact that women account for 45% of the economically active population of South Africa.
It is not possible to discuss BBBEE without acknowledging the race factor. Before 2010, companies invested in the disproportionate employment and development of white women, while avoiding doing so with Black, Indian and Coloured females. After 2010, companies seeking BBBEE recognition tended to do the same with the recruitment, empowerment and advancement of Indian women in the workplace.
The official breakdown of the female demographic amongst our Economically Active Population or EAP, is as follows: African: 36%, Indian: 1%, Coloured: 4% and White: 4%.
While examining the distribution of women employed at a Senior Level in the workplace, the following picture emerges:
According to the Minister of Employment and Labour, an insufficient number of Black and Coloured women are being taken seriously at Senior levels in business. At the same time, Indian women have become a token for females in the workplace, above their Black and Coloured counterparts.
There has been a long-standing argument since 1994 that there are simply not enough professionals from these previously disadvantaged groups entering the workplace. In recent times, it can be seen that this argument is certainly no longer true.
Our Economically Active Population of graduated, qualified and professionally designated women in the workplace reveals that there has been a profoundly positive transformation in the diversity of women recruited into these spaces. Namely, 24% Black professionals, 5% Coloured professionals, 4% Indian and 14% white females.
The reality is that until employers commit to transforming their businesses to reflect the diverse female demographics which form the basis of professional positions, and until they stop struggling against the reality of the need for this diversity, this country will continue to be characterised by social turmoil and imbalance.
We have to look to those women who are being recruited and promoted, and those who are becoming decision-makers in their respective companies, to bring about the kind of transformation that will make this country proud.
Dr Ivor Blumenthal is CEO of ArkKonsult and is dedicated to the empowerment of Business Interests in South Africa.