The Numbers Tell the Story

The statistics do not paint a very favorable picture of women’s employment in general. The unemployment rate has been and remains much higher for women than men according to data from South Africa’s Human Sciences Research Council Center for Poverty, Employment, and Growth.27 From 1995 to 2014, women across all races had higher unemployment rates than their male counterparts. In 2014, the national unemployment rate was 5.4 percent higher for women than men, with black women most likely to be unemployed.28

In addition, unemployment rates among groups of women—particularly between black and white South African women—are uneven. In 2014, black female South African unemployment rates were 30.2 percent compared to only 6.7 percent for white female South Africans.29 Colored and Asian women had higher unemployment rates than white women but considerably lower than black women.

In 2013, grants from the government were the primary source of income for a black female head of a household. In contrast, for a white female head of household, the primary sources of income were salaries, wages, and commissions. Black female heads of households were by far the largest group to receive grants. 30

While all race groups have experienced an increase in unemployment across the years, unemployment rates are highest among younger people, women, and black South Africans. The unemployment rate for black male “born frees” aged 15-24 is now as high as 53 percent; for black female “born frees,” it runs even higher at 61 percent. 31

Moreover, such employment rates tell only part of the story. A look at different industry sectors in the formal economy shows that women continue to be employed in what are viewed as traditionally female industries, or the “caring industries.” Women are also more likely to be employed in low-skilled occupations, with just 11.7 percent of employed women in high-skilled ones. And it is important to note that, of women employed in professional jobs, only 16 percent of black women occupy those positions compared to 42.6 percent of white women.32 (See Box “Women’s Employment by the Numbers” for more data on women’s employment.)

What is particularly puzzling is that, while close to half of college graduates are women, the percentage of women in management occupations are extremely low and has actually declined to lower levels than those between 2004 and 2014. In contrast, the percentage of men in management occupations is almost double that of women.33 This statistic is rather baffling because female undergraduate students make up the majority of South Africans in the higher education system.

Perhaps one reason for the dearth of female managers is that women continue to enroll in what are considered traditionally female programs such as education, nursing, psychology, and the humanities—which often don’t have the same type of managerial positions as corporations.34 At the same time, as discussed in Chapter 8, the number of women studying business has increased over the years. For example, Kerrin Myers, former director of the Centre for Entrepreneurship at Wits Business School and now CEO of Resonance Consulting, has seen women’s enrollment increase steadily over the years at the business school at the UCT and been surprised to see the number of women in management positions decrease over the years:

Probably 40 to 50 percent of every class is female at the moment. It hasn’t been that high always. But, of course, most of those women would go into corporate jobs. Still, the gender commission’s recent report shows that the number of women in top management positions in South Africa is actually going down. I think an enormous amount of implicit sort of sexism is



That sexism is the key problem may be true, as women tend to make less than their male counterparts in the same jobs.36 For example, 23 percent of male senior executives are paid in the upper quartile of the market whereas only 2.3 percent of women in these positions are paid in this quartile.37

Thus, the likelihood of a woman securing a job after graduation, assuming she has demonstrated that she has the skills and capability, is good because, as mentioned, affirmative-action policies encourage organizations to employ women. But because a huge amount of sexism and nepotism remains, jobs often will go to men because of whom they know.38 As Trevor Sehoole, assistant professor of higher education policy at the University of Pretoria and former department minister of higher education in the South Africa Department of Education, comments:

The economy is a boys club, mainly led by men. South Africa has been very proactive in terms of promoting the interests of women and getting them to be part of the economy. There have been a lot of opportunities for their participation in the economy. But as you know, the nature of capitalism is such that there is access but not open access to everybody. So we have had a number of women in empowerment schemes that have been made available for women in the economy, but the results have been mixed.39

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