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South Africa’s top employers are unanimous in their open policy of employing women of child-bearing age in senior positions, a recent survey reveals.

Unlike their global counterparts who, according to at least two recent international surveys, tend to show a reluctance to hire women who are or could fall pregnant, a local poll by a top SA headhunter found all the SA companies polled were not swayed by family matters.

One international survey, conducted by UK executive search agency Hanson Search, found that nearly 10% of employers questioned had ‘serious reservations about hiring women aged between 30-40 years old’ because of a fear that they would at some point fall pregnant. Another survey, conducted by UK agency Business Environment specifically among female managers, found that a quarter of them were reluctant to hire a woman who has children or was of child-bearing age.

The local survey, conducted among SA’s top corporate employers by leading executive search firm Jack Hammer Executive Headhunters, stood in stark contrast. All of the respondents indicated unequivocally that a woman interviewing for a top job* would be neither overtly nor covertly discriminated against for reasons of having or potentially starting a family.

Debbie Goodman-Bhyat, MD of Jack Hammer Executive Headhunters, says although it would be prudent to consider that respondents had perhaps responded in what they perceived to be the politically correct way, the anonymity provided and the nature of the responses gave weight to the stated positions that top female execs of child-bearing age would be welcomed.

“The responses show that what was most important to employers were skill and fit, and that personal circumstances could be accommodated,” says Goodman-Bhyat.

Employers were asked two questions: “Would you be hesitant to hire a woman of child-bearing age” and “Would your position change if she had recently married”.

All of the respondents answered no, or even ‘not at all’ to both questions.

Among the motivations for their answers, employers said current day egalitarian parenting made employing younger men and women who are new parents or who plan to become parents much of a muchness. Other comments include:

* Being as rare as top women in the corporate workplace are, you cannot fuss about things like that. This may be an issue at a more junior level where you need an employee who is going to be at their desk ploughing away, but not at an executive level. We have just had one of our senior executives come back from an extended period of maternity leave, and in retrospect it remains a good hiring decision.

* There has never been a discussion where this was ever a factor. It is accepted that this is part of life and consequently part of what needs to happen in business.

* The company supports a flexible organisational structure that makes room for people who need the space for the unexpected things that happen in life.

* The company will not be open to that kind of prejudice.

* There is a great deal of consideration that goes into making the decision. But given that the company’s target market for filling top executive positions is black women of child-bearing age, a huge percentage of its work force falls in this group. The company therefore does its utmost to plan properly.

* The company recently appointed a six months pregnant woman to a top position. Pregnancy only has a bearing related to timing of changes and becomes very individual specific, but it always works around it and it is never a barrier to entry.

* There are a myriad of options to manage maternity leave where it is of value to the business and the individual. Most people who have a balanced life tend to perform better in a working environment as well.

Goodman-Bhyat says that South Africa’s unique labour imperatives combined with the country’s strive for gender equality meant that local employers tended to have a different attitude to the appointment of younger women to senior positions.

“While there are still many improvements to be made to enable women to maintain a better work-life balance, it is clear that employers are starting to realise the value of accommodating women and putting in place processes to enable the retention of this vital demographic,” says Goodman-Bhyat.

But she warns that, although attitudes may be changing significantly, actual appointments continued to lag.

“Most industry average ratios show a continuing male to female segmentation of 70% vs 30%. In some industry sectors this is even more heavily swayed to male domination. However it appears that perceptions may be shifting, and that this could soon start to effect a correlating change in gender representation in the C-Suite.”

* Note: The survey was conducted specifically to gauge attitudes relating to senior executive positions, and can not necessarily be translated to the entire female workforce.


ISSUED BY: Lange 360

For more information contact:
Debbie Goodman-Bhyat at Jack Hammer Executive Headhunters on 021 425 6677
Mervyn Dziva at Lange 360 on 021 448 7407

About Jack Hammer Executive Headhunters
Jack Hammer provides a fresh approach to executive headhunting by cutting through the ordinary. They have achieved this over the last decade by using strategic research to drill down and expand their market intelligence beyond the obvious and source the real gems of talent. The knowledge gained in the process enables them to give clients a competitive edge by ensuring they find the right executive talent – in a manner that is both responsible and ethical.

Debbie Goodman-Bhyat

Debbie is the founder and Managing Director of Jack Hammer Executive Headhunters – rated by the Business Day as one of SA’s leading executive search firms.

Jack Hammer, with Debbie at its helm, has become a cornerstone of the South African headhunting sector, continually and vocally aiming to raise the bar in the local executive search industry. As a result, in 2011 Jack Hammer was selected as the exclusive South African partner of IRC Global Executive Search Partners, a top 10 global search firm, and has now extended its global footprint to more than 70 cities worldwide.

Debbie is a founding member of the Cape Town Chapter of EO – a global Entrepreneurship Organisation with more than 8500 members worldwide.

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