The gender pay gap within corporate South Africa


History has it on record that when Amilcar Cabral of Guinea Bissau realised the significant role that women played in the national liberation war in that country, tried to convince his male counterparts citing that a genuine national revolution did not mean only liberation from colonialism but also from all socio-cultural forces that excluded women from decision making structures at every level of society. This was a realization of the highest order given the role that women freedom fighters played in Guinea Bissau’s national liberation. The same could be said about Oliver Tambo who’s also recognised as one of the champions of the emancipation of women to an extent of referring to women soldiers in the liberation struggle as “flowers of the revolution”.

South Africa has a long history of gender discrimination and this is evident in the prevailing societal echelons where women are relegated to the traditional subordinated roles. As if this is not enough, women also remain the victims of the gender pay gap that continues to rise thus seeing them getting paid lesser than their male counterparts. Even though this is a global challenge, in truth, it’s an unfortunate state of affairs that our policymakers and business society need to address urgently as it is discriminatory in nature and unsustainable.

The Global World Report for 2018/9 paints such a devastating picture about the scourge of South Africa’s gender pay gap where its reported that women on average earn 28% less than their male counterparts. The International Labour Organisation (ILO) went onto suggest that, “as we move from the lower to higher hourly wages the proportion of women declines and in some cases sharply”. Evidently, this sad state of affairs seeks to further marginalize women in the workplace and devalue the worth of their work whilst perpetuating the masculine worldview that fosters her subordination.

As reported in the Quarterly Labour Force Survey, 2nd Quarter 2018, Statistic South Africa (StatsSA) noted that the expanded unemployment rate was even higher and increased from 30,9% in 2008 to 37,2% in 2018. Throughout this period, both of these rates were higher amongst women than men. The rate of unemployment amongst women was 29,5% in the second quarter of 2018 compared with 25,3% amongst men, according to the official definition of unemployment. In addition, StatsSA argued further that the percentage of women who were in long-term unemployment was higher than that of men in both 2008 and 2018.

StatsSA paints such a gloomy picture on the prevalent gender pay gap in the country when they cited in their Economic Empowerment 2001 – 2017 Report that was published in 2018 that males continue to participate in the labour market at a higher rate than their female counterparts, despite the number of females in the workforce still exceeding that of males. The gap between male and female participation rates also remained relatively stable over the past 16 years, with a 12,4 percentage point difference in 2001 and 12,1 percentage points in 2017.

It is true therefore that the subjugation of women as a class is underpinned by unequal career growth opportunities into senior and top management positions, pay discrimination and unequal access to the means of production. The deeply held attitudes and beliefs on the potential of women, in particular black women in corporates, seeks to perpetrate economic inequality to say the least. Perhaps now is the time that we put women’s experiences at the centre of the analysis pact that offers fresh insights to the prevailing political, business and economic challenges.

The gender pay gap discriminatory practice that is waged against women in the workplace needs a humane business society that will create new possibilities that will help women to explore and display their talents and skills without fear of failure or being judged. The dictum of women empowerment within the corporate South Africa and equal participation of both males and females in the prevailing economic and business structures will inevitable address the issues of conceptualisation power. This power refers to the inherent strength and energy that’s personified in a female sphere and their utmost sense of family and community development.

McKinsey and Company noted in one of their studies that the invisible barriers women face in the workplace are also poorly understood because companies give considerably less recognition to them since they are intangible and difficult to articulate. These barriers are possible more dangerous than visible barriers because they are so subtle, negatively impacting women’s experiences, performance and undermining the efforts of gender equality within corporates.

Corporates need to pay attention to subtle cultural and societal norms and how they affect dynamics in the workplace. Additionally, structural forms of inequality, socio-political regimes, cultures as well as diverse geographic territories have been aspects that are underrepresented in the gender frameworks leaving organisations with a shallow understanding of gendered dynamics or completely ignoring them.

Whilst South Africa has a number of transformative policies and notable the Employment Equity Act, however this Act has proven to be timid and lacks the bite in prohibiting the discriminatory practices against women in the workplace. If this Act seeks to promote equal opportunity and fair treatment in employment, why is the unequal pay for work of equal value is still the order of the day? Even though reliance could be placed on the regulatory arm of the state, South Africa is longing for a responsible corporate leadership attitude and corporate systems that will see women as equal players both in business and in the companies they work for.


Thabile Wonci is the Managing Director of the Black Management Forum (BMF).