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Women on boards boost bottom lines

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A new study on women in board and management positions in Africa has found that those companies that do best on gender diversity also do better financially.

The study by global management consultancy McKinsey finds that profit margins at those companies that rank in the top quartile when it comes to the share of women in board positions were 20% higher than the industry average.

The study adds to a growing body of research internationally on the "diversity dividend" that companies can reap.

"The research indicates that it brings a diversity of viewpoints that leads to more robust decision making," said McKinsey’s Lohini Moodley.

But McKinsey warns that although Africa comes in above average on measures of women in corporate and government leadership, the continent still has a very long way to go to attain gender equality.

"Numbers do not equal influence," say the authors of the survey, which the consultancy has conducted in Africa for the first time in its annual Women Matter series.

It also looked at government leadership for the first time, finding that the proportion of female parliamentarians in Africa has almost doubled since 2000 to reach 24%, while 22% of cabinet ministers are women — but more than half of those are in social welfare-type portfolios, rather than in the more influential portfolios that could see them get to the top.

The same goes for the private sector, where Moodley said only 44% of the women in senior management positions were actually in line roles, rather than in staff roles such as human resources or legal.

African women hold 14% of board seats, with an even higher 20% in southern Africa, against a global average of 13%. At executive committee level, women account for 23% against the global average of 20%.

But only a third of the organisations said that gender diversity was a CEO priority. McKinsey recommends that it needs to be, and that the business case for gender diversity needs to be articulated in companies. It urges, too, that companies and governments attend to the "limiting attitudes" that hold back women’s advancement.

For SA specifically, Grant Thornton found earlier in 2016 that very little progress had been made to grow gender diversity in business leadership, with women still holding less than a quarter of senior management positions.

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