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

* 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

* 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

* 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


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

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