Women in Management and Equal Opportunity in Africa


The underlying concept of the term "equal opportunity" is that any person capable to work, regardless of characteristics such as race, sex or physical disability, should be given the chance and should not be inhibited because of those characteristics. Thus equal opportunity refers to equal and fair treatment of people in given jobs and eliminates discrimination.

Affirmative actions are those policies that are implemented to favour a minority crowd to counter the effects of discrimination. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (2009) states that "Affirmative action" is action taken to increase the representation of women and minorities in areas of employment, education, and business from which they have been historically excluded.

Equal Opportunity for Women in Managerial-level Jobs Worldwide

Increasing research and debate about contribution and participation of women in management issues has certainly created awareness about women's role in top management positions, however, women worldwide "are still holding secondary positions, are underutilized in the labour market, and are still a wasted resource" (Mathur-Helm, 2004).

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Civil Rights Act of 1964 caused a raise in overall proportion of women in male-dominated occupations in US but still, the progress of women has been quite slow in the top managerial positions (Nelson and Michie, 2004). According to Catalyst (2000), men still hold 95% - 97% of vice-president level jobs and 93% of all line officer jobs in the Fortune 1500 companies. Thus, despite the slow increase of women's representation on corporate boards of directors in US, restrictions to women's progression still remain. (Nelson and Burke, 2000). In UK women hold only 24% of managerial positions and out of directorships only hold 9.9% jobs (Mathur-Helm, 2004) and lagging behind men in terms of income facing inequality in labour (Wilson, 2004). In China, the situation is even worst as women are facing considerable barriers to be in managerial roles. Although women make up 47% of the working class, but they still fail to be promoted as quickly or as frequently as men (Cooke Fang, 2004).

In South Africa, various recent advancements and initiatives like the Commission on Gender Equality, national women's empowerment policy, the Interim Constitution of the Republic of South Africa (1993), the signing of a number of UN conventions on women, the Women's Charter for Effective Equality (1993), the Reconstruction and Development Programme (1994), Equality and Peace (Beijing Conference Plan of Action, 1995), the National Report of the Status of Women in South Africa prepared for the World Conference on Women held in Beijing in 1995, and South African Women on the Road to Development, show a major concern of decision makers towards development of women at work and managerial positions. But similar to the rest of the world, women employees find it hard to climb the managerial ladder and despite the incredible steps government policies still do not seem enough to favour the development of women careers.

According to the figures by Catalyst (2004), as shown in the figure below, women are still under-utilized and proportion of women directors is quite low as compared to the rest of the world.

Equal Opportunity for women in Africa

Women in Africa have always been considered in the secondary stratum of the society. The Apartheid government's policies and laws in the past favoured men, particularly white men. All socio-cultural groups define women to be inferior to men and assign them to the minor position in both the public and private sectors (National Gender Policy Framework, 2000). This inequality of power leads to unequal distribution of resources like information, income and time (Mathur-Helm, 2004).

When the new majority government came to power in 1994, led by the ANC, an affirmative action campaign was implemented to correct previous imbalances. These new strategies and policies are starting to implement and promote equal rights for every citizen including women and at improving their status at workplace (Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, 1996). Hence, issues relating to women's rights, welfare, equality and development are highlighted. As a result, in 1996, the South African government authorized the international Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), by passing the Gender Policy Framework (GPF). The GPF's main purpose was to integrate gender policies by ensuring that:

women's rights are perceived as human rights;

they have equality as active citizens;

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their economic empowerment is promoted;

their social uplift is given priority;

they are included in decision making;

they are beneficiaries in political, economic, social, and cultural areas; and

affirmative action programmes targeting women are implemented.

(Mathur-Helm, 2004)

With GPF being implemented in South Africa, clear guidelines are developed to structure and create laws, policies, procedures and practices. These policies will ensure equal opportunity and rights for women in South Africa in all sectors like public, private, government and even community and family. GPF legally bound officials in Parliament and other executives to take initiative and work positively to diminish culture of gender discrimination in every sector including the governance of the country. GPF believes that this step will make women more influential in economic decision making by giving them equal opportunity, equal access resources as men and fair treatment in as work and other aspects of life. The efficiency and effectiveness of these policies and its success is still debatable.

As identified by The Commission on Gender Equality, women make up a major part of the South African population but contribute to only a third of the labor force. Also, due to perceived roles associated with gender groups and job segregation, very few women hold top-level management positions (Jain, 2002; Commission on Gender Equality, 1999). The actuality is that correct execution of the strategies depends more on the legal protection of women's rights and wellbeing than on constitutional implementation and imposition of these policies and strategies alone. The main barriers to women's employment and growth and development are created mostly by the cultural and social assumptions about women which are being used as management strategies. Hence, women are not being correctly utilized in the South African labor market and are becoming a wasted human resource. As a result it is becoming important for organizations worldwide to identify this issue and embrace women as professional equals and understand the value they may add to the business by making use of their complete potential in the labor market and by providing them with the opportunity to compete in the corporate world as equals in senior positions.

Research Question

Are African economies and corporate organisations successful in employing women as professional equals by utilising them fully in managerial roles and positions?

Aims & Objectives

To explore the gender wise employment opportunities in the African economies.

To identify various opportunities and /or barriers in women employment in managerial roles.

To investigate the general policies of various African countries (governments) regarding gender discrimination.


Research methodology for this study will be secondary research by using the data and information from various sources such as available data on women employment rates in various sectors and the existing information (articles, websites, books, etc) regarding women role in business management and strategies in African countries. This will be done by an in-depth review of literature. A review of literature is a wide-ranging description as well as an evaluation of the evidence in relation to a given topic. It can be defined as an objective summary and critical analysis of the relevant available research and non-research literature on the topic being studied (Lancaster, 2005). The idea is to gather up-to-date information with current literature on a topic and form the basis for another goal, such as the justification for future research in the area. This method can be used for exploring issues, understanding phenomenon and answering questions. It understands a given problem or topic from perspective of the population that involves (Anderson, 2004).

An analytical approach will be used in relation to secondary information to develop the argument and analysis. So this will be a descriptive and theoretical paper, and thus secondary data from previous studies will be used as comparative analysis for discussions and examinations.

For an analytical approach, there must be sufficient information to characterise and explain the unique features of the case, as well as to point out the characteristics that are common to several cases. Finally, this approach relies on the integrative powers of research: the ability to study an object with many dimensions and then to draw the various elements together in a cohesive interpretation (Marschan-Piekkari and Welch, 2004). To meet the criteria for analytical approach (Dubey, 2009) the facts of information already available will be used and analysis of these facts will be done to make a critical evaluation of the material.

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It has been suggested that secondary research involve data collection through multiple sources such as (Marschan-Piekkari and Welch, 2004):

Journal Articles


Published Statistics - like census, housing and social security data, etc.

Media - like documentaries, news, special reports, etc.

Published Texts - like theoretical work, secondary analyses by the experts, reports, etc.

Personal Documents - like personal diaries, documented observations, etc.

Online Sources - like Keynotes, OneSource, etc.

To complete the secondary research to answer the research question and to investigate the rationale behind the issue the sociopolitical, geopolitical, cross-cultural and economic drivers which direct corporations in African economies to employ women in managerial roles, author will use online reports, articles, websites' information, and personal observations / understanding (if any).

Author tends to use the following business models and frameworks to develop argument and discussion in the report in order to reach at a conclusion regarding the research question. The following frameworks and business models will be used in various sections of the report;

PESTEL analysis of the macro-environment - according to available literature (Gillespie, 2007) there are many factors in the macro-environment that affect the decisions of the business organisations and managers. Tax changes, new laws, trade barriers, demographic change and government policy changes are all examples of macro change. To help analyse these factors and categorise them the PESTEL model is a useful framework. The key elements of this framework include;

Political factors: these refer to government policy such as the degree of intervention in the economy. What goods and services does a government want to provide? How does governments' wants impact the type and quality of workforce in the organizations? Which type of workforce can help achieve organizational and government objectives side by side? To what extent does it believe in subsidising firms? What are its priorities in terms of business support? Political decisions can impact on many vital areas for business such as the education of the workforce, the health of the nation and the quality of the infrastructure of the economy such as the road and rail system.

Economic factors: these include interest rates, taxation changes, economic growth, inflation and exchange rates. Economic change can have a major impact on a firm's behaviour and increasing competition and financial stress may change the company's behaviour towards a specific gender bias according to nature of the business especially in growing economies.

Social factors: changes in social trends can impact on the demand for a firm's products and the availability and willingness of individuals to work. This may affect the hiring policies of the companies with reference to age and gender in various cultures.

Technological factors: new technologies create new products and new processes. Online shopping, bar coding and computer aided design are all improvements to the way people do business as a result of better technology. Technology can reduce costs, improve quality and lead to innovation. So gender wise technological knowledge of the employees is an important factor in today's businesses and this impacts the hiring policies in organisations.

Environmental factors: environmental factors include the weather and climate change and can impact on many industries including farming, tourism and insurance. The growing desire to protect the environment is having an impact on many industries such as the travel and transportation industries (for example, more taxes being placed on air travel and the success of hybrid cars).

Legal factors: these are related to the legal environment in which firms operate. Recent significant legal changes in various countries have affected firms' behaviour regarding hiring and other operational policies. The introduction of age discrimination, gender discrimination and disability discrimination legislation, an increase in the minimum wage and greater requirements for firms to recycle are examples of relatively recent laws that affect an organisation's actions.

SWOT Analysis - to audit an organisation and its environment this tool is used. It helps the marketer to plan and focus on key issues. It stands for strengths and weaknesses (internal factors of the organisation) and opportunities and threats (external factors of the organisation). This tool provides information that helps match the company's resources and capabilities to the competitive environment in which it operates. This tool is instrumental in formulating and selecting appropriate strategy (http://www.quickmba.com/strategy/swot/).

Pros and Cons

Secondary research is cost effective, often the only resource and only way to examine large - scale trends. However the drawbacks include; lack of consistency of perspective, biases and inaccuracy is difficult to check, may complicate the issue if data is used without its context (Dunsmuir and Williams 1992).

Ethical Considerations

There are many ethical issues associated with research like access and acceptance, informed consent, privacy and confidentiality, misinterpretation, and misrepresenting the data (Yulirahmawati, 2008). Researcher/author is fully aware of the ethical issues involved in this research. The research will be conducted in a way so that it does not cause a psychological, financial or social harm to the population involved.  

Responsibility for all procedures and ethical issues related to the research rests with the principal investigators. Research will be conducted in such a manner that the integrity of the research project is maintained and negative after-effects which might diminish the potential for future research are avoided. Since the study is related to an important ethical issue, it has been conducted in consultation with colleagues, experts and the supervisor. The research will be carried out in full compliance with local standards and without bias. The research will avoid any undue intrusion into the lives of individuals, communities or organisations studied.