Black South Africans are slowly moving into management positions—but white males still call the shots

“On the up, but slow..very slow”
“On the up, but slow..very slow”
Image: Reuters/Siphiwe Sibeko
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Seventeen years after the adoption of affirmative action in South Africa, white males still occupy most top management roles, according to a report released today (July 23) by South Africa’s Commission for Employment Equity.

The report notes that while the number of black South Africans occupying top management positions is on the rise, the pace has been painfully slow. At the end of 2014, 70% of top positions in the private and public sector were occupied by white South Africans, compared to 13.6% occupied by black South Africans.

Affirmative action is enshrined in South Africa’s Employment Equity Act as a tool to redress racial and gender imbalances in the workplace, so that suitably qualified people have equal opportunity, and are represented equitably across all positions and sectors in South Africa.

While the number of white South Africans occupying top positions is declining, the commission argues that this isn’t enough to ensure equal represention. The commission singled out South Africa’s private sector for its slow progress in improving employment equity—not only in top-tier positions, but throughout the workplace.

In the report’s introdution (pdf), commission head Tabea Magodielo argued that most private sector companies in South Africa “lack the commitment” to transform the workplace. More than 73% of the top private sector jobs are claimed by whites, and 60.9% are claimed by white men.

On the other hand, South Africa’s public sector—encompassing government departments and state-owned enterprises—has become the biggest employer of black South Africans in top management roles. .

Affirmative action–along with the country’s Black Economic Empowerment programme—have both come under intense debate. The government has recently introduced tighter regulations to penalize companies who aren’t making significant progress the improve the economic participation of black South Africans in the business sector, as well as in the labour market.