Gender disparities are still prevalent universally, and are often expressly and tacitly condoned, even in highly developed societies. In South Africa, women make up 52% of the population yet, only 44% of working South Africans are women (BWASA, 2012). However, recent trends show that a significant enough number of women do make it to all levels of positions in organisations, and that women generally have a great desire to lead. Conversely, very few women think or believe that their organisations provide them with the necessary and adequate support, in order to be able do so. Thus, in spite of the active efforts and commitments made by many South African organisations to influence women’s career advancement, it is still unfortunately not clear if the initiatives and programmes that are implemented are a core strategic imperative, or whether they are merely part of a peripheral agenda.
As a result, this study takes a contingency approach to examine whether the career advancement of women is indeed a core strategic initiative, or whether it is peripheral in South African organisations. The good news is that some organisations are excelling in their commitment to empowering female roles and role-models in the workplace, and this study aims to understand why these organisations are doing exceptionally well, and why others are lagging behind.
A qualitative method, which is exploratory in nature, was adopted to collect and analyse the data for this study. Fifteen individuals, who constitute a sample, were interviewed; and the scope was limited to the Chief Executive Officers (CEOs), Human Resource executives or any other executives responsible for diversity in the respective organisation.
The main findings in this research were as follows: Firstly, the agenda that is most likely to be framing women’s career advancement in the organisations is one that is underscored by moral or ethical imperatives, and this is done in order to attempt to ensure that all forms of inequalities that existed are eradicated, so as to respond to the social pressure for ethical and moral transparency. Secondly, the organisations do understand the critical issues of women’s career advancement, but they fail to recognize the significant rewards of real women empowerment. Thirdly, some organisations seem to be doing exceptionally well, while others are sadly lagging behind. Finally, most organisations do not have clear measurement and monitoring frameworks to track their progress and impact in women career advancement initiatives.