Home » New Report Finds Underutilised Skilled Female Talent Could Address Country’s Skills Shortage

New Report Finds Underutilised Skilled Female Talent Could Address Country’s Skills Shortage

by Tia

The findings of South Africa’s largest Working Women Report released this week, shed light on the challenges and opportunities surrounding female participation in the workforce and provides significant recommendations for businesses to address the country’s skills shortage by tapping into the underutilised skilled female talent pool.

According to the study, despite 92% of women expressing a strong desire to work and 78% aspiring to career growth, women are underrepresented in the labour force trailing behind men by 10.6 percentage points, and represent only 15% of executives among JSE-listed companies.

In addition, women outpace men in educational qualifications, constituting 52% of postgraduate education and 47% within STEM fields at various academic levels.  

The report found that of the working women, 45% are actively seeking alternative employment due to a lack of internal career opportunities (both advancement and horizontal expansion), pay discrimination, inflexibility, and insufficient mentorship and networking opportunities.

Released by leading recruitment agency, RecruitMyMom, the report underscores the underutilised pool of skilled South African women, especially considering the skilled workforce shortage, identified as the second-largest obstacle to economic growth, is still not being addressed.

Phillipa Geard, CEO and Founder of RecruitMyMom, reflects on the findings, expressing “In a country with limited data, we are now equipped with quantitative insights that unveil the expectations and preferences of working women in the workplace. The report provides a wealth of insights for businesses aiming to attract and retain top female talent, encouraging a culture of diversity, inclusion, and economic empowerment.”

Contrary to assumptions, the report’s findings challenge stereotypes related to what drives the female workforce, motherhood, career advancement and career pauses.

Women are financially driven

Women are highly motivated to work identifying financial income, self-worth, their contribution to society and social interactions as the main drivers.

The overwhelming majority of women mentioned financial income as their primary or secondary motivation for employment, driven by the desire for financial independence and the ability to support their families.

The significance of competitive and fair financial reward is evident in the 80% of working women who have dependents (children or family) and 38% being the sole household income earners, whilst 21% are married and financially support their partners as the sole income earners.

A considerable 28% care for both children and relatives, known as the sandwich generation whereby working women are facing the challenge of assisting their family members in different life stages.

Where and how women want to work

The report’s findings dispel the assumption that all working mothers want to work remotely, part-time, or only half-day.

55% of women prefer to work full-time hours, regardless of age, supporting their need for financial gain and aspiration for career growth.

Of those wanting to work full-time, 32% prefer a full week, whilst 23% seek full-time with a shorter week, and the remainder shorter work days and hours.

Although mothers need flexibility to integrate their work and home life, 60% prefer a hybrid working model. Flexibility also emerges as a critical factor for career progression, with 60% of women at the executive level valuing flexible working hours.

Karen Lowe, Director of 4 Day Week South Africa, says, “The report’s findings align with global trends and the outcomes of South Africa’s first 4 Day Week Pilot. I encourage business owners to consider these insights and adopt forward-thinking workplace policies that promote a healthier, work-life balance and resonate with the evolving needs and aspirations of women in leadership positions, contributing to a more dynamic, progressive workforce.”

Career pauses

Although gaps in CV’s are often cause for concern for businesses, the research finds that 49% of women have taken a career break for a variety of valid reasons.

Businesses lose over one-fifth of female talent when women pause their careers for motherhood, yet 95% return to work. In particular, 92% of working mothers aged 25-34 have high ambitions to advance professionally in addition to their parental duties.

To take care of their mental health and wellbeing 12% of women took a career break, not surprising considering COVID-19 worsened depression and anxiety due to the social and economic disruptions experienced.

Retrenchment is seldom a reflection of individual performance and should be recognised as such, impacting 11% of working women due to economic shifts, COVID-19 and budget constraints, amongst others. More than 4% of women paused to study further.

Barriers to career advancement

Women have indicated that the lack of internal opportunities is the most significant barrier to career advancement along with lack of mentorship and networking, pay discrimination, age bias, inflexible work policies and limited or no training.

For these women, career advancement does not solely require moving upwards but also horizontally. 

Benefits that resonate

An attractive and competitive salary package, medical aid contribution, pension and provident fund, a bonus, and training and development were identified as the top perks from the study. Surprisingly, maternity leave or child-care support was not seen as a significant incentive.

Kirk Kruger, Executive Consultant at BluePoint Reward Consulting, says  “The report highlights that no single part of the Total Reward approach will address the full spectrum of needs expressed by female employees.  By formulating clear plans companies can address the multifaceted needs of female employees through tailored reward and benefits offerings led by managers and human resource professionals.”

Highlights from some of the insights propose invaluable guidelines for businesses:

  • Offer competitive salaries in line with industry standards.
  • Embrace flexibility by offering a range of options, including micro-flexibility, hybrid working, full remote work, flexible hours, or anything in between.
  • Expand the talent pool beyond major business centres by enabling fully remote work to skilled women in various regions and remote towns.
  • Strategically support women through career pauses to retain their talent.
  • Provide education opportunities and consider career pauses for study to retain valuable talent.
  • Prioritise training, mentorship, and development for employee growth.
  • Build trust through transparent pay structures.
  • Embrace age diversity in teams.
  • Empower women to negotiate various benefits to retain their talent.
  • Actively encourage a future senior management talent pipeline by offering flexibility and the option for career pauses at the senior level.

About the research study

The research study was conducted online in November 2023 and completed by 2 468 skilled women aged 18-64 residing predominantly in Gauteng, Western Cape and Kwa-Zulu Natal, aligning with statistics indicating that 58% of employed individuals reside in these provinces. The full report is available here.

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