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You may have seen my colleague on the news recently discussing gender diversity in South Africa. It is a hot topic and her interview was the result of Jack Hammer’s recent findings around the lack of women in the CEO job in South Africa.

This data is not new, and it’s not purely a South African story. Massive gender disparity at CEO levels is a global issue, and the questions about why this is the case are circular. Every year, the same questions. Every year, almost no change in the numbers.

To play devil’s advocate here: Are there fewer female CEOs because there are fewer women with the depth of skills and experience for the role? Or perhaps because there are fewer women who possess the characteristics, qualities and traits needed for top leadership?

I’ve recently conducted a survey with some non-executive board members of listed and unlisted companies, to hear first-hand what their expectations are when appointing a CEO. Here’s the list of the top leadership traits required:

  • Passionate and visionary
  • Courageous and resilient
  • Decisive
  • Self-confident, yet vulnerable
  • Curious and with good intuition
  • Without ego and high emotional intelligence
  • Agile and able to navigate challenges

These, to my mind, are completely gender-neutral characteristics, and reinforce my view that the top-job-gender-gap perpetuates more because of bias (unconscious or conscious), than because of inherent lack of skill, experience or leadership capability.

And – I have a role to play in addressing this.

My role is to question, to engage, and expose inherent biases in role profiles and selection criteria.

My role is to guide, and question companies on what they want, and how they see these traits and characteristics showing up in behaviour. At times, I need to highlight potential bias or question why a particular trait is so important.

My role is to ensure that every shortlist of candidates I introduce includes highly qualified, capable and experienced women, with track records of leadership success.

My role (and purpose) is to support the goals of increased diversity in the leadership of businesses across the continent.

Michelle Bedford-Shaw

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