Report: an assessment of the participation of women in set industry for Department of Science and Technology
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Persistent gender imbalances in the workplace, but particularly in the Science, Engineering and Technology (SET) sector continue to impact negatively on South Africa's global competitiveness in growing and sustaining its economy, particularly its knowledge economy. One of the major challenges confronting post-apartheid South Africa is that of delivering increased economic growth, wealth creation and improved quality of life for all its citizens. The legacy of apartheid, characterised by racial, gender and social class inequalities, among others, continue to impact negatively on the availability and quality of skills needed to grow the economy. Contributing to these inequalities and to the shortage of skills, particularly in the SET sector, is the country's failure to develop, harness and utilise the SET potential of women who constitute over 50% of the national population. Studies commissioned by the Department of Science and Technology/NACI/SET4Women have all clearly demonstrated the under-representation of women in the SET sector, particularly at senior levels and, in specific fields within the sector. For example, the CREST report recounts that although in 2001 women represented 53% of all higher education enrolments, only 31% of Doctoral enrolments in the Natural Sciences and Engineering were female. Only 7% of Doctoral graduates in engineering were female. The study also showed that only 9% of the teaching staff and 14% of research staff in engineering faculties were female. Furthermore, the report observed that female scientists received only 21% of all research grants awarded by the National Research Foundation (NRF). Of particular concern is the fact that less than 6.4% of all publicly funded research projects were identified as having an explicit 'gender dimension'. Thus, despite the marked increase in women's entry into the higher education system of South Africa during the past decade, women remain under-represented within the SET sector. The bottleneck gets even smaller at postgraduate degree levels, particularly in the field of engineering. This means that only a small proportion of South African women end up working in the SET sector. As available literature suggests, an even smaller number ends up being retained and moving up the promotion ranks within the sector. To illustrate, the Women in Corporate Leadership Census (Business Women Association and Catalyst, 2004) shows that women who enter the SET industry are also under-represented at senior levels given that approximately 60% of all companies have no women board directors. The study measured the number of women on boards in executive management of every listed company on the Johannesburg Securities Exchange (JSE), as well as 17 of the largest state-owned enterprises for the first time in South Africa. The results revealed that women held only 221 of the 3125 directorship positions in these companies and that out of a total of 364 chairs of boards, only 11 were held by women. Furthermore, compared to 357 male CEOs and MDs, only seven were women. As Kahn (2004) concluded, such 'stark imbalances in gender and racial representativeness in the science and technology system require urgent attention'. Critical to addressing these imbalances is the need to increase the rate and quality of innovation in Science, Engineering and Technology (SET), and to produce a diverse, well-trained and innovative SET workforce that can spearhead economic growth, wealth creation and the improvement of quality of life for the people of South Africa.
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