SOUTH AFRICA BOASTS A CONSTITUTION THAT GUARANTEES BOTH WOMEN AND GAYS EQUAL RIGHTS. WHAT'S NEXT? A PUSH TO GET MORE WOMEN INTO POWER POSITIONS- IN BOTH THE PUBLIC AND PRIVATE SECTORS. By Ilisa Cohen
As Americans were witnessing presidential campaigns last August that broke race and gender barriers, Working Mother Media traveled to Johannesburg, South Africa, to learn about the challenges faced by its working women and what they've achieved in spite of the obstacles. The South African Advancement of Women Conference, sponsored by IBM, coincided with the country's National Women's Day, and it brought together some of the nation's top female professionals to share experiences, create a dialogue on diversity and discuss best practices for advancing women.
Keynote speaker Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, then deputy president of South Africa, called women "a measure of the true progress of a society" and stressed her priority of "bringing women from the fringes of society and opening doors for them." She pointed to some impressive advances in the country's private sector: Women in executive management positions rose to 25.3 percent in 2008 from 14.7 percent in 2004, and the percentage of female CEOs more than doubled to 15 percent from 7 percent - considerable achievements, since South Africa excluded black women from white-collar jobs until the fall of apartheid in 1994. …