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Debbie Goodman-Bhyat

Debbie Goodman-Bhyat

Debbie entered the field of recruitment in 1998 with a financial services headhunting firm, and within one year she was one of the top billers in executive search in SA. In 2000 she established her own executive search firm, diversified the industry focus, and then partnered with Fusion Consulting in 2001. As the founder and Managing Director of JACKHAMMER, she is an industry-leading headhunter, placing top executives in SA's leading corporates for more than eight years. Her unique style and vision may come from her somewhat unconventional background as an award-winning contemporary dance choreographer, director and dancer! Now, as an entrepreneur in the business world, she maintains her passion for work and relentless drive to get it right.

Website URL: http://www.jhammer.co.za

Woman and their babies – Welcome, say top SA companies

Monday, 10 September 2012 13:20 Published in Careers
Woman and their babies – Welcome, say top SA companies

South Africa’s top employers are unanimous in their open policy of employing women of child-bearing age in senior positions, a recent survey reveals.

Unlike their global counterparts who, according to at least two recent international surveys, tend to show a reluctance to hire women who are or could fall pregnant, a local poll by a top SA headhunter found all the SA companies polled were not swayed by family matters.

One international survey, conducted by UK executive search agency Hanson Search, found that nearly 10% of employers questioned had ‘serious reservations about hiring women aged between 30-40 years old’ because of a fear that they would at some point fall pregnant. Another survey, conducted by UK agency Business Environment specifically among female managers, found that a quarter of them were reluctant to hire a woman who has children or was of child-bearing age.

The local survey, conducted among SA’s top corporate employers by leading executive search firm Jack Hammer Executive Headhunters, stood in stark contrast. All of the respondents indicated unequivocally that a woman interviewing for a top job* would be neither overtly nor covertly discriminated against for reasons of having or potentially starting a family.

Debbie Goodman-Bhyat, MD of Jack Hammer Executive Headhunters, says although it would be prudent to consider that respondents had perhaps responded in what they perceived to be the politically correct way, the anonymity provided and the nature of the responses gave weight to the stated positions that top female execs of child-bearing age would be welcomed.

“The responses show that what was most important to employers were skill and fit, and that personal circumstances could be accommodated,” says Goodman-Bhyat.

Employers were asked two questions: “Would you be hesitant to hire a woman of child-bearing age” and “Would your position change if she had recently married”.

All of the respondents answered no, or even ‘not at all’ to both questions.

Among the motivations for their answers, employers said current day egalitarian parenting made employing younger men and women who are new parents or who plan to become parents much of a muchness. Other comments include:

  • Being as rare as top women in the corporate workplace are,  you cannot fuss about things like that. This may be an issue at a more junior level where you need an employee who is going to be at their desk ploughing away, but not at an executive level. We have just had one of our senior executives come back from an extended period of maternity leave, and in retrospect it remains a good hiring decision.
  • There has never been a discussion where this was ever a factor. It is accepted that this is part of life and consequently part of what needs to happen in business.
  • The company supports a flexible organisational structure that makes room for people who need the space for the unexpected things that happen in life.
  • The company will not be open to that kind of prejudice.
  • There is a great deal of consideration that goes into making the decision. But given that the company’s target market for filling top executive positions is black women of child-bearing age, a huge percentage of its work force falls in this group. The company therefore does its utmost to plan properly.
  • The company recently appointed a six months pregnant woman to a top position. Pregnancy only has a bearing related to timing of changes and becomes very individual specific, but it always works around it and it is never a barrier to entry.
  • There are a myriad of options to manage maternity leave where it is of value to the business and the individual. Most people who have a balanced life tend to perform better in a working environment as well.

Goodman-Bhyat says that South Africa’s unique labour imperatives combined with the country’s strive for gender equality meant that local employers tended to have a different attitude to the appointment of younger women to senior positions.

“While there are still many improvements to be made to enable women to maintain a better work-life balance, it is clear that employers are starting to realise the value of accommodating women and putting in place processes to enable the retention of this vital demographic,” says Goodman-Bhyat.

But she warns that, although attitudes may be changing significantly, actual appointments continued to lag.

“Most industry average ratios show a continuing male to female segmentation of 70% vs 30%. In some industry sectors this is even more heavily swayed to male domination. However it appears that perceptions may be shifting, and that this could soon start to effect a correlating change in gender representation in the C-Suite.”

Note: The survey was conducted specifically to gauge attitudes relating to senior executive positions, and can not necessarily be translated to the entire female workforce.


Succession plan vital to calm stakeholder jitters

Wednesday, 18 July 2012 10:27 Published in Talent Acquisition & Management
Succession plan vital to calm stakeholder jitters

Blue-chip companies are advised to have a clear succession plan that they communicate honestly and timeously to shareholders and other stakeholders to avoid drops in share price or dilution of investor confidence. Failure to have a long-term leadership strategy in place could seriously impact the fortunes of a formerly successful and stable company.

Recently we’ve seen the leadership baton being passed in a few of South Africa’s top companies. Clicks MD Michael Harvey is leaving after 23 years with the company, Vodacom’s Pieter Uys is in a handover period with Shameel Joosub – who was recalled as CEO of Vodacom Spain – and Anton Pillay is taking over the reins from Hugo Nelson at Coronation Fund Managers.

Barring a negligible drop in share price at Clicks after the SENS announcement that Harvey was moving on, generally the news has had little effect, demonstrating how critical it is to have a well-communicated, planned transition that leaves stakeholders assured of continuity and stability.

Meticulous succession plans can avoid scenarios in which a new MD or CEO, feeling the need to be bolstered by a loyal executive team, removes long-standing EXCO members and thus denudes the organisation of accumulated experience, which could have a detrimental effect on performance. Well planned succession can also calm staff jitters although there will always be cases in which some staff put on their walking shoes when a new boss comes in.

A key aspect of succession plans is communicating the reason for the incumbent’s departure. Retirement after a long career is easiest to handle while reasons such as poor performance, lack of confidence by the board that the leader will be able to steer the company through challenging times ahead, stagnation and so forth will require more finesse.

Old-school succession planning relied heavily on ‘grooming’ junior staff to one day take the corner office. Now we find more and more that outsiders who have the relevant leadership skills and proven track records are being identified and brought into the fold. It is no longer a prerequisite that new CEOs or MDs must have worked their way up from the lowest rung of the company they manage. Incorporating a skilful executive search process timeously is a critical element in managing succession.

It’s an old cliché but ‘Failure to plan, is planning to fail.’ In business, it is critical that future leaders be identified so that companies are not left with a leadership vacuum or a candidate who is not first choice.

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