Women may not be equally represented in the boardroom or even on the executive floor, but they dominate the training spend of South Africa's major companies and government departments.
A snap survey of those attending the 60-odd types of courses presented in Johannesburg, Durban and Cape Town of executive and top management-training company AstroTech shows that 75 percent of staff sent on business support and administrative courses are women.
Men dominate the executive and top management courses presented by AstroTech, but only by a slim margin of eight percent.
"We were surprised by the results," AstroTech CEO, Liza van Wyk says, "with a number of courses running simultaneously at our conference centre in Parktown, one tends to get the impression during tea breaks that courses are well-balanced in terms of gender.
"In fact, they are not. More women attend training courses. It is difficult to gauge precisely why.
"Our experience over the last decade has shown that companies are spending a growing percentage of their turnover on training and are far more sensitive toward issues of gender and race equity. Our training figures suggest more businesses are grooming women for key portfolios."
Although the high numbers of women enrolled in courses might indicate a desire by businesses to advance women significantly, the type of courses men and women attend see men more likely to do hard skills courses like those on tax, finance, disaster and risk management and sales, and those with a legal or technical bias.
Women predominate in courses around conflict resolution, managing people, business and systems analysis and growing numbers in IT at top management levels.
However, when it comes to middle management or administration, women overwhelmingly predominate in courses like travel planning, business writing, newsletter compilation, presentation skills and customer service.
In 2008 the top 10 courses presented by AstroTech included Management for New Managers (women 51 percent); Business and Systems Analysis (53 percent), and softer skills like Emotional Intelligence (52.2 percent).
However by 2009, with tougher economic conditions globally, more retrenchments and a greater focus on performance and finance, women predominated in executive and top management courses on People Management for New Managers (68.4 percent), Train the Trainer (68 percent), Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment (66.6 percent) and Business Contracts and SLAs (63.6 percent).
Likewise, while in 2008 more men were enrolled in courses like SA and International Taxation and IT and the Law (75,6 percent), by 2009, with sales dropping, companies were more likely to send men on sales courses or those that typified the crisis in the economy.
In an indication of concern about losing market share, close to 95 percent of those enrolled in Technical Person to Salesperson were men, as were 79 percent of those attending the Technical Person to Manager course.
Minister of Science and Technology Naledi Pandor recently revealed that a survey taken in May, 2007 showed that 70 JSE-listed companies spent close to R4 billion a year on training employees.
These companies represent only a small sample of employers, she pointed out, saying that spend on training was probably significantly higher.
" We are pleased so much is being done to further the careers of women. Now is a great time to be a woman with ambition," she said.
· For more information contact Liza van Wyk at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.astrotech.co.za