Cell C CEO Jose dos Santos made the comments in an interview on Internet radio station CliffCentral’s Leadership Platform segment.
In the interview, Dos Santos spoke about how Cell C’s representation of women among its staff had increased from around 40% to over 60% since he joined the company in 2012. He also revealed that some of the mobile network’s top engineers were women.
“If I can use the term on the radio station, women do have a bitch-switch and, boy, if you see two women fighting, it’s worse than two men having an argument,” Dos Santos said.
But on Tuesday afternoon, the Cell C boss responded to the social media backlash saying he regretted his choice of words at the time.
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“I mentioned that in my experience, I have seen instances where women do not support each other to get to the top. This has purely been my observation and perhaps one of several reasons why women are under-represented in leadership positions,” Dos Santos said.
“This is not an environment that was created by women, but one that has been entrenched in the general workplace. And that is why I have put a lot of effort and focus into the empowerment of all employees, but particularly women at Cell C.”
Cell C’s sponsorship of the Miss South Africa contest has also come under the spotlight after Dos Santos’ comments in the CliffCentral interview.
Dos Santos explained in the interview that his company offers participants in the beauty pageant a 12-month internship at the company and that this has an effect’ on male staff at the telco.
“It brought a whole different atmosphere… I mean, can you imagine, you’ve got 12 gorgeous women and say four, five of them walk into your company. Do you know what it does to the atmosphere in that company? The men dress better – they shave every morning,” Dos Santos said.
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He added: “We have good-looking women, we have clever women, we have smart women, and that’s created a different environment”.
The Cell C CEO, though, said that he would ultimately want to see a woman taking over from him.
“There’s not too many women in leadership roles and I’m hoping one day, when I step down from Cell C, a woman will be the new CEO of the company,” he said.
A social media storm, meanwhile, has erupted on Twitter about some of the Cell C CEO’s comments.
On Tuesday afternoon, the term “Cell C CEO” started trending on Twitter in South Africa, meaning that high volumes of Twitter users where talking about his comments.
“At least the rest of the world now know what a superficial, chauvinistic jackass the Cell C CEO is,” one Twitter user wrote.
Another Twitter user wrote: “Cell C CEO, what a mess.”
Cell C is SA’s third largest mobile network after Vodacom and MTN, with more than 22 million subscribers.