SA listed companies still lack gender parity at board level

Women’s participation on boards of South Africa’s listed companies has increased over the last five years, even steadily, with females now making up one third of non-executive directors.

However women remain largely underrepresented at executive level, with men still making up over 65% to 97% of various senior executive roles, according to Business Engage’s Status of Gender on JSE-Listed Boards 2022 report.

The report was sponsored by Nedbank, Kearney Middle East and Africa, the Institute of Directors South Africa, and the Development Bank of Southern Africa.

It tracked the availability of opportunities for women at the highest level of decision-making, analyzing 159 companies – 50% of the companies listed on the JSE – between 2017 and 2021. It excluded companies that have been delisted since 2017 when it began the study. , newly listed firms, and those whose profiles have changed considerably.

Its review found that five years after it was made a requirement for listed firms to adopt gender policies at board level, JSE-listed companies had 34% of women in non-executive directorship roles in 2021, compared with 23% in 2017.

Colleen Larsen, CEO of Business Engage, said there has been substantial progress in seating women on boards.

“We emphasized in our inaugural report five years ago that we were looking for a ‘quevolution’ not a revolution. A ‘quevolution’ is our term for a quick evolution and I am of the opinion based on our research that we have that,” Larsen said.

Although more men sit on boards (85%), compared with women (76%), more women occupy multiple board seats than men.

“Encouragingly, women are increasingly being appointed either chair of the board or lead independent director.

“Furthermore, the net is being cast increasingly wide, reflected by the fact [that a] Few female directors have more than three JSE-listed company directorships.

“The fear of the Golden Skirt Syndrome where a few well-connected women garner multiple appointments, has proven unfounded,” said Larsen.

Women are mostly underrepresented in board chair and executive director roles such as CEO and managing director positions. In 2017, women had an 8% representation as chairs of company boards, compared with 18% in 2021.

The picture looks bleaker for CEO roles: women make up only 7% of the CEOs of JSE-listed companies in 2021, compared with 3% five years prior.

In 2021, Business Engage researched 296 firms listed on the main JSE and its alternate division – and of the companies it analyzed, just 10.5% achieved their gender parity targets, with 10.5% more reaching near parity.

A staggering 79.1% of the companies have not reached parity.

Positively, the amount of companies without any female representation has decreased to 17, the report found.

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