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Few and far between

Women on boards remain the minority.

Over the last seven years there has been a slight increase in the number of board positions held by women in JSE-listed companies.

In fact it would seem that most women are being selected to round out diversity numbers, rather than for their capabilities as business leaders.

According to figures released by research organisation Who Owns Whom, 19.2% of JSE companies’ board positions are held by women. This is up just 2.6% from figures released in 2010 by the Business Women’s Association. Women make up 52% of the total population and 45% of the workforce.

When the 19.2% figure is broken into executive and non-executive positions, 23% of non-executive positions are held by women, while just 10% of executive positions are held by women.

“South African women have overtaken men in terms of literacy, educational attainment, and average years of education,” says Jeremy Dobbin, an economist with Who Owns Whom. “We are familiar with the dominance of the so-called ‘pale males’ in the most senior decision-making structures of the private sector. Yet consider that for JSE-listed companies, there are more directorships held by historically disadvantaged black men than there are directorships held by women of all races.”

There is extensive research that supports the position that gender diversity in the boardroom leads to better performing companies. “Those companies that have a higher representation of women in senior management positions generally financially outperform those with proportionately fewer women at the top,” says Fatima Vawda, founder and MD of 27four Investment Managers and a strong advocate for racial and gender transformation in industry.

Read: Female CEOs hold key to returns for $42bn stock manager

“In the financial services sector in particular women dominate positions in administration, HR and marketing, but the real portfolio management positions are largely reserved by males. These are also the highest earning roles.”

The Commission for Employment Equity’s Annual Report 2016-2017 cited unequal treatment at work as the biggest problem facing women in developing economies such as South Africa. Equal pay for equal work is a case in point. “Women are still paid less than men doing the same work. This becomes an impediment to economic empowerment,” notes Dobbin.

A full 19% of listed companies have not a single woman on their boards. This is not unusual according to the 2016 Egon Zehnder Global Board Diversity Analysis, which says that there are a number of countries where the percentage of boards with no women remains close to 50%. “In a country that prizes and strives for diversity it is not really a back slapping commendation that our BRICS counterparts Brazil and Russia fare worse than we do,” says Vawda.

However, when the numbers are looked at differently, 27% of listed companies have more than a quarter of their directorships held by women. Remarkably, this is 18% higher than it was in 2015.

In this regard it would appear that Employment Equity and B-BBEE legislation is helping to drive the inclusion of women in corporate leadership, albeit slowly.

This is being supported by other legislation, such as the Gender Diversity Bill. In addition, in 2015 the JSE committed itself to a women-on-boards initiative by amending listing requirements to insist that listed companies have a policy for the promotion of gender diversity at board level and must disclose their performance against their agreed voluntary targets. These requirements came into effect in January 2017.

“If the economic transformation of South Africa is truly going to be radical, then it must surely be reliant upon the economic empowerment of its women,” says Dobbin.

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Why worry only about boar members? Far fewer women than men are bricklayer, miners and general labourers. Generally it seems to me that equality in numbers is pursued only in high paying office jobs and the low end is ignored, why? On the other hand there is no clamouring to increase the number of men in jobs like primary school teachers, nurses, child minders. Proper equality would require equality in every occupation.

Agreed. “High paying” seems to be the only criteria that matters to those wanting to “transform” and “diversify”.

And if you don’t get your way, accuse them of racism and/or sexism.

It should always be about an individual’s merits, rather than breaking it down to race or sex. We were all taught that stereotyping is wrong, and yet it is essentially how our society operates today.


Transformation and gender diversity is desired across various pay grades. We cannot grow the representation of women at senior level without first growing the pool of competent businesswomen at middle and junior management level.

Merits, skills and knowledge don’t grow on trees; what are you doing to assist in the empowerment of women in your circles?

Please, this has nothing to do with stereotyping.

Transformation and gender diversity is desired across various pay grades.

We cannot grow the representation of women at senior level sustainably without first growing the pool of competent businesswomen at middle and junior management level.

The “merits” you speak of — experience, skills, qualifications — grow on trees. Are we doing enough to mentor our young (business)women?

Please, this has nothing to do with stereotyping.

EDIT: The “merits” you speak of DON’T grow on trees.

No, the “merits” I speak of -experience, skills, qualifications- but more importantly, the right attitude, do NOT grow on trees.. As your edit clarifies. I have nothing against mentoring those who have these attributes, or show a deep commitment to gaining them i.e. have the right attitude, are driven to do well and produce excellent results. The fact that they do not grow on trees, backs up my argument that we should focus on an individual’s merits, rather than just fulfilling “certain requirements”. If this means in 30 years time all board members, directors etc are women, then so be it and Hallelujah.

For the last few decades, women have been pursuing business and science degrees, and that is fantastic. Given time, these numbers will speak for themselves. There is nothing better than a smart woman, in my opinion. SA just needs to hope that they don’t leave and head for greener pastures.

And in case you didn’t notice, this article in particular is focused at board level jobs. i.e. high paying. And it has everything to do with stereotyping. Here is a definition for you: a widely held but fixed and oversimplified image or idea of a particular type of person or thing.

Oversimplified? Sound familiar?

I am glad you are a champion of transformation and diversity HedgedKnight, but I am afraid you have a rather narrow minded view.

South African women don’t have is easy: it is mostly our young women who are not engaged in employment, it is mostly women who are our discouraged job-seekers, and it is our women who make up the greater proportion of unpaid, unseen workers.

Enlightened, how do you justify the fact that there are now “more directorships held by historically disadvantaged black men than there are directorships held by women of all races”? [From the article above]

It is obvious to me that competent women are being undermined.

Dude, you missed my points and are now trying to put words in my mouth. I am arguing for embracing a more libertarian (freedom of choice & self ownership) approach, you on the other hand are suggesting nothing else matters except having equal representation.

I don’t justify it. That is a result of our population being made up of 90% black citizens, and due to the overwhelming culture in that demographic of having men as leaders and heads of the household, as well as BEE.

Hi Hun, gender equality should obviously be pursued in all grades and types of employment.

Studies such this one by Dr Dobbin draw attention and track the representation and influence of women at the most senior and strategic decision making levels of the private sector.

The representation of women at board level is therefore a concern because the inequality in opportunity for women is WORST at that level.

Only 19.2% of listed companies’ directorships are held by women, while the Commission for Employment Equity reported earlier this year that women make up 42.8% of the South African semi-skilled workforce and 40.7% of the unskilled workforce.

Are you saying that gender equality should be enforced even in the fields I mentioned like bricklaying? In the 40s and 50s the Soviet Union and some other communist countries tried it, they even had female miners but luckily they stopped it. I think there are some differences between the sexes which prevent full equality in every field. ( I do not deny that there are probably millions of women around the world who would be better bricklayers than I, but I never wanted to be a labourer.) Let me point to an opposite example. Can you imagine the outcry from parents if in a nursery school only male teacher were working. What if in the interest of “diversity” most of them were openly gay? Do not take this as a homophobic thing from me, just imagine the response from parents.
My other favourite point is why are shops like Woolies allowed to have larger floor space for women’s clothing than for men’s?

I’m saying it should be ENCOURAGED, not enforced.

We should be naming and shaming those companies that refuse to strategise for the improvement of gender diversity across various levels of employment. Commendably, the JSE is already engaging in this initiative with its listings.

It is an obvious risk associated with a seemingly quota-like system; that the exercise will degenerate into mere tokenism.

Let’s stay on the topic please.

I’m saying that a better representation of women in positions of power should be encouraged, not enforced.

We should be naming and shaming those companies that refuse to have policies to up-skill women.

It is an obvious risk associated with a seemingly quota-like system; that the exercise will degenerate into mere tokenism.

Well done to Dobbin and Who Owns Whom for producing this research.

It is fundamentally important!

I think the following professions should transform because they are heavily dominated by females: hairdressers, beauticians, nursing, librarians. Just joking but it is quite laughable that in jobs where women dominate they are praised but in jobs where men dominate people cry discrimination.

Colson, I think you are conflating the representation of women in positions of power/influence and their representation in certain jobs.

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