Many JSE-listed companies still have no women in their boards - report

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Female representation in JSE-listed companies, whether at CEO level or in the board remains dismal.

While there are companies that are making all-women appointments in their new board vacancies, some don't have a single woman director.

Less than 10% have reached gender parity at board level.

Four years since it became compulsory for the JSE-listed companies to have a gender policy at board level, 32 companies have no women on the board. Only 26 boards had achieved gender parity, and four companies went backwards, reversing seven appointments of female directors made in the past.

"Out of 195 companies that had board changes in 2020, 51 of them went retrogressive," wrote 30% Club in its fourth edition of the Status of Gender on JSE-Listed Boards report.

But there are a few positives, like Naspers, where all new director positions went to women in the past three years. At Mediclinic, four out of six appointments to the board since November 2016 were female candidates.

An initiative started in the UK in 2010, the 30% Club, comprises an international group of chairmen, CEOs and senior partners of organisations committed to bringing more women onto boards of directors. The 30% Club's Southern Africa chapter conducts the research, in association with Business Engage, Tuesday Consulting, the Institute of Directors South Africa and Nedbank.

Although there were 332 companies listed on the JSE on average - given the listings and delistings that took place - the researchers analysed annual reports of 295 firms. Sixty-two companies, or 21% did not report on gender at board level. The researchers said a further 15 companies who mentioned gender at board level, "really said nothing of substance".

"Numerous other companies confirm that they have a gender policy at board level and then fail to inform the stakeholders what that policy may be. This opaqueness is something that some companies may wish to address in the future," wrote the researchers.

The report showed that while 26 companies achieved gender parity at the board level, another 67 were near parity. Still, that means less than a third of analysed companies (31%) achieved or were close to achieving gender parity in their boards.

The 30% Club calculated that there were 57 new opportunities for women on boards as some companies were still looking for board members. But 82 of the companies had no opportunities for women to sit on their boards.

That's because targets noted in the policies have already been achieved. In other instances, the board was satisfied with current gender mix, or the board size did not warrant change, among other things.

The opportunities and lack thereof are partly a result of companies altering the size of their boards which has affected some firms' stated targets, especially where targets are noted as percentages of the board instead of actual physical numbers.

However, qualitative research done by Tuesday Consulting concluded that while it might seem that there is no meaningful progress in closing the gender gap on companies' boards, that might not be wholly accurate. Tuesday Consulting approached those companies with a single woman non-executive director or none at all. Most, but not all of them have gender representation targets. 

Some, especially medium and small-cap companies have not added women to their boards because their directors tend to stay on for long periods of time.

Also, having board members with a long tenure is desirable to these companies for institutional memory and continuity. Tuesday Consulting suggested that these companies might want to revisit their director rotation policies if they are committed to greater gender diversity.

But those who can afford it are willing to increase the size of their boards as one way to bring in women and people of colour, budget permissive. Some of the companies said they struggled to find the right talent.

But their peers pointed out that organisations such as the Association for the Advancement of Black Accountants of Southern Africa (ABASA) have databases of successful, experienced women who are ready to serve.

  • Fin24 is in the Naspers-owned Media24 stable.
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