Nonprofit organisation Just Share has released the results of a study assessing gender equality at board and executive level at the JSE Top 40.
“While women make up 46% of South Africa’s economically active population – and despite a significant increase over the last 20 years in representation of women in the lower-to-middle occupational levels – only 35% of board seats and 25% of executive level positions at the Top 40 companies are held by women,” states Just Share.
The company also points out that, while transformation in South Africa’s labour market remains a significant challenge, there has been more focus on racial transformation than there has on gender equality.
“Despite the considerable strides made in reducing gender gaps in education, there remain significant gender disparities in labour market outcomes. This is reflected in the under-representation of women in senior decision-making roles across the private sector.”
Over two decades after the promulgation of the Bill of Rights, and the introduction of legislation to give effect to the right to equality in the workplace, the twenty-third 'Commission for Employment Equity Yearly Report (2022 to 2023)' finds that “the South African labour market continues to be racialised and gendered”.
The report also finds that “the provision of opportunities appears to remain inherently linked to certain population groups and gender at the upper occupational levels”.
Just Share points out that the JSE Top 40 companies are no exception to these trends.
Services, trading and distribution company Bidvest Group is the only company in the Top 40 with gender parity or better at both board and executive level, Just Share notes. Seventy-five per cent of the company’s board positions are held by women, and 50% of its executives are women.
Only four other companies have gender parity at board level (miners Exxaro Resources and Impala Platinum) or executive level (multinational metals company BHP Group and retailer Woolworths).
Just Share also stresses that only five of the Top 40 have company boards led by female chairpersons, including miners AngloGold Ashanti and Impala Platinum, local banks Standard Bank and Capitec, and retailer Shoprite.
Further, only four in the Top 40 have female CEOs, namely Anglo American Platinum, Bidvest Group, Exxaro Resources and retailer Clicks Group.
The JSE Listing Requirements require issuers to adopt a policy for the promotion of gender diversity at board level, as well as to report on the application and consideration of the policy and on the progress made towards achieving voluntary targets.
“Compliance with these requirements is patchy across the Top 40. Eighty per cent of the Top 40 companies have publicly available policies and gender diversity targets at board level. These targets are usually set well below 46% (which would reflect the percentage of women who are economically active) or 50% for gender parity. Gender diversity targets are seldom updated even when they have been achieved, and some companies set targets which are below what they have already achieved.
"In response to questions from Just Share at the JSE’s yearly general meetings, the JSE has repeatedly stated that it takes no responsibility for monitoring compliance with the board gender diversity policy requirements of the Listings Requirements, and that it expects shareholders to monitor and exert pressure on listed companies for the achievement of gender equality.”
Just Share argues that this approach is not in line with guidance from the Sustainable Stock Exchanges (SSE) initiative, of which the JSE is a member. The SSE recommends that exchanges take a number of steps to advance gender equality, including setting gender targets or other requirements for listed companies, promoting transparency on the market’s gender performance, and addressing barriers to gender equality on company boards.
“The exchange and the institutions which invest in its issuers have significant power and opportunity to advance gender equality, but there is much more for them to do to ensure that women are more equally represented in senior leadership roles.
“Asset managers and asset owners should be playing a much larger role in engaging companies which have not adopted gender diversity policies and targets to ensure that they do so, and in driving the adoption of gender diversity targets at all issuers which are ambitious enough to accelerate progress towards gender equality,” the organisation states.