Slow progress on gender diversity in leadership roles at the JSE Top 40

Just Share has released a briefing assessing gender equality at board and executive level in the JSE Top 40.

Although 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.

Transformation in South Africa’s labour market remains a significant challenge, but 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 23rd Commission for Employment Equity Annual Report (2022 – 2023) finds that “the South African labour market continues to be racialised and gendered” and that “the provision of opportunities appears to remain inherently linked to certain population groups and gender at the upper occupational levels”.

The JSE Top 40 companies are no exception to these trends.

  • Bidvest Group is the only company in the Top 40 with gender parity or better at both board and executive level: 75% 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 (Exxaro Resources and Impala Platinum) or executive level (BHP Group and Woolworths).
  • Only five of the Top 40 have company boards led by female chairs (Anglo Gold Ashanti, Capitec, Impala Platinum, Shoprite and Standard Bank) and only four have female CEOs (Anglo American Platinum, Bidvest Group, Clicks Group and Exxaro Resources).

The JSE Listings Requirements require issuers to adopt a policy for the promotion of gender diversity at board level, and 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. 80% 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 annual 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.

This approach is not in line with guidance from the Sustainable Stock Exchanges 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 bigger 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.

Download the full briefing

IMAGE: DragonImages / Getty Images

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