Are boardrooms making space for women?


Madelein Smit | Managing Director | HR Company Solutions | mail me |

Corporate South Africa has made strides in recent history to be more inclusive of formerly marginalised groups in an effort to rectify the disparity of the past and be more diverse, including in the executive decision-making tiers. But the retirement of Maria Ramos, the last remaining woman CEO in the Johannesburg Stock Exchange top 40 listed companies earlier this year, illustrated that we are not making the progress we thought we were on gender parity.

Pundits have come out in defence of publicly listed companies’ lack of transformation at the very top, citing internal company policies and a knowledge-ineptitude of promoting women as CEO’s of their organisations.

Whilst some of these arguments may hold merit, they do not address the blatant reason why so few women make it into the executive tier and stay there.

There are a multitude of bodies that advocate for more women in the boardroom, including the Constitution, the Employment Equity Act and the King IV Report on Corporate Governance for South Africa 2016 (King IVTM).

A 2016 report by the Peterson Institute for International Economics, Is Gender Diversity Profitable? States businesses case for having women represented at board level, showing that moving from no women board members to a 30% representation correlates to a profitability increase of 15%. Similarly, a report by MSCI has shown that gender-diverse boards can result in higher returns on equity, sometimes to as much as 36%. Even in the face of the overwhelming research that advocates for more women in the boardroom, very few organisations and sectors are led by women.

Research conducted by us, found women in Gauteng make up 22.5% of the total number of CEOs in the IT and Internet sector, closely followed by the Manufacturing and Chemical, Oil & Gas industries reporting 19% each. Building and Construction tallied a total of 17%, whilst Engineering recorded 15%. The industry with the lowest women CEOs according to the research is Mining, clocking in at 5%. Women Managing Directors in the same sectors reported a mean of about 19%.

Even the state which arguably bears even greater responsibility than the private sector towards the redressing of previous wrongs and economically empowering previously disadvantaged groups of people, including women, doesn’t fair off too well.

According to a 2017 census conducted by the Businesswomen’s Association of South Africa, of a total of

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