Over the past five years, there has been a 39% improvement in gender diversity on JSE boards as “gender mainstreaming at board level is a reality”, according to the JSE-listed boards report 2021, released yesterday.
The report, which was compiled from integrated annual reports for the reporting period January 1 to December 31, 2021, found that women were making substantial progress in being appointed to a majority of board positions.
In 2021, women held 32% of board positions while men held 68% on JSE-listed boards. This was a vast improvement on 2017, where women held only 23% of board positions and men held 77%.
“Companies are changing and gender mainstreaming at board level is a reality. We always note that it is the business community at large that should decide if the change is progressing fast enough,” the report noted.
During the research period of this report, published by Business Engage, there were 296 companies listed on the main and AltX boards of the JSE.
Business Engage CEO Colleen Larsen said encouragingly, women were increasingly being appointed chairperson of the board or the lead independent director.
“Furthermore, the net is being cast increasingly wide, reflected by the fact few female directors have more than three JSE-listed company directorships. The fear of the golden skirt syndrome, where a few well-connected women garner multiple appointments has proven unfounded,” she said.
Looking at board composition, in 2021, only 18% of women occupied the position of chairperson. However, in 2017, only 8% of women held that position.
In 2021, 76% of the lead independent directors were men while 24% were women.
In 2021, 94% of CEOs were men while 6% were women, up from 3% in 2017.
Meanwhile, 22% of chief financial officers in 2021 were women, who made up 10% of CFOs in 2017, with men making up the other 90%.
There were currently 35 opportunities for women on boards. This figure was lower than in previous years, however, as some positions announced in the report from last year had been filled, it said.
“This would be expected as companies make good on target sets. It is now assessed that a total of 227 seats on boards for females have been declared as being available since 2017,” it said.
The report found that in 2020, 27 companies analysed had already achieved gender parity or better.
It further said 20 companies were close to achieving parity whereby the appointment of one female to the board in place of a male member would achieve such parity.
“These numbers are climbing steadily. As noted previously, we are not suggesting here that these companies have any plans to achieve such parity. For clarity, a company is considered to have achieved parity even where there is an uneven number of board members and there is no gap in the split of members such as six males and five females on the board,” the report said.
While there remained several all-male boards, these numbers had shrunk dramatically over the past five years.
At the date of publication of their annual reports, there were 17 companies that it surveyed that still had no female members on their boards.
“This number has come down dramatically since the last report. If South Africa follows the trend in the UK, these figures will decrease until there are only a few male-only boards, then take quite a while to achieve zero all-male boards.”
Women were on average between four and seven years younger than their male counterparts, with proportionally fewer women having reached what would be considered normal career retirement age.