Every year in March, more than 30 stock exchanges around the world chime their bells – not only to mark the beginning and end of the day’s trading, but to support gender equality and transformation in the financial sector.

To commemorate International Women’s Day (8 March), the JSE, along with 34 other stock exchanges around the world united to ring their opening and closing bells in support of gender equality.

The ‘Ring the Bell for Gender Equality’ initiative is a collaborative effort between the United Nations’ Global
Compact South Africa Network, Sustainable Stock Exchanges (SSE), UN W omen, International Finance Corporation (IFC), the World Federation of Exchanges and Women in exchange-traded funds (ETFs).

The opening ceremony at the JSE this year included an insightfu l panel discussion on the United Nations’
‘Women Empowerment Principles’. Dr Mantsika Amelia Matooane, who currently sits on the JSE board and is a non-executive director of JSE Limited, was a panel spe aker, while former public protector and advocate Thuli Madonsela delivered the keynote address.

At the same time as the bells were riniging, the JSE took part in the launch of the UN ‘Sustainable Stock Exchanges’ report with a German development agency – Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) – that provides services in the field of international development cooperation. The report highlights how stock exchanges can advance the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) of gender equality.

The report cites a number of imperative challenges: on average, women take home just one tenth of global income while accounting for two thirds of global working hours; girls and wo men have equal access to education in only 25 countries; one in three wo men experience physical or sexual violence in their lifetimes; and women lag male peers in compensation and in management and leadership roles.

A 2016 Bloomberg LP review of 1 000 listed companies found that the average representation of women in leadership positions is 23% (senior management), 21% (board level), 4% (chairperson) and 3% (CEO).

According to the JSE’S Director of Marketing and Corporate Affairs, Zeona Jacobs, South Africa has made strides with empowering women in the financial sector, but a lot of work still needs to be done. She says it is interesting to note that South Africa is ranked 15th of out 144 countries in terms of gender equality [2016 data from W orld Economic Forum].

“This is due to progress made in closing gender gaps in women’s labour force participation and estimated earned income, but also because of improvements made in the political empowerment sub-index”, says Jacobs.

She believes that strong gender empowerment policies will give companies a competitive edge in the future. “At the JSE, we believe having women occupying all levels of management should be the norm. Organisations should create the right platforms to provide female employees with the same opportunities as their male counterparts to grow in an organisation, and create a conducive environment for them to prosper”, says Jacobs.

Compared to most companies (listed and non-listed), including the broader financial services sector, the JSE
is unique in their representation of women at the most senior level. Out of their 490 employees, 248 are women (51%), six out of 11 executives at the JSE are women (54%) with CEO (Newton-King), CFO (Aarti Takordeen) and chairperson (Nonkululeko Nyembezi-Heita).

In 2015, the JSE introduced a rule requiring issuers to have a policy for the promotion of gender diversity at the board level and disclose their performance against it. As it has only been operational as of January 2017, its impact is not yet measurable.

The JSE’s Socially Responsible Index (SRI) includes indicators around the disclosure of diversity at board and staff level across areas such as race and gender since its launch in 2004, and includes qualitative and quantitative indicators based on global best practice, including:
1) number and percentage of women on the board;
2) disclosure of an equal opportunity policy;
3) actions to improve workforce diversity and end discrimination; and commitments to gender diversity at the
board level.

“We also offer learnerships to unemployed graduates to promote their employability. From 2014 to 2015, the
number of these offered to black women increased from one to 18. We have a leadership programme open to all employees. We are also in the process of conducting a gender specific study, which will result in internal programmes”, says Jacobs.

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