Over recent years, women have increasingly made progress in achieving seats on the corporate boards of South African companies. This change was brought about by corporations’ realisation that diverse boards can be of benefit to a company and its bottom line. With the number of qualified executive women in South Africa rising, we set out to explore and highlight specific companies which have made tremendous progress in gender empowerment on the board-level, as well as encouraging gender empowerment in their company generally.

Women workforce representation across organisations

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Success does not happen without intent and effort

Whilst women are still generally a minority at the board-level in South African companies across all five sectors examined, there has been a conscious effort to move towards a more gender empowered board, as well as empowering women within all levels of business. As long as companies are investing in initiatives which seek to harness the potential that women offer, true gender empowerment is possible. This sentiment was reiterated by the authors of the Women in Leadership Census 2015, when they stated, “Success does not happen without intent and effort”.

The report published in 2015, Where are the Women? Inclusive Boardrooms in Africa’s top-listed companies – the first-ever study of female board membership in Africa (commissioned by the African Development Bank) which measured 2013 data for 307 companies in 12 countries – includes the following findings:

  • Africa has a commanding lead among emerging regions with 14.4% of women represented on the boards of blue-chip companies (Asia-Pacific 9.8%, Latin America 5.6%, the Middle East 1%). That puts Africa third behind the developed regions of Europe (18%) and the US (16.9%).
  • The greatest sectoral champions for women on boards in Africa are the financial services, basic materials and construction, and automotive industries.
  • The companies with the highest percentage of women on boards are East Africa Breweries of Kenya (45.5%), followed by two South African firms, Impala Platinum Holdings (38.5%) and Woolworths Holdings (30.8%).
  • To boost female participation in boardrooms across Africa, the report makes a list of recommendations for government, civil society, the private sector, and African stock exchanges that include: baseline research on female board membership to track progress and setbacks, mandated public reporting by listed companies of board composition and board diversity as a listing requirement, and mandates for female board membership, starting with state-owned companies.

    The African Development Bank is the first multilateral bank to appoint a Special Envoy on Gender in 2013, Geraldine J. Fraser-Moleketi. The board study figures into the Bank’s five-year gender strategy, which focuses on economic empowerment, knowledge management and capacity building, and legal status and property rights.

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