Reflecting on Board Gender Diversity in South Africa

By: Nadia Mans-Kemp  

Although female board representation features high on policy agendas in many countries, the association between gender diversity and good governance is more complex than merely enforcing the appointment of female directors. The directorates of most listed South African companies include less than twenty percent females. Given the country’s history of inequality, which impacted women, I joined the academic debate on mechanisms which could address gender imbalances at board level. In Norway, a mandatory forty percent board gender quota is enforced, while a thirty-three percent target applies in the United Kingdom. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with local asset managers to gauge their views on the applicability of these mechanisms in South Africa. Attention was also given to the role of shareholder activists. Interviewees acknowledged that although shareholder activists could play a significant role to enhance board gender diversity, this topic did not (yet) feature on their engagement agendas. Interviewees opposed the introduction of board gender legislation. The King IV Report on corporate governance calls on listed South African companies to set voluntary board gender targets. While companies have the flexibility to determine realistic targets, they are expected to annually report on progress in this regard. Suggestions are offered pertaining to the future enhancement of board gender diversity and possible new research avenues. Companies should develop potential female leaders from the middle to the top of the corporate ladder by offering mentoring and training to expand the director talent pool. Shareholders should furthermore encourage board gender diversity by supporting eligible female candidates.

Board gender diversity, Target, Quota, Shareholder activism
Organizational Diversity
Paper Presentation in a Themed Session

Nadia Mans-Kemp

Stellenbosch University

I am a senior lecturer in the Department of Business Management at Stellenbosch University, South Africa. I have taught several Financial Management modules and presented guest lectures at a number of local and international universities. My research interests include corporate governance, board diversity and corporate sustainability.