Ringing the bell for gender equality : Zeona Jacobs, JSE Director of Marketing and Corporate Affairs
The Johannesburg Stock Exchange (JSE) has a rich and proud history of playing a key role in strengthening the economy by connecting investors. What many people don’t know is that the exchange has also taken on a leading role in promoting gender equality in finance.
More than half of the JSE’s employees are female, and seven out of our ten exco members are women, including the CEO. Embracing diversity in the workplace is a key strength for any company and a definite competitive advantage. Having inclusion at senior management level enables more strategic, out-of-the-box thinking and more efficient decision-making.
The JSE is regarded as a leader in the financial industry, and as such we are ideally positioned to be a catalyst for gender transformation in the sector.
In showing our commitment to this matter, the JSE joined 34 other stock exchanges around the world on International Women’s Day on 8 March this year to raise awareness of gender equality and the need for transformation in the financial industry. The initiative involved collaboration with the UN Global Compact South Africa Network / National Business Initiative, the Sustainable Stock Exchanges Initiative (SSE), UN Women, IFC, the World Federation of Exchanges and Women in ETFs. These seven principles guide businesses on how to empower women in the workplace, marketplace and community.
Approximately 300 people gathered at the JSE to open the market by way of ringing the bell, as is done around the world when the day’s trading commences. In this way we also symbolically rang the bell to make our voice heard to the cause of gender equality in the workplace. The keynote address for the Ring the Bell for Gender Equality ceremony was delivered by South Africa’s Public Protector, advocate Thuli Madonsela.
In her welcome address, the JSE’s chairman, Nonkululeko Nyembezi-Heita, quite rightly remarked that the JSE takes transformation – and the responsibility we have to encourage this in the economy – very seriously. We have now made it mandatory for all listed companies to reveal their gender policies. While we do not prescribe the levels that companies should be at, it goes a long way to raising awareness of the issue.
Advocate Madonsela made the very good point that empowering women is one of the best ways to improve the quality of life for all.
Following the opening ceremony, we hosted an insightful panel discussion on the United Nation’s Women Empowerment Principles. Advocate Madonsela participated in this panel, as well as Dr Mantsika Matooane, who serves on The JSE Board as a non-executive director of JSE Limited.
The panellists addressed several issues, acknowledging that great strides have been taken in obtaining greater female representation in business, but given that the vast majority of women in South Africa and in many parts of the world still do not have access to, or participate in, the formal economy.
This is also by no means merely an emerging and frontier market issue – the corporate debate in many developed markets is currently dominated by discussions around the lack of female representation and the gender wage gap.
Advocate Madonsela left the panel discussion audience with an inspiring lesson she has learnt over the years: that in order to succeed in life and work, women should have compassion, confidence and courage.
We are well aware of the numerous challenges that still face women in the corporate world and are committed to doing our part to highlight and address these matters.
The JSE is proud to be aligned with other partners in our sphere, such as the Sustainable Stock Exchanges Initiative (SSE), in our efforts to promote gender transformation and contribute to the UN Sustainable Development Goals, which includes aiming for gender equality. This objective has been identified as one of four goals stock exchanges are best positioned to support.
As a longstanding partner of the Sustainable Stock Exchanges initiative and a member of the World Federation of Exchanges Sustainability Working Group, the JSE remains committed to promoting sustainable and equitable business. Being a part of significant global events such as these creates the opportunity for us to contextualise the debate for South Africa while expanding the global consensus on these issues.