Business World

How to successfully drive gender mainstreaming in a JSE listed company

Germany recently announced that more than 100 listed German companies will be required to allocate 30% of seats on their non-executive boards to women, under planned new laws. Among the 30 largest companies on Germany’s blue-chip DAX index, women occupied about 22% of supervisory board seats and around 6% of executive board seats at the end of last year.

In South Africa we do not yet have such legislation despite the best attempts of the government. However, Gender Mainstreaming in the private sector is not only a hot topic in South Africa, but globally. More and more organisations are coming to realise what numbers of the more enlightened companies have known for a while, Gender Mainstreaming within the organisation makes business sense. They see it not as a women’s issue, or a human rights issue, rather as cold hard business imperative the same way that they see any other strategic and operational concern. These organisations include Goldman Sachs, Bloomburg, PwC, Barclays, Anglo American and Rolls Royce to name but a few. The main areas of organisational improvement have been well documented over the years. Achieving positive results for the bottom line Accessing the widest talent pool, being more responsive to the market and achieving better corporate governance are all well accepted.

Within business, gurus like Warren Buffet are entering the fray on the side for Gender Mainstreaming, business visionaries are advancing the cause that women are going to be better positioned to lead as organisational structures adapt to changing conditions, and with good reason.

The  latest UK Davies Report on Women on Boards which has just been publishedshows marked progress being made since the report was first published in 2011. The report shows British businesses are making great voluntary strides towards a better gender balance in the boardrooms of the UK’s top companies.

“2015 is a landmark year for those of us campaigning for a better balance of men and women on corporate boards, and we are pleased to see the significant progress announced today with almost double female representation at a senior level since 2011. There are now no all-male FTSE 100 boards, and the number of FTSE 250 companies with no female directors has fallen to just 23,” commented Helena Morrissey CBE, CEO of Newton Investment Management and Founder of the 30% Club.

The Davies Report, published each year alongside the Cranfield University of Management’s Female FTSE Board report, shows that four years on from the original report female representation has almost doubled to 23.5%. This progress, made under a voluntary, business led framework, has been made without Government or EU legislative intervention.

So what should South Africa Inc be doing? 

The Board – The futurists 

 The board drives the aspirations of the organisation in this regard. It should have a clear focus on where the company is on its gender journey, and be able to make a realistic assessment of the challenges that lay ahead. These challenges are different for a mining house compared to a front facing consumer driven entity. A law firm is different from a company in the financial services sector. The timeframes for achievement need to be realistic. As a always say ““Gender Mainstreaming is a “quevolution”.  A quevolution is a quick evolution. It cannot be a revolution, and neither can it take the time of an evolution.”

 Social & Ethics Committees – The company think tank. 

 Whilst the board drives the aspirations, the SEC has to be bold enough to provide the thought leadership. In terms of the Companies Act the SEC is tasked with advising the board and reporting to stakeholders on matters of equity. Sadly, many SEC’s are missing the gender debate completely. They concentrate on legislation and UN Principles, rather than taking their mandate more holistically. The SEC needs to be providing the board timeously with the information that they need in order to make informed and well reasoned decisions. The consequences of Gender Mainstreaming have to be intellectually defendable.

The role of the Chief Executive Officer – No. 1 Cheerleader 

 The CEO is absolutely vital to the success or otherwise of Gender Mainstreaming. He or she is pivotal in ensuring that not only is gender core to the business, it also has the buy in from the management team and those key individuals who can positively influence the process. Without this top level involvement there is much more of a possibility of the process being relegated to a HR function, which it is not, or even worse being sabotaged as the initiatives filter down through the ranks.

30% Club Southern Africa

Colleen Larsen


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