Gender diversity forms the basis for a brighter, more prosperous and balanced future.


When women are not included in decision-making roles, bias gets built into the essence of the organisation on all fronts. From organisational culture and processes, to products and services developed – and even into automated processes – we begin to see effects of the absence of multiple perspectives. Take the field of AI, for example, which lacks adequate female representation and, as a result, produces ‘absurd gender-biased algorithms that treat men as standard and women as an exception’ (in the words of UN Secretary-General António Guterres). This is reflected in speech-recognition devices that are primarily trained on male voices and have trouble understanding female commands. Or in crash test dummies that are modelled on men and put women at a higher injury risk, because seatbelts and airbags are not designed for the female body composition.

When we look at employee inclusion and belonging in an organisation, many of the unwritten practices will be influenced by the experiences of the leaders who make decisions. This can range from what time meetings are held and whether this may make it difficult for primary caregivers to be fully present (for example, 07h30 meetings during school drop-off times), all the way to examples such as considerations for employees who become parents. Does their career suffer as a result? How are they supported to transition back to work after parental leave?

Other considerations may be differences in how people might be treated across gender, ethnicity, age groups and other dimensions of difference. Are there inherent biases that come out in how different groups experience an organisation – with many examples, including pay; expectations regarding certain rules, such as acceptable dress code and appearance; and even which accents may be perceived to be more appropriate?

These examples indicate that diversity at executive level is essential for alignment with employee as well as client-based metrics. Ironically, studies show that even when companies have a higher female-to-male staff ratio, their female employees tend to work at the lower levels, supporting the products and services that are developed by predominantly male leadership teams.

Given that 51% of humans on this planet are female, shouldn’t one tap into the female knowledge base when designing those solutions and bringing them to market? Ultimately, when certain target groups are not represented at decision-making level, businesses are likely to miss the mark in terms of the products or services for this market.

While men are not necessarily unwilling to encourage women in leadership roles, they may be held back by an intrinsic, unconscious bias that shows up as self-protection. Yet it’s smart business from a board perspective to support diversity, because ultimately companies exist to provide products and services, to extract value and make money.

SA has a large pool of competent, high-potential female talent. Instead of poaching or appointing the same female directors – and risk over-boarding – companies need to look beyond their usual networks when identifying women candidates while also developing their own talent pipeline.

As the tone is set at the top, King IV recommends that boards set targets for gender and race representation. This also addresses ‘groupthink’, where board members with similar backgrounds lack sufficiently diverse insights, leading to faulty decisions or a toxic culture for less-represented groups.

At the JSE, we strive to ‘walk the talk’, leading by example on three levels. Firstly, the JSE as a company is women-led, with 60% female board representation and 66.7% on the executive committee. The Sustainable Stock Exchange Initiative named us the stock exchange with the best gender balance on boards of any developing G20 country, while our Group CEO, Leila Fourie, was recognised by the World Federation of Exchange’s Women Leaders Initiative.

Secondly, the JSE, as a regulator, takes a leadership role in setting the listings rules and guiding companies in achieving transformation targets. In addition, our new voluntary Sustainability Disclosure Guidance will assist more companies, beyond just those that are listed, in navigating the complexities of sustainability reporting, which includes gender-related metrics as part of the ESG landscape. Thirdly, this links to the JSE’s bigger role in society as a convener of critical conversations, as an influencer and an advocate of future policies for transformation and sustainable investing.

While SA has already made great strides, we still have some way to go to achieve genuine, systemic gender diversity, which forms the basis for a brighter, more prosperous and balanced future.

Itumeleng Monale
Chief Operating Officer