Gauteng Business News

Send  Share  RSS  Twitter  22 Jul 2011

WOMEN in BUSINESS: Female Board Representation More Than a Numbers Game


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In 2011, 15.8 percent of JSE-listed companies and state-owned enterprises had female board members—a decline from 2010’s 16.6%, according to the Businesswomen’s Association South African Women in Leadership Census 2011. It’s a worrying sign that progress in this area is stagnating—something that the African Women Chartered Accountants (AWCA) organisation aims to change.

“Chartered accountants are well represented on JSE boards, so it’s of great concern to us that female accountants are not making a better showing,” says AWCA’s chair, Tryphosa Ramano. “We wanted to find out how to change that.”

There’s more to this than simple fairness: research has demonstrated a link between enhanced financial performance and gender diversity. For example, one major study by McKinsey indicated that public and private companies that performed well as regards gender in nine dimensions “tended to have operating margins and market capitalisation twice as high as those of the lower-ranked companies”. Not a metric that boards would want to ignore, one imagines.

Quality counts

In search of answers and direction, AWCA recently hosted a panel discussion. Luminaries on the panel were Monhla Hlahla (MD, Airports Company of SA), Sindi Mabaso-Koyana (Group CFO, Passenger Rail Agency of SA), Kunyalala Maphisa (national president, Business Women’s Association), Ansie Ramalho (CEO, Institute of Directors), Bheki Sibiya (chairman, PPC) and Elias Masilela (CEO, Public Investment Corporation).

One key conclusion: female representation is more about impact than just how many women sit on boards. “It’s really about the quality of female board members and the power they wield,” Ramano says. “For example, there are relatively few women on Brazilian boards, but they are influential because so many of them are CEOs and board chairpersons.”

Enhancing the quality of potential female board members emerged as a clear mandate for AWCA. “As the organisation representing black female accounting talent, we need to move from being facilitators to actively implementing development programmes that equip members to take their place on boards—and to become movers and shakers once they are there,” says Ramano. “Perhaps we even need an organisation specifically aimed at female directors.”

Walk the talk

Another key obstacle to the fair representation of women on boards is the whole issue of role models on the one hand and female support for up-and-coming women on the other.

“Panellists argued that women need role models to point the way, while society as a whole needs to relook at the way both boys and girls are socialised,” says Ramano. “The other key point is that women who have made it onto boards must also maintain the momentum. Referral is one of the main ways that boards find new members and so female board members need to recommend other women for these roles. At the same time, we must also work closely with the many male board members who understand the business benefits of gender diversity—they need to know that we have this great pool of female talent already.

“If we are serious as a nation about reaching a growth rate of 6%, it’s absolutely vital that our private and public sector companies harness the power of women,” Ramano concludes.

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