South Africa can influence gender diversity on corporate boards worldwide

South Africa can influence gender diversity on co...

On Wednesday last week, KPMG and the International Women’s Forum (IWF) hosted a groundbreaking panel discussion towards the advancement of gender diversity on corporate boards. While research shows that South Africa ranks amongst the best in the world in terms of women on boards, this is off a low global base and still not even 30%.


Grathel Motau (Director, KPMG and Chair of KPMG’s Network of Women) set the context for the discussion around the hard economic facts, the need for Government, the Private Sector and Civil Society to work increasingly closely together, and the imperative to change the narrative regarding the role of women at this level of business.

“The International Women’s Forum is dedicated to advancing opportunities for women in leadership and the board room is one of the last glass ceilings to break. We believe that women contribute an important and necessary perspective and talent which fuels the success of businesses in South Africa and around the world. Together, we are building better leadership for the world.” says Dr Vuyokazi Mahlati (President, IWF South Africa).

Motau challenged the audience by asking “Are we willing and prepared to discuss this? To bridge the gap? To be champions for ‘girls’, without undermining the ‘boys’?” Leading into the panel discussion, Motau clarified that “Practically, this means empowering individuals, mentoring these young leaders and strengthening networks, while all the time remembering that each individual represents a collective, where successes and failures either encourage or discourage others.”

The expert discussion, moderated by Hilary Joffe, was led by a diverse panel comprising Wendy Luhabe (Social Entrepreneur & Corporate Director), Mthunzi Mdwaba (CEO, TZORO IBC), Sofia Moreira de Sousa (Deputy Head, Delegation of the European Union to South Africa), Pumla Radebe (Managing Partner for Bungane Development Consultants and Non-Executive Chairperson of Calgro M3 Holdings), Johann Redelinghuys (Partner, Heidrick & Struggles) and Tshidi Mokgabudi (Director, KPMG). The audience featured several prominent women business leaders, including Mrs Zanele Mbeki – the founding patron of the South African chapter of the IWF.

There are a number of compelling reasons why boards should have at least one woman, borne out by research into the key economic indicators of profitability and share price performance. In short, the evidence of informed research is shifting the debate. Rapidly. In fact, McKinsey through a new study is now referring to a ‘diversity dividend’. This is there for the taking for the more progressive companies – driven in part by the Chairman of the Board and CEO, and in part by the shareholders.

Women have a different approach to men. They see things differently. They’re less likely to follow the ‘group think’ and more likely to ask the ‘tough questions’. They’re also often seen as harder to manage. As long as a culture of surrounding one’s self with like-minded people, preserving the ‘club’ and avoiding those issues that may seem avoidable is sustained, there will not be the desired positive shift.

“It’s all about attitude,’ said Tshidi Mokgabudi, “winning the hearts and minds of people.” It is widely accepted that individuals will bring about the change. “Consistently maintaining the quality of the value proposition of appointing more women to corporate boards is paramount,” concluded Mokgabudi.

Moving the discussion beyond the ‘why’ to the ‘how’, a number of suggestions were tabled, many of which can be implemented or at least initiated immediately. Perhaps somewhat controversially, these include the need to stand down from board positions after some time to create room for new leaders, to avoid ‘recycling the usual suspects’, to create such equality between men and women that there is no possibility for biased differential (e.g., mothers and fathers receiving the same parental benefits), and to actively approach Board Chairmen and shareholders to challenge the status quo and achieve a clear call-to-action.

“In these few hours, I feel that the essential dialogue about advancing women on corporate boards moved forward substantially,” said Motau. “We quickly moved way beyond bemoaning the facts to create a space where all of this becomes possible, positively and very much sooner than many may believe.”

© 2024 KPMG Services Proprietary Limited, a South African company and a member firm of the KPMG network of independent member firms affiliated with KPMG International, a Swiss cooperative. All rights reserved.

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