News Research

JSE-listed companies emerge as the least gender-equal across all industries

The Businesswomen’s Association of South Africa (BWASA) recently launched the 2021 edition of its South African Women in Leadership Census report.

The consensus took place during a global pandemic with companies working from home under lockdown conditions and the research included 266 companies, of which 294, are JSE-listed firms and 17, South Africa’s largest State-Owned Enterprises (SOEs).

While the research highlights incremental improvements and changes compared to 2020’s report, the representation of women in leadership positions is South Africa is “still not good enough”.

Top-end findings continue to reflect Government as a leader in bridging the divide between men and women at the top echelons in organisations. Although smaller samples were obtained for multinational organisations and professional entities, the percentages reflect closely to the Public Higher Educational Institutions analysis. Nevertheless, JSE-listed firms still have some inroads to make and to reflect as the least equal across all industries.

JSE-listed entities

Of the 3 237 directorships at the JSE-listed entities, women only hold 870 seats. In this regard, 26.9% of directorship positions at JSE-listed entities are taken up by women.

Progress has been made over the last decade whereby only 14.8% of women held directorship positions at that time. Likewise, in 2004 during the inception of the BWASA Census, women only held 5.9% of JSE-listed entities directorship positions, indicating that women are still presented as a minority.


Of the analysed schedule-two SOEs, 16 verified their information with a total verification rate of 88.9%.

There were 198 directorships reported among the schedule-two SOEs. Among these, women account for 80 directorship seats (40.4%) which are held by 74 women.

This is a decrease from the 2017 reporting period and an 8.5%-point increase since the 2011 Census results of 31.9%. Although this is only a moderate change compared to the last decade, progress has remained limited over the past couple of years.

Despite this, SOEs performed better than private organisations.

The decrease since 2017 reporting period may be, in part, due to the exclusion of major entities such as South African Airways (SAA), SA Express, and the Independent Development Trust (IDT). These institutions traditionally contributed to the integration of women in SOEs.

National Government

As of the 28th of February 2021, women account for 62.3% of the total public service workforce – a 2% rise from the previous reporting period. According to the stats, women are well represented in National Government departments.

However, it appears that the representation of women is at lower institutional levels and the number of men in the most senior positions, remain higher.

When considering the 62.3% overall workforce (as compared to the 60.2% reported in 2017), the comprehensive number of women has continued to increase with a 2.1% increase since the last reporting period.

Indications demonstrate that government has not yet reached its goal of 50% representation intended at a 2012 Cabinet resolution. However, when considering previous reporting periods of the BWASA Census’ (from 2008 to 2015), the gap has closed significantly.

Higher education

26 Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) are included in the BWASA Census. which consist of 11 General Academic Universities, 9 Comprehensive Universities, and 6 Universities of Technology.

Women constitute 23.1% of Vice-Chancellor roles in South Africa HEIs, which is an increase on the 15% representation in the 2016 data as reported in the 2017 Census.

In Registrar and Dean positions, fewer women are present. However, at the Executive Officer / Director level, women have almost reached 50%.

Women who are Deans in disciplines such as Science, Engineering and Technology (SET), or otherwise referred to as STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics), are scarce with only 8 women found across the 26 HEIs.

Nonetheless, there is a notable improvement, specifically at institutions where women hold the position of Chancellor.

Professional private companies

7 of the 10 prestigious professional service entities were included in the Census, namely ENSafrica, Norton Rose Fullbright and Webber Wentzel.

Women remain underrepresented at the top echelons of the professional services industry (36.7%).

In 2021, the numbers show that women accounted for 39% of all Chartered Accountants in South Africa, a 3.7% point increase from the previous Census. Furthermore, some headway is presented in the number of female attorneys and candidate attorneys since the 2017 Census.

Multinational companies

In collating the numbers, it was found that an array of leadership positions exist. The designations differ in levels of seniority, responsibility, and leadership duties for most of the companies. South African leadership is included, reflecting designations as either Senior Management or Director.

Women are underrepresented in the small sample of multinational companies, consisting of only 38%. This figure is similar to data presented as the Women in Professional Private Companies, which reflects representation of 36.7%.