Mechanisms to promote board gender diversity in South Africa

Viviers, Suzette ; Mans-Kemp, Nadia ; Fawcett, Rebecca (2017-09-15)

CITATION: Viviers, S., Mans-Kemp, N. & Fawcett, R. 2017. Mechanisms to promote board gender diversity in South Africa. Acta Commercii, a489, doi:/10.4102/ac.v17i1.489.

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Research purpose: Board gender diversity is gaining increasing attention globally and in South Africa. Although more women are serving on the boards of companies listed on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange (JSE), they only represent approximately one-fifth of all directors. This situation mirrors international trends. A review of the extant literature revealed three prominent mechanisms to increase the appointment of female directors, namely mandatory board gender quotas, voluntary targets and shareholder activism. The authors critically evaluated these three mechanisms with the aim of suggesting the most appropriate ones in the South African context. Motivation for the study: The study was undertaken given the paucity of comparative research on the three change mechanisms and the need to promote greater board gender diversity in South Africa. Research design: Judgement and snowball sampling were used to identify a sample of experienced local asset managers. Semi-structured personal interviews were conducted to gauge these individuals’ views on the applicability of these change mechanisms in South Africa. The qualitative data were analysed using thematic analysis. Key findings: Although the participants acknowledged the importance of board gender female board representation, none of them have engaged investee companies on the topic over the period 2011–2016. This study provides evidence that legislation is the least preferred mechanism to promote board gender diversity in South Africa. Voluntary targets and public pressure from shareholders might be more effective. Contribution: Whereas existing research mainly centres on the rationale for board gender diversity, this study goes a step further by investigating three prominent mechanisms to promote female board representation. A contribution is made to the body of knowledge on diversity management. Context-specific recommendations are offered.

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