New frontiers of women empowerment are being pushed with the formulation of a new Gender Equality Bill, while the Businesswomen’s Association of SA (BWA) is pursuing amendments of JSE listing rules to include gender diversity and have them written into the King Code governance report.

“The proposed bill should seek to address issues of enforcement and compliance to achieve our target of 50-50 gender parity,” Minister of Women, Children and People with Disabilities Lulu Xingwana, the keynote speaker at the launch of Women in Leadership Census 2011, said yesterday.

She said her department was in discussion with the SA Law Commission to develop the bill by the middle of next year and have it passed.

It was “disturbing” that the number of top-performing JSE-listed companies with 25 percent or more women directors and executive managers had continued to decrease from 58 in 2008 to 37 companies in the latest census.

The census is an annual study commissioned by the BWA and sponsored by Nedbank to track the trends of the advancement of women in business.

New statistics show that the number of women at executive, board and chief executive level across listed companies increased slightly. More black women were appointed at board level, however, at the decision-making level white women dominated as executive managers. The government fared better at gender diversity than the private sector.

Women constitute less than 10 percent of chief executives and chairpersons of boards and hold less than 16 percent of directorship and 21 percent of executive management positions.

Xingwana said it was disturbing that the list of worst performers with no women at directorship or executive level was constant at 27 companies.

The minister singled out retail giant Shoprite, which owns the Shoprite and Checkers brands and does not have any women on the board of its JSE-listed entity. Ironically, the company sponsors the annual Shoprite-Checkers Women of the Year Awards.

“How can Checkers not have a single woman in that board when the people who shop there are women? These are injustices. These are human rights abuses. We have to ensure we name and shame them… this is not a women’s issue. This is not a gender issue, it’s a national issue,” she said.

Shoprite, which previously appeared on the census list of worst gender diversity performers, declined to comment.

But the BWA did note that five out of 43 board members on the boards of the retailer’s subsidiaries were women.

BWA president Kunyalala Maphisa said the organisation would seek an audience with Nicky Newton-King after she had settled down in her new role as the first woman chief executive of the JSE before pushing its mission, which it first put to the bourse last year.

The JSE announced earlier via its public relations company that “there are presently no plans in place to amend the listings requirements to meet this request”.

Maphisa said: “I don’t get the sense that this is something they will contest. It’s just a question of how and what numbers are we talking about.”

She said that the inequality between women at executive management level was due to abuse of the Employment Equity Act. “We have to see a reversal of the situation. We need to be cognisant of the fact that as much as there is a uniform gender block there is also levels of disempowerment according to race.” - Business Report