SSE, IFC, UN Women launch Asian and African benchmarks on gender equality in corporate leadership

14 December 2023

On 13 December 2023, the United Nations Sustainable Stock Exchanges (UN SSE) in partnership with IFC, a member of the World Bank Group, and UN Women, launched two reports on gender equality in corporate leadership as part of the SSE’s Q4 2023 Quarterly Webinars:  
  1. Asia Regional Report on Gender Equality in Corporate Leadership: This report includes 17 public markets in Asia ranked by the gender balance of issuers boards. Available here
  2. Africa Regional Report on Gender Equality in Corporate Leadership: Includes 13 public markets in Africa, ranked by the gender balance of issuers boards.  Available here
Bursa Malaysia topped the ranking in Asia for the highest proportion of women on boards with 26% of board seats held by women among its top 100 issuers. In Africa, the Johannesburg Stock Exchange topped the ranking of African exchanges with 32% of board seats held by women among the top 100 issuers. The CEOs of Bursa Malaysia and Johannesburg Stock Exchange joined the events to deliver keynote speeches on promoting gender equality in their markets.  Leila Fourie, CEO, Johannesburg Stock Exchange said, “South Africa has made great strides in advancing the drive towards gender equality but we have a long way to go. These results, which included 100 of South Africa’s listed corporates, reflect a multi-year effort within corporate South Africa to improve our understanding of diversity.” Muhamad Umar Swift, CEO, Bursa Malaysia said, “Our rank leading a regional benchmark in gender equality in the corporate boardroom speaks to the commitment and progress of Malaysian PLCs. Malaysia’s standing testifies to the concerted efforts driven by multiple stakeholders at the national level and through market efforts in a comprehensive, phased approach that harnesses advocacy, corporate awareness and buy-in, as well as regulatory measures. Championing diversity in various aspects within our public listed companies (PLCs) will continue to be a key agenda for Bursa Malaysia,” said Muhamad Umar Swift, Chief Executive Officer of Bursa Malaysia. Acknowledging the collective role the region can play as catalysts for gender diversity, he added, “Exchanges can catalyse change by setting standards for diversity and inclusivity. By doing so, we not only elevate the status of our markets but also contribute to a broader societal shift towards equality.”  “We applaud the efforts of exchanges around the world who are promoting gender equality in corporate leadership,” said Anthony Miller, Chief Coordinator of the UN SSE. “The SSE is committed to working with exchanges to contribute to Sustainable Development Goal 5 on gender equality, through practical guidance for exchanges, free training programmes for market participants and annual benchmarking exercises to measure progress and inspire action.”  During the webinars, speakers from stock exchanges and international organisations shared examples of initiatives to promote gender equality in corporate leadership and discussed the role stock exchanges can take in this area.  Veronica V. Del Rosario, VP and General Counsel, The Philippine Stock Exchange said, “We acknowledge that the gender equality mindset of PSE listed companies have contributed significantly to our ranking this year. And we are very fortunate to have proactive companies who have taken conscious and concrete steps and efforts to ensure that women are represented in their boards and management teams.” Pierre Celestin Rwabukumba, CEO, Rwanda Stock Exchange said “Right now as an exchange we are in the process of completing what we call the Gender Seal. The Gender Seal is a program that we have which promotes gender equality at the country level which rewards companies and gives them that seal for having completed the gender equality gaps across the board. So we have 50% of completion of that gender seal.” Geoffrey Odundo, CEO of the Nairobi Securities Exchange said “Back in 2015, we started off a program benchmarked on SDG5 [gender equality]. We came up with a number of initiatives to support the board. One of the premier ones that we did was to partner with an institution called New Faces New Voices and we started recognising the companies that did well in board diversity and also in terms of senior leadership diversity. It was a roundtable call for both CEO and Chairman and in that roundtable we held sessions, to explain why companies have to be intentional about it. Out of that, most of the companies that came to that event, subsequently started being very deliberate about bringing more women on boards.” Abena Amoha, Managing Director, Ghana Stock Exchange said “Congratulations to UN SSE, IFC and UN Women for this very important benchmark report because I think this is what we need to look at how we’re doing compared to other regional exchanges and global standards to drive us all towards the goal we are going forward to.” The webinars included speakers from Bursa Malaysia, Ghana Stock Exchange, IFC, the Johannesburg Stock Exchange, Nairobi Securities Exchange, the Philippine Stock Exchange, Rwanda Stock Exchange and UN Women.  Tania Mansour, Regional ESG Advisory Services and Upstream Lead, Africa, IFC said, “Gender equality is a priority for IFC. Advancing gender equality through business operations and value chains means better talent, higher productivity, more customers, and better societal outcomes. On average, across the African continent, women hold 21% of board seats, 8% of board chair positions and 9% of CEO positions, which is commendable. We are moving in the right direction and welcome working with exchanges in the region to build on this momentum and continue to promote women leadership and gender equality”.  Kate Lazarus, Senior ESG Advisory Lead, Asia Pacific, IFC said, “Empowering women and building their capacity boosts their confidence to participate in leadership roles and contribute to decision-making and this in turn improves businesses’ equity, reputation, productivity, and sustainability.”  Loty Salazar, Lead, IFC's Women on Boards & in Business Leadership Program, IFC said, “Making women visible through data is key to advancing gender equality. In this context, gender disaggregated data can provide evidence of progress, identify gaps, and help us analyze opportunities for growth. The annual data collection for regional market monitors aims to support exchanges and issuers to do exactly that.”   Katja Freiwald, Asia-Pacific Regional Lead, UN Women, said, ‘Women’s equal participation on boards at all levels, including  stock exchanges, issuers and companies of all sizes and sectors is an essential driver for inclusive and equitable economic growth. Setting a target to reach the critical  30%  benchmark of board seats held by women can help to accelerate progress in Asia and the Pacific.”  Anna Matavati, Deputy Regional Director Eastern & Southern Africa, UN Women, said “ Getting the numbers right is a huge first step. The next step is really to address the challenges and truly achieve Gender Equality in a transformative way. We need to address the barriers that continue to hold women back. Some of them include the gender pay gap, but also gender gap in power and leadership. According to a report by UN Women and UNDP from 2023, women’s share of management position worldwide will reach only 50% by 2050. We can’t let this happen.” Highlights of the reports include:
  • On average, women hold 21% of board seats in Africa and 16% of board seats in Asia.
  • An average of 9% of CEOs positions in Africa are held by women and 5% in Asia.
  • Bursa Malaysia tops the ranking in Asia, with 26% of board seats held by women, and 44% of its top 100 issuers having at least 30% women on their boards. 
  • Johannesburg Stock Exchange tops the ranking in Africa with 32% of board seats held by women and 57% of its top 100 issuers having at least 30% women on their boards.
  • There are strong signs of progress in many markets but all-male boards persist at high rates. In Asia, an average of 21% of boards are all-male, and in Africa the figure is 17%.
  • The report covered 754 listed companies in Africa across 13 exchanges, and  1,700 listed companies in Asia across 17 exchanges. The analysis looked at the top 100 issuers by market capitalization in each market, or all issuers if there were less than 100. 
Gender equality is one of the SSE's main areas of work. The SSE, in partnership with IFC and UN Women, announced earlier in 2023 a new training program that will provide capital market participants with capacity-building resources on gender equality. In 2022, the SSE published jointly with IFC and UN Women a guide on how stock exchanges can promote gender equality. The Spanish version of the guide and a benchmark on gender equality in major Latin American markets were also published in 2022. Also, readers may be interested in the 2023 edition of the SSE’s annual G20 and Regional benchmark report on gender equality in corporate leadership, covering over 40 exchanges around the world, ranking exchanges based on the gender balance of their largest issuers.  Additional resources: Report from UN Women discussed during the event: Trends and Opportunities to advance Gender Equality in Business in Asia and the Pacific Full text of Keynote Address by Muhamad Umar Swift, CEO, Bursa Malaysia Press release from Bursa Malaysia Watch the recording of the webinar on the Asia region here. Watch the recording of the webinar on the Africa region here.

About the SSE

​The SSE initiative is a UN Partnership Programme organised by UNCTAD, the UN Global Compact, UNEP FI and the PRI. The SSE’s mission is to provide a global platform for exploring how exchanges, in collaboration with investors, companies (issuers), regulators, policymakers and relevant international organizations, can enhance performance on ESG (environmental, social and corporate governance) issues and encourage sustainable investment, including the financing of the UN Sustainable Development Goals. The SSE seeks to achieve this mission through an integrated programme of conducting evidence-based policy analysis, facilitating a network and forum for multi-stakeholder consensus-building, and providing technical assistance and advisory services.