Original Research

The pervasive lack of gender diversity in the boardroom: The inconvenience of ambivalent sexism

Vanessa Naidoo, Morris Mthombeni, Manoj D. Chiba
SA Journal of Human Resource Management | Vol 22 | a2439 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/sajhrm.v22i0.2439 | © 2024 Vanessa Naidoo, Morris Mthombeni, Manoj D. Chiba | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 06 September 2023 | Published: 19 February 2024

About the author(s)

Vanessa Naidoo, University of Pretoria’s Gordon Institute of Business Science, Johannesburg, South Africa
Morris Mthombeni, University of Pretoria’s Gordon Institute of Business Science, Johannesburg, South Africa
Manoj D. Chiba, University of Pretoria’s Gordon Institute of Business Science, Johannesburg, South Africa


Orientation: Redressing gender inequality in the boardroom remains a persistent challenge for organisations, both globally and in South Africa.

Research purpose: The purpose of this study was to highlight the need for policymakers to ensure that efforts to redress gender inequality in the boardroom have a firmer, more ethical foundation based on exploring dimensions of sexisms.

Motivation for the study: Women continue to be under-represented in the boardroom. This study is concerned with determining whether benevolent sexism might provide some explanation for this form of gender inequality.

Research approach/design and method: A quantitative study was conducted, with 172 board members, C-suite executives, directors and senior managers of publicly listed companies completing a self-reported questionnaire and a survey that measured hostile sexism and benevolent sexism.

Main findings: The findings showed no significant difference between the different age categories in the sample. However, there was a significant difference in benevolent sexism between men and women, with women exhibiting higher scores, which was indicative of the condonation of benevolent sexism. The findings also showed a significant correlation between hostile and benevolent sexism, suggesting that benevolent sexism legitimises sexist behaviours.

Practical/managerial implications: Mechanisms to address gender inequality in the workplace need to be simultaneously clear and nuanced because of the deep psychosocial beliefs among men and women that constrain efforts to arrest gender discrimination.

Contribution/value-add: The pervasiveness of ambivalent sexism contributes to the persistent lack of gender diversity, particularly as it pertains to the condoning and perpetuation of sexist practices by both sexes. While no causation can be inferred, there is substantive corroborative research globally attesting to the effects of sexism on decision-makers’ actions in different contexts, including in South Africa.


sexisms; ambivalent sexism; benevolent sexisms; hostile sexism; boardroom gender inequality.

JEL Codes

J16: Economics of Gender • Non-labor Discrimination

Sustainable Development Goal

Goal 5: Gender equality


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