Women must reach the top

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WOMEN the world over are pushing for equality in patriarchal societies. Notice the brave women actually demonstrating against Taliban strictures on women in Afghanistan. Yes, indeed, women now tell the world that anything men can do, they too can do — and better.

In capitalist countries where it is supposedly laissez faire on the question of business and money, rules are present so that unfairness, injustice and the propensity for scams has some pushback and sanctions for the general good. Despite that push for fairness, women are still far from being at the top of business entities in proportion to the demographics and in recognition of their skills.

Comes now an international association called Corporate Women Directors International (CWDI) whose mission/vision is to promote the increased participation of women in corporate boards and attain chief executive officer (CEO) status globally, for which reason they foster national and international networks to link women directors of companies and hone them in corporate governance.

Cultural stereotypes

For this purpose, they conduct annual research internationally (since 1996) to identify women corporate board members in countries all over the world — Australia, Canada, Japan, South Africa, Spain, the US, plus many areas in Asia-Pacific, Latin America, Africa, and Central and Eastern Europe. It is to keep track of how gender equity in business companies is faring as well as promoting it.

So far, 33 reports in 24 years have been issued. Meanwhile, CWDI holds roundtables on corporate governance in several cities globally for women directors and executives. This is the serious business of breaking the glass ceiling.

The fact that 80 percent of board seats globally are still held by men when women are half of the population must be attributed to the backward cultural stereotypes that limit women as leaders. Aggression, ambition and dominance are viewed negatively if displayed by women. Only men can use them for their ends.

Furthermore, because women in careers come along with family life, their wish to be successful in both spheres affects their access to the top. The patriarchal world just does not make any compromises even if successful family life is essential to both men and women and society in general.

Big plus

Yet, as seen from the few women that do make it to the top as directors and CEOs, they are a plus. Their impact is positive both for the bottom line of a business as well as for being good for its stakeholders. Yet of the 2,994 companies in the CWDI study, only 143 had a woman CEO. Since 2011 when the first study was conducted to date, the percentage of women CEOs in the world has only increased one percentage point (from 3.82 percent to 4.82 percent).

The US has the highest percentage of women CEOs with 8.2 percent of US Fortune 500 companies led by women. The next three countries with the highest percentage are in the Asia-Pacific region — 8 percent in Singapore and 7 percent in Australia and Thailand. The Philippines, like the UK and Canada, has 5 percent, which is comparatively respectable. There were five Filipino women listed as CEOs of large companies in the Philippines. But in the Asia-Pacific region two countries drag down the percentage of Asia-Pacific — Japan and South Korea with zero women CEOs among their 100 largest companies. So, Asia-Pacific has only 3.1 percent while Africa has 5.7 percent and Europe 7.5 percent. Latin America is behind with 4 percent.

When women CEOs are present in a company, it invariably gets more women directors. Some of these companies with women CEOs are approaching gender equity with 40 percent of their board membership being women.

It helps companies when women’s voices are heard. They make fewer mistakes, get into fewer controversies and manage their finances better. Must be the multitasking, the housewife in these women managers making them prone to follow the rules; and they are inclusive and work harder.

Ranked first with the highest percentage of women board directors is Swedish retailer H&M. It has eight women directors forming a two-third majority female board. The point is that when women lead, they bring other women into senior management because they value talent no matter the gender. In the US and Canada companies led by women appointed more women to board seats. In Asia-Pacific, companies with women CEOs had more women in senior executive positions — 16 of 31 companies with gender parity are headquartered in the Pacific, led by Singapore with six, the Philippines with four, with at least 50 percent women in executive positions.

More profitable

Another finding of the study is that companies with a woman CEO tend to be more profitable than companies run by men in terms of more returns and better stock price performance. Investors after a while (in an average of two years) perceive their companies to be less risky and invest more, raising stock prices an average of 20 percent. Companies with women CEOs in the Fortune 1000 saw returns that were 226 percent higher than those of their male counterparts. In Nordic countries a study showed that of 11,000 companies those with a female CEO outperformed other companies with a 25 percent annual shareholder return over an eight-year period which is double the 11 percent delivered by the MSCI World Index.

The question is why do women perform better? Because they are more collaborative, more communicative, open to learning — all leading to a better corporate culture that leads to success.

So, why are women still scarce at the top? Patriarchal resistance of course, from stereotypes to biases to prejudices, maybe even insecurity. And a general fear of major innovation. Under these circumstances the reaction of CWDI and women in business is to push more for gender equity. Some countries do it by establishing quotas to bring it into business entities who would otherwise resist. When these quotas bring in the women, things get better for gender equity and business.

The CWDI study was done under the leadership of Irene Natividad, a Filipino American activist who is president of GlobeWomen Research & Education Institute, and former commissioner of the National Association of Corporate Directors, Blue Ribbon Commission on Board Diversity in the US. At present she serves on the corporate advisory boards of Data Labs Inc., Wyndham International, Cigna Corp. and L’Oreal Corp. She is also part of nonprofit organizations such as the Global Economic Symposium and the National Museum for Women in the Arts. And she is my friend of long standing. We have matching mindsets and have worked together for the Philippines through foundations that provided housing for calamity victims in Leyte and Pampanga and published a book on Filipina Firsts. Her work for women has been recognized internationally. She will be awarded by the French Government the rank of Chevalier in the National Order of the Legion of Honor on Nov. 20, 2021.

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