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Women’s roadmap to global boardrooms plotted at Bangkok summit

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The path to getting more women around the world into the corporate boardroom was explored at the three-day Global Summit of Women (GSW) in Bangkok on Friday.

Five leading female tycoons shared their unique experiences of pressing for women's business leadership in their own countries during a seminar titled "Moving the Needle on Women on Boards: Does Advocacy Make a Difference".

Irene Natividad, president of the GlobeWomen Research and Education Institute (US), said the decades-long fight for equality in the corporate workspace is yielding great progress in some countries. However, a wide gap still exists and one key to narrowing it is setting gender quotas and deadlines for companies to comply with.

Natividad proposed that governments mandate that the top 100-300 listed companies must have women in at least 30 per cent of their board posts by the due date or face punishment. This strategy would lend urgency for companies to consider talented female candidates.

She added that pressure and public awareness campaigns via media were often needed to bring about big changes.

"In the United States, for example, the MeToo and BlackLivesMatter campaigns have made Americans realise that they have to stand up. Finally, the government has approved some regulations against sexual harassment and discrimination while leading companies have put these issues in their codes of conduct," said Natividad.

She also encouraged girls and women to get out of their comfort zone and fight for their dreams. They shouldn’t be afraid to reach for excellence in their chosen fields or to stand up and present their work in public. She said building networks with others was key to forming connections to overcome obstacles in their path.

Amanda Johnston-Pell, IBM’s chief digital officer for Asia-Pacific, said the government sector plays a vital role as a role model for the private sector when it comes to equality of opportunity for women. She also agreed that clear and concise regulations were required to speed up women's access to corporate board seats. She advocated the "if not, why not" approach that allows companies room to explain why they feel unable to promote female workers to high-ranking positions. What are their challenges and what kind of support do they need?

In Johnston-Pell’s view, promoting women in the workplace is not just about equity but is also smart human-resource management in the digital economy era.

Strongly believing that women have as much ability and potential as men, Ami Moris, CEO of Maybank Investment Banking Group (Malaysia) said her “30% Club”, an independent organisation that drives for equality and acceptance of women in the workplace, launched a campaign in 2015 to get as many women on boards as possible.

The number of women on boards of the top 100 listed companies in Malaysia has now risen to about 26 per cent, close to the 30 per cent target. However, she insisted that 30 per cent is not the magic number but merely a starting point for companies to take action to support women's roles.

She added that the biggest challenge to this kind of effort is bias and discrimination. Therefore, rather than saying why the male-dominated companies need to support women, it was better to show the significant rise in sales and revenue that occurs in companies that promote women to their boards.

This improved performance is strong evidence that gender diversity spurs the creative thinking required to tackle the uncertain and rapidly changing digital world, Moris added.

Jimena Fernandez, board director of transport firm Aleatica, shared her experience from Mexico where most private companies are family businesses. Hence, it is very difficult for the government to mandate laws and regulations to promote women's role in business.

She acknowledged that progress was slow but said methods being adopted include mandated quotas, insertion of gender diversity into corporate governance codes, and shareholder-driven initiatives.

Girls' education was another key driver in Mexico’s journey to gender parity. Fernandez said more and more girls are now changing their mindset and stubbornly following their dream careers, while the older generation believed that females should stay at home.

Although Thailand is fairly open to women being promoted to high-ranking corporate positions, the country still needs motivation to drive changes, said Reunvadee Suwanmongkol, secretary-general of the Securities and Exchange Commission. Hence collaborative projects were launched by the public and private sectors to promote women's role in the workplace.

She explained that the country's chief problem is not regulations but demand and supply. She pointed out that while more job positions are open to women, many companies struggle to find talented female workers who suit their needs. Hence, Thailand not only needs to support companies to hire and promote more women but also needs to empower Thai women as well.

Founded in 1990, GSW is a Washington DC-based non-governmental organisation conceived as a forum for all sectors – public, private and non-profit – to gather under the common vision of expanding women’s economic opportunities globally through exchange of working solutions. The focus of the summit, which Thailand is hosting for the first time this year, is women’s advancement in the global economy.

Published : June 24, 2022

By : Nongluck Ajanapanya