Biz Champions

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The case for equality and why it makes perfect sense in the contemporary business context

International Women’s Day (IWD), which is celebrated on 8 March every year, presents an opportunity to highlight the role that women continue to play – particularly in the world of business.

The inaugural International Women’s Day was celebrated back in 1911 reportedly with the support of more than one million individuals. In addition to being a day that celebrates the socioeconomic, political and cultural accomplishments of women across the globe, it marks a call to action to accelerate gender equality.

In terms of the present context, the IWD 2020 campaign theme of ‘#EachforEqual’ envisions “an equal world” that is “an enabled world.”

It suggests that “individually, we’re all responsible for our own thoughts and actions – all day, every day. We can actively choose to challenge stereotypes, fight bias, broaden perceptions, improve situations and celebrate women’s achievements. Collectively, each one of us can help create a gender equal world … Equality is not a women’s issue, it’s a business issue.”

When it comes to women’s contribution to business, a report by the Bureau for Employers’ Activities of the ILO indicates that gender diversity improves outcomes and makes it easier to attract talent – in other words, women in leadership lead to better business performance. The report also notes that at a national level, an increase in female employment is associated with GDP growth.

According to Deborah France-Massin, Director of the ILO Bureau for Employers’ Activities, “when you consider the efforts companies make in other areas to get just an extra two or three percent in profits, the significance is clear. Companies should look at gender balance as a bottom line issue; not just a human resource issue.”

France-Massin continues: “The business case for getting more women into management is compelling … In an era of skill shortages, women represent a formidable talent pool that companies aren’t making enough of.”

“Smart companies who want to be successful in the global economy should make genuine gender diversity a key ingredient of their business strategy. Representative business organisations – and employer and business membership organisations – must take a lead, promoting both effective policies and genuine implementation,” she adds.

Meanwhile, in a report titled ‘Realizing Sustainability through Diversity: The Case for Gender Diversity among Sri Lanka’s Business Leadership,’ Mary Porter Peschka – Director of the IFC ESG Sustainability Advice & Solutions Department – makes this observation: “Companies that draw their talent from the widest pool of skills, experiences and perspectives will gain a competitive advantage. And economies that engage, remunerate and empower their women will advance faster.”

Although Sri Lanka is the only South Asian country to have achieved the Millennium Development Goal of universal primary education and gender parity in secondary education, female participation in the economy stands at less than 40 percent. Moreover, recent research suggests that equal participation of men and women in the Sri Lankan economy could add as much as US$ 20 billion to its GDP.

Therefore, Peschka is of the view that “without greater female representation at all levels in the economy, from the mass of the workforce to senior positions in management and boards, companies are losing out on an important segment of talent. Only when men and women alike are empowered to make decisions and pursue employment, entrepreneurship and leadership will the nation reach its full economic potential.”

LMD’s analysis of women in the corporate sphere – which we featured in the March 2019 issue of the magazine – revealed that in cumulative terms, the share of female representation on the boards of listed entities in Sri Lanka amounted to a little under nine percent.

And we pointed out that “given that females represent less than 10 percent of the boards of Sri Lanka’s listed companies, there is ample scope to work towards a far healthier gender balance.”

Nevertheless, with organisations increasingly looking to boost workforce diversity, there appears to be a shift towards championing women business leaders. In this special feature, we seek to shine a light on corporates that recognise the benefits of women in business – to the organisation, the sector or industry and broader society.