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Gender Diversity 101

Gender Diversity 101

THE verdict is out. There are no women, in this population of nearly 200 million, competent enough to serve on the board of directors of the State Bank of Pakistan.

Or so the government would like us to believe. Maybe they felt that they had done enough to pacify their female constituency by showing their support for the now ‘under review’ women’s protection act, and forgot their commitment of encouraging gender diversity in the country’s principal decision-making bodies.

They had after all deigned to nominate a female member on to the board of the newly created Pakistan Stock Exchange. One wonders though whether the scrutinising gaze of potential strategic investors was a motivating force.

However, credit must be given where it is due. Apparently, the Punjab government has within the last few years decreed that all its major decision-making bodies are to have at least 30pc female representation. In some cases, many competent women had been inducted onto various boards under the purview of the provincial government.

There is, however, many a slip between the cup and the lip. It is reported that some of them were hampered in the fulfilment of their fiduciary responsibilities by ad hoc meetings convened by management at short notice and without the circulation of proper working papers. Agenda items brought to the board at the last minute seemed to be for rubber-stamping of decisions presumably already taken elsewhere. Basic knowledge of corporate governance procedures at the implementation level lagged behind the noble intentions of the government. Some of the board members were expected to pay their own way to attend meetings in Lahore!

Many of their male colleagues would be happy to pay through their corporate funds to serve on a board constituted by the government. Even the semblance of proximity to the corridors of power is enough pay back for them. Alas, not so for the women. Finally given the chance to make a difference, such women continue to weigh their contribution to the cause above the personal benefits of networking. Therein lie the seeds of their own destruction. Maybe the system is not ripe for the higher levels of ethical consciousness believed to be a byproduct of a more diverse board.

A lot has been written about a female revolution in the making. I believe that most revolutions are borne out of economic necessity than ideological beliefs. That economic necessity is fast approaching with increasing number of women participating in the workforce, playing a larger role in household purchasing decisions and investing in the education and health of their families. Recent research estimates almost a billion working women will enter the economic mainstream within the next decade — the majority from the developing world. At the same time, we have a 2014 ranking of the Global Gender Gap Index that places Pakistan 141 out of 142 countries.

The revolutionaries need to be the cadres of working women who continue to persist in the face of obstacles and yet find no seat at the decision-making table. They not only need to bring along the proverbial folding chair to the tables, but also carry an essential guide to Gender Diversity 101 for their male colleagues.

For their benefit, I have come up with a gender diversity guide — the EPS approach.

Employment: By far the most widely used indicator of gender sensitivity at the workplace. An equal opportunity employer who provides a conducive environment for women to not only work in, but to rise within the ranks, while balancing the demands of motherhood.

Procurement: A more tricky indicator, but which has been used effectively by large corporates recognising that market access for women entrepreneurs ranks almost as high in their list of obstacles as access to finance. Large global retailers have in the past stipulated a policy of procuring up to 40pc of their merchandise from women run-enterprises.

Services: Useful for exerting peer pressure on your professional services providers — accounting firms, legal advisers, advertising agencies, logistics companies etc — who probably employ a large segment of the female population but seldom elevate them to the position of partners.

I already have a tag line for my new approach. “Adopt EPS and see your EPS (Earnings Per Share) soar!” It has now been empirically proven that companies with greater gender diversity outperform their peers in almost all financial indicators.

My EPS approach goes beyond the induction of women into the lower cadres of a corporation. It ensures that the mindset of the corporation is set towards ensuring the alignment of its principles of gender parity, across all spheres of its economic activity. For this to happen, we need the decision-makers to comprise at least a few of those with these issues closest to their hearts.

The writer is a former regulator, educator and practitioner of corporate governance.

[email protected]

Published in Dawn, April 3rd, 2016

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