Gender: Still more mountains left for women to climb
Stabroek News – October 30, 2007
My objective is to awaken, rekindle or reinforce in each of you the awareness of the absolute importance of women in business and the role each of us can and must play at the personal and professional levels in ensuring that this awareness translates into action and results especially here in Guyana.
The informal slogan of the decade of women was “women do two-thirds of the world’s work, receive 10% of the world’s income and own 1% of the means of production.”
From a corporate perspective – at Scotiabank the issue of the advancement of women was high on the policy makers’ agenda since the early 1990s and today receives the attention of the Chairman of the Board of Directors. A task force was put in place to examine strategies for the advancement of women in the bank both in Canada and internationally, keeping the following top of mind:
* leveraging the talents of our existing workforce: 70% of Scotiabank employees worldwide were women and of the 72% of Scotiabank employees in Canada who were women, less than 30 per cent of senior leaders were women. In our international locations, the percentage of women in senior positions was even lower.
* Maintaining our competitive position in the war for talent – re: the increasing number of women graduates at every level compared with prior years.
Action was key to improving business performance: this included recognition of data which supported the link and total shareholder return to high representation of women in senior management and women’s economic power and force as consumers. As a result the advancement of women initiative was launched in 2003. as a business driven initiative. It has influenced the increase in representation of women in senior management positions from 20% to 31 % to date.
In January 2007, Scotiabank was recognized for its efforts in the advancement of women with the 2007 Catalyst Award. The award is presented annually by Catalyst, a leading research and advisory organization, for innovative and effective approaches – with proven results – in addressing the recruitment, development and advancement of women.
My appointment is an example of the strategy at work – the first female Country Manager for Scotiabank in its 40 years in Guyana as well as the first Guyanese to hold this position.
Globally, strides have been made over the last 50 years or so, however there is still a lot to be done. According to the authors Alice Eagly and Linda Carli in their articleWomen and the labyrinth of leadership (Harvard Business Review, September 2007) “despite years of progress by women in the workforce (they now occupy more than 40% of all managerial positions in the United States, but within the upper income bracket, they remain as rare as hens’ teeth.”
Of the group of the most highly paid executives of Fortune 500 companies-those with titles such as Chairman, President, Chief Executive Officer, and Chief Operating Officer, only 6% are women.. Most notably, only 2% of the CEOs are women, and only 15% of the seats on the Boards of Directors are held by women. The situation is not much different in other industrialized countries.
The authors opined that the challenge facing women today is equal to that of the labyrinth. It’s an image with a long and varied history. In ancient Greece, India, Nepal, native North and South America, medieval Europe, and elsewhere. as a contemporary symbol, it conveys the idea of a complex journey toward a goal worth striving for. Passage through a labyrinth is not simple or direct, but requires persistence, awareness of one’s progress, and a careful analysis of the puzzles that lie ahead.
For women who aspire to top leadership, routes exist but are full of twists and turns, both unexpected and expected. Because all labyrinths have a viable route to the centre, it is understood that goals are attainable. The metaphor acknowledges obstacles but is not ultimately discouraging.
Some of the long – standing obstacles that must be overcome in order to attain even a semblance of gender-balanced leadership are:
1.Overcoming prejudices – prejudices that benefit men and penalize women
2. Resistance to women leadership
3Â· Questions or issues of leadership style and authenticity
4Â· Demands of family life – this is very challenging for women
5Â· Building of social capital – time for socialization and the building of professional networks among others.
What, you may ask, can be done in the face of such a multifaceted problem? First we need to recognize that it is a problem, albeit of varying degrees and an effective approach includes but is not limited to:
* increased awareness of the psychological drivers of
prejudice toward female leaders, and work to dispel
* Establish family-friendly human resource practices and change the long-hours norm.
* Reduce subjectivity when evaluating performance
* Create opportunities for mentoring relationships
* Focus on preparing both men and women for leadership positions
As stated earlier, there have been significant advancements for women around the world. The most outstanding is the Philippines which has women in senior positions in 97 percent of all businesses and half of the senior jobs in the country is occupied by women, according to a recent report by Grant Thornton International Business Report.
In the global context, we cannot have a discussion without highlighting the contributions of the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize laureate, from Bangladesh, Muhammad Yunus and his Grameen Bank in pioneering a new concept called mircrocredit, which advances small sums of money to people, most of whom would never be taken seriously by other banks, so that they can create a decent living for themselves.
It started in 1976 when Yunus himself gave 42 village women a total of US$27 to buy some weaving stools. The women got their stools, started to weave quickly and repaid him quickly. He continued to offer small loans like this with a focus on helping women with credit since most banks shy away from women as much as they do the poor.
You will recall that Scotiabank used the Grameen concept in forming Scotiaenterprise in 1993, a microenterprise centre whose portfolio is now managed by Fundaid Microfast Trust. Our experience was that of the loans disbursed, 80% was primarily to women mainly in the distributive trade i.e. buying and selling of food items, clothing etc.
In the Caribbean women have been making a significant contribution to the development of the SME sector. The majority of women are involved in traditional businesses such as: the buying and selling trade, garment manufacture, hairdressing, handicraft, day-care centres, food and pastries’ preparation, etc.
The 1995 ILOl-ISS1 study observed that 46 per cent of the small enterprises surveyed were owned and managed by women. in Jamaica the ratio was almost 50:50 in 1996 compared to 60:40 (males to females) in 1992, while in Trinidad and Tobago, the 1996 national baseline survey indicated that women constituted only 36.1 per cent in the small business sector.
In Guyana the National Policy Paper on women stated that only 34.8 per cent of women were self-employed in 1992 of which 45.3 per cent were in the distributive trade with 28.1 per cent in agriculture, forestry and fishing. In Barbados and Grenada women are more active in the informal sector as compared to the formal sector.
With respect to women seeking credit from financial institutions 54.89 per cent of total loans were given to women by the Trinidad and Tobago based micro lending agency -FUNDAID.
In Guyana, among IPED’s clients 30.7 per cent were women while another 33.6 per cent were joint male and female clients. Nearly 40 per cent of the MIDA loans in Jamaica were disbursed for projects owned by women. In Grenada, 50 per cent of the national development foundation’s loans disbursed were to women clients.
Financial institutions acknowledge that the delinquency rate among women is minimal due to the fact that female clients take extra effort to repay loans.
All over the world, the evidence is empirical that women can and do make a difference to social and economic development, especially when they are allowed an equal opportunity to contribute in business. In some countries like the United States and Canada, and in Europe women have been given equal opportunity and unquestionable progress has been made.
On International Women’s Day the UN issued a statement calling for more women in the boardrooms for businesses worldwide. This move was to encourage more countries to follow the example of Norway which passed a law requiring every business in the country to have women occupy 40 percent of the seats in company boardrooms within two years or risk having their businesses dissolved.
There are implications at the political level as well. According to a UN report, the Chairperson for the Commission, Adekunbi Abibat Sonaike of Nigeria, responded to questions of gender equality in the least developed nations in Africa in this way, “the African Union, itself, had made it explicit that, especially at the political level, women should be represented at the level of at least 30 per cent. In Rwanda, the representation of women and men was almost 50-50. The political will had been established. In Africa, education was the key to exposing women to different areas and allowing them to realize their potential. Poverty remained a constraint, however, and its feminization must become a thing of the past. She believed strongly that women would soon take their rightful place in society.
As a developing country what should concern Guyana are the areas in which the development of women is hindered. Progress has not been made in several areas and if we can identify and acknowledge those areas we may seek to address the underlying issues like poverty and exclusion. If we can empower women in Guyana, we can give them equal opportunity to become part of the business community and to contribute meaningfully to development, which for us is always the underlying issue. For some time to come, women may not hold a great number of the top managerial positions in major firms of the private sector, however if we can support and encourage a sustainable presence of women in business especially small business we just may see, sooner than we expect, a sustained growth that will surely influence the development of women in society.
We need to invest in women because when we do so, we invest in the homes, we invest in the youth, and in so doing we invest in the future.
In my capacity as the Country Manager of Scotiabank in Guyana, I take this opportunity to confirm that we at Scotiabank are fully committed as demonstrated by the following:
* Focus on small businesses in 2008 and beyond which will include an introduction of products and services specific to this sector
* Active participation in the AOW initiative through the international arm WIN.
* Renewed commitment to and reinforcement of specific areas of the effective approach which I mentioned earlier and which we are already in place e.g. performance evaluation, mentorship and leadership opportunities.