Print Edition - 2019-03-07  |  ASIANEWSNETWORK

The gender waltz

  • Societies with deep-seated sociocultural biases do not even recognise equal access as a basic human right
- Sadia Khan

Mar 7, 2019-

Over the past decades, the discourse has therefore shifted more towards defining the business case for an enhanced role for women within the formal economies of these societies. In Pakistan, this discourse scored a modest victory in 2017 when SECP, the apex corporate regulator, deemed that all public interest companies should have at least one female board member. The business case articulated by myself and others leading up to that decision has been reiterated by many studies conducted around the world.

Women represent more than 70 per cent of spending decisions within the household leading to more informed decision-making at the board level about consumer preferences and priorities; they focus more on corporate governance and financial accountability and present an alternate perspective conducive to innovative thinking. Gender diverse companies are more likely to outperform their national industry median on all major financial parameters because of their diverse styles of management including more participative decision-making and focus on people development and corporate social responsibility.

It is also well known that senior women in leadership positions inspire other women to follow suit and there are fewer leaks in the career pipeline. The lack of female leadership role models and mentors has been identified as a significant corporate barrier to the entry and retention of more women in the workplace. Most importantly, having women in decision-making positions enables them to be part of the discourse on matters that affect them directly or indirectly.

Many countries have been leading the way for greater gender parity at the workplace through both private initiatives and advocacy for relevant government provisions. Private initiatives include the propagation of business practices that inculcate a conducive environment for women to succeed at the workplace. A clear commitment from the leadership for diversity and inclusion, training, coaching and mentoring programmes, effective anti-harassment policies, childcare services, removal of pay gaps and career flexibility amongst other measures, contribute to attracting and retaining female talent.

Advocacy for relevant legislative provisions include childcare support through subsidies and parental leave as well as quotas--the Sindh Maternity Benefits Act, 2018 is noteworthy in not just providing for a more realistic maternity leave but also requiring corporations with a female employee base of more than 10pc to provide a childcare centre for employees.

While the debate on enforcing quotas goes on, the results are clear. Countries such as Norway and France that have enforced quotas for women on boards have shown greater strides than those that have left it as voluntary provisions. For countries such as Pakistan, voluntary provisions would be largely ignored. Mandatory provisions, even if temporary, would provide the much-needed impetus for companies to comply or at least educate themselves about the business case for doing so. As such, Regulation 7 of S.R.O 1216 (1)2017 requiring company boards to have at least one female director was a much-needed and timely move by the regulator. Hence, the recent decision by the corporate regulator to grant temporary relief to listed companies who failed to comply after the enforcement of the provision on Jan 1, 2018, is an unfortunate step back.

It is unfortunate because providing general relief rather than dealing with the errant companies on a case-by-case basis in itself creates a self-reinforcing culture of noncompliance in the expectation of future relief as well. It is unfortunate because it provides a moral victory for the diehards of the status quo. It is unfortunate because it denies women the opportunity of stepping up and being part of the discussion rather than just silent spectators on the sidelines. Most importantly, it is unfortunate because it denies our next generation, both men and women, the kind of role models and mentors that can inspire them to come even close to achieving the sustainable development goals for our country.

This disheartening reversal perhaps helps to drive home the point even more--unless women are part of decision-making, little can be done to advance their cause.

Published: 07-03-2019 12:09

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