You cannot deny a womans charm. Perhaps thats why a call for greater gender diversity in the boardroom has become a resonating mantra for companies all around the globe. A publication by the International Finance Corporation (IFC) on Women and Business, detailing the various roles played by women in various countries across the world, highlights the case for boardroom diversity in Pakistani companies. Researches undertaken in Finland and Canada show improved boardroom practices due to the presence of women owing to females greater empathy with shareholders interests, ethical management practices and more efficient monitoring of companies financial position and performance.
Given the greater acceptance and penetration of women in the workforce, and the benefits of greater boardroom efficiency highlighted, there is, indeed, greater motivation for Pakistani companies to bring more women at the top. However, a report Gender diversity on boards in Pakistan, conducted by ACCA Pakistan in partnership with the IFC in 2010 shows that theres tremendous room for improvement. Of the KSE-100 companies 78 percent do not have a woman on their boards, and the majority that do have women representation in the boardroom are family-owned with familial relations a key criterion for appointing a female. Many of the survey respondents believed women lack business acumen, are emotional, risk-averse or are simply not available, and hence do not make it to the board that frequently - a fact that will plausibly not go down very well with many female workers. So what criteria govern the appointment of women on the boards of Pakistani companies? As mentioned, the rather irrelevant family relations were deemed important by a majority of the respondents, with very few giving their votes to qualifications and experience, respectively. Unsurprisingly, even amongst those who had women representation on their boards, 25 percent of the respondents failed to see any benefit, whatsoever, of greater gender diversity on the board. Evidently, Pakistani board representatives and executives yet have a lot to learn from the more developed countries, such as France where "nearly a third of companies have at least three women on the board, while 89 per cent have at least one female director", according to a recent write-up in the Financial Times on boardroom diversity. And just having a female representative on the board for the mere sake of having one will not be entirely fruitful; "A number of independent reports have suggested that to reap the full benefits of a diverse board, three or more directors should be women," says the FT piece. Besides an ideological turnaround required for several executives and directors who sit in oblivion to various international researches touting the benefits of greater gender diversity in the boardroom, perhaps friendlier work-life balance policies in Pakistani companies may also go a long way in encouraging women to march on and make it to the top.