Despite some good progress in the region, women remain underrepresented in leadership positions in private sectors.
These were the sentiments shared by the Asian Development Bank's women Economic Empowerment Specialist, Sarah Boxall, while presenting the preliminary findings of a women in business leadership study during one of the side-events held in the margins of the 14th Triennial Conference of Pacific Women.
Boxall said although the region’s data showed a good representation of women in leadership compared to the world average, there is still room for improvement. “We can see women hold 9% of Board Chair positions 22% of board director seats and 12% of CEO positions across the Pacific. This compares quite favourably with global averages, but those global averages are themselves very low.”
She further added that changes in leadership roles can happen quickly with the appropriate motivation. “The sustained increases in leadership role will not happen if you don't have commitment to changing things and resourcing it appropriately.”
Pacific Island Forum Secretariat’s Director Programmes and Initiative, Zarak Khan emphasised how COVID-19 is creating another challenge for women in the economy as it has redefined approach to doing business. ”We are now faced with two basic choices. We can fold and concede in the face of these challenges, or we can use these challenges to create opportunities and learn hard lessons, so that we can build back better.”
Khan further highlighted the positive momentum already being seen in the region, “As we refocus our strategies, we see an increasing number of Pacific businesses developing gender and diversity inclusive policies to overcome natural biases and create a more inclusive working environment. These efforts have already resulted in greater retention of women, and a higher proportion of women taking on management roles.”
Managing Director of ETK group, Bolaji Sofoluwe, believes the work of Rocio Lorenzo titled “Innovation through diversity” is proof enough to have women in business and leadership. “The study proved that gender diversity is actually linked to innovation performance. So, the discussion of women in business and in leadership, I dare say is no longer a suggestion as the point has been proven but it is essential for survival,” Bolaji said.
The 14th Triennial Conference and 7th Meeting of Pacific Ministers for Women from 27 – 29 April and 4 May respectively, is coordinated by the Pacific Community’s Human Rights and Social Development (HRSD) division and hosted by the Government of French Polynesia. It involves a series of meetings and consultations aimed at sustaining the momentum towards gender equality in the Pacific. It includes national multi-stakeholder consultations and one virtual, regional consultation with government line ministries, feminist and women’s rights organisations, faith leaders, media, private sector, and young women. Together, Pacific governments will agree on achievable targets and develop an action plan to progress gender equality in the region.