By Mary Ellen Iskenderian, President & CEO of Women’s World Banking
This year’s theme for International Women’s Day is #EachforEqual, calling all of us to join together in building a gender equal world. As the IWD website notes, it’s time to make room for “the gender equal boardroom, a gender equal government, gender equal media coverage, gender equal workplaces, gender equal sports coverage, more gender equality in health and wealth.” The drive for gender balance in all the elements of our lives resonates deeply with the mission of Women’s World Banking. As we’ve known for the last 40 years, the empowering impact of ensuring a woman’s access to and control over financial resources extends into every aspect of her life and that of her family. Expanding a woman’s control over financial resources also expands her role as a decision-maker: in her household, through greater political participation, and through a greater sense of her own agency. That’s why Women’s World Banking has always been guided by the principle that more women in decision-making roles is better for our communities and economies.
This principle extends to women in business as well. Research indicates that placing women in leadership roles is the first step in creating a virtuous circle. When you have more women making decisions about markets and product development, they are more likely to be aware of women as an underserved market. This awareness allows companies to offer more profitable and higher quality products. Financial institutions, in particular, can be beneficiaries of greater gender equality in their leadership ranks; banks with women leaders at the helm not only have superior financial performance, but have also proven to be more stable and resilient institutions during financial crises.
Throughout our history, Women’s World Banking has had the privilege of working with countless extraordinary women leaders in the financial sector. Much of this work has been through our two flagship leadership programs: the Leadership & Diversity for Innovation Program (LDIP) and the Leadership & Diversity Program for Regulators. One of those leaders is a particular standout; Anne Nakawunde from Finance Trust Bank in Uganda participated in 2008 Women in Leadership workshop when she was an audit manager. During that program, she found what she has since called her ‘leadership potential’ and returned to Finance Trust and started putting herself forward for more opportunities within the bank.
Anne received several promotions along the way, soon becoming a member of the bank’s executive leadership team. We were thrilled, but not entirely surprised, to receive her email six months later announcing her appointment as CEO of the Bank, where she is still in that role today. Under Anne’s leadership, the bank’s clientele has grown from 150,000 to 470,000, and close to half of the bank’s staff are women. Anne continues to “pay it forward” by ensuring that Finance Trust’s high potential women leaders participate in the LDIP.
The message of #EachforEqual is that all of us have a part to play in building a gender equal world and women leaders can dramatically accelerate our progress toward that goal. This International Women’s Day, as we celebrate the global achievements of women, let’s also make it a call to action, and ask ourselves what each of us can do to create more leadership opportunities for women. I also want to thank our core funders, SIDA and Australia’s DFAT, as well as Credit Suisse and the Visa Foundation for their support and dedication to our leadership programs and building a world with more women leaders.
Since drafting this, I saw some wonderful news about the progress made by women on the boards of IPO companies. Women on Boards’ latest research shows that women held 21.9% of the board seats in the 25 largest IPOs of 2019, up from a five-year average of 10 percent. In the top 25 IPOs of 2019, there were 16 companies with women holding 20 percent or more of the board seats including six companies where women held 30 percent or more of the board seats. This is a dramatic increase from their earlier research of IPO companies (2014-2018) where half the companies went public without a single woman director. This year, during #IWD2020 we have cause for celebration and a timely reminder that persistence pays off!