By Microfund for Women
Microfund for Women (MFW) is a pioneer in microfinance industry of Jordan, actively empowering women through their beneficiaries and staff. It is also a pioneer in advancing gender diversity within the ranks of its leadership. Through innovative processes, MFW has been able to attract and develop high-potential women, creating a talent pool to help meet targets for organizational growth and execute on our business development strategy.
MFW’s senior leadership team sustains its commitment to gender diversity in spite of a challenging external environment. The rise of fundamentalism in the region and the threat of destabilization due to the influx of political and economic migrants pose potential new threats to women’s empowerment and give new urgency to the promotion of gender equity. Despite this, we have successfully maintained a staff and governance that is 73 percent women, far exceeding the national level (14 percent in the formal sector), thanks to a creative recruitment strategy, a fearless leader, and a Board of Directors responsible for monitoring diversity targets. In a labor market where women are such a small part of the formal workforce, this is quite an achievement.
Early on, MFW’s leadership and board understood that if the organization was to be successful at achieving and sustaining a majority of women at all levels of the organization in a marketplace where women make up 50 percent of college graduates but such a small part of the formal labor force, they would need to create a work environment different from any other in Jordan. MFW undertook a series of initiatives that directly support working women.
Gender segregation in Jordan requires that MFIs hire women field staff to access women clients and most Jordanian MFIs have women loan officers and branch managers. MFW’s true differentiation is the strong presence of women not just in the field but at all levels of the organization. In the words of the general manager: “Women have a very serious place at the table.” No other MFI in Jordan has a woman managing director, and very few have any women in senior management.
- Recruiting from the Community: Recruitment is conducted at the branches through bulletin boards (clients can encourage their daughters and relatives to apply) and word-of-mouth and marketing campaigns that incorporate clear messages about MFW’s focus on women as clients and leaders.
- Screening for Gender Sensitivity: All applicants for field positions (i.e., loan officers, branch managers) are required to complete a “gender knowledge” test that measures an applicant’s understanding and sensitivity to women’s issues and their economic participation.
- Reviewing the Diversity Scorecard: Prior to any hiring, MFW’s Human Resources Department reviews the current ratio for men and women at the relevant tier, branch and region to assess percentages against targets. This analysis informs the optimal gender balance of the new hires.
- Observing Applicants in the Field: After applicants have been shortlisted and phone interviews have been conducted, the finalists participate in a two-day field assessment overseen by a senior loan officer. Apart from screening for technical skills, the assessment has two purposes: to ensure that candidates have respect and sensitivity for the community they will be serving, and to ensure that candidates understand the realities and challenges of field work. Like many MFIs, MFW has in the past had difficulty with high attrition rates among newly hired loan officers, particularly women. The institution discovered that if women are exposed to the realities of the job during the hiring process, and are provided encouragement and coaching by the senior loan officers observing them, they are far more likely to stay with MFW.
In recognition of the strong role that families play in the lives of many of MFW’s prospective employees, families are welcome to accompany candidates to the branches for interviews. The institution is eager to demonstrate the many ways in which MFW is a professional environment that supports its women employees.
At the request of employees, MFW established a ten-member social committee whose responsibility is to organize social activities and trips—both domestic and international—for employees. As MFW’s human resource manager explained: “Most of MFW’s staff members have never slept outside of their houses before. We work in a conservative culture and women do not have the same mobility as elsewhere. The fact that 70 percent of MFW’s female staff have participated in at least one trip says so much about the trust they and their families place in MFW.” Families are welcome to participate in the trips. MFW covers 50 percent of the staff member’s travel costs.
For MFW, recruiting women as clients and as employees has become two parts of a virtuous circle: the institution can leverage its strong reputation with women clients to promote its efforts to recruit women staff, which in turn further improves the institution’s capacity to attract and retain women clients. Leaders across the organization agree that MFW’s success in reaching such large numbers of low-income women is a direct result of its commitment to ensuring that women are well-represented in the organization’s workforce, leadership and governance.