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Changing the mindset - group discuss women in corporate leadership for International Women's Day

9 March 2012
Increasing the number of women on company boards is about changing the mindset of those making the appointments, said Director of the International Centre for Women Leaders Professor Susan Vinnicombe, at a Commonwealth Secretariat event marking International Women’s Day 2012.

She was speaking at a panel discussion highlighting the importance of women’s involvement in corporate leadership across the Commonwealth, at the Secretariat’s headquarters in London, UK, on 8 March 2012.

The 2011 Commonwealth theme 'Women as Agents of Change', celebrated women whose work has made a positive difference to the lives of others, and emphasises the Commonwealth message that by investing in women and girls we can accelerate social, economic and political progress in our member states.

“There is lots of research to show that as you include women on company boards you have better corporate governance, a reduction in risk and much better attendance at meetings,” she said.

Highlighting the 2011 Lord Davies independent review on Women on Boards on UK listed companies, Professor Vinnicombe touched upon some of the recommendations, including: targets for FTSE 100 companies, involving stakeholders such as journalists to examine issues in this area, better monitoring, and recognising and developing women for board appointments.

She was joined on the panel by Joy Nichols, a businesswoman and one of three of the first women to receive HM Queen Elizabeth II’s lifetime award for enterprise promotion in its 40 year history. Ms Nichols recently delivered a public sector procurement programme in Uganda on behalf of the Secretariat, offering training to both suppliers and buyers on the intricacies of procurement laws and regulations.

“We, as a people should question the roles and limits prescribed for us,” she said.

“We should try within communities to highlight women who have overcome adversity. We need more positive role models for our girls.

“There is strength in numbers and I believe that the more that act out gender awareness, the better.”

Commonwealth Secretary-General Kamalesh Sharma was joined by high commissioners at the discussion to launch the Secretariat’s Gender Equality Policy, to enhance the skills of staff in ensuring their programmes and projects aid the development of both men and women.

During the discussion he said a stiffening of collective political will and financial resolve is required to ensure equal access to resources and opportunities for girls and for women.

Women account for between 25 and 40 per cent of small and medium enterprises worldwide and their earning power is estimated to reach US$18 trillion by 2014, which is more than double the estimated 2014 GDP of China and India combined. And yet high percentages of women are still 'unbanked' and receive a low proportion of credit. This factor, which limits women’s fulfilment of their potential, is examined in the Gender Responsive Investment Handbook which is to be published by the Commonwealth Secretariat in 2012.

“You can be assured of our continued commitment to these ends in the Secretariat and in promoting the same in the wider Commonwealth family,” he added.

“The limited extent to which women exercise leadership roles in executive and political spheres continues to be of serious concern.

“Our Commonwealth priority continues to be providing practical support for women as agents of change in their struggles for equality and equity in democracy, development and inclusive diversity.”