The progress of women in leadership across the Commonwealth could be improved by implementing a set of six simple policy and strategic measures, recommends a new report commissioned by ACCA (the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants) and the Commonwealth Business Council (CBC).
The recommendations are included in a report called Paving the way to opportunities: women in leadership across the Commonwealth. This comprehensive publication examines what opportunities exist for women across the Commonwealth, how they are able to navigate to positions of power, and how this can be further supported by governments and businesses alike. The authors are Dr. Shaheena Janjuha-Jivraj, Henley Business School and Boardwalk Leadership; and Arif Zaman, CBC and Henley Business School.
Helen Brand OBE, chief executive of ACCA, explains: 'The six proposed recommendations are a systematic way to work towards and achieve diversity in the boardroom and senior leadership positions across the Commonwealth. The report also looks at how we can support the pipeline of talent, and for this support to happen we need to start early by enabling young girls to see and learn about women in positions of senior leadership as a part of their educational experience. Role models are important.'
Peter Callaghan, director general of the Commonwealth Business Council, adds: 'This report offers a rich and insightful view of women in leadership across the Commonwealth, a community of one billion women accounting for 20% of world trade and many of the fastest growing economies in the world today. The six recommendations offer a way for us to achieve sustainable progress in women’s leadership, so supporting economic growth. And importantly, the report offers a coherent contribution to discussions about women in leadership, bringing together a unique Commonwealth perspective.'
The recommendations are:
- Create a database of women who are board-ready or have board potential – this would hold details of women in all regions of the Commonwealth, across a wide range of sectors and backgrounds to make sure ‘all bases are covered’ and to provide ample recruitment and sponsorship opportunities.
- Support sponsoring initiatives – consistent levels of quality would be created in the sponsoring process, while sharing best practice across different regions. This could also help Commonwealth countries share their ideas and experiences with each other around this issue, with the help of organisations such as ACCA and the Commonwealth Businesswomen (CBW).
- Build a research monitor across the Commonwealth – greater transparency comparing all Commonwealth countries’ boards – how they are composed and the recruitment process – would provide the means of benchmarking the impact on business performance.
- Raise career aspirations – career development needs to be ingrained in education from the beginning at primary level, and continued through to university. This, combined with higher visibility of female role models, will give women someone to aspire to.
- Create a media strategy – which demonstrates the impact of women in senior leadership positions, to enable stakeholders to make informed choices by working with business organisations, business schools and other bodies.
- Share best practice across the Commonwealth – one of the CBW’s priorities is to focus on women on boards, develop and strengthen support networks. The Commonwealth’s unique experience, footprint and voice, covering diverse countries and economies, takes the discussions further than just about women on boards in a narrow number of countries and gives it the ability to identify and share varieties of innovation and best practice.
In the foreword to the report, Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller of Jamaica, the only person in the Commonwealth to hold the portfolio of Head of Government and Women Affairs Minister, says that ‘in order for us to make significant strides in recovering from the recession brought about by the global financial crisis, governments must take an inclusive and holistic approach in the measures and policies that they intend to put in place, as we move into discussions on the post-2015 Development Agenda.’
The Commonwealth Women’s Affairs Ministers’ meeting in Dhaka last month was provided with an advance copy of the report, which they widely welcomed and supported.
Helen Brand concludes: 'According to the International Federation of Business and Professional Women - BPW International - women account for 40 per cent of the global workforce. We are still some way off from seeing this reflected in leadership positions. Sustainable economic growth requires a broad range of skills and experience, something that women can bring to the table.'
Peter Callaghan also concludes: 'It is clear from this report that while more can be done, the Commonwealth’s strength is its diversity. As the report’s conclusion says: Now is the time to unlock and unleash the opportunities for more diverse decision making to support individuals, organisational and national growth and success, across the Commonwealth and beyond.'
- The ACCA and Commonwealth Business Council report was launched at the 10th Commonwealth Women’s Affairs Ministers’ Meeting in Dhaka, Bangladesh, on 17-19 June 2013.