Below is a submission by the 51% Coalition.
Recently, the new French president did what would many would describe as bold and unusual when he named a Cabinet which included an equal number of male and female ministers - a first in the country's history. The situation in France is not an isolated case. In 2004, the Spanish socialist prime minister had equal numbers of men and women on his first Cabinet, and more women than men in his second.
But what does this mean? Are these appointments merely symbolic? Do we really need more women in government and on boards?
Research conducted by the Women's Resource and Outreach Centre, in collaboration with the Canadian International Development Agency, showed that while women have made significant strides in educational and professional development, over a 10-year period from 1998, women moved from 29 per cent to 33 per cent on public-sector boards, and from 14 per cent to 16 per cent of members of private-sector boards. Since then, the percentage on public boards has slipped to 31 per cent, but the process of appointments is still ongoing.
Yet, women are among shareholders of publicly listed companies and are key decision-makers, as consumers of goods and services in the marketplace. Women bring several strategic advantages to boards and leadership. Boards with more diverse membership benefit from improved financial performance, better risk management and better corporate governance. Several studies and economists have made the case for having more women in leadership.
Having more women on boards makes it more likely than not that frequently overlooked female market issues will be identified and addressed, cited Judy Rosener, ('Women on corporate boards makes good business sense', 2007). Economic analyses by the World Bank, United Nations, Goldman Sachs and other organisations show a significant statistical correlation between gender equality and the level of development of countries.
The Association of British Insurers reports that promoting women to the higher echelons of management will improve firms' risk management, encourage debate around strategy, and help them focus on longer-term objectives.
In addition, through training, preparation and practical support, women will bring a new approach to the practice of leadership. This will ensure that women's gender interests in key national-policy matters are addressed.
The phrase 'gender equality as smart economics' has become the recent mantra of such powerful women leaders as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and United Nations Women Executive Director Michelle Bachelet. It is also the rallying cry of the World Bank's 2012 World Development Report on Gender Equality and Development.
This latest report - the first ever to focus on gender equality - is a welcome and persuasive effort to demonstrate why gender equality is critical, and what policymakers can do to achieve it.
In June, the Harvard Business Review reported that diversity on boards was critical to sustaining performance. Broadening the composition of the board increases the size of the candidate pool and, more important, helps expand perspectives at the top. While most CEOs recognise the importance of appointing directors of different ages and with different kinds of educational backgrounds and functional expertise, they tend to underestimate the benefits of gender diversity.
The 51 per cent Coalition has been monitoring the appointments to public boards. While the process is not yet complete, it is our view that there are far too many boards in which the majority of the directors are men. Shouldn't public boards be representative of society? How can a public board which, by its very composition, not reflect the wider population effectively govern and manage the interests of the Jamaican people?
The boards in which women are more represented include e-Learning Jamaica, EXIM Bank, Scientific Research Council, as well as the Child Development Agency, Maxfield Park Children's Home and the Adoption Board. One could easily argue that traditionally many of the 'softer' ministries and boards have been dominated by women, while the 'big jobs' like finance, transportation, water and defence usually go to the men. Regrettably, these and other perceptions still exist, whereby certain portfolios are better suited for women; primarily those which focus on education, children and health care.
Women usually account for 50 per cent of the population in any given country. Therefore, it is critical for us to ensure that women are involved at all levels of society and consulted in the decision-making process. In Jamaica, women represent 51 per cent of the population. This reality has inspired the formation of the 51 per cent Coalition: women in partnership for development and empowerment though equity who proposed a quota system whereby public-sector boards, including school boards, commissions and publicly listed companies should have no more than 60 per cent, or no less than 40 per cent, of either sex.
Quality and quantity
However, one should note that it is not merely about the numbers. The real issue lies in both the quality and quantity of women appointed to serve.
No longer can the argument be made that there are not enough women for consideration or that women have no interest in serving on a board or in government. The Jamaica Stock Exchange recently published on its website a list of 54 women who have been recommended as competent candidates for board appointment, after consultation with the Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica, Women Business Owners and the Women's Resource & Outreach Centre. There are also wider networks of women leaders which can be consulted for suitably qualified female board directors.
One's gender has no bearing on one's ability to serve effectively; professionalism, integrity, as well as the requisite competencies and experience in the desired field, are the core issues for consideration.
Our 50th anniversary as an independent nation is undoubtedly a significant milestone and a time for us to highlight our achievements and the strides made as a nation. However, it also provides an opportunity for us to examine how we will move forward in realising our objectives of sustainable economic development and the creation of equal opportunities for all citizens, irrespective of gender. By so doing, we will truly become the place of choice to live, work, raise families and do business.
Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org