How the Pacific business community is accelerating women’s leadership

It is widely recognized that gaining access to leadership positions for women in the Pacific can be difficult. This view is largely explained by the fact that much of the discussion on women’s leadership has focused on the extremely low representation of women in politics in the region. Corn a new study speak Pacific Private Sector Development Initiative (PSDI) has found that women increasingly occupy leadership and decision-making positions in the Pacific business community.

A growing body of research – including studies by Bankwest Curtin Economics Center / Agency for Gender Equality in the Workplace, Swiss credit and the International Labor Organization – shows that greater gender diversity in leadership delivers business benefits to companies through a better mix of leadership skills, a larger talent pool, better consumer representation and better corporate governance.

Yet studies of the representation of women, such as this UK Study 2020, confirm that women continue to be grossly under-represented in corporate leadership and that a lack of women in leadership has a negative impact on company performance, productivity and profitability. This, in turn, hinders private sector development and economic growth. Despite the well-documented benefits, women hold only 16.9% of board seats, 5.3% of board chairman positions and 4.4% of CEO positions (CEO) globally.

So what does female leadership in business in the Pacific look like?

The PSDI Report examines the leadership of women in business in the 14 Pacific developing countries that are members of the Asian Development Bank. The study establishes a baseline for women’s representation in business leadership and compares it to global averages and the rate of female political leadership in the Pacific.

The results of the study suggest that there are more opportunities for women to take on leadership roles in business than in politics. Based on the data collected, the proportion of female board members in the Pacific is higher than that of female parliamentarians (MPs) in 13 of the 14 countries, while the proportion of female CEOs is higher than that of women parliamentarians in 10 (Figure 1).

Figure 1: Comparison of Women in Political and Business Leadership in the Pacific (2021)

COO = Cook Islands, FSM = Federated States of Micronesia, IFJ = Fiji, KIR = Kiribati, NAU = Nauru, NIU = Niue, PAL = Palau, PNG = Papua New Guinea, RMI = Republic of the Marshall Islands, SAM = Samoa , SOL = Solomon Islands, TON = Tonga, TUV = Tuvalu, VAN = Vanuatu.

The representation of women in business leadership in the Pacific also compares favorably with global averages. In the Pacific, women hold an average of 21% of board seats, 11% of board chair positions, and 17% of board vice chair positions (Figure 2). In senior management, women represent 13% of CEOs and 34% of CFOs and / or operational directors.

Figure 2: Pacific regional average for board chairs, vice presidents, directors and general managers (%)

The proportion of women in managerial positions varies considerably by country, type of organization and sector. Half of the countries exceed the regional average of 21% for women directors. For those below the regional average, all except Nauru and the Solomon Islands exceed the global average by 16.9% (Figure 3). The Cook Islands, Palau and Samoa stand out with higher proportions of women as directors and CEOs than most countries in the region.

Figure 3: Women in Pacific Board seats and CEO position, by country (%)

The study also examined representation in five categories of organization type and sector. It found that industry associations, such as chambers of commerce, have the highest average representation of women (Figure 4). By sector, only tourism exceeds the Pacific regional average for each type of leadership measured (Figure 5).

Figure 4: Women on Boards and Senior Management in the Pacific, by Organization Type (%)

Figure 5: Women on Boards and Senior Management in the Pacific, by Sector (%)

Interviews with industry leaders for the study found that companies can, and have, accelerated progress in women’s leadership through a range of strategies, such as representation goal setting and advocacy. monitoring progress over time, implementing policies to support diversity and flexible working arrangements and nurturing high potential women through training and mentoring opportunities.

The question remains: if women assume leadership roles in business in the Pacific, why do rates of political representation remain so stubbornly low? Further research and analysis would be needed to further explore the factors that support women‘s leadership in business and whether these are transferable to the political realm, but one key reason may be relatively simple: profit. Ultimately, companies need to stay profitable so that they are motivated to adopt ideas that will help them get there. Many industry leaders have understood that women bring considerable expertise and knowledge to management teams, which helps them be more innovative and better understand their customers.

While the Pacific compares well with global averages for women’s leadership in business, these averages reflect significant persistent inequalities that will not be overcome without commitment and resources. Continued efforts for equal representation in leadership, both globally and in the Pacific, are essential, not only for gender equality, but also to improve the performance, productivity and profitability of employees. businesses for economic recovery and growth.

All graphics have been reproduced from the report “Leadership Matters: Benchmarking Women in Business Leadership in the Pacific” published by the Pacific Private Sector Development Initiative, a technical assistance program undertaken in partnership with the Asian Development Bank and the governments of Australia and New Zealand. Read the full report.

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Mara R. Wilmoth