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Walking the talk for board diversity and inclusion

/ 04:00 AM September 14, 2020

Quite recently, we saw how leading companies embedded corporate sustainability in their business

strategies, expressing that it is not just a “nice thing” to have. As cochair of Philippine Business Coalition for Women Empowerment (PBCWE) and a trustee at Institute of Corporate Directors (ICD), I have the privilege and experience of engaging with business and corporate leaders who are committed to building diverse, inclusive and gender equal workplaces.

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In my article titled “2020 with a Diversity Lens,” I emphasized that leadership with a diversity and inclusion (D&I) lens will attract the best talent and give companies the competitive edge. While diversity has increasingly become a prominent issue in the development agenda, linking D&I initiatives to business performance has not been easily quantified, nor could anyone tell if such benefits existed. Some companies remain unsure and admittedly, progress remains slow. The good news is that companies who have adopted D&I have reported that these can generate quantifiable and positive results.

The Gender Equity Insights 2020 Report of the Australian Workplace Gender Equality and Bankwest Curtin Economics Centre provided that “an increase in female representation on boards leads to a 4.9 percent increase in a company’s market value—about AUD $78.5 Million.” This is a clear evidence that strong institutional support allows companies to demonstrate and measure success.

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D&I and intersectionality

While most research studies and data are concentrated in the West, many of the insights can be applied globally, even in Southeast Asia, which is home to over 650 million people with over 100 ethnic groups speaking a wide range of languages—a significant resource of indispensable talent.

According to Diversity Partners, an Australian professional services firm, diversity refers to all the differences and experiences we bring to work. Often, diversity, in its broadest sense, is associated “mistakenly” as synonymous to just having female directors and employees. Fairly and obviously, women represent an integral part of the workforce ecosystem. The 2018 Women in the Philippine C-Suite Study of PBCWE and Makati Business Club noted that women bring different perspectives to companies and boardrooms, and they help improve performance and profi­tability.

Supplementing this, the Boston Consulting Group’s (BCG) report entitled “The Diversity Dividend in Southeast Asia” revealed that “companies with a strong emphasis on D&I can benefit from reduced turnover and improved innovation.” BCG conducted a survey of more than 6,100 employees from local and multinational companies in the region and the results showed that companies have started to appoint dedicated D&I personnel, develop strategic directions and launch new programs. Businesses are now in the position to foster D&I at all levels in an organization.

There has been more research on gender diversity but in reality, there are other dimensions which are equally important. Diversity is a collection of unique attributes that include gender, language, cultural background, sexual orientation, age, caring responsibilities, religion, education, experience, perspective and thinking approaches.

Similarly, it is critical to understand the concept of “intersectionality.” This word was only added to the Merriam-Webster dictionary in 2017 and is defined as “the complex, cumulative manner in which the effects of different forms of discrimination combine, overlap, or intersect.” In other words, each person is unique and therefore cannot be trea­ted in the same way, as different types of support will require various forms of contribution and engagement.

We develop the connection by bringing “inclusion” or the sense of belonging and community at work. More than just different perspectives, inclusion empowers people to be known, encouraged and valued. There is more to be learned about inclusion and those who actively develop the capability of their teams will witness exceptional performance and commitment.

Demonstrating board diversity

On June 19 ICD elected its incoming board of trustees resulting in the election of three women directors, including myself for my second term, and two friends in my women empowerment advocacy. With the election of three females, the ICD Board is now comprised of six male and six female trustees, making it a “gender-equal” board, and probably one of the few, if not the first among the major business organizations or even among publicly listed corporations.

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For the second time, I was also designated supervising trustee of the D&I committee, which seeks to fulfill ICD’s advocacy of promoting board diversity by: (1) creating a network to champion gender, age and the other dimensions of diversity, (2) developing courses and programs toward increasing diversity in the boardroom, including training and mentoring women directors, and (3) initiating relevant studies, surveys, or dialogues in advancing D&I. The creation of ICD D&I committee signifies the intention and importance that ICD puts on promoting D&I initiatives on boards, consistent with best practices in corporate governance.

Aside from reaching 50 percent gender parity, the ICD Board comprises trus­tees with varied industry experiences—banking and financial institutions, professional services such as law, audit and consulting, real estate, manufacturing, and the government sector. In terms of age, the 12 trustees are equally distributed in three age ranges—51 to 60 years, 61 to 70 years, and 71 years and over. Analyzing the other dimensions just shows that D&I initiatives should be led at the top and must begin in the boardroom.

Indeed, ICD is “walking the talk.” This is my challenge: Stand firm and pledge to ensure your board is diverse, inclusive and equal!

It is not too late! INQ

This article reflects the personal opinion of the author and does not reflect the official stand of the Management Association of the Philippines or the MAP. The author is a member of the MAP Diversity and Inclusion Committee and a Trustee of ICD. She is also the chair of the Philippine Women’s Economic Network (PhilWEN) and cochair of the PBCWE. Feedback at [email protected] For previous articles, please visit map.org.ph

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