In celebration of Women’s Month, I had the privilege of speaking in a webinar organized by Women’s Business Council Philippines (WomenBizPH) and the Institute of Corporate Directors (ICD). As a current and past member of the boards of both organizations which support the advocacies close to my heart — women’s economic empowerment and corporate governance — the opportunity to speak on “Corporate Governance with a Gender Lens” could not have been more perfect. Allow me to share a few snippets from my talk.
SEX VS GENDEROften times, the terms “sex” and “gender” have been used interchangeably. But it is important to understand that they are separate and distinct. Sex refers to biological differences between male and female. It is fixed, natural, unchanging, and consists of a male and female dichotomy. Gender, on the other hand, refers to the socially constructed roles, behaviors, norms, and attributes.
So, are females brains wired differently? According to a book entitled The Female Brain by Louann Brizendine, most aspects of male and female brains are similar — IQ averages are the same, and both are capable of excellence at physical, artistic, and intellectual pursuits. It also mentions differences: women tend to have faster and better fine-motor skills, as well as faster and broader verbal skills; women and men may come to the same answer in problem-solving tests, although they use different brain circuitry to find solutions; women have more neurons in the part of the brain devoted to emotions and to detecting emotions in order.
There are obvious differences between males and females observed in society and these are present from infancy through adulthood. Behaviors and school performance differences between men and women are strongly shaped by socialization at home, in school, in the workplace, and in media. Although 99% genetically alike, male and female brains have evolved and see the world through a unique lens. Gender cues such as “manly” and “ladylike” mold our abilities and behaviors, and most of the time, it is unconscious.
#BREAKTHEBIAS — THE UNCONSCIOUS BIASInsights from a book entitled, Invisible Women: Exposing Data Bias in a World Designed for Men by Caroline Criado-Perez uncovers how gender bias affects our everyday lives and examines different elements of the modern world that demonstrate the inconvenient consequence when “male” is the default form of humanity. Using “man” to represent all human beings is a subtle way of disregarding and alienating women — from policies, research, technology, transportation systems, product developments, and the media.
It further points out that industries and society in general fail to consider women’s needs and create this “unintentional male bias” often masked as “gender-neutral.”
WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO HAVE A GENDER LENS?Gender Lens is all about recognizing and accepting the difference between males and females. Moreover, it is about taking conscious, deliberate, intentional, and proactive approaches in crafting an organization’s corporate governance practices regardless of size, nature of business, operations, among others.
So, why adopt a gender lens?
Numbers matter: Women make up 50% of the local and global population, therefore accounting for half of potential consumers, suppliers, and talent pool. Women also drive up to 85% of consumer purchasing decisions, an important consideration in product development and formulation of marketing strategies.
Diversity = Innovation: Applying a gendered and diverse perspective brings unique ideas and a broader range of backgrounds. Moreover, diverse groups collectively possess more information and will have a higher chance of making better decisions.
Improved Company Culture: Companies with progressive policies provide a less stressful work environment and have lower employee turnover.
THE 5 Cs OF GENDER LENS IN CORPORATE GOVERNANCEDriving diversity will not happen on its own. It needs concerted efforts to address cultural barriers that prevent women from attaining leadership roles. What do we need to do?
Change: A mindset change is needed in order to accept that gender inequality exists and needs to be addressed.
Commitment: Forward-thinking organizations are serious about diversity. Diverse boards are catalysts for equality and inclusion and are more likely to insist on fairness from pay to promotion.
Culture: Diversity matters where all perspectives are regularly elicited and valued. Business leaders need to establish a more egalitarian culture — one that elevates different voices, integrates contrasting insights, and welcomes conversations about diversity.
Clarity: The visible presence of business leaders can play a vital role to ensure that the positive shifts towards gender equality are not lost as organizations respond to the changes.
Compliance: The board should set the tone “at the top.” This demonstrates the company’s commitment to integrity and legal compliance and sends a clear message to all levels of the organization.
THE BUSINESS CASE FOR GENDER LENSThe World Bank Group cites that a broad set of business benefits is associated with gender diversity in corporate governance. It helps firms improve performance, drive growth, manage risks, attract and retain investors, and weather financial crises. Other benefits include improved financial performance and shareholder value, increased customer and employee satisfaction, rising investor confidence, and greater market knowledge and reputation. More companies are recognizing the value of boards that feature a mix of well-qualified male and female directors representing a range of perspectives, experience, and background.
Gender equality is a fundamental human right, and thus a gender lens in corporate governance is necessary in achieving a formidable, thriving, and sustainable world. The conversation about corporate governance with a gender lens and diversity is gathering speed. It is crucial to emphasize the role of gender equality and Diversity and Inclusion to drive innovation, business competitiveness and good corporate governance, as well as highlight the critical role of active and visible leadership.
This article reflects the personal opinion of the author and does not reflect the official stand of the Management Association of the Philippines or MAP.
Ma. Aurora “Boots” D. Geotina-Garcia is member of the MAP ESG Committee, and the MAP Diversity and Inclusion Committee. She is vice-chair of ICD, the founding chair and president of the Philippine Women’s Economic Network, and president of Mageo Consulting, Inc., a corporate finance advisory services firm.