On December 14th, 2022, International Financial Corporation (IFC), a member of the World Bank Group, in collaboration with the Embassy of Switzerland in Bangladesh, through the Swiss State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO), and LightCastle Partners, organized a Roundtable Discussion with Women on Boards and Business Leadership. As part of the Integrated Environmental, Social and Corporate Governance (ESG) project of IFC and SECO, this discussion was held to stimulate ideas and identify priorities for women on boards and develop a tailored program to help accelerate women’s advancement to senior roles and seek commitments from the industry thought leaders to take action.
Several industry leaders from critical sectors such as finance, insurance, power, RMG, travel, health, IT, and the startup ecosystem shared their views and discussed key strategies needed to increase the participation of women as Independent Directors on boards and bring forth a transformative change in corporate governance practices through internal company policies and leadership practices.
Ms. Suzanne Mueller, Deputy Head of Mission, Head of Cooperation at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Switzerland, delivered the opening remarks. Ms. Lopa Rahman, ESG officer, IFC presented the key findings and moderated the roundtable. Ms. Ameena Chowdhury, Programme Manager at the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, Mr. Bijon Islam CEO & Co-founder, LightCastle Partners, and Mr. Ivdad Ahmed Khan Mojlish, Managing Director & Co-founder, LightCastle Partners, also participated in the discussion.
IFC presented their research findings that showed the representation of women on boards of listed companies to be highest in the region (18%) compared to India (17%) and Sri Lanka (10%). However, women represent only 6% of independent directors on boards of listed entities in Bangladesh.
The key discussions, following the presentation, centered around identifying the factors influencing the current status quo and challenges faced by female professionals in the ecosystem. The speakers mentioned conscious and unconscious biases that women face on boards, the workplace, and everyday life; glass walls in the corporate world that inhibit women’s progress to CEO positions, thus limiting their opportunities for board nominations; limits on compensation for board members – particularly of banks – compared to their duties and responsibilities as board members; limited opportunities for women to speak at board meetings, which are generally male-dominated. The further dialogue revolved around policy recommendations and affirmative actions to change the social fabric and create a more enabling environment for female professionals.
The dynamic insights from the industry leaders will pave the way forward to design training modules for women on boards and senior management. These remarks are expected to support the ESG Program in Bangladesh to promote best practices regarding corporate structures to promote effective decision-making and E&S risk management.