MONROVIA, Montserrado â€“ Nearly one year after a taskforce was charged with determining the issues contributing to a low percentage of women on company boards in Liberia, that taskforce has presented its findings and recommendations.
At an event organized by the Liberia Chamber of Commerce and the International Finance Corporation on Wednesday, the taskforce found that 27 percent of the companies surveyed were owned by women, while 43 percent were owned by men. The remaining 30 percent had mixed ownership.
In presenting the findings, Salamartu Duncan, the secretary general of the Chamber of Commerce, said the taskforce surveyed 128 businesses and found that only 37 percent of board members of the businesses surveyed were women.
The event aimed to encourage and enable more women to become actively involved in decision making spaces, including corporate boards across the country.
Duncan said some contributing factors to the low number of women on boards includes historical and traditional factors, gender difference and stereotyping, business environment, educational differences, a lack of strong network and exposure, and symbolic effort.
The taskforce has proposed both short and long-term recommendations for achieving a gender balanced representation in boards and other executive decision-making bodies in the business sector.
The group proposed a quick impact training to prepare women who are ready to serve on boards. They also proposed a framework for ensuring that trained women entrepreneurs be prioritized for placement on public and private sector boards and commissions. Additionally, the taskforce pushed for a database of women entrepreneurs that could be distributed to private and public entities. They also recommended not only creating awareness on the benefits of joining business organizations and boards, but also encouraging women currently serving on boards to mentor others.
In the longer term, the taskforce recommended that business development trainings covering governance issues be conducted, strategies and policies on recruiting more women on business organizations should be developed, and that policies to ensure womenâ€™s participation on boards for both public and private sectors are also developed.
The taskforce also called for continuous market analysis on women serving on boards and for the creation of a forum of boards for the continuous engagement of the public and private sectors.
An IFC report indicates that women in Liberia are much more likely than men to be self-employed. The report reveals that 53 percent of women in Liberia own and run their own businesses, far more than in Sub-Saharan Africa, with an average of 29.1 percent.
The event also presented several speakers who shared their experiences and insights on gender diversity on boards.
The Central Bank of Liberiaâ€™s executive governor, Milton Weeks, was one such speaker who emphasized the benefits of having women serving on boards of organizations.
Weeks said the two women on the bankâ€™s most recent five-member board – Melisa A. Emeh and Elsie Dossen Badio â€“ have championed good governance, applying their vast experience, technical expertise, and attention to detail towards establishing and enforcing internal controls.
â€œTheir strong engagement on the full board and the Audit and Investment Subcommittees helped ensure the effective management of the CBLâ€™s resources, especially in this challenging economic climate,â€ he said.
According to him, the womenâ€™s unique perspectives have also added value to the bankâ€™s agenda to promote financial sector reform and financial inclusion.
He said, with women making up 50 percent of Liberiaâ€™s population and continuously being hailed as the most fiscally responsible demographic worldwide, the country would benefit from more female perspective at the board level.
Weeks noted that he was pleased with the diversity in age between the two women and three men on the bankâ€™s board, which according to him, created a much-needed balance of perspectives on their work.
In a notoriously male-dominated field such as banking, Weeks said the Central Bank is proudly taking strides to promote gender diversity. He said although men still constitute most of the senior management, women are quickly rising.
â€œThey are taking on major responsibilities and blazing trails in highly technical fields such as payments systems and capital markets, taking the financial system to new heights,â€ he said.
â€œCBLâ€™s women are some of the brains behind your ATM cards, the points of sale devices, and the expanding digital financial services available to you every day. They are also some of the brains behind the financial markets that we are developing,â€ he said.
Rachlee Leeway, a young entrepreneur attending the program, said she welcomed the recommendations to provide mentorship for emerging women entrepreneurs. The CEO of Wonseh Designs, a fashion designing company, said the recommendations would help bridge the gender gap in key business decision-making bodies.
â€œFrom the presentations today, and practical experiences, there are known facts that when you have women included on boards or decision-making bodies, you have better solutions,â€ Leeway said.
She called for the implementation of the recommendations advanced by the taskforce. Leeway also praised the organizers of the conference for advancing the need to increase womenâ€™s participation in decision making in the business sector.
Featured photo by Gbatemah Senah