Gender:Still more mountains left for women to climb

In an effort to frame our discussion today, I shall focus on sharing with you

* Some data and analysis which support the economic impact of women in business Influences which hinder the inclusion or progression of women in business

* My experience as a woman in business both from the family business perspective as well as an employee of Scotiabank, a Canadian based international financial institution

* Actions to ensure there is progress and growth of women in business.

My objective is to awaken, rekindle or reinforce in each of you the awareness of the absolute importance of women in business and the role each of us can and must play at the personal and professional levels in ensuring that this awareness translates into action and results especially here in Guyana.

It is not only appropriate but very timely that this topic was selected for today’s discussion as Tuesday, October 17 was dedicated as World Poverty Day 2007 and the Women’s Funding Network and UNIFEM challenged the world to stand up online to call for increased investment in women to eradicate poverty worldwide.

When women are afforded the equality of opportunity that is their basic human right the potential for economic development is striking. It is now understood that women and particularly women in business are the missing piece of the development puzzle. The Economist magazine called women “the most powerful engine” of global economic growth.

There are numerous statistics to support this but the one that stands out and which was publicized by a 1995 global UNDP study indicates that:

“more than two-thirds of the world’s unpaid work is done by women – the equivalent of $11 trillion or almost 50% of world GDP”.

The informal slogan of the decade of women was “women do two-thirds of the world’s work, receive 10% of the world’s income and own 1% of the means of production.”

From a corporate perspective – at Scotiabank the issue of the advancement of women was high on the policy makers’ agenda since the early 1990s and today receives the attention of the Chairman of the Board of Directors. A task force was put in place to examine strategies for the advancement of women in the bank both in Canada and internationally, keeping the following top of mind:

* leveraging the talents of our existing workforce: 70% of Scotiabank employees worldwide were women and of the 72% of Scotiabank employees in Canada who were women, less than 30 per cent of senior leaders were women. In our international locations, the percentage of women in senior positions was even lower.

* Maintaining our competitive position in the war for talent – re: the increasing number of women graduates at every level compared with prior years.

Action was key to improving business performance: this included recognition of data which supported the link and total shareholder return to high representation of women in senior management and women’s economic power and force as consumers. As a result the advancement of women initiative was launched in 2003. as a business driven initiative. It has influenced the increase in representation of women in senior management positions from 20% to 31 % to date.

In January 2007, Scotiabank was recognized for its efforts in the advancement of women with the 2007 Catalyst Award. The award is presented annually by Catalyst, a leading research and advisory organization, for innovative and effective approaches – with proven results – in addressing the recruitment, development and advancement of women.

My appointment is an example of the strategy at work – the first female Country Manager for Scotiabank in its 40 years in Guyana as well as the first Guyanese to hold this position.

Globally, strides have been made over the last 50 years or so, however there is still a lot to be done. According to the authors Alice Eagly and Linda Carli in their articleWomen and the labyrinth of leadership (Harvard Business Review, September 2007) “despite years of progress by women in the workforce (they now occupy more than 40% of all managerial positions in the United States, but within the upper income bracket, they remain as rare as hens’ teeth.”

Of the group of the most highly paid executives of Fortune 500 companies-those with titles such as Chairman, President, Chief Executive Officer, and Chief Operating Officer, only 6% are women.. Most notably, only 2% of the CEOs are women, and only 15% of the seats on the Boards of Directors are held by women. The situation is not much different in other industrialized countries.

The authors opined that the challenge facing women today is equal to that of the labyrinth. It’s an image with a long and varied history. In ancient Greece, India, Nepal, native North and South America, medieval Europe, and elsewhere. as a contemporary symbol, it conveys the idea of a complex journey toward a goal worth striving for. Passage through a labyrinth is not simple or direct, but requires persistence, awareness of one’s progress, and a careful analysis of the puzzles that lie ahead.

For women who aspire to top leadership, routes exist but are full of twists and turns, both unexpected and expected. Because all labyrinths have a viable route to the centre, it is understood that goals are attainable. The metaphor acknowledges obstacles but is not ultimately discouraging.

Some of the long – standing obstacles that must be overcome in order to attain even a semblance of gender-balanced leadership are:

1.Overcoming prejudices – prejudices that benefit men and penalize women

2. Resistance to women leadership

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