More women needed in Philippine corporate boards

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A woman uses her computer in this file photo taken on March 13, 2012. -- BW FILE PHOTO

By Victor V. Saulon, Sub-Editor

WOMEN LEADERS called on Philippine companies to include more females in their boards, calling the disparity as more of a loss for companies as studies have shown greater profitability for those that have embraced diversity.

Ma. Aurora D. Geotina-Garcia, co-chair of the ASEAN Women Entrepreneurs Network (AWEN), the Philippines still needs more work in increasing female representation in corporate boards, despite the country being widely recognized as having some of the region’s most empowered women in business.

“There are two schools of thought. Should we require it or should we just encourage it? What has happened in the Philippines, if you look at the revised Corporate Governance Code of last year, they do not [it] require yet… unlike in other countries [where] 30% of the board are women,” she said.

“But it does say that if you’re not compliant, you explain why,” she added, calling the regulation as remaining “soft.”

Despite women comprising about half of the population of the Philippines, and even the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), only about 40% of them are in the labor force, said Ms. Geotina-Garcia, former chair of the Bases Conversion and Development Authority.

“If you go to Malaysia, there is a requirement that 30% of [the board of] publicly listed corporations should be women,” she added.

Ms. Geotina-Garcia said that as a fellow of the Institute of Corporate Directors (ICD), she has made concrete steps in introducing change in the corporate world.

“Since I am female and I have sat in both government and private boards, we are going to undertake a program to train more women to become board members,” she said.

As an initial step, ICD is conducting a survey that seeks to answer why are few women in corporate boards, she said. The survey will also answer whether there are indeed few women who are qualified, which she said she does not agree with.

“Or is it a question that men don’t want women in boards for whatever reason they may have?” Ms. Geotina-Garcia said. “From that survey we will then develop training courses to train women to become board members.”

Ms. Geotina-Garcia, who is also a member of Women Corporate Directors Organization of the Philippines, said the group seeks to increase the representation of women in publicly listed companies, which today is only 13% for the Philippines.

She said she is willing to give the “soft approach” a chance even if affirmative action gives better or faster results. But if at some point the target participation is not achieved, she would support a legislation in this direction.

However, Ms. Geotina-Garcia noted one of the dangers of affirmative action in Asia is that many of the businesses are family-owned, possibly resulting in a token appointment for the owner’s wife or daughter.

“The issue really is, we should put women who are competent and who are able to contribute to the strategic direction of businesses,” she said.

Patricia U. Juan, who also chairs AWEN, said women’s participation has proven to be positive in private companies, especially in raising profitability.

“Most of those who are profitable have diverse boards. We encourage women to step up and learn about governance,” Ms. Juan said. “I think legislation is good because sometimes that’s the only way they will comply.”

However, even without affirmative action, Ms. Juan said a number of multilateral agencies have set “scorecards” for diversity as a criteria for granting loans.

Thursday’s business conference, a partnership between AWEN, the Philippine Commission on Women, the Department of Trade and Industry, gathered women business leaders and delegates from the public and private sector in ASEAN member states.

More than 600 participants took part in the conference that featured seven panel discussions tackling topics on the economic empowerment of women, including gender equality, inclusive business and innovation

Nora K. Terrado, undersecretary of the Department of Trade and Industry, said the participants in the conference “are calling for stronger policy support and more initiatives for economic empowerment of women” in the region.