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Gender diversity on corporate boards remains low

By: Kazim Alam

KARACHI: “Women are not making it to the top,” said Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook Chief Operating Officer, who has been ranked among the 50 Most Powerful Women in Business by Fortune Magazine. “In the corporate sector, women at the top — C-level jobs, board seats — tops out at 15%-16%.”

So if only 15% of top corporate positions go to women in a country as advanced as the United States, what about Pakistan, which has a different, set of social norms and arguably deep-rooted gender biases?

A review of publicly available data about 97 largest corporations of Pakistan — which are part of the Karachi Stock Exchange-100 Index — reveals that women in the country’s corporate leadership are few and far between. Only three out of the 97 companies have women chief executive officers (CEOs).

More surprisingly, only 5% of the total 838 members of the boards of directors at these KSE-100 Index companies are women. Women serve on the boards of 26 out of 97 companies. Websites of TRG Pakistan, Grays of Cambridge Pakistan and Dreamworld, which are part of the KSE-100 Index, do not give any information about their organisational structure or boards of directors.

“Historically, corporate boards in many countries have comprised mainly men, and Pakistan is no exception. Even though more women have entered Pakistan’s workforce, yet gender diversity on corporate boards remains low,” Engro Foods CEO Afnan Ahsan told The Express Tribune.

The board of Engro Foods has one woman director. The board of Engro Corporation, the parent company of Engro Foods, has none.

Referring to a study conducted by the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA) in Pakistan, Ahsan says the perceptions that women lack business acumen and are unable to achieve work-life balance are the two major challenges to having qualified and experienced women on corporate boards.

“There is also relative unavailability of experienced and qualified women, which further results in lower representation of females on the corporate boards,” he adds. “As a future roadmap to increase female representation on the boards, a business case advocating gender diversity needs to be developed through collaborative efforts of various stakeholders.”

Interestingly, an overwhelming majority of women board members are immediate relatives of business owners. This is perhaps one reason why companies that are part of family-controlled business empires tend to have women directors.

For example, boards of DG Khan Cement, Lucky Cement, Byco Petroleum Pakistan, East West Insurance Company, Ghani Glass, JDW Sugar, Murree Brewery, Nishat Mills, Nishat Power, Pace Pakistan, Pakistan Services and Pak Telephone Cable have women directors, who are family members of the business tycoons with majority shareholding in these companies.

Of all the KSE-100 Index companies, Media Times has the maximum number of women board members. The company is controlled by the Taseer family of late Salmaan Taseer and has five women directors.

With the exception of the National Bank of Pakistan (NBP), no bank has a woman board member. Banks that are part of the KSE-100 Index, but don’t have any woman board member, include Bank Alfalah, Bank Al Habib, Habib Bank, Allied Bank, Askari Commercial Bank, Faysal Bank, Habib Metro Bank, Meezan Bank, NIB Bank, Standard Chartered Bank, Silkbank and Soneri Bank.

“I don’t think gender bias exists at the board level. In fact, the presence of a woman on the board gives it more grace and prestige,” said State Life Chairman Shahid Aziz Siddiqi, who serves on five boards of directors, including those of the NBP, Sui Southern Gas Company and Sui Northern Gas Pipelines.

The Express Tribune tried to reach a number of women board members in different companies, but they were not available for comment. Given the emphasis on gender equality at multinational corporations, it is surprising that many of them don’t have women on their boards. Some of the multinational companies with no female representation at the board level are ICI Pakistan, Nestle Pakistan, Shell Pakistan and Siemens Pakistan.

According to the Survey on Board Practices in Pakistan 2011, conducted by the Pakistan Institute of Corporate Governance last year, only 22% of the 59 companies that responded to the questions “feel that (the) presence of women on the board of directors adds value to the board.”

The Express Tribune