What women leaders bring to the table

Indonesia's Finance Minister Sri Mulyani (L) gestures next to CEO and vice chairman of Freeport-McMoRan Copper and Gold, Richard Adkerson, before a signing ceremony in Jakarta on 12 July, 2018. (Bay Ismoyo / AFP Photo)

Early this year, Indonesia’s Minister of Finance, Sri Mulyani Indrawati, received the Best Minister Award at the World Government Summit in Dubai. This award is based on a country’s tangible achievements in reducing poverty, improving living standards, reducing public debt and boosting transparency in public transactions. Sri Mulyani was also recognised for her efforts in fighting corruption and increasing transparency in government.

This is the second time around that Sri Mulyani is mandated to helm the budget of Southeast Asia’s largest economy. She was also Indonesia’s Finance Minister from 2005 to 2010, when she was known as a tough reformist and was largely credited with steering Indonesia through the global financial crisis of 2007-2010.

Sri Mulyani is not the only Indonesian minister who has earned acclaim internationally. Indonesia’s Fisheries Ministry, Susi Pudjiastuti, has also been the talk of town for her role in the country’s crackdown on illegal fishing. Running on a policy platform of sovereignty, sustainability and prosperity, Susi’s focus has been on foreign vessels illegally fishing in Indonesian waters. Captured, the crews are charged and their vessels seized and later blown up.

In 2017 Susi received the Excellence in National Stewardship award from the Peter Benchley Ocean Awards foundation for her tough approach on illegal fishing and for contributing strongly towards deterring organised crime efforts that invaded and overfished Indonesia’s biologically rich waters, as well as being instrumental in the freeing of both, slave crews held on many foreign vessels and trapped whale sharks.

Sri Mulyani and Susi’s accomplishments are confirmation of a robust body of research which proves that having a greater proportion of female legislators can have a profound effect on peace, security and human rights. This includes issues relevant to poverty eradication, transparency, sustainable development and modern slavery, which are central to Sri Mulyani’s and Susi’s campaigns.

According to Marie O’Reilly, Head of Research at the Institute for Inclusive Security, perhaps because they often have first-hand experience with the effects of inequality, women leaders are more focused on the human costs of humanitarian concerns, as well as building the foundation of peaceful and secure societies.

“As the percentage of women in parliament increases by five percent, a nation is five times less likely to use violence when faced with an international crisis. A higher proportion of women in parliament is also associated with a lower likelihood that a country will carry out human rights abuses such as political imprisonments, torture, killings and disappearances,” wrote O'Reilly on Public Radio International (PRI), a global non-profit media company.

Source: McKinsey Global Institute.

The business case for diversity

A 2018 ‘Delivering through Diversity’ report on assessing gender and ethnic diversity in 1,007 companies across 12 countries by McKinsey & Co, found that companies in the top-quartile for gender diversity on executive teams were 21 percent more likely to outperform on profitability, and 27 percent more likely to have superior value creation.

The assessment result that involved companies in the United States (US), Australia, India, Japan, Singapore, Nigeria, South Africa, Brazil, Mexico, France, Germany and the United Kingdom (UK) also found that the highest-performing companies on both, profitability and diversity had more women in line (i.e., typically revenue-generating) roles than in staff roles on their executive teams.

“Lessons learned from the 17 leading companies we studied – among those that are engaging effectively with inclusion and diversity – support our earlier perspective on what likely drives the relationship with performance: that more diverse companies are better able to attract top talent; to improve their customer orientation, employee satisfaction, and decision-making; and to secure licenses to operate,” it stated.

Increasing gender, as well as ethnic balance, in top roles not only brings about profit and value creation for a company; companies who are not inclusive and diverse are also lagging behind their peers. According to the study, overall, companies in the bottom quartile for both, gender and ethnic diversity were 29 percent less likely to achieve above-average profitability.

When asked when will there be enough women on the nine-seat US Supreme Court, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg candidly answered, “When there are nine”. The Notorious RBG’s point was not that women should dominate the highest arena of a field at the expense of their male counterparts. Her point – and our lesson – is that, equal gender representation should be the minimum, not the ceiling.

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