Bangladesh still tops the South Asia region in terms of women's leadership in listed companies, according to a new study of International Finance Corporation (IFC) and Dhaka Stock Exchange (DSE).
The new figures showed there was an increase in the percentage of women who are independent directors on listed companies from five per cent in 2020 to six per cent, despite the impact of Covid-19, which has disproportionately affected women, IFC said in a press release today.
"A 2020 IFC-DSE study showed at the time around 18 per cent of listed company board directors were women, that has remained the same. In terms of women on boards of listed companies, Bangladesh still tops the South Asia region," it said.
The findings were revealed at an event marking International Women's Day. The IFC, DSE, UN Women, and United Nations Global Compact organised the programme. The IFC has partnered with the DSE, UN Women, and United Nations Global Compact for the seventh consecutive year to "Ring the Bell for Gender Equality".
While emphasising women's role in shaping a more equal future, the annual event also highlights how greater participation of women in the economy can spur sustainable and inclusive growth.
Speaking at the event, Nathalie Chuard, ambassador of Switzerland to Bangladesh, said, "As Bangladesh embarks upon its graduation from the LDC category, ensuring gender equality is all the more critical for a sustainable transition that leaves no one behind."
"As a committed and longstanding bilateral partner, Switzerland gives particular importance to gender equality and social inclusion in all of its engagements in Bangladesh," Chuard said.
Tarique Amin Bhuiyan, managing director of DSE, said the DSE remained fully committed to closing the gender gap and promoting women's role in leadership, particularly in listed companies.
"Advancing womens' roles in companies will not only create a more diverse leadership team but will also serve to help private sector companies create value, bring new ideas, boost transparency and promote inclusive growth," he said.
Meanwhile, in a new joint report on, "How Exchanges Can Advance Gender Equality: Updated Guidance and Best Practice," the UN Sustainable Stock Exchanges (SSE) initiative and IFC identify three broad areas where exchanges can play a role in advancing gender equality, the press release said.
These include the promotion of gender-focused and or gender-aware products and services, strengthening of market performance on gender equality and leading by example.
"Investing in women's economic empowerment is both the right thing to do and the smart thing to do as it sets a direct path towards gender equality, poverty eradication and inclusive economic growth," said Gitanjali Singh, head of the office at the UN Women Bangladesh.
The report offers guidance on implementing gender-responsive action plans, such as supporting the listing of gender-focused financial instruments, addressing barriers to gender equality on boards and senior management, promoting increased transparency on gender performance through expanded environmental, social, and governance (ESG) disclosure, and setting gender targets for listed companies.
IFC's commitment to the "Ring the Bell" initiative is part of its strong focus on gender equality, which includes leveraging relationships with financial institutions to expand access to finance for female entrepreneurs and increase the number of women in leadership roles.
"IFC has long been engaged in efforts at the capital markets level to support women as economic actors," said Martin Holtmann, IFC country manager for Bangladesh, Bhutan and Nepal.
"We are well aware that having more women in leadership positions makes economic sense for companies and is also linked to better environmental, social and corporate governance standards and practices."
"It's why IFC has been working with multiple stakeholders in Bangladesh including the stock exchange, regulators, and companies," Holtmann said.
The Women's Day event included a panel discussion on the business case for gender diversity on boards, according to the press release.
Participants included Zareen Mahmud Hosein; Snehasish Mahmud; Melita Mehjabeen, associate professor at IBA of Dhaka University, and Shamarukh Fakhruddin, director of Urmi Group.
The discussion was moderated by Shahamin Zaman, executive director of Global Compact Network Bangladesh (GCNB) and Md Eunusur Rahman, chairman of Dhaka Stock Exchange Limited, made the closing remarks.
The global partnership with Sustainable Stock Exchange, IFC, UN Women and "UN Global Compact" began in 2015 to Ring the Bell for Gender Equality and this year more than 120 stock exchanges have been taking part in events around the world to raise awareness for gender equality.