QUESTIONS surrounding women’s leadership capabilities would often drown out the benefits of having more women in boardrooms, according to experts from the Asian Development Bank (ADB).

In an Asian Development Blog, ADB Private Sector Operations Department Gender and Private Sector Development Consultant Neeti Katoch, Gender and Development Consultant Ketevan Chkheidze, and Investment Specialist David Urbaneja-Furelos cited a need to raise more awareness on the roles women can play in the corporate world.

The experts said gender stereotypes remain a problem in the corporate sector. They cited data from an IBM study which found that over 40 percent of corporate managers were unsure that providing women greater opportunities in business has commercial advantages.

“Uncovering the root causes requires providing opportunities to people to delve into beliefs, norms, practices, and policies and understanding what is achievable and at what pace. Such awareness raising is often underrated but is important in building sensitivity and changing attitudes and behaviors that reinforce inequalities between men and women,” the authors said.

The authors also said it is important for companies to realize that creating opportunities for women in the workplace is more than just corporate social responsibility. Tapping the skills and talents of women will also help companies win the war for talent.

Citing a study by Credit Suisse, the ADB expert said companies with diverse teams often outperform their peers. Investors in these companies receive excess returns of 3.5 percent, on average.

The authors stressed that “diversity in teams, perspectives, inputs and education” also paves the way for long-term innovation and creativity which lead to increased productivity.

These are just some of the ways, the authors said, that companies can help maximize opportunities for all genders. The experts said that while the pandemic has prompted many companies to rethink their operations and how they relate with their workers, gender inequality and diversity in the corporate sector have “remained on the fringe.”

“Fostering a culture of inclusion is a highly complex, long-term process. The corporate world and other players in the private sector need to do their part to maximize opportunities for all genders,” the authors said.

The ADB experts said it is also important to engage across the organization and encourage peer learning about gender equality and diversity in the workplace. They said it is important for companies to have a broad representation of genders, cultural diversity and perspectives in discussions and decision-making.

Gender equality discussions are needed and need not be led by development practitioners or gender specialists. Getting business leaders to share their journeys is important, particularly those who have struggled with the same questions.

“Development organizations can play a pivotal role by bringing the latest thinking in the area to the private sector, supporting integration of gender equality in business practices, convening partnerships likely to accelerate progress, and encouraging investments in gender equality,” they added.

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