Newsletter 03/2016

Chairman's Message

Ellecia Saffron

The Canadian Prime Minister is doing it, the Leaders of the UAE are doing it, Taylor Swifts Bad Blood Video which received a Grammy does it, do you, Support other women?

What do Taylor Swift, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Leaders of the UAE have in common? They have all in recent times walked the talk to ‘Gender Parity’ and embodied the #SupportaSister mantra. In 2015 the Canadian Prime Minister rocked the world electing an 'even' gender cabinet, responding to shocked questions at the sureity the ladies were 'capable' and most suitable for the job simply responding to those who doubted, that “it (was) 2015” (and yes they were). This same year Taylor Swift released the “Bad Blood” video featuring an array of famous female peers (some who could be deemed competitors) as virtual Superheroes. 2016 has seen the UAE step onto the world stage in the Parity conversation through hosting under the Patronage of H.E. Sheikh Mohamed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President of the UAE the first Middle East Global Women’s Forum, which featured some of the Globes most powerful women, celebrated and dispelled Arab female stereo types and providing a forum for male UAE leaders to voice their support of women. Simultaneously, five women were elected to Ministerial positions in the UAE taking the total to just under 30%.

International Women’s day 2016 Pledge for Parity #IWD2016 #PledgeforParity

Parity is blowing out, the numbers are not getting better The World Economic Forum predicted in 2014 that it would take until 2095 to achieve global gender parity. Then one year later in 2015, they estimated that a slowdown in the already glacial pace of progress meant the gender gap wouldn't close entirely until 2133.

Call to Action International Women’s Day 2016 is calling for your Pledge for Parity – asking us all; man, woman, young, old, experienced and inexperienced - whether you are prepared to work towards parity? Quite frankly, you might be wondering “Why should you?”.

Why should I care? I asked this same question over eight years ago when the call to board quotas was being debated globally. As an ambitious career minded Fund Manager in the male dominated Investment management industry who happened to be female (females represent only an average of 6-10% of Fund Manager positions globally) I could fore hear the comments that would underpin my career should quotas be implemented… “She is only in that position because she is a woman” …or worse, I imagined a nightmare scene of putting forward an idea or suggestion in a board or committee meeting and it being mentally dismissed on the grounds of the view that I was only there “because I was a female and quotas put me there”.

The latter scared me the most. If it did happen, even subconsciously, it revealed a great limitation in the company or group where that culture might exist. Not only would a company fostering assets (people) with these biases be missing out on a diverse thought base and better decisions but it would also be downright wasting a seat.

My job at the time was investing in the top 200 listed companies in the Australian equity market for a large Sovereign wealth fund. This involved speaking to CEO’s, CFO’s and senior executives of these companies; understanding their business model, plan, strategy and deciding which of them were the better investment. I lead 80 -100 of these meetings per year and because of my job I knew that what mattered most to these men was performance (men ran most of these, with the exclusion of a few of the top 200 listed ASX equity companies). What also mattered to me as an investor was performance. So I asked myself the question whether diversity did actually make a difference in the financial performance of companies and should we really care about it? At the time I was working on the beginnings of my MBA thesis topic and here it was born.

For 12 months I studied various studies and papers on diversity and conducted my own study of over 150 Australian listed companies over 3 years, measuring their diversity in the upper echelons and their financial performance and looking for whether there were any occurrences of better financial performance in companies that were more diverse. Voila, there was!

You should care because it can improve your bottom line and financial performance. My study found there to be a link with better financial performance (higher ROE, EPS growth and total shareholder return) but only with companies where there was an above average board representation i.e. 2 or more on the board or executive team. In cases where there was only 1 representative, the performance wasn’t better, sometimes worse. This can be  explained by other studies that cover the ill effects of “tokenism”.

My small study is not the only case of measuring for the case of diversity. In the past eight years numerous groups have developed and are now publishing studies, papers and pushing the parity case; Catalyst , Women on Boards UK and Australia, Australian Founded ‘Male champions of change’ and the 30percent club to name only a few. Beyond the boardroom, IFC and Goldman Sachs identify the economic upside from economic empowerment and growth for the countries that adopt a greater parity in general in their work force. Women after all, decide on an estimated 80% of all household spending.

Empowering economies In the report “Giving credit where its due”, IFC and Goldman Sachs highlight economic growth that could come from improving gender equality across the board. International Finance Corporation estimates that as many as 70% of women-owned SMEs in the formal sector in developing countries are unserved or underserved by financial institutions – a financing gap of around $285 billion. Goldman Sachs estimate that “If the credit gap is closed by 2020, incomes per capita could be on average around 12% higher by 2030 across the BRICs and N-11, relative to our baseline scenario. Closing the credit gap for women-owned SMEs across the developing world as a whole could boost income per capita growth rates by over 110bp on average. While eliminating the whole gap is a tall order, the impact on growth could be dramatic”.

At a time when the world is worried about the outlook for growth – these are interesting figures to consider. Particularly for men running large companies. Who care about numbers. Who care about performance.

So what is your pledge? It doesn’t have to be all consuming to be effective. It can be mentoring or sponsoring someone in your work place, committing to being aware of and actively challenging our unconscious bias (which by the way we ALL have), revisiting a shortlist for a role to ensure its more evenly gender balanced or diverse, simply doing a shout out and #SupportaSister, giving a talk or by creating a more inclusive, flexible culture.

It’s the age of innovation after all.

As a part of #IWD2016 #AusBG has continued on with last year’s special edition newsletter showcasing some talented women in our AusBG network and community, we review our Joint event last week for International Women’s day which featured keynote speaker and inspiration HE Amal Al Qubaisi, speaker for the FNC. In addition to this we are hosting an event in two weeks on March 23rd with Servcorp and other Business Groups to launch Reach mentoring for women in Abu Dhabi featuring a panel on the topic of achieving gender parity through mentoring. We invite you to join us and to bring some friends, male or female. That could be your pledge.

Very best regards

Ellecia Saffron, Chairman

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