Women's Business Summit Brings 1,000 to Basel

Basel, Switzerland — The Prime Minister of Namibia Saara Kuugongelwa-Amadhila, the Prime Minister of Aruba Evelyn Wever-Croes, Kosovo's former President Atifete Jahjaga, North Macedonia's Deputy Prime Minister Radmila Shekerinska and Vietnam's Vice President Dang Thi Ngoc Thinh joined 1,000 participants from 70 countries at this year's Global Summit of Women hosted by Switzerland for the first time in the forum's 29-year history.

Led by its President Irene Natividad, the global gathering brought to Basel -- Ministers, members of Parliament as well as hundreds of corporate CEOs, executives and entrepreneurial women leaders from five continents for exchanges of best practices that speed up women's economic advancement. Among the countries with the largest delegations at the Summit are China, Vietnam, Kazakhstan, France and Korea.

"We are pleased to hold this global gathering in a city whose Mayor is a woman, and where new initiatives on parental leave and quotas for women board directors are being considered to advance women in this country," states Natividad.

Coming on the heels of the recent women's strike in Switzerland, Natividad added that "we wanted to buttress these efforts with a global forum of exchanges on what works to progress women's economic status worldwide and to accelerate their access to leadership roles. The Summit plans to recognize leadership that has worked to improve women's lives with the Global Women's Leadership Awards to be granted to Nobel Prize winner Mohammad Yunus, who founded the Grameen Bank and created the template for microlending; Oxfam Head Winnie Byanyima for her lifelong effort to advance women; as well as the Swiss Women's Leadership Award to former President Doris Leuthard, a role model for Swiss women in politics.

In line with this leadership focus, the Summit released at this opening session -- Women Directors in the World's Largest Banks & Financial Services Companies -- showing only 24.7% of board seats are held by women in the largest financial institutions in the world based in 18 countries. Regionally, the European region – well-represented at this year's Summit – had the highest percentage of women directors in its largest companies at 33.8%, while the region with the lowest record of appointing women directors is Asia Pacific at only 12%.

What accounts for Europe's success in moving more women into the corporate boardroom is the proactive use of quotas now adopted by 28 countries. In the report's Top Ten list of best performing companies with the highest percentage of women directors, the majority are based in Europe with France dominating this listing with 7 companies – Group BPCE, Societe Generale, BNP Paribas, Credit Agricole, CNP Assurances and AXA, which ranked first worldwide with a 50/50 board. Companies based in countries with quotas averaged 36.1% female directors compared to the industry average of 24.7%.

"The 'supply' of board-ready women has been there for some time, but what quotas do is force the demand from companies within a specified deadline. That's why they're effective," states Natividad who released the findings and led a Summit session on what works in opening up the global board room to women.

Beyond quotas, another effective initiative now adopted by 31 countries is the inclusion of gender diversity as a principle of good corporate governance. Australia and the U.K. are cited in the report as having been successful in combining this recommendation with specific targets to be reached in terms of women's appointments to boards.

What distinguishes both strategies is that they are national initiatives, and the report underscored that efforts to increase women's access to corporate leadership must be national in scope in order to be effective.

While a quarter of board seats in these large financial institutions are now held by women, only 14.8% of senior executives are female. The study found that a large number of women on boards do not correlate with more women in officer ranks.

The report recommends the development of a talent pipeline for women to arrive at senior positions and the continued exposure of the 'business case' -- that more women in senior leadership correlates with companies' better financial performance -- to CEOs and C-suite executives so that they see gender diversity on boards as a business priority and not as a socio-cultural, issue.