Every year, the list of participating financial institutions grows, and this year was no exception: more than 60 stock exchanges and other institutions marked the moment with opening and closing bells, report launches, conferences, as well as panel discussions and other programs.
Studies show that female talent is among the least utilized economic and business resources around the world. Making even small inroads in closing the global gender gap could quickly yield strong results, with the potential to increase global gross domestic product by $5.3 trillion over the next seven years according to a 2017 report from the World Economic Forum. For listed companies, failure to capitalize on these resources—for example, by adding more women to their boards and ranks of senior leadership—represents a substantial opportunity cost.
The “Ring the Bell for Gender Equality” event is a partnership of IFC, Sustainable Stock Exchanges (SSE) Initiative, the UN Global Compact, UN Women, Women in ETFs, and the World Federation of Stock Exchanges to raise awareness about the opportunities for the private sector to advance gender equality and sustainable development.
Participating organizations are encouraged to take a public stand to signal their gender commitments. They also are encouraged to prioritize diversity in their own corporate structures by implementing gender-friendly workplace policies; developing female-oriented investment products; reporting to shareholders on diversity objectives, policies, and practices; and increasing the number of women holding board and senior leadership positions.
IFC’s leading role part of broader effort to promote diversity at the top
The diversity effort requires a multifaceted approach, to get at all the factors that are preventing more women from ascending to corporate leadership positions. That’s why IFC is stepping up its work with stock exchanges to improve diversity in listed companies. IFC also is working to encourage the entry of more women into the workforce and ensuring access to capital markets for women entrepreneurs.
In addition, IFC collaborates with regional women’s networks such as the Lebanese League of Women in Business and the Kenya Women on Boards Network and global organizations like Women Corporate Directors to raise awareness about the diversity agenda and to highlight the business benefits of better gender balanced in management and on boards. For example, in Rwanda, IFC is working with the Rwanda Stock Exchange and the Capital Markets Authority to develop a gender assessment that would help identify existing gaps, opportunities, and solutions to addressing loopholes with key stakeholders.
Events reflect the diversity of markets and unique country conditions
The variety of this year’s Ring the Bell events reflected the diversity of the markets themselves. In Sri Lanka, IFC and the Colombo Stock Exchange launched a short film and a handbook with profiles of more than 140 women directors of listed companies.
In Uganda, promising female high school students rang the exchange bells in a nod to the importance of girls’ education—and the potential contributions they stand to make as Uganda’s economy grows.
In Argentina, “Ring the Bell—Call to Action” attracted nearly 500 people, with programs aimed at driving direct impact in areas such as increasing the number of women on boards. In conjunction with the events, Argentina’s regulator announced the publication of a first-ever study of board composition and diversity in the nation’s listed companies. A new social media campaign, “+ Mujeres en Directorios" (more women on boards) is designed to raise awareness of the women-on-boards issue. It features cameos from celebrities supporting greater diversity in the boardroom. In addition, several organizations—including the stock exchange itself—said that they would sponsor corporate governance training opportunities specifically targeting women.
In Peru, four female cabinet ministers participated in the Ring the Bell event. The country’s minister of women’s affairs indicated that closing the gender gap is a matter of rights and productivity. Gender equality also requires equal treatment of women and men in the workplace, which includes equal pay for equal work, and the sharing of parental responsibilities, she said.
In Ethiopia, despite a national state of emergency, on-going political turmoil, and the fact that the country does not yet have a stock exchange—female members of a prominent women’s business association staged a bell ringing event. With IFC’s support, AWiB, the Association of Women in Boldness, purchased a bell, which rang out loud and clear in support of more women on boards and better corporate governance. Plans are already underway for next year’s Ring the Bell program, which likely will include a conference and training sessions.
In the Middle East and North Africa—a region that lags the rest of the world in the number of women in senior business leadership positions, the participation of three stock exchanges in events designed to promote gender equality was also notable. The stock exchanges of Egypt, Jordan, and Pakistan all held “Ring the Bell for Gender Equality” events with the support of IFC. While this was the fourth year for Egypt’s participation, it marked the first-ever involvement of Pakistan’s exchange, demonstrating the growing momentum for gender equality in the private sector.
In the Philippines, the Institute of Corporate Directors, launched the results of a study on gender diversity on Philippine boards, an initiative supported by IFC timed to coincide with the global Ring the Bell events. IFC is working with the ICD on a broader scale as well, to increase the number of female directors on the boards of Philippine companies—part of the effort to encourage better corporate governance in the country.
Increased media attention signals growing awareness
These events—and others like them made headlines around the world.
The growing amount of media attention means that the gender equality message is resonating—an important development, given the key role stock exchanges play in setting standards and shaping companies’ behavior.
Photo Album: Ring the Bell for Gender Equality, March 2018
Video: "We Are" Women on Boards in Sri Lanka, March 2018
Feature Story: IFC and Partners Ring Bells for Gender Equality Around the World, March 2017
Photo Album: Ringing the Bell for Gender Equality, March 2017
Feature Story: IFC Rings the Bell for Gender Equality, March 2016