Breaking Barriers for Women Leaders in Solomon Islands

In Solomon Islands – a country where only one out of four women hold a formal full time paying job – Lyn Fa’arodo stands out.

After working at ANZ Bank for 20 years, she is now head of digital channels business at BSP, the Bank South Pacific, one of the largest banks in the country. But Lyn, a mother of four, never had a formal qualification after leaving school. “I don’t have a tertiary education. I left school at year 12,” she said. “But with IFC supporting me, last year I got to attend a leadership and management course of the Australia-Pacific Technical College, which really enhanced my skills and knowledge in terms of how to lead people.” 

Along with 14 of the nation’s largest companies, BSP is aiming to promote gender equality in the workplace – including by promoting women in leadership - through the Wake Mere Commitment to Action. Waka Mere is a two-year IFC initiative in partnership with the Solomon Islands Chamber of Commerce and Industry (SICCI), supported by the Australian and New Zealand governments.  

The need for the initiative was apparent in the results of early employee surveys and HR data from the companies signing onto the Waka Mere Commitment to Action. They showed that women were underrepresented in all levels of the workforce, especially in leadership positions. While half the companies had policies on equal employment opportunity or non-discrimination, one third of employees reported that women and men did not have the same chances for promotion.


Lyn, who recently was elected as the only Solomon Islander woman on the Board of Directors of SICCI, said helping women pursue opportunities in leadership had a ripple effect. “The course I attended equipped me with coaching techniques and practical tools to manage teams and handle difficult situations. I learned the value of taking the time to listen and explain, understand and be understood, set clear expectations, identify actions for both my team and myself, and regularly follow up. It became clear that when I support my staff in a positive and constructive way, they will perform better. This approach helped me develop other women. I am proud to say that when I left ANZ, two of my female staff took leadership roles as managers.”.


The benefits do not stop at work. Lyn said the course helped her realize the importance of setting herself as a role model at the office, at home, and in her community. “Now I try to encourage others, especially my kids, to grow and have more confidence in themselves.”  Lessons she learned also have practical applications in her everyday life. Lyn’s husband Julian said that in the past she would often try to do everything herself and micromanage. “I noticed that after the course she started to delegate tasks at home - she even did a board for sharing house duties,” he said.  



Mary Pina, who works as a Quality Control Assistant Manager at the only tuna processing facility in Solomon Islands, SolTuna Limited, an IFC investment and advisory client, said the leadership training helped her lead others: “As a superintendent, I had experience but not confidence. Now, through the training I received, I have learned how to be confident and lead others,” she said.



For Salome Tahisihaka, who is Head of Training at Solomon Power, there was a definite advantage gained to help her work in what she called a “male dominated” environment. “The course helped me see that women can also do what men can. That we have to come out of ourselves to be able to lead others – not to be shy and have the confidence to speak up.”



Building women’s confidence and competencies is increasingly recognized as a key driver for business growth. Tele Bartlett, Director at Bulk Shop, said her company sent 18 employees to a leadership course this year, recognizing that it helps increase effectiveness. “In fact, we were planning to hire an expatriate for a managerial position but gave it to a local staff when we noticed how she had grown after the course,” she said. “Today, she thrives in this role and does a remarkable job. We were happy to build local talent while saving costs associated with bringing in someone from abroad.”


Nine of the first 12 women who attended leadership courses with IFC’s support were later promoted or assigned broader responsibilities.  Florence Bako from Hatanga was among those women.  “In the course I learned a lot about planning and prioritization which are key in my job as I must make sure all the goods are delivered on time,” she said.” As a result, my performance improved, and I was given additional responsibilities to manage logistics and contracts.”

In addition to promoting women in leadership, Waka Mere includes two more commitments: building respectful and supportive workplaces and increasing opportunities for women in jobs traditionally held by men. Waka Mere participating companies are taking action to meet at least one of these commitments. Find out more in Waka Mere (progress report) and about IFC's work on gender in East Asia and the Pacific.

This story was published in October 2018.