Women on Boards and in Business Leadership

Good corporate governance helps firms improve performance, drive growth, manage risks, attract and retain investors, and weather financial crises. To be truly effective, a board requires a diversity of skills, cultures, and views to make smart decisions with lasting impact.

The Business Case 

To be effective, a board requires a diversity of skills, cultures, and views to make smart decisions with lasting impact.

Research shows that a broad set of business benefits, such as improved financial performance and shareholder value, increased customer and employee satisfaction, rising investor confidence, and greater market knowledge and reputation, is associated with gender diversity on corporate boards.

Research also indicates that more investment fund companies are including gender diversity indicators among their criteria – a move that suggests investor confidence may improve with the addition of women to a company’s board.

Still, while companies may express a willingness to change and reform, they may not know what to do or how to do it. IFC’s Corporate Governance Group has identified three guidelines to help companies plot their diversity progression:

  1. Understand the underlying reasons for diversity initiatives and spell out what they hope to achieve to appropriately manage expectations.
  2. Cast a wide net in their director search and look beyond the relatively small inner circle of familiar corporate boardroom faces to find equally qualified—or more qualified—individuals who can offer fresh perspectives.
  3. Need to understand the urgency of taking action now as the diversity momentum is growing and companies that fail to make a move risk being left behind. Companies that have already appointed a female director should consider adding more to achieve a critical mass to demonstrate a commitment that is less about fulfilling a mandate and more about deepening and broadening the board’s existing skillsets.

IFC's Response

As part of the overall corporate governance work, IFC is building capacity, raising awareness, and expanding the discussion about gender diversity on boards in emerging markets and developing countries.  

IFC began an active outreach process to identify qualified women to fill board positions in the companies in which it invests and has almost reached its 2015 goal of 30 per cent female representation, aiming for full parity in the future.

Regional Examples

In East Asia and the Pacific, the IFC team has undertaken a regional study on the value of more gender-diverse boards, which also will identify the region’s board diversity challenges and opportunities and guide future, country-specific IFC programs.

In Europe and Central Asia, IFC has teamed up with local organizations to offer board diversity workshops in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Macedonia, Serbia and Ukraine. In Turkey, a partnership with Independent Women Directors is helping to identify qualified female candidates for IFC nominee directorships.

In Latin America and the Caribbean, IFC offered its Women on Boards and in Business Leadership workshops to participants in Colombia, Panama and Peru, and participated in the Ring the Bell for Gender Equality events with the stock exchanges of Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Panama and Peru. Additional efforts include raising the profile of the women-on-boards imperative by contributing opinion pieces to leading business media outlets and participating in conferences.

In the Middle East and North Africa, a first-ever study of female board directors in Jordan and the impact on the financial performance of their companies, undertaken by IFC, is now being replicated in other MENA countries, including Lebanon and Egypt. The IFC’s Women on Boards and in Business Leadership training program will be roll-out regionally, following a successful pilot in Lebanon.

In South Asia, IFC has trained more than 300 women for future board directors positions. In Sri Lanka, IFC’s Corporate Governance for Women project promotes good corporate governance practices through training for women directors, programs for women-led smaller businesses, and research on the obstacles to increased gender parity in the boardroom. India’s corporate governance scorecard, developed by IFC, the Bombay Stock Exchange and Institutional Investor Advisory Services, includes gender diversity as a key indicator.

In Sub-Saharan Africa, IFC partners with institutes of directors, securities exchanges, regulators, and academia on events aimed at building a pool of board-ready female candidates. The IFC also conducted research on board diversity in Ghana and future research is planned for Nigeria and Ethiopia.

Globally, IFC continues to support board diversity and women in the senior executive ranks. In our own investee companies, we have reached a target of 30 percent female representation for IFC-nominated director positions, with a future goal of 50 percent. We continue to deliver our training focused on emotional intelligence and behavior change around the world and prepare training-of-trainers workshops. We also conduct research to demonstrate evidence of the link between more women in senior executive positions and stronger environment, social and governance standards. Two publications on female business leaders in emerging markets and strategies to mainstream gender diversity in the boardroom and senior management are underway.


March 2019

Selected Resources

Fact Sheet: Women on Boards and in Business Leadership, November 2019

Video: Female Leaders Key To Growth For Lebanese Firms, September 2019

Video: How Women Drive Corporate Growth In Egypt, September 2019

Video: 2019 Ring the Bell for Gender Equality, March 2019

Brochure: Women on Boards and in Business Leadership Training, July 2018

Video: “We Are” Women on Boards in Sri Lanka, March 2018

Publication: Women on Boards of Companies Listed on the Colombo Stock Exchange, 2nd edition, March 2019 | 1st edition, March 2018


Research Study: Women on Board in Egypt: How Gender-Diverse Boards Bring Value to Egyptian Companies, July 2019

Research Study: Women on Board in Lebanon: How Gender-Diverse Boards Bring Value to Lebanese Companies, July 2019

Report: Trailblazers - Portraits of Female Business Leadership in Emerging and Frontier Markets, July 2019

Report: Women on Boards in Nigeria, June 2019

Study: Board Gender Diversity in ASEAN, June 2019

Full list of publications >>


Women in Business Leadership – A Boost to ESG and the Triple Bottom Line, February 2019

Navigating Stereotyping and Unconscious Bias in the Workplace, March 2018

Media Articles

Where are the Women in ECA Boardrooms? Ethical Boardroom, Winter 2019

Board Diversity in Southeast Asia, Ethical Boardroom, Autumn 2018

Full list of articles >>

Feature Stories

Bells Ring at Stock Exchanges Around the World to Promote Gender Equality, March 2018

Talk of Empowerment and Corporate Success at Seminars for Female Executives and Directors, June 2017

Full list of stories >>

Photo Albums

Ring the Bell for Gender Equality:
2019  |  2018  |  2017

Women on Boards and in Business Leadership Training Workshops:
Colombia  |  Kenya  |  Lebanon Myanmar |  Pakistan  |  Panama  |  Peru  Sri Lanka  |  Uganda


Loty Salazar | Washington, DC

+1 202-458- 2559 | lsalazar@worldbank.org