Women on Boards and in Business Leadership

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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 

A growing body of research shows a range of business benefits associated with gender diversity on boards and in senior leadership—and with a robust pipeline of female management talent. Benefits include improved financial performance and shareholder value, reduced risk of fraud and corruption, increased customer and employee satisfaction, greater investor confidence, and enhanced market knowledge and reputation. Studies also point to the positive influence of gender-diverse management and boards on a company's sustainability profile.

IFC's Contributions

The push toward greater diversity—and especially, gender diversity at the top—is already happening. It's driven by a growing number of qualified women, male champions, investors and shareholders, legislation and governance codes, and an overall awareness that companies must better reflect the markets they serve. IFC is contributing to this push by building capacity, raising awareness, and adding to the knowledge base on the value of gender-diverse boards and business leadership in emerging and frontier markets; part of its environment, social and governance work. 

Regional Examples

In East Asia and the Pacific, IFC launched Board Gender Diversity in ASEAN in partnership with Indonesia Business Coalition for Women Empowerment, Indonesia Global Compact Network, UN Women, and the Indonesia Stock Exchange. The first-ever such study of companies in the region, the report found that companies with boards that have more than 30 percent female representation are associated with higher returns on assets and returns on equity compared with companies that have all-male boards. A follow-up session focused on ways to raise awareness and catalyze change in Indonesia. 

In Europe and Central Asia, IFC conducted its Women on Boards and in Business Leadership training in Georgia and Kazakhstan, with plans for additional workshops in the future. We continue to support a yearly conference at which researchers from the Independent Women Directors Project, Sabanci University and Egon Zehnder present their annual study of women on boards in Turkey.

In Latin America and the Caribbean, IFC offered its Women on Boards and in Business Leadership workshops, coordinating with our local partners and IFC industry colleagues, as in Colombia and Peru, where we partnered with our infrastructure industry colleagues on workshops featuring industry-specific content.  Once again, IFC participated in the annual Ring the Bell for Gender Equality events with the stock exchanges of Argentina, Brazil, Colombia and Peru. We continue to contribute opinion pieces to business media, participate in conferences, and offer market-based programs designed to bring together qualified women and companies in search of new board members.

In the Middle East and North Africa, IFC completed two studies of women on boards—in Egypt and Lebanon. The launch of these studies, accompanied by videos, attracted enormous attention across the region. With a combined research sample of more than 3,700 companies across both countries, the studies reached similar conclusions: Firms with gender-diverse boards outperformed those with all-male boards in most of the indicators. IFC also partnered with the American University in Cairo to coach female directors and senior managers on effective leadership, making use of specialized toolkits. 

In South Asia, IFC has partnered with local institutions to train more than 400 women for board directorships. In Sri Lanka, IFC's Corporate Governance for Women project trains women directors, offers programs for women-led smaller businesses, and conducts research on obstacles to increased gender parity in the boardroom. IFC also partnered with the Dhaka and Colombo stock exchanges to create a database of female directors of listed company boards.  In India, the results from the third year of a corporate governance scorecard, co-developed by IFC, the Bombay Stock Exchange and Institutional Investor Advisory Services, indicates progress on gender diversity in the boardroom.

In Sub-Saharan Africa, IFC conducted its Women on Boards and in Business Leadership workshops in Ethiopia and Kenya and partnered with local institutions on events aimed at building a pool of board-ready female candidates. We also completed a study of women on boards in Nigeria, which revealed the challenges for women in ascending to board positions.  In Sierra Leone, we support a diversity-in-leadership agenda across the business sectors, with the goal of 30 percent female representation on company boards.  A similar effort in Liberia, which also saw the creation of the Women on Boards Network, aims for 33 percent female representation on company boards by 2023.

Globally, Accra, Ghana and Bogota, Colombia hosted regional launch events to showcase Trailblazers: Profiles of Female Leadership in Emerging and Frontier  Markets, a signature publication of the WBBL program that highlights how 20 female business leaders from around the world broke new ground, created new markets, and added strong business value for their organizations and their national economies. 

Also under the program's thought leadership and knowledge generation component,  we published Public Sector Opinion 42, which offers comprehensive evidence of the link between more women in business leadership, stronger corporate environmental, social, and governance standards, and better company performance. In addition, the program oversaw the release of several new country and one regional study of women on boards, as noted above. 

Once again, we helped coordinate global "Ring the Bell for Gender Equality" events to mark International Women's Day—celebrated this year at 85 stock exchanges around the world, with IFC leading or co-leading in 26 events. The program's training component continues to deliver strong results, with workshops delivered in 15 countries and reaching more than 350 participants. Demand is high for this training, and plans include more workshop delivery, including internally at IFC—as well as training-of-trainer programs—in the coming year. Other plans include collaborating with IFC industry counterparts to build the women's leadership pipeline in investee companies. In addition, we are ramping up our focus on female business leadership in fragile and conflict countries and are planning to organize a roundtable to discuss challenges and opportunities and issue a report on findings and recommendations; we are also developing case studies of successful efforts to increase the number of women on boards and in senior leadership. 

November 2019

Selected Resources

Sustainability Case Studies: Lessons Learned on Leading Through Crisis and Recovering Stronger, June 2021

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


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