Women on Boards and in Business Leadership

Untitled Document

Research has shown that having gender-diverse boards and senior leadership is positively correlated with better financial and non-financial performance contributing to overall company growth and their environmental, social and governance (ESG) performance. But despite proven benefits, women are still under-represented and progress is slow. According to a 2021 study, globally, women hold only 19.7 percent of board seats, only 6.7 percent of board chair positions, only 5 percent of CEO, and only 15.7 percent of CFO positions.

The Business Case 

IFC’s Women on Boards and in Business Leadership (WBBL) program aims to address root causes of gender gaps in business leadership by breaking down barriers to boardroom entry and accelerating the pace at which women are joining boards and ascending to senior management positions. The efforts, conducted globally and embedded in regional advisory projects, are designed to promote diversity and inclusion, and influence change at all levels of business in emerging markets. The program is part of IFC’s holistic approach to advancing gender equality—tied to the achievement of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). It is also aligned with IFC’s mission to create markets and opportunities, with an emphasis on expanding the private sector in developing countries.

IFC's Contributions

The WBBL program addresses gender gaps by working with policymakers, market intermediaries and IFC clients to:

  • Leverage capital markets to advance women leaders by partnering with the United Nations Sustainable Stock Exchanges Initiative to work on guidance for exchanges and issuers, global training, gender disclosure, rankings, market monitors, and others.
  • Build capacity, networks, and institutions by delivering to clients and market intermediaries a comprehensive training focusing on diverse, equitable, and inclusive leadership, strategies to ignite change, and ESG practices.
  • Increase thought leadership and knowledge by producing research, manuals, guidance, tip sheets and stepping up dissemination and knowledge sharing.
  • Address crisis management, resilience, and sustainability by tapping on women leaders and sharing their experience on navigating crises and recovering stronger.

Regional Examples

In East Asia and the Pacific, 150 representatives of companies listed on the Shenzhen Stock Exchange gathered for an in-person presentation on IFC’s new study Board Gender Diversity in ASEAN. The November 2020 event was live-streamed, attracting 60,000 participants online. During the event, a group of 12 leading investment institutions and 11 prominent listed companies announced the launch of Xiangmihu Women Directors, which aims to enhance board gender diversity in China. Given that the initiative is among the first of its kind in the country, the event attracted strong media coverage. Future plans include delivering the WBBL training program for participants in Papua New Guinea in partnership with the stock exchange and to Nepal, as part of IFC’s Powered by Women Program.

In Europe and Central Asia, IFC is developing its WBBL program, building a pool of qualified female business leaders through training. In 2021, the WBBL training faculty delivered a virtual, four-module board readiness program—for participants in Kazakhstan, simulcast in Russian. Similar training took place in April 2022 in Turkey, and a request for a repeat training came afterwards. IFC has also conducted market-wide research to study the current state of board and senior management gender diversity in Kazakhstan’s companies, including the benefits, business case, challenges, and opportunities. Moving forward IFC plans launches of the WBBL training in other countries of the region as well as delivering training-of-trainers in 2023 to strengthen skills and service offerings of local partners.

In Latin America and the Caribbean, exchanges and other capital markets stakeholders participated in 2022 Ring the Bell for Gender Equality activities, with virtual events taking place in Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Chile, Peru, and Panama.

In Colombia, IFC partnered with Colegio de Estudios Superiores de Administracion (CESA) and the Colombian Institute of Corporate Governance to deliver the Colombian Women Leadership Program. Designed to build the supply of qualified Colombian women business leaders and meet the growing demand for skilled and prepared diverse leaders, the program has trained 7 cohorts of women leaders—totaling more than 300 participants. To raise the visibility of participants who completed the program, along with other women leaders, CESA with support from IFC built a database with 270 qualified female board candidates. To date, the database has provided resumes for 1,800 selection processes, resulting in the appointment of 25 women to boards of directors. This work has led directly to an increase in the percentage of women on boards in Colombia: In 2019, women represented 16 percent of board directors of listed companies; in 2021, women’s representation rose to 18.5 percent.

In Brazil, since 2015, IFC is co-sponsoring an initiative to foster the participation of women on boards: the Programa Diversidade em Conselho (PDeC). Alongside IFC, the Program is co-sponsored by B3 (the Brazilian Stock Exchange), IBGC (the Brazilian Institute of Corporate Governance), and WCD (WomenCorporateDirectors). 139 women have participated in five editions of a year-long program that is comprised of three pillars: a mentoring initiative, a governance and capital markets course, and events that help share knowledge and expand networking. On the first pillar, CEOs and entrepreneurs who are prominent board members mentor senior women executives who are or want to become board members. In addition to supporting those women in a pivotal moment of their careers, the PDeC aims to raise awareness in the Brazilian market about the importance of diversity on boards and top management. The sixth edition of the program was launched in October 2021 and will complete in October 2022.

In Peru, we are partnering with WomenCEO and Centrum PUCP Business School to grow a platform or database for board directors, which includes a large number of women executives. Also, IFC supported WomenCEO to produce a report (in Spanish) for women to ascend to boards and senior management positions.

In Mexico, there is growing interest to establish a program to promote women to business leadership positions, especially to boards. Discussions are underway in collaboration with IFC’s Gender and Economic Inclusion team.

In the Middle East and North Africa, IFC delivered a series of virtual events to promote the positive impact of gender-diverse boards on the financial performance of companies in Egypt, Jordan, and Lebanon. In addition, we are collaborating with the Jordan Institute of Directors to update a 2015 study of board diversity in Jordan. This new research, conducted in cooperation with IFC’s Gender and Economic Inclusion Group and funded by the Mashreq Gender Facility, captures the extent of gender diversity on Jordan’s boards in a cross-section of industries during the five-year period 2015–2020. Further, IFC, in partnership with the Club des Femmes Administrateurs (Women on Boards Association, CFA) in Morocco, have conducted a survey study exploring the relationship between board diversity and board effectiveness.

In North Africa, we organized a virtual conference on enhancing board diversity—timed to coincide with the implementation of new regulation in Egypt requiring women’s representation on boards all publicly-listed companies. The event was jointly hosted by a cross-section of stakeholder groups, including Egypt’s financial regulatory authority, UN Women, the Egyptian Institute of Directors, and the American University in Cairo. Among the conference topics: evidence of the business case for board diversity and action plans to expand the pipeline of qualified, board-ready women.

In South Asia, IFC’s Corporate Governance for Women in Sri Lanka project partners with local institutes of directors for technical knowledge transfer, training, and capacity building to establish sustainable training for women directors, with regulators for regulatory reforms to incorporate gender lens in corporate governance codes and conducts research on obstacles to increased gender parity in the boardroom. These multi-pronged interventions helped with to increase the proportion of women directors on the Colombo Stock Exchange (CSE)-listed companies from around 8 percent in 2018 to 10.1 percent in 2022, representing an increase in 96 board positions that are occupied by women. IFC also launched a second report that show that companies with higher gender diversity on boards of companies listed on the CSE also exhibited better financial performance. In 2021, IFC facilitated the launch of the Sri Lanka Chapter of Women Corporate Directors with 16 founding members representing diverse sectors. In Bangladesh, IFC partnered with Dhaka Stok Exchange to create a database of female directors on listed company boards and conduct research on the profile of women directors to identify key sector level gaps

In Sub-Saharan Africa, IFC collaborated with local chambers of commerce to continue building a pool of board-ready female candidates in Sierra Leone and Liberia. Support for the Women on Boards Network initiative included guidance on implementing governance structures, assistance with registering the groups as legal entities, and financial assistance for training, website development, and creation of a membership database. Through the network, members received corporate governance and board-readiness training. Several women received board appointments following completion of training program.

Other highlights include coordinating Ring the Bell for Gender Equality events in Kenya, Ethiopia, Rwanda, and Uganda to mark annual celebrations of International Women’s Day. A range of activities accompanies these events, including roundtable discussions featuring prominent business and political leaders on the importance of women’s participation in all aspects of society. Of note, women make up 50 percent of Ethiopia’s cabinet and in Uganda, where 40 percent of government leaders are female.

Globally, in 2022, as part of its heightened focus on capital markets as key influencers in the push for better gender balance in the boardrooms and C-suites of listed companies, the team continued to collaborate with the UNSSE on several knowledge products. These include a guidance report on how exchanges can advance gender equality, which is shaped by real-world examples from stock, bond, and derivative exchanges around the world, as well as security market regulators and subject matter experts. The guidance, “How Exchanges Can Advance Gender Equality: Updated Guidance and Best Practice,” is a comprehensive update of a 2017 report. The new report includes concrete market and exchange-focused actions, along with several real-world examples of what exchanges are already doing to advance gender equality in their markets and within their own operations.

Other collaborative work with SSE includes a study to rank the gender diversity of G20 stock exchanges, half of which are in emerging markets, currently being updated, and two other market monitors. A global training for exchanges and issuers based on the guidance note and in discussions with several exchanges is also being developed. Future work include guidance on gender disclosure, and gender taxonomy.

For the eight consecutive year, the team coordinated IFC’s participation in Ring the Bell for Gender Equality events, where 44 IFC offices worldwide participated out of a total of 108 participating exchanges.

Based on demand, the report on How Women in Business Leadership Boost ESG Performance was translated into additional languages, now available in Amharic, Kinyarwanda, Khmer, Lao, Russian, and Spanish. With COVID-19 a top-of-mind issue beginning in March 2020, the team responded with a multimedia package of covid-related knowledge materials, which includes a video series featuring insights from eight women business leaders in fragile and emerging markets on managing through crisis, resilience, and recovery, and a lessons learned/case studies summarizing the advice and experience of women business leaders on steering their institutions through the pandemic and economic downturn, culled from interviews and a survey of more than 300 women leaders in the global WBBL network.

Upcoming knowledge products and events include the publication of case studies on women board directors in Liberia and Sierra Leone, and new research on the intersection between stronger corporate climate governance and more diverse business leadership, among other activities.

September 2022

Selected Resources

Report: The State of Gender Equality in Corporate Leadership: Market Monitors for Latin America, G20, Regional, December 2022

Case Studies: Being Bold—Case Studies on Women's Business Leadership in Sierra Leone and Liberia, November 2022

Guidance Note: How Exchanges Can Advance Gender Equality - Updated Guidance and Best Practice, March 2022

Report: The State of Gender Equality in G20 Markets, March 2021

Videos: IFC We Rise – Insights from Women Leaders on Managing Through Crisis, Resilience, and Recovery, June 2021

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

Training: Overview of the WBBL training workshops (ongoing)


Case Studies: Being Bold—Case Studies on Women's Business Leadership in Sierra Leone and Liberia, November 2022

Research: Bridging the Gap in the Arab States: Emerging Private Sector Response and Recovery Measures for Gender Equality amid COVID-19, October 2022

Research: She Matters – Women in Kazakhstan’s Corporate Leadership, May 2022

Guidance note: How Exchanges Can Advance Gender Equality- Updated Guidance and Best Practice, March 2022

Research: Women on Boards in Morocco (French), March 2022

Research: Realizing Sustainability through Diversity: The Case for Gender Diversity Among Sri Lanka's Business Leadership, March 2022

Research: The State of Gender Equality in G20 Markets, March 2021

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

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

Full list of publications >>

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