Listed companies urged to make voluntary disclosures to encourage gender equality

Investor interest in social data transparency is at an all-time high, experts say

Listed companies should provide voluntary disclosures about equality to narrow the gender gap at work that has worsened amid the Covid-19 pandemic, experts say.

“Companies can start gender equality in the workplace by starting with disclosure. They have to be comfortable with reporting gender data publicly. We cannot manage what we are not measuring,” Patricia Torres, global head of sustainable finance solutions at Bloomberg, said during a webinar on gender equality on Wednesday.

The Bloomberg Gender-Equality Index was a key topic, during which senior leaders in finance and business discussed the importance of transparent disclosures about gender equality in the workplace and building an inclusive corporate environment.

The index, launched six years ago, provides a blueprint for public companies to assess their progress towards gender parity, benchmark against peers and highlight their commitment to gender equality. It measures improvements in gender equality across five metrics: female leadership and talent pipeline; equal pay and gender pay parity; inclusive culture; anti-sexual harassment policies; and pro-women brand.

Investors can use these metrics to select securities while allocating capital across their portfolios.

Gender equality has come under the spotlight after the Covid-19 pandemic disproportionately affected women's jobs. Globally, women lost more than 64 million jobs last year, representing a 5 per cent loss and more than the 3.9 per cent loss that men experienced, according to a report by Oxfam International.

Women’s jobs are 1.8 times more vulnerable to the impact of Covid-19 than men’s jobs this year, according to experts who spoke at the webinar on gender equality. While women make up 39 per cent of the global employment workforce, they account for 54 per cent of overall job losses.

“The World Economic Forum estimates that it will take more than 135 years to close the gender gap. There is so much work to be done,” Ms Torres said.

But studies have increasingly indicated a link between how more women board members could help boost the number of female workers and eventually narrow the gender gap at work.

Data from the Bloomberg GEI showed boards with more than 30 per cent female board members, on average, have 7 per cent more female executives than those falling short of the 30 per cent mark on representation, she added.

There is a business case for gender equality and investor interest in social data transparency is at an all-time high, according to Sabina Mehmood, product manager at Bloomberg GEI.

“We estimate that $38 trillion of ESG assets under management in 2020 will grow to $53tn within the next five years, accounting for a third of projected global assets under management by 2025,” Ms Mehmood said.

Many countries in the region require listed companies to have female board members.

All listed companies in the UAE must have at least one female director on their boards, the Securities and Commodities Authority said in March.

According to social enterprise Aurora50, women currently sit on the boards of 28 of the 110 listed companies in the UAE, or 26 per cent of the total. However, they only make up around 3.5 per cent (29 of a total of 823 board members) of board directors of these firms.

The UAE has the highest level of women participating in the workforce – 57.5 per cent in 2020 – of any country in the Middle East and North Africa region, the World Bank said.

Meanwhile, listed companies in Egypt are also encouraged to publicly disclose their gender-related data through the Gender-Equality Index Reporting Framework, Mohamed Farid Saleh, executive chairman of the Egyptian Exchange, said. The exchange expects all companies to have a woman board member by the end of the year, he added.

“When we look at the total number of women participating on the boards of EGX-listed companies, this ratio has increased from above 10 per cent to about 14.5 per cent,” he said.

“Egypt has made significant progress towards increasing gender equality but there is still more work to be done. EGX will train listed companies in best practices in this field to improve gender equality across listed securities,” Mr Saleh added.

The 30% Club, an organisation committed to increasing female representation on boards and leadership roles, aims to see a minimum 30 per cent women on boards and senior management.

“Our mission is to work along with government entities, education bodies and the private sector to drive the change in how women are hired, trained, developed and retained all the way to the board,” said Farah Foustok, chief executive of Lazard Asset Management and founder of the 30% Club Mena chapter.

“Our goal is to drive a culture of voluntary disclosure on all gender metrics for publicly listed companies in the region. We believe this will lead to strategic commitment for a more inclusive workplace culture with direct impact on productivity levels and long-term shareholder value.”

Updated: July 8th 2021, 11:41 AM