Stock exchanges globally are ringing their bells for gender equality, while a UK-based scholarship scheme has launched to help get more black women into the boardroom
by Bethan Rees
In advance of International Women's Day (IWD) on 8 March, Nandini Harihareswara, senior adviser at the UN Capital Development Fund (UNCDF), speaks to UN News on fighting for women's financial freedom. In her role at the UNCDF, she aims to ensure women are taking advantage of digital finance to lift them out of poverty.
Harihareswara says women in the least developed countries traditionally don't "have access to the digital assets, collateral, networks or financial services that can help them access the capital they need to start a business".
There are 115 economies that have laws preventing women from running a business in the same way as men and 167 countries that have "at least one law restricting women's economic opportunity", says Harihareswara.
UNCDF is raising awareness of these problems and working to improve financial equality in women. In Zambia, UNCDF in 2019 launched Sprint4Women, a competition where digital finance providers test their products and business models in the field, then pitch those models to judges. A local fintech, JUMO, won the competition in 2020 and has changed the way it markets its products. As a result, its customer base is up more than 50% and its proportion of women clients has doubled.
In Papua New Guinea, UNCDF is working with a bank to help illiterate women access financial services using open digital payment systems, says Harihareswara. "Before, they would use a scribble as a signature line, exposing them to fraud, but now they only need a fingerprint."
She says the challenge of bringing women into the digital economy has been exacerbated by Covid-19. "We can’t turn a blind eye to the threat of women becoming completely marginalised, of being digitally and financially 'dark' for the rest of their lives," she concludes.
UN News article
Black women on boards
To help celebrate IWD, the Miranda Brawn Diversity Leadership Foundation, a UK-based charity focusing on education, self-confidence and career development for young people from diverse backgrounds, has launched the first Black Women on Boards (BWOB) initiative, according to an article for The Voice.
The BWOB initiative includes a scholarship for full-time student leaders from a Black African and Caribbean heritage, including mixed-race backgrounds, to assist with their funding, mentoring and work experience within their chosen sector. This is part of a bid to increase the number of black and mixed-race women in the boardroom, the article says. It also includes an "innovative reverse mentoring programme" to complement its existing programme, allowing students and alumni leaders to act as mentors to senior leaders.
According to the article, the "initiative is due to the lack of black female directors at FTSE 350 and Fortune 500 companies". It says that BoardEx data shows that only around 3% of female board-level roles are held by women of black, Asian or minority ethnic heritage in the FTSE 350. And it points to “recent research” that highlights that for the first time in six years, there are no black chairs, CEOs or CFOs in the FTSE100.
Dr Miranda Brawn, founder of the charity and a financial executive, lawyer and board adviser, is quoted in the article. "With collaborative efforts, we can increase the number of black and mixed-race women in the boardroom and in senior management leadership roles. We all have a role to play in making a difference and pushing for progress," she says.
The Voice article
Ringing the bell for gender equality
For the seventh year in a row, a collaboration of stock exchanges around the world are ringing their bells to celebrate IWD, according to a press release from Women in ETFs, a non-profit organisation that brings people together in the exchange-traded funds (ETF) sector. More than 100 exchanges around the world are taking part over a two-week period, which started on 1 March. The event is a partnership between the International Finance Corporation, Sustainable Stock Exchanges, UN Global Compact, UN Women, the World Federation of Exchanges, and Women in ETFs.
The theme of this year's IWD is 'Women in leadership: achieving an equal future in a Covid-19 world'. It will celebrate the efforts of women globally in shaping a more equal future. "Today there is more recognition than ever before that women bring different experiences, perspectives and skills to the table, and make irreplaceable contributions to decisions, policies and laws that work better for all," the press release states.
Women in ETFs' view is quoted. "Gender equality is central to driving the global economy and the private sector has an important role to play." It says its mission is to "create opportunities for professional development and advancement of women by expanding connections among women and men" in the financial sector.
Women in ETFs press release