Gaining access to leadership positions can be challenging for women, but there are increasing opportunities for women to lead in business in the Pacific, according to a new report from the Pacific Private Sector Development Initiative(PSDI), a technical assistance programme undertaken in partnership with the Asian Development Bank and the governments of Australia and New Zealand.
Leadership Matters: Benchmarking Women in Business Leadership in the Pacific collects and analyses women’s business leadership data across 14 Pacific countries, establishing a baseline for women’s representation in senior business leadership—including in state-owned enterprises—and comparing these findings to global averages and the representation of women in political leadership in the Pacific.
“The report suggests a bright picture in the Pacific business community, where women’s representation in leadership exceeds global averages in many measures,” said the report’s author, PSDI Economic Empowerment of Women Expert, Sarah Boxall. “This is a welcome finding, given the Pacific has among the lowest rates of women’s representation in politics in the world and is often seen as a region where women are afforded few leadership opportunities.”
The report highlights the importance of these positive findings, given the global links between the representation of women in leadership and improved business performance, productivity, and profitability. It also emphasises the need to increase diversity in leadership to optimize economic growth and the private sector’s capacity to lead economic recovery from COVID-19—a focus of PSDI’s work in the Pacific.
The report finds that the Pacific compares favourably with global averages in many measures of business leadership. Women hold 21 percent of board seats and 11 percent of board chairs in the Pacific, well above the global averages of 16.9 percent and 5.3 percent, respectively. Women also hold 13 percent of chief executive officer (CEO) positions in the Pacific, but only 4.4 percent globally.
The percentage of women in leadership roles varies considerably by country and sector. The Cook Islands, Palau, Samoa, and Tuvalu stand out as having higher proportions of women directors and CEOs than most countries in the region. When the data is examined by sector, tourism leads the way as the only sector to exceed the Pacific regional average in every category of leadership. In the region’s private sector tourism organisations, women comprise 18% of board chairs, 60 percentof deputy chairs, 28 percent of directors, and 50 percent of CEOs.
“Although the Pacific is doing well compared to global averages, it is important to remember that these low global figures reflect ongoing and widespread inequalities,” continued Boxall. “What needs to be strived for is equal representation in leadership in all countries and in all sectors.”
To guide the development of evidence-based policy that encourages and supports women’s business leadership, the report offers a comprehensive set of recommendations aimed at cultivating a better understanding of the structural barriers faced by women; establishing supportive policies, practices, and incentives; and monitoring women’s representation in leadership over time.
PSDI supports the Asian Development Bank’s 14 Pacific developing member countries to improve the enabling environment for business and to achieve inclusive, private sector-led economic growth, including through reforms designed to enhance the economic empowerment of women.