Experts Speak on Women's Leadership Savvy in Emerging Markets
The question of whether more women belong in corporate boardrooms is no
longer a gender equity issue. It's an economic growth strategy.
This was a repeated theme at the "Women as
Entrepreneurs, Consumers and Agents of Change" forum, hosted April 13 by the
Robert H. Smith School of Business at the Ronald Reagan International Trade
Center in Washington, D.C.
Experts representing academia, government and business discussed the way
women are thriving in public and private sector leadership roles, including
those who have capitalized on microfinance and governmental reforms designed to
spur developing economies.
Participants also discussed whether women have sufficient access to
leadership roles in U.S. companies and other established economies.
Keynote speaker and former Hewlett Packard CEO Carly Fiorina MBA ’80
epitomized the theme and conversation. She recounted witnessing entrepreneurial
success by women in underdeveloped economies and her climb from small company
secretary to the first female CEO of a Fortune 20 company. Before leading HP
from 1999 to 2005, she leveraged her Smith degree and other educational and
professional experience to almost 20 years of advancing through various
leadership roles with AT&T and Lucent Technologies. More recently, as chairman
and CEO of Carly Fiorina Enterprises, she has been a best-selling author,
sought-after speaker, business commentator and strategic advisor.
Entrepreneurs in Developing Economies
In India, women are increasingly taking on leadership roles and improving
their communities because electoral quotas require females to occupy 40 percent
of village council seats, according to a recent study led by Harvard public
policy professor Rohini Pande, who detailed the findings as opening speaker.
India also is recognized as the late 1970s birthplace of modern-day village
banking by which heads of households -- predominately women -- in developing
economies administer small loans to prospective entrepreneurs in their
communities from funds seeded by institutions such as the Foundation for
International Community Assistance (FINCA).
FINCA President and CEO Rupert Scofield said this form of microfinancing has
increasingly helped women thrive as entrepreneurs around the globe, especially
in sub-Saharan Africa. He gave an example of a Tanzania woman borrowing $1,500
to open a bakery in 2004 with two employees. Now, she produces 10,000 loaves of
bread daily with 60 employees and has subsequently opened a market for local
suppliers to her business.
Fiorina said she foresaw such a phenomenon as a 14-year-old in Ghana, where
she and her family resided briefly.
"The women were incredible multi-taskers," she said. "They literally carried
babies on their backs and water on their heads, and at the market they stood
behind the stalls and bargained furiously to make money for their families. ...
They were the commercial underpinning of their communities. They did it all. It
made a huge impression on me."
She said the experience helped inspire her to steer HP philanthropic
initiatives for microbusinesses in economies, like India, where in the early
2000s, the company equipped a pair of local women with a solar-powered digital
photography kit to photograph citizens in small, rural communities for national
ID cards. Fiorina said the women quickly identified a business opportunity and
expanded the service that has employed up to 300 roving photographers to shoot
family portraits, weddings and other family and community events.
"These two women just did not grow their business,” Fiorina said. “They
returned home and used some of the proceeds to begin an education fund for their
Such opportunity has not reached all regions, especially Asia Pacific. The U.N.
recently reported that region’s GDP is shortchanged by $43 to 47 million yearly
due to a lack of participation by women, said Wendy Yu, representing the State
Department’s Global Women’s Issues Office. In response, the State Department
convened a summit in 2011, resulting in 21 Asian Pacific economic ministers
signing a pact – the San Francisco Declaration – to promote women's access to
markets, capital, capacity and skill-building, and leadership.
Along with institutional reform, information technology is another equalizer.
“Any woman with a skill can find a market. Everyone has an opportunity to reach
someone who could be willing to take a chance on them,” said Fiorina. "I do not
say this with any kind of naiveté. It is a cruel world out there for too many
women. And yet, for the first time in human history, history is on the side of
the individual, not on the side of power.”
Leadership in Corporate Boardrooms
Such optimism and success in developing economies should translate to the
boardrooms of corporate America where women remain underrepresented, said Dan
Konigsburg, managing director and global leader for Deloitte's Global Center for
He said women on corporate boards range from 3 percent in Italy to
approaching 40 percent in Holland, where a recent legislated quota calls for
that percentage of representation by both genders. But "disappointingly," women
are absent from 40 percent of the world’s largest publicly listed companies, and
their representation (about 16 percent of Fortune 500 board seats according to
GovernanceMetrics International) in U.S. company boardrooms has essentially
stagnated over the past several years.
Konigsburg did acknowledge a lack of statistical evidence supporting the
impact of women in boardrooms. (GMI reported in 2011 that women occupy 13-22
percent of the board seats for both its top 10- and bottom-10-rated companies).
However, he and other conference participants suggested critical analysis of
this issue is perhaps best based on "the common sense notion" that better
decision making tends to result when a greater diversity of perspectives and
life experiences are applied to a problem.
While quotas are providing women access to power in some developing and more
socialist societies, the formula appears less likely applicable in the United
However, Yu said women are forging ahead as U.S. business leaders, apart from
the corporate boardroom. “According to the Guardian Life Small Business Research
Institute, future U.S. job growth will increase primarily from women-owned small
businesses, and by 2018, women entrepreneurs will create up to 5.5 million new
World Bank representatives Rita Ramalho and Mary Hallward-Driemeier; USAID
Microenterprise Development Director Shari Berenbach; Dolly Oberoi, CEO of C²
Technologies, Inc.; Smith MBA graduate Hayian Wang (’95), founder and managing
partner of the China India Institute; Pete Freeman, a Peace Corps volunteer
recently returned from Senegal; and Ximena de Sanchez de Lozada, former First
Lady of Bolivia also spoke at the event.
"Each participant can take new insight and contribute in some way to
furthering this recent emergence of women leading social and economic growth,"
said forum organizer Kislaya Prasad, research professor and director of the
Smith Center for International Business Education and Research (CIBER). "The
effectiveness of India's electoral quotas and the entrepreneurial savvy of women
capitalizing on microfinance loans should be signaling to leaders in developed
economies the potential for greater prosperity by having more women in
The event, the annual Emerging Markets Forum, is presented by
CIBER and the Center for Social Value
Creation. Review highlights from
the 2011 forum.
About the Robert H. Smith School of Business
The Robert H. Smith School of Business is an internationally recognized leader
in management education and research. One of 12 colleges and schools at the
University of Maryland, College Park, the Smith School offers undergraduate,
full-time and part-time MBA, executive MBA, MS in business, PhD and executive
education programs, as well as outreach services to the corporate community. The
school offers its degree, custom and certification programs in learning
locations in North America and Asia.