Just like the example of the education of the girl-child, a more effective and balanced female representation and participation in politics and government will have major impact on the country’s socio-economic future and overall national development, according to Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, SAN.
Prof. Osinbajo stated this as the Special Guest of Honour at the 2022 Women Directors’ Conference.
Speaking in a pre-recorded message on the theme of the Conference: Facing Forward – The Evolving Nature of Boards in a Rapidly Changing World, the Vice President advocated for more female representation in leadership positions in government and across different sectors, “as an economic imperative and not a moral duty of men or mere concession by men.”
Said he, “a country that keeps down half of its productive demography is bound to perform sub-optimally. But the issue is not just board representation, it is about representation in politics and government this is where major decisions affecting our lives are made. But perhaps, most importantly, it is about education of girls.
“The high levels of female illiteracy is dangerous from all possible standpoints. If half your population is uneducated, it means that development and being competitive in a knowledge-driven world will not happen or will happen too slowly to be of much use.”
Highlighting further the importance of girl-child education to national development, Prof. Osinbajo stated that “educated women means educated children, and this is the pipeline for women who will become CEOs, legislators, government officials and bureaucrats. Female representation must not be reduced to representation by a few elite women who have the good fortune of education.”
Urging for more efforts by governments at all levels in improving girl child education, the Vice President said, “there is a much larger fight for the future of a large majority of girls who are not even represented in primary schools. We must talk to State Governors. The States of the Federation control primary and secondary education; they must be engaged in the advocacy and persuasion efforts.”
While he noted the two-sided arguments on the levels of performance between men and women in the same positions, Prof. Osinbajo highlighted how a study on the Lagos judiciary showed the significance of female representation in driving positive societal change and reforms.
“I think a question that always seems to pop-up in conversations on the subject is: Do women do better than men in the same positions, or are men better performers on the job than women? The arguments will go on and on,” he added.
Recalling his experience as Attorney-General in Lagos State, the VP said, “when I was appointed Attorney-General in Lagos in 1999, one of the major problems with the judiciary was corruption. We conducted a study of 200 lawyers who practice in the in the High courts of Lagos State, 89% of them said that judges were notoriously corrupt.
“We started a reform which involved compensation and discipline. But also, a deliberate head-hunting of female lawyers, many of whom had no previous courtroom experience, but were outstanding as academics, corporate lawyers and solicitors.
“When we announced our list of new appointees of 52 judges, seventy five percent of them were females. In 2007, when the World Bank joined us in our survey of 200 lawyers, we asked the same question on perception of corruption in the judiciary as we asked in 1999; this time, zero (0) per cent said judges in the high court of Lagos were corrupt.”
The VP further stated that although many of the judges had not been in practice, “they have turned out to be easily amongst the most outstanding judges in the country.
“Now there are many variables here, and we cannot say categorically that women make better and more honest judges than men; but the Lagos judiciary has shown that there may be a point in thinking that way,” the VP added.
Prof. Osinbajo also highlighted global studies which showed the influence of women in improving society.
He noted particularly three studies from the Centre for Economic Policy and the World Economic Forum; research from Macquarie Business School by Dr Farida Akhtar, and Deloitte’s 2021 Women in the Boardroom Report.
The first study, an analysis on the handling of Coronavirus in 194 countries, showed that countries led by women had “systematically and significantly better outcomes than countries led by men.
“These leaders include Germany’s Angela Merkel, New Zealand’s Jacinda Arden, Denmark’s Mette Frederiksen, Taiwan’s Tsai Ing-wen and Finland’s Sanna Marin. The study confirmed that all the female-led countries locked down earlier and suffered only half as many deaths as countries led by men. The policy responses of the female leaders were more proactive and coordinated.”
The Vice President further noted that the Macquarie study, which did a peer reviewed research of listed companies on the S&P index from 2000 to 2015, showed that “companies with female CEOs perform better than companies with male CEOs and the same goes for companies with a substantial female representation on their boards.
“Also, other research shows that Fortune-500 companies with more female directors on their boards have been reported to show a 42% stronger return on sales and 53% higher return on equity than companies with lesser women on their boards,” he stated.
The Deloitte study, the VP said, showed that companies with female Board Chairs or CEOs are usually more diverse and more gender-balanced than companies with male Board Chairs and CEOs.
“Deloitte’s 2021 Women in the Boardroom Report shows that the worldwide average of Women on Boards is now 19.7%. Only 6.7% are Board Chairs, female CEOs are 4.4%,” he further observed.
While the VP pointed out that “Nigeria beats the world average by over 3%, which shows clearly positive movement in the male dominated boardrooms,” he noted that more needed to be done to increase the number of women’s representation in government positions.
“Only last year an attempt to pass legislation mandating women to fill 35% of appointed positions in government and 35% of elective positions failed in the National Assembly. After considerable local and international criticism, it appears the matter is being reconsidered by the legislature,” he noted.
Declaring open the Conference, the Vice President also commended the organisers, the Institute of Directors, the Women Directors Development Committee, for their work and the initiative.