The number of women within lending institution’s higher management has decreased over the past eight years, while the number of women receiving micro loans has skyrocketed globally.
Women’s World Banking (WWB) believes that the decreasing number of women in leadership roles within financial institutions has severe consequences. The major concern is the importance of the contribution of women’s perspectives when decision-making for a dominantly female-pioneered field, microfinance. The President and CEo of WWB, Mary Ellen Iskenderian, stated that “It’s vital to reverse the trend [of declining senior management women in lending institutions] and help microfinance institutions attract, train, and retain talented women. Finding the success stories out there, celebrating them, and spreading the practices behind them can be part of that.”
Just this month, WWB held a Gala dinner in New York, awarding their “Excellence in Leadership” to an organization that put gender diversity in leadership ranks center stage. The Kenya Women Finance Trust won the prize, with $25,000 contributed to their continued pursuit of leadership diversity and gender equality. All of the contenders were successful financial service providers for low-income women entrepreneurs. The winning organization hosts numerous programs to support and help give a voice to women in the workplace both internally and culturally. They have a marriage counseling program which focuses on valuing both women’s and men’s careers. This becoming increasingly important as traditional men’s work is being moved toward urban centers, while women’s work and family responsibilities remain in more rural areas. One of the organization’s internal programs focuses specifically on building and promoting the idea of female leadership. The program leverages identification campaigns and awareness surrounding promotional opportunities for the career-minded female to advance and feel welcome in senior level roles within the organization.
Another organization that contended for the award was the Shakti Foundation for Disadvantaged Women based in Bangladesh. Fighting social and cultural roles of women, they have developed practices to hire and retain an increasing number of women in the workplace. Within this organization 99% of all clients are women, meaning a little less than the 400,000 individuals they serve are females. Their theory is that female staff may be better attuned and able to relate to their clients seeking loans, since many issues in the developing world surrounding gender inequality have been ingrained for quite some time. “I want men to see women are powerful, as clients and leaders” the organization’s head stated.
Although there is still a great deal of disagreement over the ROI with microfinance, and what constitutes microfinance, addressing gender roles has risen toward the top of all micro-financed projects globally. As women continue to expand outside of what are considered traditional roles in male-dominated societies, questions as to the societal and familial impacts of more women working have arisen. At this time the data is too new and scattered for agreed upon results. This transformative shift toward empowering women in developing countries through microfinance has an incredible amount of potential and buy-in globally.