Introducing the WOBA Pledge for Gender-Diverse Panels and Inclusive Discussions


Women on Boards Adria invites all men who are participating in important public discussions to take a stance against manels, and pledge to actively work towards achieving gender balance in all panels and discussions, by strongly advocating for the representation of women and striving for inclusive discussions in every professional and/or academic event they organise or partake in.

Manels are all male panels, discussions, and other professional/and or academic events where only men partake as speakers, thus excluding the voices of women who are experts in the field.

What is Pledge for Gender Diverse Panels for Inclusive Discussions?

Inspired by all the women making waves in professional and academic settings, with the aim to support and empower them in various spheres, we have initiated Women on Boards Adria. Our primary objective is to accelerate the inclusion of women in leadership positions and boardrooms, motivated by those who are already navigating these paths.

As part of this initiative, we proudly announce the launch of our first action, the WOBA Pledge for Gender Diverse Panels for Inclusive Discussions.

Panel parity is vital for ensuring diverse perspectives are represented in important public discussions. When considering traditionally male-dominated business sectors or academic fields, not only do women enrich the debate by bringing unique insights, experiences, and expertise to the table, their inclusion is crucial for ensuring more effective and well-rounded findings and conclusions. In fact, excluding them from panels or discussions can result in a narrow and biased representation of ideas and can perpetuate discrimination. To ensure a well-deserved seat(s) for women at the academic/expert tables, it is necessary to actively promote and implement gender-inclusive practices, starting with panel composition.

By signing the WOBA Pledge for Gender Diverse Panels for Inclusive Discussions, men can commit that they will not take part in one-sided panels. To honour this Pledge, men are invited to:

  1. Strongly advocate for gender-diverse compositions on panels before accepting an invitation to speak and actively suggest the inclusion of women experts when recommending speakers for panels.
  2. Explain the importance of gender inclusion when deciding whether to accept invitations to speak on panels.
  3. Amplify the voices of women by promoting their research and accomplishments.
  4. Hold organisers accountable by providing feedback or suggestions for improvement when needed.
  5. Use influence and networks to encourage and support the participation of women in important discussions and decision-making processes.

Why does it matter?

It is important to understand that we need not only diverse boards in terms of their make-up, but genuinely inclusive boards”, said Biljana Braithwaite, CEO and Founding Partner at Sustineri Partners and Chair of Women on Boards Adria initiative.

Diversity guarantees that women and other marginalised groups are represented, whereas inclusivity provides the full benefit of different experiences and perspectives by ensuring that the contributions of all board members are encouraged and valued, and that they feel empowered to be authentic and speak up.

Adria region, with some notable exceptions, is especially known for its very low number of women in leading positions as well as a much lower number of women participating in public discussions, encompassing debates, forums and public meetings, and panels compared to men. The objective of the Pledge is not to exclude men, but to bring women’s perspective and secure inclusive public discourse.

The WOBA initiative is especially important for Adria since research shows that most of the countries in the region are way behind EU standards when it comes to the share of women on boards, averaging between 18% and 20%. Soon, acting towards dealing with these issues will not be only recommendations and soft measures, but quotas. Following the European Women on Boards Directive, which paves the way for greater gender parity in senior leadership and top management positions, by mid-2026 every listed company within the European Union needs to have at least 40% female non-executive directors or have a female representation of executive and non-executive of at least 33%. The WOBA initiative is an important step forward for the Adria region, to stay proactive, comply with EU standards and remain competitive and cooperative with EU businesses. In fact, the Women on Boards Adria initiative seeks to address this by promoting gender diversity on boards and encouraging companies to appoint more women to their boards of directors.

The initiative will provide training and support for women who aspire to serve on boards of directors or reach leadership positions, as well as for companies seeking to increase their gender diversity. It will also advocate for policies and practices that promote gender diversity on boards, such as the adoption of quotas or targets for the number of women on boards“, explained Braithwaite.

The initiative is not solely focused on boards. Instead, it aims to create a diverse talent pool of women leaders from the Adria region. Together with committed companies and government officials, these leaders will take action to empower women in their educational and business endeavours.

Women are underrepresented in boardrooms all over the world. Change does not come easy, which is why this Initiative is important”, added Hedwige Nuyens, the Chair of European Women on Boards (EWOB).

Prominent Signatories Supporting Gender Diversity in Panel Discussions

We are honoured to mention all the men that have signed the pledge so far:

Marko Cadez, President of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Serbia.
Robert Spano, Partner at Gibson Dunn and Former President of the European Court of Human Rights.
Goran Svilanović, Former Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia/State Union of Serbia and Montenegro.
Bogdan Gecić, Founder and Managing Partner of Gecić | Law.
Ognjen Colic, Partner and Head of Corporate/M&A practice at Gecić | Law.
Alastair King-Smith, the esteemed UK Ambassador to Albania.
Ledi Bianku, Associate Professor of University of Strasbourg, Judge on the Constitutional Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina and former Judge on the European Court of Human Rights.
Branko Kecman, CEO of Advantis Broker
Ognjen Janeski, Council of Europe and EU’s No Hate Speech Ambassador for Western Balkans, TV Personality and Editor-at-Large.
Christpher Shedon, the World Bank Country Manager for Bosnia and Herzegovina and Montenegro.
Edward Ferguson, the esteemed UK Ambassador to Serbia.

Full list of signatories is available on this link.

Join the Movement for Inclusive Discussions — Take the Pledge!

Author: Zorana Dulovic, Junior Associate of Sustineri Partners.

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