Introducing Women on Boards Adria’s Programme at “Successful Women for a Successful Region” Conference in Belgrade

23/10/2023

The regional initiative Women on Boards Adria (WOBA) was officially launched in Belgrade today, as part of the conference “Successful Women for a Successful Region”, organised by the Chamber of Commerce of Serbia and the consulting company Sustineri Partners. The conference gathered more than 100 representatives of governments, companies, international organisations, and civil society, as well as leaders of business communities in the region and Europe, with the aim of further encouraging gender equality and greater representation of women in management boards and in executive positions in companies in the Adria region.

The most productive spirit of creation and work is when women and men work together and when there is no difference between us. Our differences are in nothing else but in a natural biology of how to maintain humanity”, said Marko Čadež, president of the Chamber of Commerce of Serbia and member of the Advisory Board of the WOBA Association, at the opening of the “Successful Women for a Successful Region” conference.

Only if we understand ourselves as one, we can establish balance, harmony and peace, to really create the best we can“, said Čadež. He recalled that he supported the Women on Boards Adria initiative from the very beginning by signing the pledge for Gender Diverse Panels for Inclusive Discussions, and vowing not to take part in discussions featuring exclusively male panellists.

There were a couple of invitations that I had to decline, but there are fewer and fewer panels with only male speakers. And small steps like this matter. I would like us to live in a world where we do not have to sign such declarations“, added the president of the Chamber of Commerce of Serbia. He explains that the artificially established difference between women and men is an unfortunate social circumstance that has lasted for centuries. “I am afraid that in our part of the world and region, few men still understand this, there are still very strong, wrong, traditional educational frameworks and that is what we have to change. Without that, I’m afraid, no organisation or declaration is valid”, said Čadež.

In today’s interconnected world, leadership should be diverse and reflect the rich tapestry of our communities. Women make up half of the global population and should be in positions of power and decision-making according to this reality. It is not just a matter of representation, but a matter of harnessing the full range of talents and perspectives that our society has to offer. The EU was built, among other things, on the principles of gender equality. It is not only one of our values but also an asset necessary for the development and progress of any modern society, based on the principle of enabling equal opportunities for all citizens. It also led the EU to finally adopt the ‘Women on Boards’ Directive, which aims to introduce transparent recruitment procedures in companies so that at least 40% of non-executive management positions or 33% of all management positions are occupied by an underrepresented gender, and we are pleased to see that it is an inspiration and a guideline for Serbia as well on its path to EU accession”, said H. E. Emanuele Giaufret, Ambassador and Head of the Delegation of the European Union to Serbia.

Through the activities of the non-profit association Women on Boards Adria, cooperation with governments, organisations, companies and international organisations, we strive to bring European Union standards and best practices closer to the countries of the region”, said Biljana Braithwaite, president of the association Women on Boards Adria and executive director of Sustineri Partners.

As Braithwaite emphasises, “We want to empower women, prepare companies for business according to European standards, all with the aim of strengthening regional economies, social cohesion and preparing countries in the region for joining the European Union“. According to her, the introduction of European standards in the countries of the region is also important because it gives us the opportunity to objectively assess the current situation and to define concrete steps to improve them on the way to joining the EU. On the other hand, the experience of EU countries tells us that without the introduction of standards and quotas, change happens much more slowly.

Companies that have more women on the boards of directors make better long-term business decisions, achieve better business results, especially in the segments of higher productivity and profit, but also have a better business image, attract and retain talent much more easily, and are more innovative and creative. That is why the agenda of more inclusive decision-making and economic empowerment of women is in the interest of companies, strengthening regional economies and societies as a whole“, Braithwaite concluded.

The green revolution in the field of energy is an opportunity not only to increase our energy security, and have a healthier environment, but also to change the image of energy as a “male” sector. Serbia should also follow that path, and the green energy transition is an opportunity to affirm women as active participants in this process, to open this sector for female entrepreneurs, managers, and engineers, to be more represented and visible and to have more of them in the places where they are brought decisions. Women are leaders of change, and we should never give up the fight for our rights and equal opportunities. It is positive that in Serbia today, many young women choose to study electrical engineering, mechanical engineering, or information technology. The state should pass modern laws and strategies that will promote the increase in the share of renewable energy sources and the reduction of harmful gas emissions, but also create more favourable conditions so that women’s voices can be heard more strongly”, said Jovana Joksimović, Assistant Minister of Mining and Energy for International Cooperation and European Integration.

The promotion of gender equality, as well as a better gender balance in all sectors, are key, and without the active participation of women in executive positions, there is no true development. Practice shows that companies that consider the equal representation of women and diversity on other grounds in management, undoubtedly achieve higher profits, are more innovative and have a better business reputation. I have supported the Women on Boards Adria mission from the beginning, I believe in the strength of regional cooperation, that is why today’s event with the Chamber of Commerce of Serbia is a positive example of united forces on the road creating better conditions for everyone“, said Brankica Janković, Commissioner for the Protection of Equality of Serbia and one of the ambassadors of the WOBA initiative.

As part of the “Successful Women for a Successful Region” conference, a panel discussion was held on how women on boards of directors can be the key to the business success of those leaders in challenging times. Nicolas Marquier, regional manager for the Western Balkans of the International Finance Corporation, Zeynep Yalim Uzun, member of the executive board of European Women on Boards, Maja Grubor, member of the executive board of AIK Bank, spoke on the panel, while the moderator of the panel was Vesna Bengin, co-founder of BioSens institute.

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Membership is open to individuals who recognise the importance of capacity building for themselves and the organisations they are part of. Through our programmes, we will offer tailored capacity-building, including priority access to webinars and all other online events, resources, networking, and peer discussion, and personal development masterclasses with leaders of different industries.

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