Mariana MARTINEZ from FinEquityALC welcomed the panelists and opened the session by explaining the work of FinEquityALC on facilitating exchange and collaboration around women’s financial inclusion. In this session, panelists shared their experiences with how a network of women can promote female leadership in the microfinance sector in Latin America, the Caribbean and Africa. Martinez introduced the panelists and then gave the floor to Barbara MAGNONI of Andares Mujeres and EA Consultants.
Magnoni presented Andares Mujeres, a network of women enabling support among women staff of FSPs. She referred to an Andares Mujeres study in collaboration with 136 MFIs, called ‘Starting at home: Women's leadership in microfinance institutions in Latin America and the Caribbean’, which shows that women representation in management positions in the inclusive finance sector is low. The lack of female leadership has been identified as one of the barriers for women to advance within MFIs. Moreover, MFIs that are regulated and have a larger amount of assets, have a lower percentage of women in upper management positions. Magnoni continued to discuss the grassroot approach of Andares Mujeres to respond to the needs of its members. The network creates an inclusive community through providing in-person and digital learning, networking, and mentorship opportunities.
Maritza PEREDA of Symbiotics shared her story on how women occupying leadership positions within MFIs inspired her to pursue a career in the inclusive finance sector. As a member of Andares Mujeres, Pereda greatly values the exchange of best practices between female professionals across the financial inclusion sector and the scholarship opportunities which enabled her to deepen her knowledge. She emphasized the virtues of having diversity in companies, where women contribute their points of view from management positions on how to better serve female clients. Moreover, internal measures and policies should be implemented by MFIs to foster an inclusive and diverse working environment which enhances women’s participation and visibility.
By using concrete examples, Laura ROSADO, from AXA, explained the implicit bias embedded in the design of financial services and products. To better serve female clients, MFIs should increase the number of women in decision-making positions. Andares Mujeres plays an important role, through the creation of a safe space for women to support each other, be inspired by female leadership, and share challenges faced within the individual organization and the industry. In times of crisis, the exchange of field data between members of Andares Mujeres turned out to be key to improving the financial health of low-income and mass market women. She concluded by calling for replication of women networks and expanding the members of Andares Mujeres to other sectors, such as the insurance sector.
Martinez invited Njideka NWABUEZE of Sterling Bank to share her perspective on women’s leadership in financial inclusion in Nigeria. She pointed out that the banking world is still a male-dominated industry. However, the number of women in leadership positions in the financial sector in Nigeria is growing rapidly. Her involvement in a micro-saving platform for women entrepreneurs, showed her that increasing women staff in financial institutions fosters the acceleration of initiatives to address women financial inclusion.
Martinez opened the discussion by asking Nwabueze how the work of Andares Mujeres could be replicated in Nigeria. Nwabueze described the activities of existing women networks in Nigeria to enhance leadership of women in the inclusive finance sector. However, reflecting on the Andares Mujeres model, these women network groups should focus more on addressing the need for women in the financial and business sector to receive guidance on networking. Furthermore, there is a clear lack of exchange and learning opportunities between MFIs and women network groups. She referred to the scholarship that Maritza Pereda received as an excellent example.
Martinez posed the question to Magnoni how women’s leadership in the financial inclusion sector affects the delivery of products and services to female clients. Magnoni responded that women staff are more sensitive to the challenges facing female clients and their households from the bottom of the pyramid. Moreover, MFIs need to show their commitment to women representation internally in order to communicate women empowerment to their female clients from low-income communities. Pereda confirmed this by stating her experience with women staff showing female clients and their families that a career in the financial inclusion sector is possible. Magnoni then referred to the Andares Mujeres study which demonstrated that the promotion of women leadership within MFIs positively affects client satisfaction and retention.
The discussion then turned to retaining female talent within MFIs. Magnoni indicated that female talent is burdened by other responsibilities outside of work and lower remuneration. Andares Mujeres is giving a platform to women leaders to share their measures to prevent women from leaving the workforce through effective policies that are not only beneficial to female staff, but also male staff, MFIs and the overall sector. She provided the example of MFIs increasing the flexibility of working conditions in terms of working hours and working location.
When asked by an audience member about the promotion of gender equality in the industry using digital tools and technologies, Magnoni pointed out that digital innovations do not always benefit women, unless there is an intentional effort to create the technological and human infrastructure needed to include women staff and clients. Rosado reinforced the conducive environment that is needed for digital tools and technologies to accelerate women financial inclusion.
Martinez closed the session by thanking the panelists for their contributions. She invited audience members from the Latin American and Caribbean region to join the Andares Mujeres network, and other audience members to think about the possibility to replicate the network’s efforts in their own region.