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Advocating a Gender Balance Yields Improved Results

The Adria countries have huge potential, which can be improved markedly with the application of ESG standards in various segments, whether that means attracting new investments, strengthening regional cooperation or advancing the EU accession process

Sustineri Partners actively works to improve companies’ operations and to contribute to shaping corporate policies in the countries of the Adria region through the integration of ESG standards, which encompass environmental protection, social responsibility and good corporate governance.

“Since the inception of our consultancy firm, we have been focused on cooperation with this region’s companies, governments, international organisations and civil society in an effort to contribute to achieving sustainable development goals, particularly through the engagement of the real sector,” says Sustineri Partners CEO and Founding Partner Biljana Braithwaite, who also serves as president of the Women on Boards Adria (WOBA) association.

ESG standards, which over the past few years have become particularly developed and important elements of business operations on the markets of Europe, Asia and America, have also imposed the accelerated transferring of trends in corporate management, sustainability and human rights from more developed countries to our region. “In this regard, Sustineri Partners emerged out of our desire to contribute to sustainable development, environmental protection and responsible corporate governance in our region, which is why we strive to empower the governments, companies and organisations of the region to place sustainability at the heart of their agenda and work,” explains Braithwaite.

“The expertise of the Sustineri Partners team, their deep familiarity with European and other international frameworks and standards, as well as their practical knowledge and experience in achieving change on the ground, especially in the regional context, contribute a lot to development and education, but also to preparing companies for ESG standards and everything that’s coming in the period ahead and is already relevant in the European Union. That’s why we selected the countries of the Western Balkans, as well as the Adria region, as the focus of our activities and work.”

Sustineri Partners collaborates with governments of the region and international institutions in an effort to raise awareness of the importance of sustainability, environmental protection and socially responsible governance, all of which are becoming increasingly crucial to ensuring a better future for all of us. With this in mind, the ESG Adria Summit, as the region’s largest ESG event, also represents one Sustineri Partners’ leading projects.

— Despite only being held for the first time in April 2023, in Porto Montenegro, it has already attracted great interest by having brought together more than 450 participants, distinguished dignitaries: representatives of the governments of the region, heads of financial institutions and leaders of the business sector from more than 150 companies, international institutions and global experts on sustainability, as well as numerous media from around the region. At the second annual Summit, which will take place from 24th to 26th April 2024, we will be dealing with the most current topics of sustainability and focusing on sustainable finance, green transition and other important topics in the areas of human rights protection and corporate governance.

How important is the gender equality issue for different aspects of company operations?

— The issue of gender equality is of exceptional importance for various aspects of companies’ operations today. Women on Boards Adria, as a regional association that was founded recently, has a significant role to play in this context, given that it was launched with the aim of promoting gender equality, encouraging inclusive company decision- making at all levels, removing obstacles to women joining boards of directors and accelerating the pace of their advancement to the highest positions in companies of the Adria region. In this respect, it is extremely valuable to us that we can call on expertise and have partnerships with organisations like the International Finance Corporation (IFC, a member of the World Bank Group) and European Women on Boards, particularly from the point of view of the applying of the best global practices in our region.

Our region has huge potential to attract new investments, knowhow, innovation, creativity, and endless space for regional cooperation, all of which will provide an exceptional contribution to the development of the economy, particularly on the road to joining the EU

At the WOBA association we believe strongly that talent and ambition are equally distributed between the sexes, which is why we advocate for appropriate equal opportunities for men and women to advance to senior positions. Inclusive teams are more successful than homogenous teams. As such, companies that increase the representation of women in leadership positions can expect to see an improved financial performance, as well as improvements in non-financial aspects, such as company reputation, investor perception and the trust of employees and partners.

Numerous analyses have shown that the countries of the Adria region are lagging behind EU standards when it comes to the representation of women on management boards and that women remain underrepresented in corporate executive positions. Through education and training, which we prepare with our partners’ support, materials and standards, followed by the establishment of networks of talented female leaders and cooperation with companies, governments, international institutions and civil society organisations, we want to encourage the greater representation and inclusion of women at all levels, while we also want to alter the region’s statistics through the harmonising of gender policies with EU standards.

Research clearly shows that the greater participation of women on management boards is linked to improved financial success. In other words – companies that advocate for a gender balance and that have a business environment that fosters diversity of opinion achieve better business results in every respect.

It is high time for us to recognise how much times have changed, and that women are increasingly educated and successful in their careers and are no longer asking what they can do for the business market, but rather what the business market can do for them.

To what extent are the issues of corporate responsibility intertwined when it comes to combating corruption, advancing gender equality and protecting the environment?

— It has never been more important for companies to take on a more (pro)active role in addressing the social, environmental and economic challenges confronting us today, considering the crucial role they play in shaping the world in which we live. ESG standards evaluate companies’ sustainability and impact on these issues, while they increasingly have a direct impact on companies’ financial performances. Some of these standards are imposed by laws and regulations in the countries where companies operate, which we are seeing in particular in the increasingly demanding regulations imposed by the region’s key economic partners, such as the countries of the European Union, America and Asia. On the other hand, some of these standards emerge from customer and employee expectations, or from pressure applied by investors, due to growing concern with respect to issues of business transparency, human rights and environmental protection.

Companies that advocate for a gender balance and that have a business environment that fosters diversity of opinion achieve better business results in every respect

ESG standards are interconnected and form part of the broader sustainability agenda. They encompass a range of issues: when it comes to environmental protection, for example, they evaluate the ways companies contribute to climate change, pollution, waste, natural resource depletion; social standards deal with human rights issues, among other things, particularly workers’ rights, inclusion, equality and community development, with a particular focus on supply chains; when it comes to corporate governance, the focus is on transparent governance standards, information disclosure, preventing corruption, transparent decision-making processes, cybersecurity and privacy etc.

Why do companies require external assistance in order to be able to meet these demands?

— In order to develop successful ESG strategies and set goals, but also to assess risks, it is crucial for companies to have a comprehensive and objective overview of their own business. It is also important for them to have feedback from key partners, whether that means investors, customers, employees or representatives of the local community and civil society. However, implementing such a process can represent a major challenge for any company, taking into consideration the complexity of first identifying and classifying key factors and issues, and subsequently harmonising them with a general business strategy and legal frameworks related to a company’s operations, conducting risk analysis, and then forming objective, feasible and measurable goals.

That’s why collaboration with experts, or with consultancy firms that specialise in sustainability standards, is becoming an increasingly important component of the work of successful companies. It is important to bear in mind that this is often a multi-month process, and sometimes even a multi-year process, of analysing, creating an ESG strategy and evaluating its implementation and success. External support is crucial for this to be a truly meaningful process, and ultimately a purposeful one. The majority of companies view it as an investment in future improved operations – well prepared and implemented ESG strategies often bring manifold financial benefits, given that they presuppose savings on resources and help in recognising and avoiding risks, as well as in utilising opportunities that emerge. Apart from that, ever-more consumers, particularly consumers of the younger generations, and investors are attracted to companies that are aware of their environmental and social impact and that are thus transparent in their efforts to improve their business in that context. It is for this reason that I am proud of the team that’s been brought together by Sustineri Partners – our experts have amassed many decades of experience working on these topics in numerous sectors, which is essential for the success of the processes we’ve discussed.

CHANGE

We must change the way we talk about the participation of women on management boards, but also in other decision-making positions

STANDARDIS

More than 80% of investors take a company’s ESG standards into consideration when deciding on potential investments, precisely because of their impact on operations

EXPERTISE

Collaboration with experts, or with consultancy firms that specialise in sustainability standards, is becoming an increasingly important component of the work of successful companies