Today in Belgrade, the launch of the regional initiative Women on Boards Adria (WOBA) was officially marked, as part of the conference “Successful women for a successful region“, organised by the Serbian Chamber of Commerce and Sustineri Partners. The conference brought together over 100 representatives of governments, companies, and international organisations and institutions, companies, and 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 today Marko Čadež, president of the Serbian Chamber of Commerce and member of the Advisory Board of the WOBA Association, at the opening of the conference “Women on Boards Adria – Successful women for a successful region” organised by the Chamber of Commerce of Serbia, on the initiative and in cooperation with the consulting company Sustineri Partners.

“Only if we understand ourselves as one, we can establish balance, harmony and peace, to really create the best we can”, said Čadež. He recalls that eight months ago he supported the “Women on boards Adria” initiative from the very beginning by signing a declaration that he would not participate in panels where only male speakers were present.

“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 don’t have to sign such declarations”, added the president of the Chamber. He explains that the artificially established difference between women and men is an unfortunate social circumstance that has lasted for centuries! “I’m afraid that in our part of the world and region, few men still understand this, the wrong traditional educational frameworks are still very strong and that’s what we have to change. Without that, I’m afraid, no organisation or declaration is valid,” said Čadež.

“In today’s interconnected world, the leadership should be diverse, reflecting 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’s 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 providing equal opportunities for all citizens. This has also lead the EU eventually to the adoption of the Women on Board Directive, which aims to introduce transparent recruitment procedures in companies, so that at least 40% of non-executive director posts or 33% of all director posts are occupied by the under-represented sex, and we are pleased to see it being an inspiration and guideline for Serbia as well, to follow on its EU accession path”, said Emanuele Giaufret, Ambassador of the European Union in 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 doing business according to European standards, all with the aim of strengthening regional economies, social cohesion and preparing the countries in the region for joining the European Union”. According to her, the introduction of European standards in the countries of the region is important because it gives us the opportunity to objectively measure the current situation, and to define concrete steps in order to improve them on the path to accession to 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 their boards 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 decisions are made. 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, a large number of 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 RES 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.

Brankica Janković, commissioner for the protection of equality in Serbia and one of the ambassadors of the WOBA initiative, on the occasion of the start of the work of the association Women on Boards Adria, said:

“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 take care of the equal representation of women and diversity on other grounds in management, without a doubt achieve higher profits, are more innovative and have a better business reputation. I have supported the mission of Women on Boards Adria from the beginning, I believe in the power of regional cooperation, and that is why today’s event with the Chamber of Commerce of Serbia is a positive example of united forces on the way to creating better conditions for everyone.”

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, at which Nicolas Marquier, regional manager for the Western Balkans of the International Finance Corporation (IFC) spoke, together with Zeynep Yalim Uzun, member of the executive board of European Women on Boards, Maja Grubor, member of the executive board of AIK Bank, while the moderator of the panel was Vesna Bengin, co-founder of the BioSense Institute.