Well-known in risk management, internal audit, and corporate governance, Sheila Ujoodha is also a champion of gender equality and inclusion in Mauritius. Following her nomination as CEO of the Mauritius Institute of Directors (MIoD), she is now using her platform to promote female leadership through several initiatives such as the Women Leadership Academy. Sheila Ujoodha is a true believer in coaching and mentoring women to reach their potential and change the status quo! She talks about corporate governance as well as gender equality in the workforce.
Featured in Investor’s Mag, 20th Edition, March 22 – June 22
Promoting corporate governance is the core purpose of the MIoD. According to you, why is it important, and why should it be applied?
To be an agent of change, enabling directors and future leaders to achieve the highest business practices for corporate sustainability is the mission of the Institute. Adopting an efficient corporate governance framework promotes a culture of integrity. It is important to note that while enhancing the procedure by which a business operates according to a set of policies, processes and rules, an organisation can position itself within the market to be trustworthy. It is also crucial to align the interests of management with those of key stakeholders, shareholders, and its Board of Directors, as a company practicing good corporate governance will set itself apart from competitors.
Sound corporate governance has become a prerequisite to reaping investor confidence and unleashing shareholder value from a macro perspective. The key benefits it provides companies can take different forms like improved capital flow, risk mitigation, reputational boost, more effective decision-making, enhanced reporting, and focus on compliance.
Over recent years, empirical evidence has emerged showing a correlation between corporate governance and stock market performance of listed companies (information more accessible). In non-listed companies, private equity investors typically show a greater appetite for companies more prone to embracing good corporate governance standards and practices.
When you were appointed CEO of the MIoD, what were your visions to move forward with this institution?
I accepted this new challenge one year ago, with the sole aim of creating a visible difference to the governance ecosystem to benefit society as a whole.
From a business perspective, the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed corporate leaders’ quality of governance and competence. While these criteria matter most in times of crisis, they offer an interesting perspective on the potential opportunities for the MIoD in the post COVID world. Therefore, the aim was to build a sustainable business model for the institute by consolidating its value proposition, reviving trust, ensuring financial sustainability, and building stakeholder engagement.
Did you manage to accomplish everything you wanted so far?
I did my best!
According to you, what’s left to be done, and what are the main objectives for 2022?
While MIoD will focus on its core activities, it will also aim to emerge strongly to be the Preferred Governance Partner for both public and private entities. Our future projects will relate to innovation, digitalization, international collaboration, and advocacy for directors’ excellence.
We are happy to note that amid a social reckoning over the past year, we’ve seen a meaningful shift in organizations’ attention to real commitments and investments in doing better. Leaders are asking both tough and important questions for the future of work.
Having honest conversations and taking meaningful actions around Diversity, Equity & Inclusion are tough but necessary steps for any organization looking to succeed in the post-pandemic future. We will continue to execute our plan of action ‘Path to the Boardroom’, with an aim to bridge the gender imbalance issues at C-suite and board levels.
Everyone and every company had to adapt in a way during the pandemic. How did the MIoD adapt to these changes?
Many organisations had to absorb and adjust to the challenges of the COVID-19 and make decisions at a speed that would have been inconceivable in pre-pandemic times. Of course, it is impossible to wargame every scenario of disruption, but at the Mauritius Institute of Directors, we have adopted the resilient approach to avoid unforeseen disruption, working from home and to include new technologies to embed on the ongoing way of operating.
Furthermore, according to a report which was issued by MC Kinsey regarding the resilience of organisations that were responsive during the crisis, they focused on five characteristics and indicated the way toward a more agile operating model that can be more robust in the next normal. These characteristics are:
- Establishing a common purpose and clear communications with employees
- Setting up structures to allow rapid decision making, ensuring long-term sustainability
- Creating networks of local teams with clear, accountable roles
- Developing a culture that empowers people
- Providing people with the technology they need
Gender equality is one of the most talked-about subjects in the world. How do you address gender inequality through corporate governance?
According to the OECD, there is growing global awareness that gender equality is the foundation of inclusive growth. Supporting equal access to public and economic opportunities to both men and women is vital to accomplishing a more sustainable economy and improving national well-being.
A recent study conducted by the Harvard Business Review states that the integration of female leaders at the highest levels of an organisation impacts its approach to innovation and ultimately suggests that including more women in executive decision-making may lead firms to consider a wider variety of value creation strategies. Though Africa is leading the world in gender equality in the private sector by topping the number of women on corporate boards worldwide, the presence of women on boards and subcommittees in Mauritius remains low; women hold only 10.1% of the 523 directorships reported. Out of 156 countries, Mauritius was recently ranked 110th as per the Global Gender Gap Index 2021 of the World Economic Forum.
Moreover, according to a McKinsey & Company report, one in four board members for African companies are now women: a higher rate than Europe’s at 23%. However, despite this progress, it will take 135.6 years to close the gender gap worldwide on this current trajectory. The impact of Covid-19 may only worsen this gap.
In this context, the Mauritius Institute of Directors launched the Women Leadership Academy in collaboration with Dale Carnegie Mauritius. The aim is to develop a pool of strong women leaders to address the gender gap issue at the C-Suite level.
And how would you describe the situation regarding gender here in Mauritius?
In association with Korn Ferry, our latest report on Directors’ fees and Board composition in Mauritius was released in 2021. It provided key insights into the current trends pertaining to board governance and its composition in 53 companies, representing a total of over 600 directorships in Mauritius across a wide range of industry sectors.
-It is encouraging to see that the presence of women in Directorship roles has continued to increase since 2014, when women held only 4.58% of the directorship roles surveyed, and none of the participants reported a female board Chairperson. In 2018, two companies reported a female Chairperson and 8.7% of board memberships overall were held by women. The report in 2021 revealed that at board level, 6% of Chair roles are filled by women, and 13% of board members overall are female.
Efforts to improve gender diversity must include initiatives aimed at changes in government policy, business practice, cultural norms, and professional standards. This requires a strong commitment among key actors and stakeholders in government, industry, society, and the professions to align objectives and initiatives to improve women’s participation at the C-Suite Level.
Looking back on your accomplishments and now with your recent nomination at the MIoD, did you, and do you find it hard to be an influential woman? Are you afraid of alienating people?
The fact is that we are conditioned by society not to look back at the past. However, I believe that looking back is a key part of looking ahead to the future.
My grit, passion, confidence, perseverance, work ethic, and values have been key factors in building my career and identity. Being a woman was an advantage rather than an obstacle.
The essence of leadership is to connect with people and not alienate them! Building a bridge of communication with our stakeholders has been a prime enabler in achieving our goals. Whenever there is a challenge, I thought to myself, “There is a solution to everything, and I can find a better solution than anyone else can.”