Address of ISA Chairwoman to the Second Forum +35 Conference

September 13, 2022

Good morning,

Thank you to everyone who is with us here today. I would like to thank the members of the Forum, our partners in this journey— those who are here in person and those who were unable to attend today. And I also extend my heartfelt thanks to today's speakers and to my friend Roger Abarbanel.

Today we are celebrating the first anniversary of Forum 35+.

Forum 35+ was actually like establishing as a company in which all of you are partners. But what exactly is the product that this company offers? Our product is "board diversity."

Most of us agree that this is an important product, but customers were not picking it up off the shelves, so we decided to move the product, dust it off, and place it in our storefront window.

Following common practice in the business world, we set quantitative targets for all our company's sales representatives, and we sent them on their way.

One year later, we reported our results to our investors, and showed that the proportion of companies with more than 35% women on their corporate board increased from 16% to 23%. 

Since we met most of our targets for 2022 by the third quarter of the year, we revised our projections and increased our targets.

In effect, we increased our target for 2022 from 20% to 35% of corporate boards.

We still have a way ahead of us in 2022 if we are going to meet this target so that 35% of the companies have corporate boards on which women account for 35% of the directors.

We studied the results to identify our early adopters and we were pleased to discover that our product is being picked up by a wide range of companies, both young and long-established. I believe that our product's successful penetration into the market is based on these companies' genuine authentic desire to adopt this norm. Still, there are many customers out there who are not there yet, and it is our aim to reach them too.

In the months since Forum 35+ was established, we were involved in many activities and projects to move the cheese in this market:

  • • We conducted an intense series of meetings with all relevant stakeholders that could potentially promote our goals – corporate CEOs, board chairs, controlling shareholders, NGOs, and members of the academia;

  • • We held the first meeting of the Forum in February of this year and had the honor of hosting Ms. Ann Cairns, chair of the 30% Club;

  • • We made sure that corporate reports include regularly the gender field;

  • • We are promoting an academic study on the issue of board diversity with leading researchers;

  • • In conjunction with the Ministry of Justice, we are promoting draft disclosure regulations that will require companies to state whether they have a policy on board diversity, and the extent of their gender diversity; 

  • • We are promoting the issue of board diversity in an "Open-government program" led by Joint-ELKA and the National Digital Unit of the Government ICT Authority;

  • • And possibly most importantly – we are working to make existing information accessible. Because knowledge is power.

I am pleased to report that we launched the Forum 35+ website that offers, in a clear, user-friendly manner, relevant aggregated and company-level data on gender diversity in Israel's capital market.

We also plan to have the website highlight corporate meetings that are scheduled to approve directors' appointments. In collaboration with the Authority for the Promotion of the Status of Women, we made available a database of over 2,000 female experts directors. Qualified candidates can be contacted directly through the APSW database, and this will also soon be possible directly through the database of the Government Companies Authority. The statement that there are no suitable women is just an excuse, and the claim that women are not part of the "contact list" is simply not true.

So, if we return to the joint company that we set up a year ago, and our results until now, you must be thinking that you will be getting a bonus at the end of the year for your good sales results.   

But ….not quite yet. You are all business men and women so you understand that we can't distribute profits based only on the first three quarters. We have to prove that this growth rate is sustainable before we can take our foot off the gas pedal.

There are still more than 30% of the companies with less than 20% female directors on their boards, and in more than 67% of the companies female directors account for less than 30% of the board members. 30% is the minimal critical mass that represents significant representation. To implant this new norm, we have to flatten the curve because the simple average obviously does not reflect the enormous standard deviation.

So yes, we moved the needle, but only a nudge. To maintain this momentum and create a long-term impact, we have to continuously increase our efforts.

In recent generations, courageous women paved their own path, creating a path for their daughters and followers. They struggled for the basic rights to vote and be elected, the right to education, the right to own property, and the right to control their bodies—a struggle that is continuing to this very day. I would like to take this opportunity to applaud the government's decision last week to aim for gender parity in every decision making forum that discusses emergency-related issues. This decision is the result of the impressive, ground-breaking work by the Advisory Committee on Gender Mainstreaming, which is headed by Colonel (Res.) Ruth Shoham, in the course of the National Security Council's work to develop national policy recommendations for emergency situations.

It is disconcerting to discover that, in 2022 in Israel, although women account for more than 50% of the population, they are not naturally represented in the decision making forums at the highest level of the state or in the capital market, where most of the population's savings are invested.

These statistics make me restless. 

I don't know if you noticed but the logo we chose for the Forum is the swift.

Throughout all my years In the capital market, flocks of swifts would accompany me at the end of my work day from my office to the parking lot on Rothschild Boulevard. Anyone who works in that area is familiar with the dance of these birds that fill the evening sky – it is a breathtaking sight.

What is special about the swift is that it spends most of its time in the air. In fact there is no bird that spends such a large part of its life in flight — 99%.

These birds are restless.

That is their nature; that is how they live their lives, they just fly around tirelessly. They are a reminder that we, too, should work tirelessly, and that tireless effort should be a routine for us.

And we, in the company that we established together, energetically continue, as part of our everyday routine, to place this issue on the agenda, because gender diversity cannot be taken for granted. You have to work for it. That is the only way that the needle will keep moving in the right direction over time.

We are not talking about making exceptions for anyone: May the best woman or man win.

Because a board should include the most qualified people, including the most qualified women, to steer the ship. 

All the stakeholders in a company, whether they are the CEO, the owner, or the investors, have an interest to ensure that the composition of their board reflects their company's drivers of growth, and that the board knows how to cope with challenges and to identify opportunities.

The question is, is the person steering the ship— whether a controlling shareholder or an institutional investor–really making an effort to select the best people or are they simply selecting the best people for them?

When a board receives a list of candidates that is comprised exclusively of men, does it discuss these candidates or does it adjourn the meeting until the company and its representatives present the board with a balanced list of the best and the brightest women and men candidates?

Studies show that the strategy of selecting only the very best candidates is not implemented in practice – what happens is that the selection process is skewed by the personal preferences and gender biases of the people who compile the lists of candidates and select the directors from those lists.

I believe that it is in a company's interest to conduct a public, transparent search process, from the beginning, to ensure that the process will be orderly and fair, and yield the best results.

Today, this process takes place "off record," in informal consultations between people close to the controlling shareholders or institutional investors that have the power to propose and appoint candidates. Obviously a process that is built on transparency from the very first stage entails an outlay of resources to manage the applications and to screen the very best candidates. But if women don't know someone who knows the controlling shareholder or the institutional investor that has the say in the company, this is the only way that women would even know that a search process is taking place, the only way that they could participate it and apply.

In the book The Wizard of Oz, Dorothy and her companions set off to realize their dreams. They are convinced that at the end of the road, over the rainbow, the great Wizard of Oz will grant them their wishes and give them what they are missing.  

I am sure you all remember that significant discovery at the end of their journey, when the Lion, the Scarecrow, and the Tin Man realize that they already have what they had been looking for. In his wonderful way, the Wizard showed everyone that the courage that the Lion was looking for, and the heart that the Tin Man thought he didn't have, were already inside them, and there was no need for them to set out on such an arduous journey.     

Like the Lion, we have to find the courage inside us, leave our comfort zone, and make an effort to move from darkness to light.

Like the Tin Man, we have to put our whole heart into what we do, and work from a genuine sense of commitment.

Like the journey taken by Dorothy and her friends, there is no magic. The power to make the change is in each and every one of us. We already have the solutions inside us.

The only thing that needs to be done is to make a fearless decision, to stand tall and define our priorities, and declare our policy.

Perhaps if we were talking about an exciting investment opportunity in Eastern Europe – we would have more people interested, but it's really up to you. You can correct the injustice and create a new reality.

Don't wait for us, don't wait for legislation.

Use your power, be courageous, be committed. Get up and do it. Work tirelessly.

Only this way will we be able to change the situation and ensure that our joint company—and our society—will gain value, will be successful and will take us over the rainbow.

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