Twenty-one out of 559 companies listed on the Pakistan Stock Exchange (PSX) have a woman director on their boards while 32 independent women directors sit on other company boards, according to a research report.

Speakers at the market opening bell-ringing ceremony at the PSX on Wednesday showed a consensus of opinion that the number of women in boardrooms was too small and represented gender inequality in the corporate sector.

The ceremony was held to support the agenda of Women on Board (WoB) – Pakistan for greater gender inclusiveness on the boards of listed companies.

Speakers said that although “lonely at the top”, women executives should have open doors to climb the corporate ladder.

As many as 162 women executives have been trained and qualified under the directors’ training programme initiated by the Pakistan Institute of Corporate Governance (PICG).

In all, 559 listed companies have 4,000 directors on their boards, although women have a tiny representation at that level.

“We need to increase that strength to 1,000 women directors,” said a speaker. A few said they hope all company boards will offer at least one seat to a woman director in the next few years.

The timing of the ceremony seemed to suggest that it was held to celebrate the appointment of Sima Kamil as the first woman CEO of a major Pakistani bank. She said she will endeavour to deliver returns to all stakeholders at United Bank, adding that workplaces should be safe and secure for women executives.

Ms Kamil referred to research that suggests that returns of corporate entities and financial institutions with women directors tend to be better than those with all-men boards.

On the sidelines of the ceremony, Ms Kamil told Dawn that women are “more focused and tough”. They also have greater efficiency and capability to deliver results, she added.

WoB Chairperson Rahat Kaunain Hassan said the perception about the utility of women on corporate boards is changing for the better.

W-Corporate Enlistment Awards were presented to companies that have appointed women directors. The awards were given on the findings of the WoB’s annual research report titled Women in Boardrooms, Ms Hassan said.

The report highlights the fact that only four per cent of the 559 listed companies have women directors while less than 1pc independent/unrelated professional women directors could find a place on corporate boards.

Thirteen companies that received the awards included Dawood Capital Management, First Dawood Mutual Fund, Hum TV Network,

ICI Pakistan, National Foods, Pakistan Cables, PNSC, Samba Bank, Southern Electric Power, Standard Chartered Bank, Sui Southern Gas Company, Unilever Foods and United Insurance.

The other eight out of the 21 eligible companies have already received their awards. These companies are Abbott Laboratories, Archroma Pakistan, Bestway Cement, Colgate Palmolive, IGI Insurance, JS Bank, KSB Pumps and Pakistan Tobacco.