In 10 years, Angostura Holdings Limited has had two women appointed to their board of directors: Vidia Persad-Doodnath was the first in 2009 and Ingrid Lashley the second in 2016. At the time of her appointment, Ingrid Lashley was the only woman out of eight board members, if you exclude the corporate secretary.
Barely two years later, the company has announced a 300% increase in board membership by women. Four of the five members of the board of directors at Angostura are women under the leadership of the sole male, Terrence Bharath.
Trinidad Guardian’s Joel Julien commented that: “Angostura Holdings Ltd has undergone a facelift in the last year, with four of its five members now being female.” This is unprecedented in the commercial sector, and if he is right that it is a facelift, then what has happened is cosmetic, unsustainable and a slap in the face of all those who are working for social justice and gender equality.
We recognise how difficult it is to move our society away from the entrenched systems of government in which men are seen—and behave—as if they know what is best and will let you know at the appropriate time. Changing this patriarchal approach requires transformational leadership. From their responses, it is clear many of our leaders do not understand how their own behaviours reflect this lack of understanding and reinforce the dominance of men.
Brand Angostura has become associated with brand Sexual Harassment and the simple inclusion of four women on the board of directors will not decouple this association. The decoupling will occur when there is evidence of the company’s commitment to policies and procedures that support a culture of gender equality. The decoupling will occur when there is the implementation of policies and procedures to prevent all forms of violence, including sexual violence, sexual harassment and sexual abuse.
This four-woman board of directors has a responsibility to ensure that Angostura takes the leadership role in ensuring that every woman and man in Angostura enjoys equal access to opportunities, while at the same time being protected from violence and abuse. They have an opportunity to demonstrate how gender equality can be operationalised in the manufacturing sector.
This is no easy task, especially since there is a lack of awareness that the demand for gender equality is not about numbers of women represented. Rather, it is about behaviour change, which only occurs when the systems and procedures support the outcomes.
The work to be done will involve understanding how entrenched behaviours allowed Angostura to have three botched attempts at investigating a claim of sexual harassment. It will be deep, painful and systemic. More importantly, this will not be explicitly included in the terms of reference of members of the board, but it will be the measurement criteria the society will use to judge not just the women on the board, but the entire board of directors.
It is an opportunity for these four women to demonstrate how gender equality can impact the bottom line in the manufacturing sector. If they take up this challenge of transformation while maintaining Angostura’s profitability, they would not have just served the company but they would have led the societal transformation that our country deserves.