On 11th March, a dinner debate on “Women and Power”, organized by Thaima Samman, WIL President and Partner of Cabinet Samman, together with Evelyn Gessler, President of Club L Benelux, took place at the “Cercle Gaulois” in Brussels. The Club L is a network of over 200 high level women from the world of politics, business, arts and media that regularly organizes networking events, with the aim of supporting women in finding new opportunities to reach top leadership levels.
The guest of honor and speaker was Viviane de Beaufort, Professor at ESSEC Business School and WIL member, invited to present the key conclusions of the “Women and Power” study that she published in October 2012 - a multidimensional study centered on the relationship between women and power, and a modern reflection on contemporary models of governance and leadership.
Evelyn Gessler, President of Club L Benelux, opened the event by warmly welcoming everyone and, together with WIL President Thaima Samman, highlighted the special occasion of their meeting that day. She thanked Thaima Samman for inviting Viviane de Beaufort to share the results of her study, and thus making this evening happen.
Thaima Samman then took the floor to add her thanks to those already expressed and stressed her pleasure in knowing that there would be many other occasions for future gatherings like this.
Viviane de Beaufort was then welcomed on stage. In addition to being a Professor at ESSEC Business School and Director of the law program, Viviane de Beaufort holds a Doctorate in European Community Law and in Political Science, and is Co-Director of the European Center for Law and Economics and the author of numerous publications on Corporate Governance topics. She also founded the "Women Be European Board Ready" program and is actively involved in several think tanks, as well as in European Public Affairs. As the founder and Academic Director of Women-ESSEC programs, she is committed to the progress of gender relations, and in October 2012 published a new survey titled “Women and Power: taboo or new governance model”.
The evening was divided into two parts. In the first part, Viviane de Beaufort presented the main conclusions of her study: Western culture tends to argue the existence of gendered characteristics; those traditionally deemed “masculine”, such as competitiveness and not displaying emotions, and those deemed “feminine”, such as empathy, listening and relational skills and intuitiveness. Corporate culture tends to value these stereotypically “masculine” virtues over “feminine” ones, even though an ideal leader should be a mixed one, who can integrate both models. Today women take part in Board meetings in ever greater numbers. Will their influence help to make the leadership role model evolve?
Viviane also mentioned her hopes for the Generation Y she currently teaches at ESSEC business school, noting that these boys and girls seem to have a well-balanced view of the role of men and women in the family and in the work environment – which bodes well for tomorrow’s leaders. She also explained that according to the study women have a different relationship to power, and that often their careers are more about contributing to a cause of general interest or to self-accomplishment. Sometimes women lose their will to pursue their career, because they feel that it is no longer in line with their values. Some women also have to learn to consider a high level job not only a responsibility but as a pleasurable task!
The second part was composed of a debate and questions from the audience. Various questions were asked about women quotas and the controversy following Viviane Reding’s fight to get the EU Commission to impose binding quotas for the boards of corporations across the continent, a measure not all women in the room could agree to. The question of women quotas remains a tough battle that will hopefully change the perception of leadership in companies, as it “forces male leaders to think outside the box about what a company needs at each level of their company and in particular at the top level. As they need to find women, they’re forced to modify their leadership criteria (ex: time spent in the office, brutal behaviors often confused with leadership…)” (Thaima Samman).
Many other questions followed, highlighting the need to educate boys as well as girls in this new approach and also the consequences that visibility can sometimes have for a woman in a high-level position. Women must be supported and get ready to face this visibility and the conflicts that are inherent to having such a position. But like men, they have to learn to see it as a rule of the game and a positive challenge!
Some questions also came up about how to prepare the future generation for these challenges. This eager generation must be protected but also prepared to take advantage of the new opportunities that await them in their future business lives. We need to convey a positive image of the game to our daughters, inspire them to join the game and change the world as well!
Representing WIL among the attending guests were:
Thaima Samman, WIL President and Partner of Samman law & corporate affairs firm
Afke Schaart, Senior Director of EU Institutional Relations, Microsoft
Pinuccia Contino, Head of Multilingualism and Translation Studies at the European Commission
Pénélope Roux, Operational Director at Microsoft Innovation Center Brussels and WIL Emerging Leader
Club L had invited, among others:
Françoise Meunier, Director of the European Organisation for Research and Treatment of Cancer
Christine Roger, Director of Media and Communication at the Council of the European Union
Anne-Christine Genouville, Director of the French Chamber of Commerce in Belgium
Véronique Halloin-Helbig de Balzac, Secretary General of the National Fund for Scientific Research
Françoise Bertieaux, President of Group MR in the Parliament of the French Community in Belgium
Martine Van Den Poel, Program Director and Executive Coach at INSEAD
Mara Caboara, Sustainable Management Consultant at Mara Caboara consulting
Marie-Cécile Van Grieken, Secretary General at ICHEC
You can download the full study below.