Connecting, inspiring and empowering women to lead the way

Claudine Schmuck

23 Jan 2013 15:57 | Deleted user

WIL Board member Claudine Schmuck is the founder and Associate Director of Global Contact, which provides management consulting services to CEOs and decision makers focusing on innovation, NTIC and change management. She is also an expert working with the European Commission.

European Network for Women in Leadership (WIL): After your Sciences Po studies in Paris, you decided to study marketing at Columbia University in New York. Did your stay in America change your business approach?

Claudine Schmuck (CS): As a matter of fact, just after Sciences Po, I joined the Ministry of Foreign Trade and Industry in France, and worked in the cabinet during 4 years. This experience convinced me of the importance of acquiring an “international” experience. I then decided to move abroad. Columbia University was a strong experience, combining intense work with teachings from some remarkable lecturer. Meeting and listening to Zbigniew Brzezinski, an impressive geostrategist and former advisor to the President of the USA, who himself is a Pole born in Warsaw, was a striking illustration of the ‘melting pot’.

I then joined McKinsey in New York, meeting personalities such as Richard N. Foster, a powerful thinker of innovation. So overall this American experience enabled me to gain insights on globalization, new technologies, innovation, and sci-tech issues. It also stimulated me to focus on efficiency and result-driven working methods.

WIL: Global Contact, the company you created in 1999, has recently launched the 2013 edition of the MutationnellesTM study, to analyze the dynamics of women's empowerment in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). What factors will you focus on this year? What results are you expecting?

CS: I launched MutationnellesTM with the support of Orange 4 years ago, because there is a need for regular, detailed figures on gender issues. For the past 10 years DG Reseach has published the “She report” – a set of detailed data on women in research and science in European countries, but there is no equivalent data on women in high tech, and no equivalent data on women in innovation. Yet facts and figures are needed to understand the issues, and identify solutions.To give an example, it is well-known that in most European countries women are underrepresented in engineering.

Yet, what is the use of this data if it is not detailed, if we do not assess what it implies? One of the findings of our survey 4 years ago was that 40% of French young women graduating in engineering chose to specialize in such sectors as agronomy and chemistry, which generated only 15% of recruitments. The result? Young women graduate in engineering do not find jobs as quickly as men, which causes frustration and discourages younger ones from moving towards STEM.

Over the past years we have contributed to raise awareness on these issues and fostered actions to better inform young women at an earlier stage. Now we face a different challenge. The need for skilled women in high tech and innovation is growing strong, more CEOs and boards recognize that “women matter”. Yet, less and less young women choose to study STEM and work in sci-tech industries and services. In addition, these sectors are characterized by a high turnover and attrition rate of percentage of women working in those sectors. Both elements contribute to the shortage of skills. So today our challenge is to gather data that will enable us to assess and address these issues. The 2013 online survey is thus focused on benchmarking gender practices, and related levels of satisfaction and fulfillment at work.

WIL: What are currently the main barriers for women professionally engaged in STEM?

CS: The key obstacles preventing girls from choosing to study STEM and work in those sectors are stereotypes, and lack of information on working opportunities in the sci-tech field. However, it must be understood that this is only true of developed countries. In emerging and/or developing economies girls that have access to schools have a different perspective. Surveys conducted among 15-year-olds show that girls and boys from these countries have an equal interest in STEM, and are equally eager to work in these sectors.

WIL: You have been actively involved in various projects aimed at supporting women in STEM, such as a series of Women in IT conferences or the SciTechGirls program. How do you view the impact of such initiatives? What could be done to maximize it?

CS: I believe that the most efficient ways to attract and/or support women in STEM are those that open a real dialog. Actions such as the “shadowing” program launched by the European Commission, “speed meetings” between teenagers and role models, or creating connections between mentors and mentees are probably the most likely to build and secure interest of young generation. But to make it work we need a lasting commitment, and a close monitoring of results to measure to which extent the goals are reached. In my opinion the key to success is to constantly improve implementation on the basis of impact measurement.

To be more specific, I will focus on the issue of attracting girls to ICT. For the past 10 years, most of the programs have focused on metrics such as the reach, the number of girls attending an event, and their socio-demographic profile. Too few have been centered on assessing and measuring the level of motivation of young girls. What do they think about the event they have attended? Does the role model inspire them? If yes, in which way? So the net results of numerous actions that have been conducted so far have not been good.

In France, as in most developed countries today, less and less girls move into ICT. To change this and attempt to get better results we have been harnessing best practices and developed the first experiment for the Women Forum in 2009 with the SciTech girl program which connected 100 girls from various European countries with role models. The evaluation conducted with girls and role models enabled to identify “areas for improvement” and launch the Science Factor the following year. For instance, we identified the need to rely on social networks to engage teenagers more significantly. We also understood that fighting stereotypes would be more efficient if we stopped conducting actions only for girls, and try to involve boys as well. So we were the first in France to launch a program on Facebook for teenagers with the support of the Ministry of Education, and the Ministry of Research. We also focused on developing a process that would reveal and support young girls’ ability to be creative and lead projects. We launched a new type of contest. The Science Factor contest invites teams of teenagers to present a project of innovation and/or invention. But there is a pre-requisite, the team must be led by a girl. She is the one that represents the team before the jury. She is the one that media talk about. She is the new role model for other boys and girls. So far the qualitative evaluations have been positive, and our pilot has now acquired an audience of nearly 8000 fans, 80% of which are 13 to 17 years old with a high retention rate, confirming that we are on target. In my opinion, more than anything else what enables to maximize the impact of such action is to constantly benchmark other practices, constantly evaluate the impact of our actions, monitor results to create and develop the right adjustments.

WIL: From the perspective of someone with rich experience in consulting and communications, how do you regard corporate diversity programs? How can they be integrated into the business model to become sources of competitive advantage?

CS: To be precise, I have been focusing on how corporate diversity programs integrate gender issues. We have developed metrics on three factors: human resource management (for instance recruitment, mobility, high potential management), work-life balance (such as parental leaves, support to child care, flexibility) and development practices (leadership training, coaching, mentoring).

There has been a drastic change in 2012, boosted by the enactment of the July 2011 law by the French government. The 2011 regulation required that corporations sign corporate agreement on gender balance. Hence, by the end of 2012, 90% of the 40 top-rated companies in France had signed an agreement involving some measures on gender equality, reflected by their annual CRS report. The factor which has progressed most importantly last year is the development of policies regarding work-life balance. Some high tech corporations have leveraged this situation to develop comprehensive policies, and are now among the most advanced on this subject in France. This is particularly true of Orange, which excellence on this subject has been recognized and acclaimed by media. Their gender agreement is one of the few that include detailed measures on all three factors (HR, work-life balance, and development), with ambitious goals regarding the percentage of women in the executive committee (35% in 2015). It is also one of the few that specify how implementation is measured with a specific listing and definition of implementation indicators. Last but not least, the agreement also describes in detail the communication campaign aimed at informing all employees within the group.

Regarding your question about how such programs can be leveraged to become a source of competitive advantage, I think that it depends on COMEX’s determination to make it work and of course quality of implementation. From this standpoint it seems to me that to make further progress we must demonstrate more clearly the added value of gender balance to top decision makers. Then they will really make it happen.

It is true that it has been said that women matter, but it’s not enough. The demonstration of impact must be clearer. In other words, do gender balanced team make a difference? In which way do they contribute to a better performance? How do they sustain a competitive advantage? Is it by better understanding the evolution of consumers (50% of which are women)? Is it by being better at team-building and relying on trust to generate better results? Is it by challenging “hierarchical” work process to attract and retain highly skilled professionals? Is it by relying on new indicators, such as connecting customer satisfaction and retention rate with employee fulfillment? Or is it by being pragmatic and going for less ambitious, more achievable goals?

To move forward, women and men that have experienced the added value of gender-balanced teams must demonstrate it. This is actually one the reason for which we have launched the online survey this year. We want to document their achievements, their contributions to performance and innovation. Each single answer matters and I am looking forward to answers from members of Women in Leadership, so that we can indeed make the case.

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