Connecting, inspiring and empowering women to lead the way

Dorothee Belz

24 May 2010 18:10 | Deleted user

Dorothee is Associate General Counsel in Microsoft and WIL vice-president representing Microsoft. She started her career as a prosecutor specializing in white-collar crime at the Munich II Public Prosecutor’s Office in 1989. Her career took a different path in 1991 when she became member of the cabinet of the then European Commissioner for Budget, Peter Schmidhuber, and afterwards of Commissioner for market and internal affairs, Martin Bangemann. She entered the private sector in 1997, working for the KirchGroup and for Beta research, a software development company. In 2003, she joined Microsoft Germany as a Director of Legal and Corporate Affairs. Currently, she is responsible for legal and regulatory matters at Microsoft for major markets in Western Europe.

She spends a lot of her spare time with her daughter, her husband and her dog, as well as travelling, enjoying rock concerts or the theatre.

European Commission education indicators show that while in fields such as life sciences, mathematics or architecture the number of girls is slightly increasing, in computing their presence decreased from 23.9% in 2000 to 18.6% in 2007. Should this trend be a concern for the computing industry?

Despite all well-intended efforts of many governments, the education system has not been sufficiently adapted to create an environment which encourages young girls to choose Science and Technology (S&T) professions. From my perspective, this should raise major concerns as the jobs of the future are in many ways ICT-related. There is already today a hunt for talents and if Europe wants to remain competitive we need to exploit the potential of half of our society.

How is Microsoft aiming at raising the number of women who are working in its research labs? Could you please provide examples of some of Microsoft’s best practices in this area?

Women choosing S&T professions are few. In order to attract them, it is important to create an environment in which they can combine family life with their research activities. Our Lab in Cambridge is proactively offering such a flexible environment and we are marketing this in the academic world. By doing so, we could increase the number of women who work in our labs today. We also organize a yearly competition for the best students in ICT, “Imagine Cup”, which we have often used to attract girls in this field. Furthermore, we spread the Digigirlz program across the world, to give high school girls the opportunity to learn about careers in technology and to get an inside look at what it's like to work at Microsoft.

The ICT industry has come up with solutions to make working hours more flexible and improve the work-life balance, such as teleworking solutions. To what extent will the IT sector contribute to breaking through the glass ceiling?

The ICT sector is leading the change towards a new way of working. This new environment is especially attractive for women as they can organize their work-life balance in an independent and flexible way. For example, my job involves travelling, meetings, reading and sending mails, videoconferences and phone calls. It is completely up to me how and where I spend my time. As I am having a nearly 6 year old daughter I do work from home quite regularly. In Microsoft we are measured against results and not the hours that I am spending in the office.

Do we need regulations to boost the number of women in top leadership positions, particularly in traditionally male-dominant sectors?

It is interesting that despite all the evidence proving that diversity is driving innovation and economic values, many Company Boards have not adopted a consequent strategy on how to drive such change. On the contrary, the discussions turn around aspects such as women’s lack of skills, and the difficulty in finding the right candidates etc... Driving diversity is synonymous with a fundamental change in leadership. Therefore, I am inclined to support the need for a regulatory framework. The efficiency of the regulatory framework in Norway proves that gender policies lead to positive results, while the mere “publicly-announced’ commitments do not provide much progress.

You have the experience of both the public and the private sector. Which policies do the two sectors prefer to pursue so as to boost women’s access to the leadership positions?

My assessment is that there is a fundamental difference in the approaches. Public Sector is driving diversity for political reasons. The objective is to have a better representation of the overall society in the decision-making process, i.e. 50% of women. Members of parliaments are elected by the population, and not chosen by a limited number of people. Against this background, the introduction of quotas is often the appropriate instrument. Companies are driven by economic success. It is difficult to measure the direct impact of diversity on revenue, and to consider it as the only factor for hiring someone in a leadership function. Therefore, when driving a diversity policy, companies set targets looking at the rest of the industry, implementing either self-binding rules or targets to be achieved by individual managers.

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