As you know, the WIL and GlobalWIN networks jointly hosted a lively high-level session, as part of the much awaited annual event Global Forum in ICT (Nov 9th). An eager audience of 100+ joined us to hear about tested practices empowering women in the digital age.
Global Networks. An On-Ramp to Modernity.
Melanne Verveer, US Ambassador-at-large for Women’s Issues, set the scene with highlights on how women reached the cusp of their potential by connecting with one another, whether to advance their own business, large or small, to improve their skills or to acquire more knowledge.
TechWomen, a program pairing Middle Eastern professionals with their counterparts in Silicon Valley, as well as mWomen, an initiative meant to lift up women’s status in developing countries by giving them access to mobile phones, were the Ambassador’s cases in point. As these programs unleash their stories, it becomes clear that other women will benefit from their counterparts’ progress, by sharing knowledge and resources.
In the more developed world regions, women may be better connected, yet their career prospects are still not as advanced as their male counterparts. In order for women to truly achieve career equality, they need to try alternative solutions. The panelists also agreed women need to seek professional mentors. This mentor relationship will allow women to make the shift from the support functions where they are crammed to the business side where the real power of decision making lies.
The Pipeline behind the Pipeline.
Asking themselves why women are not present in the board rooms, government bodies and large companies went to the root of the issue and installed various mentoring programs and succession preparation programs for women.
The roots of these inequalities can even be seen in early education experiences. While both female and male fourth graders show a similar interest in STEM classes, by the end of the eighth grade, girls’ participation drops by half and participation continues to fall in college. Girls perception that math and science teachers prefer boys as well as their discontent with inferior grades, as compared to boys, deter their interest in such studies, argued Linda Zecher, Corporate Vice President Worldwide Public Sector, Microsoft.
Companies such as Microsoft and Verizon invested in programs (Digigirlz, Global Marathon) which connect girls with various specialists and managers whose role is to broaden the girls’ horizons towards jobs in which they can’t project themselves.
However, these kind of programs need to be supported by public policies that support ‘STEM’ initiatives; such as creating scholarship programs for girls suggested Jacqueline Ruff, Vice President International Public Policy and Regulatory Affairs at Verizon.
Kathleen Turco, Associate Administrator for the Office of Governmentwide Policy, explained that the US General Services Administration is encouraging retired employees to mentor current female employees to help empower women in their own career development. This mentor relationship gives women a resource with year of experience that will help prepare them for leadership positions.
These mentoring relationships are extremely well received, although the results will only be visible over time, as girls and young women go through the leadership pipelines. In order to increase success of these relationships, it is necessary to make a wise match between mentor and “mentee”, as Elena Bonfiglioli, CSR Director at Microsoft noted.
Sharon Nunes, IBM’s Vice President for Smart Cities Strategy & Solutions, described how IBM is identifying and preparing executive women for the boardroom. Taking into account female employees’ career prospects, these programs showed that the (in)visibility of key positions, the exclusion from groups of decision makers, work/life balance, lack of sponsors and mentors were factors influencing the pipeline shrinking. Hence, what was needed was a strategic investment in preparation programs for women. Executives’ participation was a requisite, along with creating clear stages for monitoring and evaluation.
It is debatable if one aspect of succession preparation should mean adapting women’s communication styles to make them better prepared for the current male-dominant environment. Sue Watts, Head of Americas Outsourcing Services CapGemini, argued for women improving their authority styles, by making their voice heard. Nevertheless, it is clear that men need to be prepared to work more effectively with their female counterparts.
Using IT to Hinder Gender Stereotypes.
Networking and mentoring in a globalized world are dependent on the digital revolution. Yet, how can women become more involved when the digital era is male-driven?
Edit Herczog Member of the European Parliament noted that innovative products and services can be developed by involving those who are subject of the innovation. Therefore, women must be among the 400,000 researchers that Europe is seeking.
Ruth Milkman, Chief Wireless Bureau of the US Federal Communications Commission spoke about the government’s efforts to develop a digital infrastructure so as to increase the civic engagement. Access to broadband and teleworking solutions would enable citizens to be more engaged and eventually both women and men would have equal opportunities to meet other professionals, balance their work and personal lives, and access unbiased information.
Research by Dr. Heller, Professor in the Computer Science Department of the George Washington University, on “blogging” behaviors illustrates that people’s old habits can endanger IC&T’s neutrality. Women’s voices online are less listened to than men’s, even though the Internet is the media channel where women are the most visible and active.
Beatrice Covassi, newly appointed Digital Agenda Counselor for the EU Delegation to the US, is trying to build more bridges between European and US stakeholders by putting together practices encouraging women in technology.
AT&T is the sponsor of the afore-mentioned mWomen program. In low and middle-income countries, 300 million fewer women are mobile phone subscribers, because men still have a monopoly over technology, explained Ellen Blackler, Executive Director-Public Policy.
In a nutshell, to broaden women’s participation in economic, social and political decisions, the digital age needs to be driven by both women and men. These leaders also need to act as role models for girls and young women. Reinstating the value- and gender-neutrality of technology is a key part of bringing women in developing countries on the ramp to modernity and to increase career opportunities for women executives in the more developed countries of the world.
Audience Survey Results. How Women Network.
We took advantage of the top get-together (with 80% female participation), to take a survey evaluating our audience’s interest in networking opportunities. Ninety percent of our respondents are part of a network, mostly professional networks (see figure 1). However, only 18% of female respondents belong to a women’s network outside their organization and only 8% to an internal women’s network.
The benefits that are sought from a network are personal development, finding information and meeting professionals. The majority of respondents described their networks in positive terms (caring, helpful, giving insights, relevant, innovative), while networks which don’t bring the expected benefits are described in terms such as populous, inconsistent or having a limited relevance.
The majority of respondents engage with other members of their network(s) through email, direct meetings and networking events, while online platforms are used in a lesser degree. 25% of respondents meet with at least one member of their network once a week, while 32% once every two weeks.
85% of respondents work in organizations which have established gender equality policy initiatives. They range from career advancement policies such as gender quotas and appointing women in high-level management positions to recruitment and retention policies such as blind vetting of work sample applications and tenure clock policies. In half of the cases, these policies are considered somewhat effective and very effective in only a third of the cases.
The session was followed by a GlobalWIN reception where Beatrice Covassi was the guest of honor. The reception was opened by Debra Waggoner, GlobalWIN Board of Directors Member and Director Global Government Affairs, Corning Incorporated as well as by Dorothee Belz, WIL Board of Directors Member and Associate General Counsel, Microsoft, and provided an excellent opportunity for all attendees to deepen their dialogue and broaden their network.
Melanne Verveer, US State Department Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women's Issues
Beatrice Covassi, Digital Agenda Counselor, Delegation of the European Union to the USA
Ruth Milkman, Chief Wireless Bureau of Federal Communications Commission, USA
Sharon Nunes, Vice President Smart Cities Strategy & Solutions, IBM
Jacqueline Ruff, Vice President International Public Policy and Regulatory Affairs, Verizon
Kathleen M. Turco, Associate Administrator for the Office of Governmentwide Policy, General Services Administration
Sue Watts, Head of Americas Outsourcing Services, CapGemini
Linda Zecher, Corporate Vice President Worldwide Public Sector, Microsoft
Ellen Blackler, Executive Director-Public Policy, AT&T
Dr. Rachelle S. Heller, Professor, Computer Science Department; Associate Dean for Academic Affairs, Mount Vernon Campus;
Edit Herczog, Member, Committee on Industry, Research and Energy of the European Parliament
Elena Bonfiglioli, Director CSR, Microsoft Europe
On the 19th of October in Brussels, the European Network for Women in Leadership co-organised a meeting together with Microsoft with a group of selected guests, European Commission officials and Craig Mundie, Chief Research and Strategy Officer for Microsoft.
The meeting gave rise to an exceptional exchange of ideas as Mr. Mundie shared insights into his work in President Obama’s Sci-Tech Advisory Council, while WIL members and friends showcased how the digital dimension influences European’s lives in the sectors for which they are responsible.
Concerns regarding training requirements for using new technologies were raised, particularly as one third of Europe’s population have never used the Internet. Yet, an insight into new computing systems, which make the shift from a graphical-user interface (GUI) to a natural-user interface (NUI), shows that they require less training.
By way of illustration, Mr. Mundie spoke about the release of Kinect for XBoX 360, an innovative device which enables users to control a computing system with their body movements. The idea aroused everyone’s enthusiasm, as the group seized the opportunity of using such tools to break down people’s fear of technology, not just in entertainment, but also in health provisioning, education, training and teleworking.
Due to their user-friendliness and cost effectiveness, such advancements may prove to be genuine solutions for assisting the ageing population in the coming years or for enabling more young people to study science more easily, by getting them to leave their biases behind.
The topic of how technology affects social interactions grabbed everyone’s attention, as several studies report that people become isolated from one another as they get surrounded by tech devices or are unable to cope with multitasking. One advantage new technologies bring however is that they encourage people to work or entertain together as they allow real-time translation, telepresence and networking.
The discussion was a real success, as WIL members and friends have agreed to meet again, this time joined by their children, once Kinect for XBoX is launched to understand how these technologies work and how they can bring improvement to people’s everyday lives.
On June 29th, more than 50 France-based WIL members and friends, including the Club ITW, a high-level French group of women in IT, and the Women Equity (WE) network, had an extremely productive exchange of views with Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet, French Secretary of State for Strategic Studies and the Development of the Digital Economy, regarding the differing means of breaking the glass ceiling. The inspiring testimonies of Sabine Bohnké, CEO Sapientis and author of "Parcours de femmes dans les nouvelles technologies" (Women's career paths in IT), and Dunya Bouhacene, CEO Women Equity, enhanced a lively discussion on achieving gender parity at all power levels.
BEST PRACTICES FOR BREAKING THE GLASS CEILING
Taking on the challengers’ role, Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet, French Secretary of State for Strategic Studies and the Development of the Digital Economy, questioned recurrent policies aiming to break the glass ceiling, and endorsed the alternatives brought upfront by two WIL members, during a breakfast with more than 50 WIL members and friends based in France. Dunya Bouhacene, president of one of the first European investment funds dedicated to women-led businesses, Women Equity (WE), and Sabine Bohnké, CEO of the IT company Sapientis, and author of the book “Parcours de femmes dans les nouvelles technologies” (Women’s career paths in IT), joined the panel along with Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet. The members of Club ITW, a high-level French group of women in IT, as well as WE collaborators have notably highlighted best practices of women’s involvement in the IT and the finance sectors.
THE NEW ‘GAME RULES’
Sabine Bohnké’s book “Parcours de femmes..” recounts 18 testimonies of women with careers in the IT industry. Her aim is to vivify the raw statistics for women in science & research and to give young women a 360° perspective of their career options. She has observed that women recurrently avoid taking risks in a professional environment characterized by direct confrontations. The result is a career jam. Sabine Bohnké positively reflects on changing these “game rules” at two levels. Firstly, socially, by restructuring the cultural and educational frameworks and secondly, at an individual level, by supporting women to take risks and stand up either as business executives or as entrepreneurs.
Dunya Bouhacene’s private equity program focusing on women-led businesses runs on a similar logic. WE originated from the observation that women-led new companies received limited attention from private equity investors, while outperforming their peers on average. Facilitating access to capital for women led-businesses and supporting their growth has led to women accessing leadership roles in these organisations, and to promote female role models in society at large.
WOMEN IN (REAL) POWER
From another angle, Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet warned about the side-effects of initiatives that are artificially promoting women in leadership. Arguing that maternity leave is not the main obstacle of women’s promotion in decision making positions, the Secretary of State referred to an analysis made by Prof. Florence Weber from Ecole Normale Supérieure about career evolutions within public institutions. She argued that both women and men tend to step up to top leadership positions at a later age than early parenthood. She highlighted the biases in the recruitment process, including the fact that it is predominantly realized through cooptation, a situation which determines the gender imbalance at the top of the hierarchies.
Moreover, the Secretary of State warned about the risk of promoting women to leadership positions as a result of the different skills of men and women. In politics, these arguments lead to nominate women for social, diversity or educational portfolios, which carry weak political powers in the long run. No matter the party, in today’s politics, winning seats are largely held by men, while women fill in the nomination seats for the hard-to-win circumscriptions. As a consequence, women rotate between power and opposition at a greater pace than men and risk stagnating in their political careers.
According to the WIL panelists, the change of view needs to be provoked at different levels, by political pressure and by raising awareness through the use of social media, new technologies and by enabling more networking opportunities for women. Those who expose and speak about their achievements or who set up their own businesses are actually the women who will be establishing the ‘game rules’ for a more gender balanced society.
In a nutshell, Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet, together with the panelists and attendees, came to the conclusion that women need to be more vigilant about the real authority they hold, particularly given the tendency to favour gender parity in executive boards rather than parity at lower scales. As a result, WIL is preparing a study to back the women with the potential to step up to leadership positions in the upcoming years across Europe’s public and private enterprises and be a watchdog!
The proportion of women in decision making and the inclusion of women's perspectives in government policies, business planning or academic research are the two dimensions for which the European Network for Women in Leadership is constantly building supportive actions.
The last bi annual meeting dovetailed these objectives, reuniting 50 high-profile women concerned about learning how to contribute to the development of a “green” economy in Europe and to network as a means to boost their participation in the green economy.
In addition to the challenging opening and closing debates with Members of the European Parliament Britta Thomsen, Antonyia Parvanova and respectively Anneli Jäätteenmäki , former Prime Minister of Finland, and Vice-President of the European Parliament Diana Wallis, the day included three thought-provoking roundtables on women’s mobilization for a sustainable economy. A video conference brought together GlobalWIN and US Congresswoman Melissa Bean.
Finally, the meeting was the launching point of WIL’s much-looked-for study “Boosting the next generation of female leadership”. Through this study, WIL aims at discovering the women with the potential to step up to no. 1 leadership positions in the upcoming years across European public and private enterprises and provide them with a platform for learning and networking.
High-level networking lunch & Video conference with GlobalWIN, Washington DC
Two Members of the European Parliament, Dr. Antonyia Parvanova, Committees on Environment, Public Health and Food Safety & on Women's Rights and Gender Equality, and Britta Thomsen, Committees on Industry, Research and Energy & on Women's Rights and Gender Equality, opened the day by speaking about the ways to respond to the long-term effects of the economic crisis so that women do not miss arising opportunities. Dr Parvanova insisted on driving policies which would enhance the number of women entrepreneurs and innovators, while Ms Thomsen supports quota policies as a solution for the underrepresentation of women in decision making positions.
The two different viewpoints raised an interesting debate based on comparing differing practices and their results across Europe which opened the flow to an interesting exchange of views with US Congresswoman Melissa Bean and GlobalWIN in Washington DC.
“Let girls rock!” - WIL partners from across the Atlantic raised the issue of dealing with the low numbers of women professionally ready to work in a sustainable economy from a very early stage. They called for more systematic awareness campaigns aimed at girls and teachers or mentoring programs.
Enabling Women’s Leadership in the New Economy
The roundtable moderated by Pinuccia Contino, Head of Unit Multilingualism and translation studies, DG Translations - EU Commission, was a great chance to launch the study commissioned by WIL and headed by Marina Niforos, Former Gender Diversity Initiative Lead at INSEAD. The study “Boosting the Next Generation of Female Entrepreneurs” aims to measure the number of women in no. 3 -4 leadership positions in European public and private enterprises who will be able to take the lead in upcoming years.
Avivah Wittenberg-Cox, a renowned author of gender books, delivered an impressive speech about the positive impact that a society with a gender balanced leadership can have on demographics or on the increasing rate of school failure among boys. As far-fetched as it may seem, countries with a high rate of women participating in the economy, such as France (80%), are registering a growing population while in Germany, for instance, the birth rate is very low.
Would Sodexo’s solution – “What gets measured, gets done!” – work out? Alison Lazerwitz, Vice-President International Development at Sodexo, is one of the top managers who will contribute to raising the percentage of women in their top management from the current 18% to 25% by 2015.
There are some more systemic issues which need to be regarded, including the fact that young women are not aware of the existence of a “glass ceiling” until they reach a certain career position, in both the private and public sectors. Solving this issue, will open professional opportunities to many young women to an environmentally-aware economy.
Industry Mobilization for a Low Carbon European Economy
Europe targets to emit 20% less CO2 and produce 20% of its energy from renewed energy sources by 2020. The roundtable moderated by Sixtine Bouygues, Head of Communication Unit, DG INFSO European Commission, and joined by investors, entrepreneurs and large business reps as well as by regulators, discussed this topic as a way to open the domain to the women who can contribute to reaching these targets.
The ground-breaking, but still gender imbalanced ICT sector will have a major role. Not only will it monitor our carbon footprint, but it will also support other industries to make the life-cycle of their products and services more efficient, as Mary-Veronika Tovšak-Pleterski, Principal Adviser in DG INFSO, stated.
In the words of Jean-Philippe Vanot, Deputy CEO in charge of Quality and CSR at France Telecom Orange, exchanging a London-Singapore plane ticket with a tele-meeting would reduce the carbon footprint impact from 2250 kg to 110 kg!
Other businesses will be mainly concerned with reducing their impact across the environment. Babette Pettersen, VP New Business Development at DSM, pinpointed the need to intensively research other energy sources, beyond the scarce petroleum and agricultural feedstocks. Although positive in approach, Marie Christine LeBlanc, an engineer and entrepreneur, CEO of APuissance3, raised the issue of a uniform regulatory system for large companies and SMEs, but which restricts SME’s innovation possibilities.
To this, Soledad Blanco, Director for Industry in DG Environment, argued the future Europe will have to offer the same economic value by using less resources than today. This is why the current regulatory framework is trying to speed up the alignment of business and consumer practices to future needs.
One of the solutions for the lack of financial resources came from Charlotte Kalaidjian, who launched an investment fund for companies developing “green” technologies, Greenwish Partners. As the value of low-carbon energy markets is expected to reach $500BN by 2050 (Stern) and the demand for renewable energies to increase by 46% (IEA 08), new opportunities will quickly arise for women entrepreneurs or innovators. Ignoring the importance of having diverse talents in the domains mentioned above will hinder the development of low-carbon technologies and a sustainable economy, in general.
Preparing Europe’s Talent Pipeline for a Green Economy
The roundtable run by Dorothee Belz, Associate General Counsel at Microsoft, discussed the ways to diversify the skills of the current and future workforce. The current society needs inventors and innovators to build resources for growing societal needs. Prof. Yves Quéré and Luisa Prista, Head of Unit in DG Research, explained the missing talents in science and research. While Prof. Quéré is changing the way science is taught in schools, through programs like La Main à la Pâte and The European Pollen Project, so that children, and especially girls, become passionate about scientific discovery, Ms. Prista has touched the sensitive subject of less innovation due to the gender biased decision making process in research.
The industry has the capacity to encourage the development of technical skills for an environmentally- aware economy, particularly among girls. Throughout her experience as Executive VP Mobile and Devices in France Telecom Orange, Anne Bouverot witnessed how relationships across industries became more interdependent and how women draw cross-sectorial economic growth through their capacity to relate to other people’s needs.
Elena Bonfiglioli, Co-chair of the E-skills Industry Leadership Board & CSR Director for Microsoft also stressed that society needs people with dual skills, not just IT experts, but communicators, not just managers but environmentalists.
What is the status in the primary and secondary sectors? Candice Stevens, former OECD consultant, presented her study regarding the capacity of women in all sectors to occupy available “green” jobs. Worldwide, the percentage of women in green jobs is growing - 20% of farming, fisheries and forestry, 9% in constructions and only 12% in engineering and 15% in finance.
A growing economy is grounded on equity, whether speaking about the high or the low-skilled jobs which help it grow: which is why governments should activate policies that open new sectors of growth to women at all stages of their professional development.
High level Dinner at the European Parliament hosted by Dr Antonyia Parvanova MEP
In a friendly exchange of ideas, Vice-President of the European Parliament Diana Wallis, our host Dr. Antonyia Parvanova MEP and Anneli Jäätteenmäki MEP, former Prime Minister of Finland, wrapped up the day by making the liaison between the current participation of women in a sustainable economy and their low representation in the highest political decision making forums.
Both their professional and personal examples, including the support given to the nomination of a woman in one of the 4 highest European decision making positions, highlighted the existence of a political glass ceiling which replicates at other levels of society.
The overall feeling was that the systems within our society should be adapted to the needs of the women. At the same time, to boost the number of female leaders, women need to adapt some of the systems to their socio-professional plans, including networking and investing in their own learning skills.
First time in London, the Women in Leadership network convened 50 women business developers and stakeholders from European and national public institutions at a location no less prestigious or symbolic than the House of Lords. It was a successful encounter and proof that, in just 18 months, WiL has made great strides, enabling women from over 17 countries to meet, share and broaden their careers developments. The meeting’s specific purpose was to leverage financing opportunities for women-led businesses and launch women as investors in male-dominant sectors, such as technological innovation.
Lord Erroll, Chairman of the UK All-Party Parliamentary Group on Entrepreneurship, asked for entrepreneurs to step up in policy making and eliminate the barriers to the growth of SMEs. He endorsed pro-microfinance policies and providing internet access to all. WIL members voiced the additional concern that governments should trust companies’ ownership of their innovations and enlarge access to education so as to secure a talented work force.
Catarina Marcelino, Member of the Portuguese Parliament, spoke about the unchanging gap between women and men entrepreneurs. Almost 67% of European companies are SMEs, but 71% of the owners are men. To bridge this gap, she sustains labor laws promoting work/life balance and public support of female entrepreneur networks.
Recommendations to Support Female Entrepreneurship and Innovation
The think tank Women’s Enterprise Taskforce (WETF) presented The Greater Return on Women’s Enterprise (GROWE) report commissioned by the UK government, which bases its recommendations on the economic potential of such enterprises. UK women-owned businesses now produce £130bn in annual turnover, representing 15% of the 4.7 million businesses in the UK. Another 150,000 UK businesses would be created every year if women started businesses at the same rate as men. Dr Glenda Stone, CEO of Aurora and WETF Co-Chair, together with Claire O’Halloran, Emerging Business International Microsoft, called for more women to take on the role of serial entrepreneurs and to partner with business angel networks or venture capitals and for governments to ease public procuring for SMEs. WETF raised the issue of inadequate coverage of women’s success stories in the European media, but which women from networks such as WiL can counter by sharing their success stories either in the media or in schools.
Damini Kumar, Programme Director Product Design, National University of Ireland, Maynooth has been speaking on behalf of innovators throughout this year. As the European Ambassador of Creativity & Innovation, she invited attendees to share their expertise through pan-European research networks, to encourage risk taking while supporting a creative liberal education where teachers and students break down barriers between disciplines. The design contest she organized across Ireland, Imaginate 2009, was a great example of how creative thinking can shape entrepreneurial attitudes in young individuals.
Journalist Jennifer Schenker, CEO Informilo, moderated a panel of 5 successful business women. Béatrice de Clermont Tonnerre, Head of Business Development Lagardère, and Viviane Ribeiro, CEO Lefebvre Software, expressed the viewpoint of women who grow long-term businesses and take risks in launching new products and services.
Dunya Bouhacene, CEO Women Equity Partners, together with Jenny Tooth, Head of British Business Angels Association & GLE Capital and Marie Reinius, Managing Director, Swedish Private Equity & Venture Capital Association landscaped the opportunities that lay for women to either finance their businesses or become investors. They advised women entrepreneurs to sell the scalability of their business along with their self-confidence and to sit on the boards of investment funds and networks so as to coach other women to become serial entrepreneurs.
The panel was followed up by a video interview of Sharon Bowles MEP, Chairwoman Economic and Monetary Affairs Committee, who uses her technical background to spur pro-innovation incentives for SMEs, and by a live meeting with WiL’s partner in Washington D.C., GlobalWIN - The Global Women's Innovation Network. Dr Kate Kirby, Head of The American Physical Society, called for using the 50th anniversary of laser to encourage women to choose science careers. Melika Carroll, Director Global Government Affairs Micron Technology, and Helen Milby, CEO HM&CO, illustrated how a history of business pioneering in the US and a flexible regulatory environment for start-ups has encouraged women to invest in innovation and start their own business.
On September 29, the Women in Leadership in the Information Society network, ably hosted by Member of the European Parliament Edit Herczog, convened seven most distinguished new Members of the European Parliament. Together with private sector members of the network, academics as well as the European Commission members who were present there, the discussion expanded from finding specific solutions to encouraging women in entrepreneurship to enabling women to reach top European decision-making positions.
Current Status of Women-Led Businesses
Marina Niforos, Director of Gender Diversity Initiative in INSEAD, and Dunya Bouhacene, Founder of Women Equity Partners, discussed specific figures which showed that there is still much work needed to encourage women to take risks and venture capital to support women-led businesses. The main determining factors are the so-called “pull factors”, in which unemployment or the need for a flexible work schedule are included and then the “push factors”, such as the will to succeed. Nonetheless, the desire to contribute to social welfare is also strong. As The Global Entrepreneurship Monitor shows, high-income European countries exhibit 4 times less female entrepreneurial activity than low or middle-income countries in Europe and Latin America, which means that employment and social networks influence women more than education or household income.
However, the Members of the European Parliament observed that such figures are still incomplete and do not allow scaling all the causes of the low number of women entrepreneurs in different regions of the world, Edit Herczog MEP calling for common action by European academics to contribute to track the missing data, particularly on women’s success rates as entrepreneurs.
According to studies on venture capital firms in France conducted in the past 5 years, women-led businesses are mostly small and medium sized, while only 11% of companies with 100 to 249 employees are led by women. This reality is determined by the risk containment strategies that venture capital firms follow, inducing a “reproduction of the same” attitude and preferring entrepreneurs with experience. Initiatives such as Women Equity Partners is a good place to start reversing these attitudes as well as promoting role models to young girls that would determine them to become young competitive entrepreneurs in today’s market place, as MEPs Antonyia Parvanova and Kinga Goncz observe.
In addition, as an experienced entrepreneur,Aino-Maija Fagerlund, CEO of Frends Technology, explained, to gain venture capital firms’ trust, women should “speak the same language” as them, which means meeting the VCs’ expectations to support highly-educated and self-confident entrepreneurs. Aino-Maija emphasized the need to attract women’s talent in ICT in particular, and in leadership in general. Particularly in high tech sectors, much effort is required to attract talent and, as the Members of the European Parliament observed, this issue should be addressed through educational programs which encourage young girls to build abilities for working in the domains of the future, such as ICT or renewable energies.
Call to Action for Supporting Women’s Access to Leading Positions
Supported by the MEPs, the group has identified three action points that the women from the private sector and academics can advance, in a call to achieve gender parity in the European Commission. Even though Europe has considerable potential to attract women in the highest forums, with women counting for almost 60% of all higher education graduates, the proportion of women in the EU Commission whose term is just ending was of only 30%. In search of a role model that can inspire young women to picture themselves as talented leaders, a new gender balanced Commission could play a crucial role in addressing solutions to offer equal opportunities and leadership opportunities, such as:
Facilitating access to a learning environment in science and research for young girls through specific scholarship schemes;
Enabling funds for European universities and research institutions to collect data and expand studies on women in entrepreneurship;
Supporting the growth of women-led businesses through established quota policies in public procurement.
Themed as " Empowering Young Women for Greater Participation in the 21st Century: Inspiration, Exchange and Real Action", the 4th WiL meeting brought together leaders from politics and business together with young women toset action steps that would encourage more women to assume responsibilities in areas where they are under represented, such as research and technology or entrepreneurship.
Janez Potocnik, EU Commissioner for Science and Researc
Françoise Le Bail, Deputy Director General for DG Enterprise and Industry
Avivah Wittenberg-Cox, co-author of the book “Why Women Mean Business”
Martine Blockx, Partner Ernst & Young
During a high level dinner debate, the EU Commissioner Janez Potocnik called on the need to reach excellence in research through the greater participation of women. The Commissioner saluted the progress of the last 10 years in decreasing the gender gap of women’s participation in the field of sciences. He spoke about the “She Figures” initiative of the EU Commission, which aims to scale the issue of women’s participation in research, and also of the continuous support of women’s networks. He however confirmed the need for further actions to enable women to progress in their careers.
The second day the network was also joined by the 9 young women part of the mentoring program, actively involved in the youth platforms of AIESEC and Jade. The debate shifted from empowering women in science and research to women’s role in business management.
Avivah Wittenberg-Cox, author of the book “Why Women Mean Business” and gender consultant, shared information on women’s recognition of talent in different geographies and on the increasing influence women have upon the economy, either as buyers or as market decision makers. She presented the financial sector as an example which urges business leaders to reconsider women’s contribution to decision making, as it is one of the most male dominant sectors and is at the moment a highly unpredictable environment. One solution Avivah promoted for empowering more women is to work together with the current leaders in sustaining women’s career cycles, different from the current socially accepted one, centred on men.
Deputy Director General for DG Enterprise and Industry of the EU Commission Françoise Le Bail confirmed the need for progress in gender policies. In the sector she represents, few women are appointed in leadership positions, on one hand, and fewer of them decide to become entrepreneurs, on the other hand. Mrs. Le Bail announced that her team will work with the Swedish EU Presidency to launch a Women’s Ambassadors program, aiming to convince women to take risks and start their own businesses.
The last speaker, Martine Blockx, Ernst & Young Partner, presented a study conducted by Ernst & Young, “Groundbreakers. Using the Strength of Women to Rebuild the World Economy”, which confirmed the conclusions drawn during the meeting. According to the study, gender balanced executive boards take decisions which lead to higher profitability. It is therefore in the interest of organisations to apply policies which encourage women’s presence in the higher management ladders.
The members of the network agreed on the fact that there are 2 sides to the problem: the first is about making power attractive to women so that they can assume risks and enforce their own ideas, while the second is about changing the mix of cultural biases. Quota policies could be a good incentive for this, even though it is a sensitive approach. A decision that the membersagreed on is to share the gender statistics they have access to with the whole network and with policy makers, so as to develop gender balance strategies in line with the realities women are facing.
The second part of the meeting was moderated by Claudine Schmuck, coordinator of the Mentor2Mentee program. It was an opportunity for both mentors and mentees, to get to know each other and set their expectations, before their first 1:1 meeting. It was a fruitful meeting during which the mentors and mentees agreed on how their learning relationship should evolve.
They will meet at least once again in the next 6 months and stay in contact through virtual communication during this period. This period represents the first step in the decision-making process that includes entrepreneurial or career development projects from the mentees’ side. One important aspect is that the mentors also expect from this relationship to gain a fresh outlook on future leaders and their vision on the society in view of integrating it in their organizations, in the long run.
On March 5th, the WIL network hosted a lunch during Microsoft’s Growth and Innovation day. The members of the network had a chance to catch up and discuss about the future actions that are needed, particularly for the mentoring program. If you would like to join the mentors’ platform, please contact Claudine Schmuck.
In light of the EU French Presidency, the WiL network launched its mentoring program in partnership with Silicon Sentier, JADE and AIESEC, three international youth organizations.
Odile Quintin, Director General for Education and Culture, European Commission, keynoted the meeting wich gathered the WiL members from all around Europe, providing much valuable input throughout the day, their enthusiasm and willingness to share their experience making the day a success.
The meeting marked the launch of the mentoring initiative which pairs WiL members, high level women in Government, Business, VCs and Academy, with young women aspiring in these fields.
There were also testimonials and contributions from the mentors who were representatives from the European Commission, the French Government, British American Tobacco, INSEAD, Microsoft, Wikimedia and Global Contact among many others.
The day finished with the official launch of the program and it was decided that the program will initially aim to do a combination of 1:1 and group interaction.
Thaima Samman, Associate General Counsel, Microsoft
Jan Figel, European Commissioner for Education, Culture & Youth
Claudie Haignere, Astronaut and former IT and Research Minister
Simon Brown, Vice President DPE, Microsoft
Aude de Thuin, President of the Women’s Forum for Economy
Marc Durando, Director, EU SchoolNet
In cooperation with the French Presidency, the Women’s Forum and European SchoolNet, the Women in IT session was organized during Microsoft’s worldwide competition for students in IT, Imagine Cup.
Out of the 400 finalists participating in Imagine Cup, only 52 of them were girls following IT studies. As this reality is reflected at a worldwide level, the meeting featured a high level debate on how to raise awareness and develop specific policies that would grow the participation of young women in technology and science studies.
The event was an opportunity for 15 young Imagine Cup competitors/finalists to share the stage and be role models for 15 young European high school girls invited to participate and help them focus their future studies in the area of STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics).
Women in IT took place as an official event of the French EU Presidency. It was endorsed by the EU Commissioner of Education, Youth and Culture, Jan Figel and gathered more than 250 attendees (including French and European ministries cabinet members, policymakers, industry representatives, teachers and international journalists).
© European Network for Women in Leadership 2018