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).
The highlight of the working dinner was a keynote address by the European Commissioner for Employment, Equal Opportunities and Social Affairs Vladimir Spidla, who eloquently spoke about the critical issues facing women in the workplace. However, the presentations of other speakers and particularly the lively discussion that followed have proven equally important valuable. We are still in a “work in progress” mode but the level of interest of successful women in positions of power clearly demonstrates a need and an existence of a vacuum when it comes to organizations like the Women in Leadership and Information Society Network, especially at the European level.
Thaima Samman, Associate General Counsel Microsoft spoke about the main achievements of the network thus far. One particular initiative she highlighted was the creation of the website, designed as a tool to keep the members of the network in touch between the meetings.
Aude Zieseniss De Thuin, founder of Women’s Forum in Economy and Society, explained her reasoning behind the creation of the Women’s Forum and its successes, giving an overview of the difficulties she experienced as a woman in business. She highlighted a particular initiative of the Women’s Forum, the Sci-Tech Girls, which aims to encourage young women and girls to enter into science professions by bringing them in contact with the women in this field.
Pamela Passman, Microsoft’s Global Vice President responsible for Corporate Affairs, followed with a presentation on the importance of skills and training for empowerment, independence and opportunity for women of all backgrounds. She particularly highlighted the role of skills and training as a vital bridge between education, entrepreneurship and leadership, at all levels of society and at all stages of an individual’s life. Pamela also spoke about the role of ICT for empowerment of both women and men today. She stressed the need for cooperation with both the public sector and the civil society to achieve concrete and meaningful results and gave as an example the Microsoft Community Technology Learning Centres, which are run in partnership with over 400 NGOs across the EU. They, for instance, provide services such as IT training courses for immigrant and refugee women, ensuring they can integrate them into their adopted societies.
Eugenia Bieto, Corporate Deputy Director General of the business school ESADE, gave a thought-provoking presentation upon a study on behavior patterns and success rates of men and women in the business environment. She stressed onexperience, education and role models as areas where men currently have a significant advantage. Eugenia went on to talk about role models and social connections in particular as the one area, where men have developed a greater depth of networks. “Networks play a very important role”, Eugenia pointed out. “There are many women’s networks out there, but they are rather insular, when in fact they need to be connected with other networks, male and female, to be effective”. In addition, she mentioned that the goal of the society should be to foster the entrepreneurship culture, in women in particular, as well as helping women to scale their businesse.
The keynote of the European Commissioner for Employment and Social Affairs Vladimir Spidla, was the highlight of the evening. The Commissioner spoke about the importance of equality between men and women, in particular at the workplace, but also beyond. He put this in the broader context of social and economic benefits of equal employment for the society at large. He then outlined the European Commission’s existing and future policy outlook in regards to the advancement of women. The Commission’s primary target in the current 2006-2010 action plan for fostering women’s participation in employment is to reach the 60% employment rate for women by 2010 across the EU27. However, the main responsibility for this policy area remains at the Member State level. The Commissioner therefore stressed the importance of the latter ones to take a leading role and develop policies that offer a workable compromise between work and private life and offers women the right tools to compete and advance in their careers. Finally, he acknowledged that: “We all have a responsibility to act to improve the situation of women. All actors in the society need to come together if we want to successfully close this gap”.
Pascale Joannin, Director General of the Robert Schuman Foundation, briefly talked about the Foundation and the ideals it stands for. She highlighted the “Femmes, Passer Elles d’Europe” programme, which promotes gender equality in Europe. She also presented the statistics her organization collects on the role and number of women in positions of power, especially when it comes to the public sector and government. Pascale finished her presentation with an overview of all that has been done for women in Europe, highlighting the role and importance of European Institutions.
Finally, the women also highlighted a number of upcoming events, which constituted good opportunities for a follow up meeting. The very next day, Microsoft organized a roundtable for women and entrepreneurship, which the majority of members attended. The group was also invited to attend Microsoft’s Imagine Cup Finals in Paris and in particular the panel discussion with the European Commissioner for Education Jan Figel around the theme of promoting the interest of young women in science and information technology.
The Robert Schuman Foundation highlighted a conference taking place under the patronage on the French Presidency, “Women for Europe". Finally, Catherine Trautmann drew attention to an online petition (http://www.femalesinfront.eu) which calls on the European Commission to appoint a woman to one of the top positions it will be looking to fill in 2009.
A dynamic discussion took place, with ideas and opinions sometimes even bursting out during the presentations. Commissioner Spidla, seemingly not intimidated by being the sole man in the room, stayed for most of the evening, clearly enjoying the opportunity to call upon the individual expertise of the members. The dinner was a great occasion for the members of the network to meet again and discuss individual initiatives with fellow women of similar stature. On the other hand, it had provided more information and impetus to the new members, who left intrigued and excited to do more.
EU Commissioner Viviane Reding keynoted the first meeting of the WiL Network, emphasizing the issue of the low retention rate of women in ICT. Against this background, the Commissioner talked about the efforts that the European Commission is dedicating, outlining some of the key initiatives undertaken by the EC, such as launching the “European Code of Best Practices for Women in ICT”.
All participants pointed out the need to change stereotypes and perceptions of “women and success or women in business” and normalize the perception of women’s roles in the industry and the workforce in general. Another point of discussion was enabling training for women who want to develop entrepreneurial skills and to offer support to access venture capitals.
As an informal network of stakeholders committed to making progress on this topic, the group offered a first concrete contribution by submitting to the EC the Compendium of Good Practices – a selection of best practices from the organizations that are part of the WiL network.
The session was opened by Thaima Samman (Microsoft), who gave an overview of the issues at stake, outlined the challenges that need to be overcome, as well as the raison d’être for this particular meeting. One of the challenges recognized by participants is the ever decreasing number of young women pursuing degrees and career paths in natural sciences, business and ICT. If this trend continues, the predicted shortage of qualified engineers in ICT sector will supersede 300,000 in the EU alone by 2010. Therefore, education and research, life-long learning, employability and entrepreneurship were identified as important topics in addressing this challenge.
Claudine Schmuck presented the role of the Women’s Forum, a forum which acts so as to highlight great business achievements of women, in particular now that business is infused with technology processes and products. However, women do not find these fields appealing. As she said, “the number of women with PhDs is growing significantly, however not in the area of science and technology”. One of the initiatives of the Women’s Forum is the “Sci-Tech Girls Programme”, where young girls get the chance to explore different career paths on offer and meet with role models, which can show them why it is important that girls pursue scientific careers. In her words, “We need to empower women so that they become key actors in the new information society. The change needs to originate in the women themselves.”
Marina Niforos and Martine Van Den Poel (INSEAD) offered the perspective of one of the leading business schools on why women are not often in the driving seat when it comes to creating businesses of their own and working their way up the corporate ladder. They recognized that success and business entrepreneurship of women is still perceived with levels of scepticism. They reiterated the message that an ever decreasing number of women are attending business schools. At the same time they stressed that it is of the uttermost interest to the business environment to have a diverse workforce: “Diverse environments often give birth to most innovative ideas”. They argued that some of the reasons that women are not managing to establish themselves as well as their male counterparts in the workplace are due to the fact that they often lack confidence, suffer from lack of talent development, feel isolated at the workplace or threatened by an aggressive corporate culture and are not ready to make the sacrifices required by the current work/life balance of many executives. They presented the program “Women Leading Change” as a way to address these issues and provide development opportunities to women who seek to transform both businesses and themselves. Another key component was a creation of a sustainable network of business leaders and role models, allowing the younger women to dip into a collective pool of experience and knowledge.
At lunch time, the group hosted the EU Commissioner Viviane Reding who drew attention to the fact that women are falling behind when it comes to technology careers, studies and research. She stressed the point that even when women start working in this sector, the retention rates remain quite low. She even referred to the “dry” image of the ICT sector in the eyes of young girls and women. They do not look at it as a “people environment” but rather as a “machines environment”. Against this background, the Commissioner talked about the efforts that the European Commission is dedicating to this problem. She outlined some of the key initiatives undertaken by the EC, such as launching the “European Code of Best Practice for working in ICT”. She then also referred to an initiative running already for two years in partnership with industry to enable girls to be in closer contact with the technology sector and to experience the ICT workplace through shadowing, education and seminars on career orientation. “Moving women out of the shadows” is a big societal problem, she stated, and there is also a role to play for parents and grandparents so as to picture ICT as a fruitful career for their children. The role and importance of “role models” was highlighted once more as a differentiating factor. “We need to create a positive image for ICT professionals, on TV and in the cinema – at the moment all the heroes are lawyers and economists, there are no ICT developers.”
Main Points from the Open Discussion
The main topics discussed in the open roundtable referred to education of young girls and women, as well as to the importance of fostering entrepreneurship mindsets and culture. The discussion highlighted the need to start educating girls early, also the need to close the technological gap between the generations. A point was made on educating parents and society in general with a view to help change stereotypes and perceptions of “women and success or women in business” and normalize the perception of women’s roles in the industry and the workforce in general.
Another point of discussion was entrepreneurship and access to venture capitals. In a recent UK survey of women who were starting a business, 25% said that they were afraid of success and 35% said they were afraid of failure. The need for training and support was highlighted as well as the need to address the problems faced by women that have been out of the workforce and who need support for their re-entry or for undertaking possible entrepreneurship ventures. There was agreement that these Women need support networks, know how, and targeted programs.
Many stigmas and societal stereotypes were also brought up, such as the idea that there is a stigma towards financial success; in general women feel that the financial side needs to be reconciled with their value system. Therefore, they need to have role models that are well remunerated but also engaged in the community. Women tend to operate by consensus ‘web model” rather than impose hierarchical decisions.
Outcomes and Next Steps
The session ended with a discussion on how to channel all of the ideas and build concrete next steps that will deliver solid solutions:
All participants agreed on the opportunity to continue the informal exchange and create a network of interested practitioners and stakeholders to work on the various topics linked to empowering women in the information society.
Interactions need to happen in between meetings, in an ongoing way and virtually. Microsoft committed to set up an online forum of exchange and communication for this community of interest.
All participants agreed that we need to segment our action by theme and delve deeper in specific topics’ discussions. Based on this point, there was a proposal to host the next meeting on June 11-12th and focus on the topic of female entrepreneurship and VCs.
Microsoft offered to host the meeting in the framework of its annual SME Day in Brussels. This event already provides an opportunity to convene several delegations of SMEs and Venture capitalists from across Europe (around 300 people). In this framework, a specific breakout session on Women entrepreneurship will be organized. The involvement and participation of representatives from the group is most welcome.
A second opportunity for continuing a thematic discussion on the topic of girls’ education in scientific studies will take place in the framework of the global award ceremony of the Imagine Cup Finals in Paris on July 8th. Microsoft and the Women Forum will gather a delegation of around 20 talented young women thinking about fostering their studies in technology studies and have them meet with 15-20 young female students for an exchange on their views and expectations on scientific studies and careers’ perspectives. A press conference and an awareness campaign will be promoted in this occasion.
The group committed to support the EC initiative presented by Commissioner Reding on the “European Code of Best Practices for Women in ICT”. As an informal network of stakeholders committed to making progress on this topic the group agreed to offer a first concrete contribution by submitting to the EC the Compendium of Good Practices – a selection of best practices from the organizations that are part of our informal network initiative.
Pinuccia Contino (European Commission) shared a blueprint for what she felt constituted a great project. She felt that it needs to be built on needs that are identified in advance, as well as the target group and a great communications model, such as the one used in a Commission funded project in Norway helping to integrate Pakistani women into the society.
Herta von Stiegl (Stargate Capital Investment Group) urged the women to put their money where their mouth was and create a community of men and women who are ready to fill the equity gap between men and women who set up their own businesses.
Odile de Chalendar (French government) suggested setting up a community, where all the participants of the workshop could collaborate, commit themselves to particular challenges and together build a success story that will help prevent sexist attitudes and promote open minds.
It was also agreed that each of the participating members will provide at least two examples of the work being done in their countries, so that they can build on existing practice and not duplicate the work. At the same time this compendium will provide them with sufficient ammunition to “burst at least some of the myths” that still exists today when it comes to women and leadership.
© European Network for Women in Leadership 2018