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Connecting humanity to ensure progress for all

27.11.2018

By Méka Brunel, CEO, Gecina

 

As an Iranian of the Bahá'i faith, and as a woman, I have always felt a tension within me, a split between two contrasting attitudes: the first relates to the logic of quotas, which is worrying because it isn’t objective (whereas Bahá'I sees women’s rights and equality as a cornerstone of its culture) ; the second one concerns the need to combat all discriminatory attitudes.

 

However, on the subject of the feminisation of senior management, I must admit that I have changed my mind. The law on the balanced representation of women and men on boards of directors and supervisory boards and on professional equality, also known as the "Copé-Zimmermann Act", had the merit of compelling people to look beyond gendered ways of thinking marked by the long history of the discriminatory treatment of women. The rate of female participation in companies listed on the Board of Directors index and on the boards of the SBF 120 companies, as well as those on other European stock exchanges — MIB 40 (32.2%), FTSE 100 - United Kingdom (27.1%), HDA - Germany (27.1%) —, has now reached 42%, and France is ahead of the other countries in this area.

 

It must be said that changing the way we look at gender stereotypes amounts to rewriting a certain a kind of "Terminator's vision" history — and in particular that of technology and science. This change is educational, societal, and affects our collective representations.

 

Why is fatherhood considered as a stabilising element within the company, and not motherhood? Why do women have to justify themselves more than men and give more evidence of their career achievements? Yes, gender biases persist, even within the confines of the new economy, the breeding ground for innovation, the sector that is heralded as the cradle of the future.

 

Just recently, I read in the BCG study "Why Women-Owned Startups Are a Better Bet"that venture capitalists questioned women entrepreneurs more about the potential losses of their start-ups than their vision for the company, its potential and what could enable investor earnings to be maximized. The opposite was true for men. However, while there is a clear deficit in terms of management-level gender equality in start-up companies, it is also an established fact that companies with at least one woman among their founders achieve higher levels of revenue, to the tune of about 10% according to the same study. But merely pointing out objective facts is not enough to solve the problem of parity once and for all.

 

For speaking the language of performance and diversity also means understanding that it is a matter of balance and that when taking stock of the current state of affairs, we must not rely solely on the criteria of profitability, stock market performance and revenue growth. It means having an integrated approach where diversity and gender balance are part of the formula for success. It is a balance, a question of give and take, similar to that between rights and duties. In a forward-looking company, parity and diversity should be seen as absolute principles that provide meaning. I notice that today the tendency to want to upset existing balances is becoming increasingly common. Yet these same balances constitute a source of resilience in the face of a modern world in which a “liquid society" ” is emerging – in which individual leads against community. So, we should take nothing for granted.

 

Removing glass ceilings requires as much self-criticism on the part of women as it does criticism of men. It will also be necessary, in the wake of the freedom of expression unleashed by #MeToo, that men guard against any temptation to succumb to "gender fatigue" — as Muriel Jasor, editor-in-chief of Les Echos Business, rightly noted in an op-ed. My training as a mathematician and engineer reminds me of this quote from Isaac Newton: "Men build too many walls and not enough bridges."

 

Thus we must build bridges, and not just women's "Boys' Club", to quote the journalist Emily Chang. It will also undoubtedly be necessary to continue to monitor developments and progress in a society where the "societal purpose of the company" must not treat the issue of gender as an afterthought in the context of its transformation.

 

For a long time, I served as a diversion: "the lone woman among men" — among career scientists, then among engineers, and finally within senior management. And throughout my career I have adopted a certain blind nihilism with regard to gender equality, as if to conceal the fact that the discrepancy existed. Today, "I have a dream". 

 

I have the dream, that one day it will be normal to point to a woman, as a woman, as a partner, a professional, as a mother, whatever: on that day, there will be no more sexism.

 

I have a dream that one day the people we look to as role models will no longer be determined or influenced by gender. That day will be the day we reach equality.

 

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This article is part of a LinkedIn series for the Women’s Forum Global Meeting 2018, demonstrating how participants and partners of the Women’s Forum for the Economy & Society are #BridgingHumanity to drive inclusive progress. Visit their website and join the conversation using #WFGM18. Read the original here.