Women pioneering leadership: What’s next?


By Alexandre Denis, HEC Paris


Firestarter with Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, UN Under Secretary General and Executive of UN Women

“75% of legislators (Congress and parliamentarians) in the world are men.” In Nigeria, for example, only 5% of legislators are women. Still, laws are voted on their behalf, which makes Phumzile Mlambo- Ngcuka say that law is “something about us, without us”.

Yet, women like Christine Lagarde managed to make their way to the top of international institutions and hold significant responsibilities. What results of it? We realize that women leadership is critical.

Childcare still stops a majority of women to enter the job market. We need to implement far reaching policies in order to empower mother and father to be able to work as a team when they have a babies. It should even feature in macroeconomic plans : gender is definitely part of budgeting.

We ought to call for equality constantly, and realize that each one of us can mentor somebody else to empower him. On the other hand, we must raise awareness about new issues generated by robots and AI! Indeed, robotics has become another site of struggle for equality.

Question from the audience : Nowadays, AI is programmed by men : how do we correct it?

We could go as far as organizing a Women’s forum at the very silicon valley to address directly the issue with the CEOs of tech companies. Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka talks about the “Unstereotype alliance” which includes lot of tech companies to make them think about how they can use their leadership to make sure that this big instruments that they have do not work against women. To conclude, we have to realize that stereotypes are perpetuated through marketing, and find solutions to create responsible advertising.


Panel with Yuriria Sierra, Journalist, Imagen Televisión, Maria Teresa Arnal, Managing Director, Google Mexico , Ana Paula Assis, General Manager Latin America, IBM , Mónica Flores, President Latin America, ManpowerGroup , Claudia Herreramoro, Director, Communications Latin America, P&G


What is at stake with women leadership?


Maria Teresa Arnal, Google: To begin with, we have to measure things, and be transparent. For example, Google recently broadcasted a gender report. “We have to make sure we recruit, we include and we promote women in the company”. We shall also include men into the discussion. Then, we may wonder how do we spill this over to the society ? How to create a pipeline for women to take the jobs created by technology? The answer is simple : girls must be exposed to math and technology since childhood.

Claudia Herreramoro, P&G: Woman leadership implies significant cultural changes, and can only be put into action if the changes occur at the top. Where do we stand today ? 79% of company still don’t have a clear business priority to bring women at the top : in other words, this is not formal priority. What are the real reasons behind this lack? 1 - Most companies don’t know what value it could bring (even if numerous research have shown that including women favors productivity). 2 - We could blame the lack of incentive and the “laissez faire” approach. 3 - We can identify a lot of bias of underestimation : we have to make understand women that they CAN reach top jobs.

Monica Flores, Manpower Group : We first have to wonder “what shouldn’t be next?” Basically, we shouldn’t be discussing the same data next year. The fight for equality is indeed a journey. The data is the following : 6/10 of women stop working when they have their first child, 8/10 when they have the second one. We must take more aggressive normative actions in the media, as well as in the public sector, and the private sector. More activism then, but in the right way : be proactive in schools, choose the right language, and promote inspiring women as role models.


Ana Paula Assis, IBM : IBM knows the advantages of having a mixed board ; but it should now be an obligation for every firm. What IBM does : 1 - Advertising (being the largest advertiser in the world) women role in the commercials. The example of the Gillette campaign in Latin America is a case in point. 2 Reaching discriminative communities. 3 Takes care of its own employees and involves men.


What about your own experience? Would you favor sponsorship or mentorship?

Claudia Herreramoro : Asked to her manager for a maternity leave, because she had a baby while the law wasn’t what it is yet. “If in you re company you don’t have that kind of advantages, ask for it”.

Ana Paula Assis : Sponsorship has much bigger impact than mentorship according to my experience. Yet, mentorship is also helpful. We must take care of our behaviors, of the comments we make, and have a zero tolerance policy on any type of harassment… All in all, it’s about changing the dynamics of the workplace.

Monica Flores : It is easier to be a mentor than a sponsor. “We have to promote our skills by ourselves, despite all the discriminations!”. Having the CEO support and commitment in diversity is important, he or she needs to lead by example and involve middle management too. Quotas may appear necessary for a period of time but they have to be justified : when, why, and how much?

Maria Teresa Arnal: The main task is to prepare all the stakeholders. In other words : preparing the organization to embrace these women should be the focus on what’s next. Inclusion should be the word of this new era. It goes to privileges, this is why these are hard conversations. Google focuses on setting a clear agenda with defined objectives for diversity.


 This article is part of a series on #WFAmericas. Watch the full session on YouTube.