On 17 March 2015 Women’s Forum President Clara Gaymard brought together some 20 women business leaders at the Lucas Carton restaurant for the first luncheon meeting of the Women’s Forum / Club au Féminin RMC BFM. Before the luncheon began, the following interview with Clara Gaymard was conducted by BFM TV reporter Pascale de la Tour du Pin.
Pascale de la Tour du Pin: “Clara Gaymard, you are president of General Electric Franc and also president of the American Chambre of Commerce in France. Your husband is former Finance Minister Hervé Gaymard and you have nine children together. You began your career at the Cour des Comptes. You joined GE in 2006 and became president of GE France, which has some 10,000 employees. Last year you were in the news during the General Electric’s takeover of Alstom Energie. And lastly, since December 2014 you have been president of the Women’s Forum for the Economy and Society. What are your ambitions for the Women’s Forum? What added value are you bringing to the table?”
Clara Gaymard: “The Women’s Forum is the world's leading platform featuring women's views and voices on major social and economic issues. There are some other conferences, particularly in the United States, that discuss women’s issues, but since the Women’s Forum began 10 years ago our meetings have been the reference. Not only in Deauville, where our annual Global Meeting takes place, but throughout the world thanks to the international development undertaken by Women’s Forum CEO Jacqueline Franjou and my predecessor Véronique Morali. Women’s Forum events have taken place in Brazil and Myanmar, others are scheduled to take place in Japan, Mexico and Dubai, and just this morning we were discussing an event to take place on the African continent. Our events are imagined by women and for women and cover all topics relating to the economy and society. How can we, as women, bring a fresh perspective to these topics?”
At the Women’s Forum, we talk about issues that are changing the world. This year, for the upcoming Global Meeting in October, we have chosen as our theme Energizing the World! It’s a theme that will strike a chord with everyone attending the luncheon today – all the women here have an incredible amount of energy. In Deauville we will develop this theme along three sub-themes. For the first, Addressing vital needs, our discussions will focus on access to education, healthcare, transportation and energy. I think it is scandalous that 1,5 billon people around the world should be denied access to the most basic of public services. We are seeing a lot of breakthroughs, though, with the advent of digital technologies.
Can women play an important role in addressing these vital needs?
“As I’ve said, the Women’s Forum was created and developed by women. What I like, though, is that we no longer need to remind people that we are women. [The Women’s Forum] is here and we are taking action, and that’s more important than our gender. The second sub-theme of the Global Meeting will be Crafting the Future, where the idea will be to consider the implications of drones, of advanced medical techniques, the e-shopping revolution…. All these things that are happening today will radically change the world of tomorrow.
The third sub-theme will be Creative fires, and we’ll be hearing from the people behind some of these world-shaking changes. Each of them will have five minutes to say what they’re doing, – say how they work, tell who they are, how they’re changing their sector or their environment.
And as always, at the next Global Meeting, women leaders will be present on behalf of our partner companies as well as on behalf of their clients. We will also be encouraging each participant at the Global Meeting to bring along a young woman or a young man under 30 years of age. We want to make sure to include members of ‘Generation Z,’the so-called ‘digital natives’ who are changing the world. And we’ll also allow our partner companies to develop their own content in the Women’s Forum’s Discovery section.“
From a more personal standpoint, why did you choose to join the Women’s Forum?
“I wouldn’t have said this 10 years ago, but women [in France] have not yet come as far as we should have. We can ask ourselves if France’s problems go beyond the fact that not a single CAC 40 or SBF 120 company is run by a woman. I believe that no French company would have given me the chance that General Electric has given me.“
So what would you say is the reason for this?
“There is a kind of acceptance of the notion that the leadership pipeline is lacking or that the pipeline is different [in France]. We have seen it in the case of executive boards where the heads of companies explain that they would like to be able to promote women but they don’t know any or there were too few of them. As women tend not to be running companies, we can’t put a women who isn’t a CEO on a board next to a man who is, because there’s a chance that man will say, ‘I’m the boss of a big CAC 40 company and I don’t want to sit next to a woman who merely runs a business unit.’ The 2011 Copé-Zimmerman law helped change things as we’re seeing more women as a result. The other day I was at a luncheon organized by a headhunter who said that, before that law passed, there were only 60 names of women in the leadership pipeline, and today there are 600.”
So this law was necessary?
“This law was crucial. I was recently invited to a luncheon at the AFEP [Association Française des Entreprises Privées], a professional network of corporations operating in France. One of the CEOs present denounced the law, saying that the AFEP hadn’t done its job and should have found a way to prevent the law from passing. For him, this law was going to hurt business. At that moment I couldn’t stop myself from answering him, from pointing out just the opposite, that company performance benefits [from enabling women to access leadership positions], and I got in big trouble! This anecdote helps show we can’t assume anything, even from [people and organizations] who consider themselves confirmed feminists. [Women] exist in an environment where our presence is disruptive.”
How would you explain this?
“We don’t have the same way of working. We ask probing questions and I think an audience of women is much more demanding than an audience of men. We have a knack for finding the sore spot. I don’t like gender classifications, but it’s true that, as [women] are in the minority, everything we say is seen from that angle. Denmark, a country I know well as I am half-Danish, gender parity is a given. In the workplace, nobody wonders if what you do or say is conditioned by your gender.”
What can we do to change this? Can you envision a woman CEO for a CAC 40 company?
“Soon there will be one, now that Isabelle Kocher has been named to head GDF-Suez. But generally speaking, I’m not optimistic. I’m in favor of pressuring the AFEP and executive boards so that women can make up at least one-third of these boards over the next five years cinq ans, and if these companies don’t voluntarily participate than the law will get involved. Otherwise this change will never happen. Women have their place in management, we know they are good workers. But in France, power and decision-making responsibility is held by men, across all sectors – politics, corporations, fashion, entertainment…. That’s the hard reality. In the United States, at General Electric – where there is still progress to be made – there is a branch called GE Aviation. No trade is more typically masculine than assembling airplane motors. The head of this branch is a man, but right under him tare five departments, four of which are headed by women. Which means that 80% GE Aviation’s workforce is run by women. And in the future, when the CEO of GE Aviation will have retired, and his retirement is not very far away, one of those four women will surely succeed him. That’s something we don’t see anywhere in France! Unfortunately, I think that in France nothing can be done without the legal obligation to do it.”