We’ll know we’ve achieved equality when it’s no longer news to have a woman at the top

Thaima Samman

Lawyer, Founder of the European Network for Women in Leadership (WIL)

Women rarely occupy more than 30% of the positions of responsibility in organisations. This is first and foremost down to the recruitment process – men tend to hire men (and women, likewise, tend to hire women). But women sometimes hold themselves back, too: 80% of them are able to see themselves in just 10% of the jobs they could aim for.

To effectively push back against these stereotypes, we need relatable and realistic role models. Success doesn’t necessarily mean becoming a chairwoman or a famous actress. We need to show women a wide variety of profiles – scientists for example – who have brilliant careers as well as a healthy work-life balance. I started the European Network for Women in Leadership (WIL) a decade ago to put these women in touch with each other. What I realised back then was that women often spend less time networking than men and feel guilty when they’re not at work or dealing with things in their personal lives. At WIL meetings, we talk about the big issues in the workplace and society (like artificial intelligence for example), environmental concerns or even financing the economy. That way, women can sharpen their skills and meet other women working in different fields or countries. They can make new connections and explore new possibilities. I remember one of our members, a Spanish engineer, who retrained as a graphic artist and ended up becoming a painter. Her career path is one of the examples encouraging the women in our community to look beyond the usual options. Some circles in France are still fiercely conservative and male-dominated. Most business leaders and high-ranking government officials graduated from schools and climbed the career ladder in institutions where women are generally in the minority. As WIL is international, members can see that this doesn’t have to be the case. Other practices outside France show that diversity is a powerful growth driver. We’re still seeing a lot of inequality, but attitudes are changing.

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In France, for instance, 75% of mothers work, which gives them a higher social standing. In Germany, it’s the opposite. Still, some preconceptions run deep. Men are still frowned upon if they leave work early to pick up their children from school. Organisations and management often create inequality and imbalance. Businesses need to reassess those mechanisms and find the system that will work best for everyone.

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Jean Kaspar

Businesses need to embrace collective intelligence