It’s been a while. I am back at work with top levels of motivation and the belief that I can make a difference. Sounds like a bit of a cliché, don’t you think?
Almost a year ago I wrote about how I perceived the landscape of women’s networks in France. Yesterday, after over a year away from Toulouse, I attended a women/leadership/networking event worth its name. It was organised by HEC au féminin, together with KPMG, SNCF and WIA (Women in Aerospace), and called “Portraits de femmes: Oser et diriger” which could translate into “Portraits of Women: Dare and Lead”.
The program of the evening was ambitious. KPMG presented their study of leading women in France: “Portrait(s) de femmes dirigeantes en France”. This study in itself is worth a cheer. A first, as far as I know. I was desperately searching the internet for stats on women at work when I first started this blog, and now I finally have some!
I’ll have to deep dive into it soon, but one interesting point, which I haven’t come across very often in stats like these, is what drives women to lead. It seems the management itself is a strong factor (31%), followed by making strategic decisions (28%) and in third place, commercial development of the company (26%). (For men the same question gives you strategic decisions at 36%, management 33%, and commercial development 30%). A lot of interesting thoughts can be derived from this, but that will have to be in a dedicated post.
After this there was a panel discussion between two men, and two women, all leading their own companies or a major department in their group. The biggest take away from this was the advice that the two women gave: Dare pursue your ambitions, and tell people what you want (another take on this in a previous blog post). If you don’t, five years down the line someone else will have risen above you, because they did and you didn’t. Learn how to navigate the invisible networks within your company, the bigger it is, the greater the challenge. Think about what you want, position yourself, work your “brand”, within that organisation. I am convinced a lot of women don’t think about this. Before going to the event, I spoke to one of my colleagues about this, and she was totally in the “I’ll get settled with my life first, and then I’ll see”. Only, your life always changes, and developing in your job is a long-term project. So you have to get to it, now.
This was rounded up by a stand up comedian, and then the audience was released for cocktails and networking, which included a really good “speed networking” session. It was set up using a tool called pitch and match (which might need some tweaks to be perfected), through which you get a list of all participants, and you can then slot them in for 10 minute networking sessions around different tables.
However, there is still a long way to go (as it is everywhere) to make the 14% of leading women in companies increase to reflect their representation in the working population. The ways however, will not be the same in all countries.
Take the young woman who asked how to reconcile work hours and picking up at the crèche (daycare). I know how this can feel from having felt it myself. One important point raised by the panel was that women have to stop giving other women a hard time about wanting to have a career. This is, of course, super important. But nobody raised the point of the dads. So I did. Why can’t they pick up the kids? A male colleague of mine is scolded by his wife if he doesn’t take his fair share of pickup days. I have a feeling the reverse is more unusual; most women will just do it anyway. In a country where 48% of the working population in France is made up of women, it is unbelievable that young mothers should still have to worry about the compatibility between daycare pickups any more than young fathers.
Funnily enough, if you go through the KPMG report, you will also find that men in leading positions rate work/family life balance higher than women in what they find difficult in their lives as managers. It would be interesting to understands what this means, and the reasons behind it compared to the women, who rate stress higher.
In the conclusions of the study, KPMG brings out the need for men to engage in equality questions. If even we, as women, lack awareness of this, then who will contribute to making the men aware? The “He For She” movement is also a great initiative, but more of this is needed too (another post about that topic here). Then again, the subject is far more complex than just daycare and having men join “the cause”.
Dare and Lead was the slogan for the evening, and that, I believe, is one of the most important things to remember. If women don’t dare, and don’t take the lead, no dads in the world will change the situation on their own.
However, this is what events like these are for, to create awareness, motivation and empowerment. And this one did. Hopefully it is not the last one, and hopefully the message will start seeping out beyond the walls of conference rooms filled with enthusiastic women and into mainstream French society.