Eight lessons from Deauville

deauville1300 business women gathered earlier this month in Deauville for the ninth Women’s Forum. The sun was shining on the sea, the champagne was glittering in flute glasses, and the participants who came from around the globe exchanged, debated and networked in powerful ways.

What did we learn? What beliefs were confirmed? What myths were thrown out?

  1. According to the latest study by McKinsey women’s group, women are as ambitious about reaching the top as men. What is different is that women are not as confident as men about their ability to reach the top. For instance, only 58 percent of women in mid-level management feel confident about reaching a top-management position, compared to 76 percent middle-manager men.

  2. Companies with 3 or more women on their executive committees perform better. There is indisputable correlation between company performance and gender diversity. Example: 7 out of 10 best-performing Orange stores in France are managed by women.

  3. Female job seekers: choose a company with a culture of inclusivity. Corporate culture of inclusiveness or lack thereof is the most important driver for women’s confidence in success. Firms with the best records of getting women into positions of power were given prizes at Women’s Forum by the Ministry of Women’s Rights. Orange, which has 35 women among its top 100 managers and has an internal women’s mentoring network, received 67 points out of a possible total of 100. The French government’s rankings are based on the number of women on the executive committee, the makeup of the board of directors, and whether managers’ pay was aligned with the goal of equality between the sexes.

  4. Most men believe that gender diversity in leadership improves company performance. However almost one third of men are unaware of the specific difficulties women experience reaching the top. The less aware the men are, the less supportive they are. That is why one of the biggest pillars behind gender inequality at the workplace remains to be men’s misperceptions about women. More engagement and support from men is critical to raise momentum.

  5. Men are as concerned about keeping the balance between work and family life – or nearly as concerned. They are just not given space to express their feelings about it. This is one more reason to join forces in bringing more gender equality-conducive practices into the workplace. Orange is pioneering a program in which men get together in circles once in 2 months to share their concerns about managing career and family. They also engage to make one positive step towards diversity, i.e., stop making sexist jokes, ask a female colleague about her career goals, or advocate against long meetings. Bravo, Orange!

  6. Most professional women in France (50 percent of all working women) go into the 12 most traditional types of profession. As Agnes Audier, partner and managing director of BCG pointed out, few women enter the fields of technology and science – although it would be easier for them to make a difference and rise in those non-traditional paths than in, say, finance or consumer goods’ industries. For instance, transportation and energy sectors – sectors that are not often chosen by women – try to keep women employees and nurture female talent. 

  7. Women who are at the top or rising need to think about paying forward: how to lift other women as we rise. Women need to be less afraid, less concerned about standing out, and need to advocate for other women more, sponsor them, mentor. Chuck Stephens, the Global Head of Gender at Barclays says: “It’s about creating a critical masse, about exercising leadership while not erasing other voices. If we don’t lift other women as we rise, we will loose the momentum.” 

  8. There is no silver bullet. Companies need to continue developing women as leaders through training, coaching, mentorship programs, sponsoring etc. There are still not enough leadership training programs designed specifically for women in international and French companies. On the collective level, companies need to reinforce HR policies and processes, inclusiveness programs and gender diversity indicators, and the right infrastructure.

My personal conclusion: We, women, need to promote ourselves more and become more visible.We need to be more self-confident. As Jeanne Boillet of EY pointed out, “men come in to chat to their bosses’ office and women don’t.” Let’s throw away the good student syndrome for good. The boss is not going to come in with the golden tiara in his hands and say : here you are, you deserved this or that for all your hard work.

Work on your confidence, stop the negative self-talk, turn your Inner Critic into your Cheerleader, go and get some training or coaching on any skills you feel you need a boost on, so you can say to yourself “I am worth it. I am valuable enough to go for my goal.”

Your road to success starts… today!

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