I launched my website almost six months ago with just a clip from the movie Working Girl, so it seems like a good time to take stock of what I’ve learned and to state my plans for 2013.
This blog covers global challenges and realities career women face in today’s business world. I focus on Europe and the United Kingdom because I studied for my MBA in France ten years ago. One of the consequences of spending a year in Fontainebleau is a strong partiality to European business, as stuffy and male-dominated as it may be.
While the glass ceiling remains impenetrable to most, the three main topics for media coverage of women in business last year were:
- The pay gap between women and men, which is unfortunately stuck in place instead of continuing to diminish over time.
- Changing maternity/paternity leave laws, enabling men to take a more active part in the care of a newborn baby so that women don’t have to handle it on their own.
- A growing opportunity for women to serve on corporate boardrooms. This opportunity is not sanctioned by a quota in the USA or in UK, but after Norway lead the way, quota legislation is now in place for France, Belgium, Spain, Holland and Italy to include more women by 2018.
Viviane Reding, Vice President of the European Commission (from Luxembourg), has almost single-handedly dominated global discourse about women on boards in the past year. It’s been quite astounding to observe how even in the UK – which has staunchly led opposition to Reding’s initiatives – just her attempt at an EU quota has in itself instigated several voluntary initiatives. It makes me cynically wonder whether she ever actually thought it would work, as potentially her pretending alone has been extremely effective.
I’ve made a point to provide a platform for all views on the subject of quotas and will continue to do so in 2013. I do however want to take this opportunity to voice my own opinion.
Corporate boards represent shareholders, meaning the public (that’s where the expression “going public” comes from). An all, or mostly male board does not represent half of this public and is therefore not representing all shareholders. Some organizations promoting voluntary change, like the 30 Percent Club, have been instrumental in facilitating progress. I am in awe of their strategy and look forward to blogging about its evolution and their future activities.
However, this isn’t just about advancing women and making boards more efficient, it’s also about what a national stock exchange represents, which is a government. Companies trading on an exchange benefit from government patronage. A publicly traded corporation which does not include female acumen on its board doesn’t comply with basic social standards in developed countries. Just like fundamental financial accounting laws, this should be mandatory in order for a company to be granted the privilege of trading on an exchange. Nobody’s suggesting such companies can’t operate, just that they shouldn’t do so on a national stock exchange. Those which don’t comply can de-list off the exchange and continue functioning privately.
The same thing is true about the European Central Bank’s executive board, which to state the obvious, is a governing body. What happened there last year was a disgrace. The appointment of Yves Mersch was probably the most fascinating story to unfold in 2012 in this regard because it placed the European Union in the forefront of those who talk the talk without walking the walk. European MP Sharon Bowles put up a good fight, but unfortunately this board still has only male members (six of them). The next time one is due to be replaced is in five years. And despite the public outcry, we didn’t hear a single word about women’s issues from neither Mersch nor his new colleagues. It seems to me that they should all be volunteering at a women’s shelter until the imbalance is corrected. The first step in getting there is to shorten the duration of these board appointments – currently at a cushy eight years for each member – so that there’s a chance for higher turnover and diversity.
Bottom line: I’m pro quotas. I want to see this in my lifetime and the only way that will happen is with a quota.
Another story which stuck in my mind last year was written by the Wall Street Journal‘s travel correspondent Scott McCartney. Under the guise of a gender comparison of various travel preferences, several airlines disclosed the gender breakdown of their frequent flyer programs. They prided themselves in having an almost 50/50 split (most have 52-56% men) when the real question is about the gender breakdown of their elite programs. I’ve tried to get answers on this over my years of traveling for business, but no airline employee will tell me. It is a heavily guarded corporate secret.
In 2010 I flew home from Barcelona with my boss after attending an annual mobile conference. We were on an irregular flight which was scheduled to cater to conference attendees and so everybody on that flight was a business traveler from the Israeli hi-tech industry. Heading back to Tel Aviv, the plane was already half full when we boarded. A stewardess welcomed me with a smile, announcing me to be the first female passenger on board. I sat in my seat observing gender as more people boarded the plane. It was a full ten minutes before another female passenger came on.
My guess is that women comprise less than 10% of elite travel program members, which is why airlines won’t discuss it. Unlike the European Central Bank, at least they seem embarrassed.
I can go on and on, and I will in future blog posts! I’ve met some great people in the past six months via this blog and my Twitter feed. I say “met” but really it’s mostly been online. I am grateful for your virtual friendship and interest. I will diligently cover women in business throughout 2013, I hope you come back here to read about it. This site will continue to grow into a robust resource for anybody who wants to learn about what’s going on and find ways to help her own career.
PostScript: I might as well name the other five members of the ECB’s Executive Board so Yves Mersch isn’t singled out as the problem (or at some point, hopefully, the solution): Mario Draghi is President of the ECB and Vítor Constâncio is his VP. Jörg Asmussen, Benoît Cœuré and Peter Praet are all regular board members.