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On 6th of March 2012, exactly four years after WIL’s first event, Viviane Reding, Vice-president of the European Commission, Justice, Fundamental Rights and Citizenship of the European Commission and Pervenche Berès, Chair Committee on Employment and Social Affairs of the European Parliament joined us for a WIL/JUMP event on ‘Female Talent in the Pipeline. Accountability in the Boardroom’. WIL’s 4th anniversary was also an opportunity to launch of the Women Talent Pool Programme, built to support high potential women in mid-management positions by offering them mentoring, training and networking opportunities.
In early 2011 Ms Reding appealed to European companies to implement voluntary changes by increasing the proportion of women on their boards to 30 per cent by 2015 and 40 per cent by 2020. If the progress within a year would not be satisfactory, she said she would use her 'regulatory creativity'. In this context, the day before WIL’s 4th Anniversary, the Commissioner announced the launch of a public consultation (based on her Progress Report) to assess possible EU-level measures to enhance female participation in economic decision-making.
MEP Beres stressed the importance of looking at different dimensions of the issue and dealing with the question of corporate governance and the question women in society in general.
WIL President Thaima Samman shared WIL’s stand, that while quotas might be necessary, they are only one out of the many solutions to improve the gender balance situation; WIL is committed to working on the pipeline.
Vice-president Reding’s Stand on Women on Boards
Commissioner Reding opened the discussion noting that while last year the number of women on boards in Europe has grown from 12 to 14 per cent, this increase took place only in countries which introduced quotas. 'I don’t like quotas myself but I like what quotas do (…) the goal is to have a world where we don’t need to speak about quotas', she said. The speaker stressed that there is a clear correlation between the presence of women on boards and key economic indicators; women mean business. Quoting McKinsey and Catalyst studies, Commissioner Reding noted that companies with women in management at all levels have a higher return on investment and more valuable stocks. According to research conducted by Ernst and Young, sales and earnings in companies with at least one woman on board are significantly higher than those with male-only boards. Ms Reding also stressed the long-term effect women’s presence has on companies’ business culture. When women join boards, a change of mentality can be observed, they inspire a more objective assessment of processes, the discussions start to change. Diversity improves the quality of decisions. Women are also more risk aware when taking decisions with financial impact.
Ms Reding stressed, that female talent is available - 65 per cent of university graduates are females. She also described her initiative, through which a group of universities will come up with a pool of 2500 ‘boardable’ women, selected through a strict process. Such pool could then be presented to companies, who claim to have difficulties finding the right women for board positions.
She also spoke about the importance of having women models and the need for women to learn from men to network. In Commissioner’s view, we should also encourage the younger generation to take on technology jobs. We need to transmit to the future leaders that technology serves society; “it is all about people, not machines”, she noted.
The Launch of the Public Consultation
A year ago Ms Reding appealed to companies across Europe to implement voluntary changes in their companies it is time to take further steps. In this context, she announced the launch of a public consultation based on the Progress Report "Women in economic decision-making in the EU", which she presented on 5 March 2012. The aim of the consultation is to assess possible EU-level measures to enhance female participation in economic decision-making, in order to inform the Commission's decision on whether to propose action and on the form it should take.
In this context WIL shared with its guest speakers the WIL Compendium of Gender-Related Best Practices – WIL’s initiative towards promoting a better female representation in companies. The document is composed of examples of programmes and initiatives supporting women in leadership, created by a joint effort of WIL Members. The idea of this ongoing initiative is to keep updating the Compendium with the most recent best practice caces.
MEP Pervenche Berès – Solutions to the Issue of Female Representation
Pervenche Berès stressed the importance of networking and “organising ourselves to use our power to empower others”. The MEP shared her conviction, that self-regulation is not a solution; “I believe in fair, proportionate, well-written laws (…) [their implementation] is a way to influence and change behaviors”, she stated. However she also noted that it would be naïve to think that quotas are enough, since they might not be respected - some organisations would rather pay the sanctions than find the right woman for the position. Ms Beres also stressed the importance of paying enough attention to the two other dimensions of the issue of female representation: the question of women in society in general and the question of corporate governance. By focusing only on increasing female participation by obliging companies to have women on boards, we won’t change the entire situation of gender representation. We need to deal with all the dimensions to fully embrace the issue.
The Women Talent Pool
Speaking both as a woman and a business representative, Elena Bonfiglioli, stressed the importance of developing women in leadership. The Women Talent Pool’s Lead presented the Programme’s mission of ensuring that the future leaders won’t have to face the same challenges WIL Members had to overcome during their career paths.
Elena Bonflglioli also described the Women Talent Pool’s goals: early identification of talents, peer to peer learning through tapping into the potential of more senior women leaders (WIL Members), nourishing talents to enable learning out of the boundaries of their roles, helping them develop as leaders in a holistic way and, finally, giving the talents a voice. She noted that it is our duty to invest resources, time and training in the young generation, as it is them, who will make the future of our society and organisations. While describing the successful kick-off of the WTP, she referred to the Emerging Leaders as ”pearls” and offered them a round of applause.
Both before and after the intense discussions over lunch, the Emerging Leaders (young talents) benefited from WTP learning opportunities. They participated in a morning of intensive trainings, offered by four professors from the Center for Evolutionary Learning: Wolfgang Hackl, Benoit de Bellefroid, Maurizio Zollo and Kris Vander Velpen, who discussed different aspects of leadership and entrepreneurship and demonstrated to the WTP Participants the practice of meditation. The EL were also given the opportunity to visit the European Parliament, during which MEP Mary Honeyball shared with them her insights on possible career paths in EU institutions.
Current Situation of Women in Leadership - Presentation by JUMP
Based on the results of recent studies, Isabella Lenarduzzi presented an overview of the current state of female representation on boards, which, as she noted, is not just as a European issue – in the US, there is 16 percent of women on boards and only 2 per cent out of Fortune’s 500 companies are chaired by women. Boardrooms do not become gender balanced naturally, the speaker stated. Evidence suggests that in most EU member states, results of self-regulation have been very modest. New clauses on gender equality in Corporate Governance codes have, on average, produced an increase of around 2 per cent in the two years following the adoption of the Code. Ms Lenarduzzi noted that in most cases Corporate Governance Codes lack targets and deadlines for attaining them. According to her view, self-regulation is nevertheless a useful step before implementing legislation, as it helps to change attitudes, encourages the business world to start looking for women candidates and creates a public debate. Social pressures and a culture that supports women in the workplace are the driving forces that foster greater diversity at a senior level. Ms Lenarduzzi also expressed her view that quota legislation must be accompanied by measures to support enterprises to reach the targets and advance women and to raise awareness of the benefits of gender balance, as well as stressed the significance of implementing intermediary targets. The speaker appealed to the audience: ’Let’s remember that women’s energy and talent are the most untapped renewable resources in the world!’
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