Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?
In response to many activists and studies of the missed economic opportunity of gender equality (e.g. McKinsey “Women Matter 2012,” a study presenting a benchmark of gender diversity programs in 235 European companies), most large companies have developed gender equality programs. In fact, 90% of surveyed companies in McKinsey’s 2012 Women Matter study have gender diversity programs and the topic appears as one of the top 10 strategic priorities for more than half the companies surveyed. However, there is a discrepancy between the goals of these programs and what is actually implemented. Often, a CEO’s commitment does not trickle down to management levels, where only 41% of managers believe gender equality will have a positive impact on their company’s performance. Furthermore, existing programs do not transform the corporate culture because they only encourage women to adopt the male corporate path to success rather than foster an environment where everyone can thrive.
Corporatations are not taking into account a growing social trend that is transforming traditional gender roles. For decades, men have aspired to professional success while women have focused on personal success (family and marriage). Increasingly, aspirations are aligning: more than 90% of men and women want to succeed in raising their children while only 50% of them say professional success is their priority . Interestingly, the latest studies show that women even top men in valuing their career success.
However, these shifting aspirations are slow to translate into changing attitudes and behaviors. Women may have new professional and personal goals, but they are not achieving them nor finding strategies to do so. Statistics show that only 13% of French women ask for a pay raise in their annual review versus 23% of men; and that 1/3 of women hope for a promotion versus 2/3 of men . Underlying this reality is a lack of female role models that show “having it all” is possible.
While the past decades of feminist efforts have pushed legislation that protects equal rights for men and women, corporate culture has not changed. Companies are largely dominated by men: in 2010, women on average made up 12% of board members in the biggest publicly-listed companies across the European Union. Only 14% of board chairs were women . In male dominated workplaces, the prevailing idea in continental Europe remains that aspiring managers need to make themselves available anytime, anywhere with little consideration given to work-life balance. A certain male leadership style also prevails, often limiting women from expressing their true values and personality. Instead, they try to adopt those values and personalities which are deemed more “successful” in the workplace.
Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!
Isabella is using a three-pronged approach to demonstrate how a corporate culture that values work-life balance and inclusive management practices can drive improved human and economic development. She identifies role models and champions who embody this new corporate culture and exposes how they are changing the rules of the game – through events, marketing and press relations that reach the general public as well as business leaders and middle managers. By reinforcing the ways these champions are breaking traditional gender roles, this visibility gives them an even stronger ground to pursue corporate culture change.
In particular, Isabella focuses on creating a permissive environment for these champions by legitimizing them within their own companies. Large multinational corporations are invited to sponsor and send their employees to a mainstream annual forum, which gives Isabella access to a strong pool of talents and leaders. Furthermore, her corporate awards strategy highlights the most progressive executive gender champions – those that have successfully adopted inclusive business cultures – which in turn gives them recognition and legitimacy to further act. Isabella is also creating the first Belgian community of equality managers, which legitimizes them as an important internal stakeholder group. Isabella connects these equality managers to a broader European network to foster a culture of innovation that breaks away from traditional leadership programs and corporate women networks.
Finally, by recruiting and giving tools to a broad-based network of professional women who understand the need for a new corporate culture, she exponentially grows the number of female middle-managers who have the tools, networks and self-confidence to change their self-image and promote their own style of leadership. Begun in Belgium – and successfully bridging the French/Flemish language divide – this network is now developing in France and will soon expand to other European countries.