CEOs committed to gender balance

Henri de Castries
– I think that first and foremost we need to show the limits of a blinkered culture. A company closed to gender balance risks becoming divorced from its customers very quickly
– It’s important to bring everyone in the company, and in particular its managers, to think about the unconscious biases and the resulting behaviours which make them indifferent or blind to certain subjects
– Without bothering to check with those concerned, managers tend to make decisions for the women in their teams
– Most women do not speak up (for a promotion, a raise…)
– We need to encourage everyone, and especially women, to feel free to express their ambitions
– As a leader, it is better to say nothing than to act without believing in the cause
– Our company started by raising awareness among managers of their unconscious biases, using e-learning training modules. Then we looked at when we were losing female talent and broadened the issue to diversity in general
– I don’t think we should link gender balance to improving the bottom line. We promote gender balance as a sign of respect, and I am convinced that this has a positive impact on the company, its culture and its appeal as an employer.

Gérald Karsenti
– Women will play an essential role in tomorrow’s world
– In a man’s mind, a woman can have many jobs, but not that of their boss!
– Younger generations have a different mentality
– Men will have to give up some of “their” leadership roles, and that’s quite something!
– Women do need to challenge themselves not to underestimate their capabilities
– Men have a lifelong learning experience for leadership and thousands of years of history in their favour
– Nearly all role models are men
– When women arrive in boards and executive teams, things will change
– It’s time to stop having panels and conferences where everyone rehashes the same subjects: it’s time for leaders to step up and commit with real examples of getting results

Carlos Ghosn
– Everything starts at home. It’s essential to educate children about gender equality and I have always been careful to do this in my family
– In order to move forward, let’s look at the business case rather than talk about values. When 60% of cars are bought by women, it’s obviously worthwhile to ensure there are women in the decision making bodies
– Since we were tired of hearing “we’d like more women but we can’t find them…”, our only option was a quota system. But this doesn’t create a preference for women, it just corrects the initial bias against them
– Internal communication shouldn’t be “the boss is committed so we’ve got to do it”. If you do that, results won’t last. If on the contrary you say it’s about creating value, it’s a no brainer
– Like many men of my age, I am very aware of the segregation suffered by women around me when I was a child.
– How can we accelerate change? For me it starts with the family. Educating children about gender equality and expecting the same from all of them is essential
– The argument that gender balance programmes are unfair just doesn’t hold up. In a company with only 18,4% women managers, nobody’s career will be ruined by greater gender balance

Michel Landel
– I’m convinced that specific training on gender balance is essential for progress. This is why over 50000 managers from Sodexo, men and women, have already been trained. That’s more than 10% of our employees.
– To succeed with such a programme, you really need leadership and determination
– A company must reflect the world in which it operates
– It’s one of the hardest change management projects I’ve had to lead.
– You can’t imagine the pressure (I get) to stop these programmes
– When there are women in a team, things change. It’s a long term challenge, it takes years to get results

Noël Le Graét
– Competence is the central issue. Men will support gender balance as long as competence is not compromised in a recruitment or promotion process
– Even if I’m opposed to the reflex « I must hire a woman”, I have to say that women often need to be reassured about their capabilities
– For me it’s natural to be in favour of equality. I just try to understand who is right for the job. So the key roles in my company are held by both sexes
– Every company depends on balance. But it wasn’t so long ago that women didn’t work outside the home. I don’t think that it’s men’s resistance which is holding back gender balance. There’s also a lot of ignorance
– Sometimes women are just afraid to take on a role which they mistakenly think they do not deserve

Gianmarco Monsellato
CEO OF TAJ (Legal services)
– Companies which refuse to move away from their old self-perpetuating model will not survive
– Since we launched our gender balance strategy in 2006, it hasn’t been an issue. On the contrary, diversity has become a strength
– We need to stop the « macho » vision of business. Meetings should take place when everyone can be present
– When we promoted women early on to leadership roles, the difficulty was the absence of role models. So to reassure them I made it clear they had the right to fail and return to their previous role without it being held against them. So what happened? As soon as the risk (of failure) was addressed, they took the plunge and came to enjoy it!
– The self-perpetuating model (“like hires like”) limits gender balance
– Let’s stop this debate about the supposed superiority of female values. If we promote it, it will create resistance among men
– What’s needed is to give meaning and substance to the notion of leadership. That means leaders who accept to make mistakes and to recognise those mistakes This requires a major change in mentalities
– There is an issue specific to France which is the cult of the leader. This probably stems from France’s history of all powerful monarchs: I haven’t seen the same thing in the UK, the US or Italy. Unfortunately that holds back gender balance
– By 2020-2025, a company with only male leaders will be purely and simply out of the game

Frédéric Oudéa
– A man will usually approach a promotion with enthusiasm, assuming he has deserved it. While women nearly always wonder whether they will be up to it. As long as this difference remains, it will be hard to reach equality.
– Some organisations are so far behind that their leaders prefer to say nothing till some progress has been achieved.
– But I am confident. Companies will compare their progress to each other. As league tables of gender balance are published, it will become harder for companies to do nothing.
– It takes determined leadership to bring competent women to the forefront. Even though the banking sector has many women employees, the real subject is the leadership team. Given how far we need to progress, we accept the decision to prefer a woman with equal qualifications to a male candidate.
– Another key question is that of maternity leave. A woman may have to change jobs when she returns if the situation requires it. But she shouldn’t be made to feel she is starting from scratch. This happens all too often.
– When managers evaluate a woman’s performance, they are sometimes more demanding. Particularly when she has a “male” management style. Why is a woman leader sometimes called authoritarian or “bossy”? Such descriptions are seldom applied to male leaders. We need to end these biases.

Guillaume Pepy
CEO OF SNCF (French railway company)
– In order to achieve a significant initial step-change, the best solution is to put in place a quota. You need hard objectives, otherwise nothing will change.
– Things are changing, but let’s not be naïve. This new balance of power will inevitably create tensions among men, both at work and in society.
– SNCF’s women’s network has twin objectives: solidarity and business. This is why it can transform the way certain things are done.
– Never forget that, the more women in management roles, the fewer opportunities for men. So the breaking of the glass ceiling can be seen by many men as a threat to their own chances of promotion.
– Once they have got over their initial concerns for themselves, managers do see the value for the business and for the group. They understand that it’s about transforming the way the company is managed and how it relates to its customers: these are the subjects which interest them.

François Pérol
– In order to engage men on the question of gender balance, I insist first and foremost on the virtues of diversity; teams with a variety of viewpoints are by far the most effective.
– When I realised that BPCE had 54% women at entry level but only 14% among top managers, I decided that things really had to change. Such a huge difference is not acceptable.
-Gender balance in a company is not at all “natural”. We always tend to hire people like ourselves; it’s reassuring.
– The “Eureka moment”, and it was quite a shock, when I realized something was badly wrong was when I chaired my first board meeting as President of the BPCE. At the time we had 37 regional banks with…36 men running them. What a striking lack of modernity!
– Gender balance is a powerful tool to transform organisations. By forcing us to step away from the traditional means of finding leaders through co-optation, the (French) law on quotas has been a benediction!
– You can’t innovate with a team of people who all look the same

Franck Riboud
– I think most men don’t even see the problem
– It’s quite clear now that when a promotion opens up, a man will apply while the woman will wait to be asked.
– Men need to understand better the difficulties faced by women and the way they interact. They also need to encourage women to be more confident in their potential.

Stéphane Richard
– I must be one of the few CAC40 CEOs to have worked for a female boss. It makes a difference!
– Companies are in general behind the times on these questions compared to society at large.
– In order to adapt to the new generation, to be more effective and to enjoy ourselves more, we need to change things quite radically.
– Gender balance is about promoting something which should be absolutely obvious
– How can we understand out female customers if we have only men in the company? An example: we have only 5% women technicians in the field.
– In his or her time as president, a leader is of course focused on strategy and operations. But there are also some areas where the leader can have a significant impact. For me, gender balance is one of those.
– After thousands of years of male domination, followed by the arrival of the feminist movement, we are now entering a third era, that of a “normality” based on the simple fact that half of humanity is female
– It is very easy to reproduce the same way of doing things without question. The often heard excuse “I don’t promote on the basis of gender, only competence counts” ends up all too often with a man being hired. But this is more a result of laziness than of a backward view of society.