On Wednesday January 27th in Barcelona, I participated in the first Women in Leadership conference titled ‘Strides to Success’ organized by the IESE’s Women in Business Club.
Brilliant speakers addressed interesting topics such as the gender balance in the entrepreneurial sphere, the impact of women in the workplace, the importance of involving men in the diversity integration, and the challenges and opportunities ahead.
The main biases female leaders face were identified by the first speaker, Patrick Gaonach –Iberian Zone President Schneider Electric–, which are: the paucity of role models, gendered careers and work path, less access to networks and sponsors, and double binds.
In order to solve these obstacles, Mr. Gaonach suggested three action pillars: leaders’ commitment and governance -mostly male- to create awareness; special women development programs; and a process alignment for a cultural transformation.
The second panel was the most interesting for our Platform because Cristina Badenes, one of the panelists exposed that the biggest challenge she has faced in her financial career was to reconcile motherhood –her absolute priority– with her work.
Ms. Badenes, partner at Meridia Capital, said that women shouldn’t be afraid of demanding their own job conditions because of the false idea that it would be unprofessional. As she mentioned: ‘You don’t have to give up a part of your life you enjoy (...) the boss has to understand that you have to be happy with what you do’. This is why it is fundamental to learn how to negotiate and be confident on the requests you want to uphold.
Cristina, mother of four children, also said that working mothers prefer a part-time job but unfortunately there is not an extensive offer of this type of contracts in Spain, neither in many other European countries. She renounced to her thriving professional life in London and moved back to Barcelona for raising and educate well her kids along with her husband in a more flexible way.
She is a testimony of the so criticised article written by Anne-Marie Slaughter of ‘Why women still can’t have it all’ published in The Atlantic where the author points out that every single woman has to make difficult choices, that for most women lead to the abdication of a professional rising career in favour of spending more time with their children. Two months ago Drew Barrymore was interviewed by Forbes magazine and stated that she is at peace with the fact that women can’t achieve both their career and personal ambitions –at least not in the same moment–.
Carolina Schmidt, former Minister of Education and Woman Affairs in Chile made a statement about not neglecting our feminine features when it comes to assume leadership roles: ‘Not because she speaks softly and dresses nicely doesn’t mean she is not a good leader.’
Men and women become leaders by internalizing a leadership identity and developing a sense of purpose as it is expressed in the Harvard’s article 'Women rising the unseen barriers'. However, this paper concludes that ‘the premise is that women have not been socialized to compete successfully in the world of men, so they must be taught the skills and styles their male counterparts acquire as a matter of course.’
From the Women of the World Platform standpoint this is not right because it only represents the gender ideology position of having to be equal to men even in terms of leadership styles. This issue is part of our way of relating with others, which implies that our sexuality is playing a crucial function in shaping the personal leadership.
Following the programme, Ms. Eghosa Oriaikhi –Director of Europe, Africa, Russia, and Caspian at CWI Baker Hughes– spoke about the importance of including men in the conversation, and to convince them that there is a real benefit out of working together. For example, to teach their female peers how to negotiate their salary could be a remedy to eliminate the pay gap between men and women. Concerning this inequality there is a study from last year published by the International Labour Office of Geneva about 'the motherhood pay gap’ which explains how the more children you have the worse salary you get paid. This motherhood penalty is analysed from 3 main approaches: rationalist economics, sociological and comparative institutionalism.
I consider that what women need to fulfill their purpose is to foster their genius by developing a feminine leadership style that proofs to be complementary to the male leadership and therefore reinforces the authority and good decisions, not only of the Executive Board of the companies, but also in Governments and even social movements.
Accordingly, I strongly believe that to understand this valuable feminine leadership and capitalise all its potential in the public and private sector, we first have to observe and identify the role women have in their families as daughters, sisters and moreover, as wives and mothers, where their natural leadership style shines by its own glow. We women, have still much more work to do.
Ma. Luisa Peña