By Ingrid Cazalis, Global MBA 2013-2014, France
Yesterday I attended “Les Mardis de l’ESSEC” (ESSEC Tuesdays, ESSEC’s weekly lecture and debate series) on the topic of women in society with the provocative title, “I’ll Make a Man out of You, My Daughter.” We weren’t there to spout clichés about the sexes, but to discuss the evolution of the role of women in society. The two amazing speakers were Clara Gaymard, the VP of General Electric and mother of 9 children, and Aude de Thuin, a strong entrepreneur and creator of the Women’s Forum. They offered lots of great advice and an interesting and complementary discussion.
In France, we waited till 1944 for women to get the right to vote and till 1991 for the first female Prime Minister, Edith Cresson. Today, the figures show that women are still under-represented in management jobs; 98% of the CAC 40 CEOs are men and only 20% of the COMEX members are women. Some people will criticize the new Copé Zimmerman quota law, which requires equal representation of men and women on corporate boards, for lowering the quality of the board members, but it is a way to get more women involved in decision-making. Women’s salaries are still 18% lower than men’s, with no growth in the past 5 years.
We might wonder if the “glass ceiling” of the 1970s is still in place today. For generations, women have faced doubts and fears that are not easy to overcome. Some of the examples cited during the discussion were men’s greater willingness to negotiate their salary, relocation, or to take advantage of perks, while women are more likely to wonder about the limits of the job and their capabilities. Future managers (like ourselves) should take these differences into consideration. The new generation is changing, but these things take time. As Madeline Albright said, “It took me quite a long time to develop a voice, and now that I have it, I am not going to be silent.”
What about working and having a family? Today, having both is a strength because it demonstrates patience, organization and self-control.
Clara Gaymard’s advice was to take a job related to a company’s core business if you want to climb the company ladder. Aude de Thuin recommended finding a highly-placed mentor who can help you deal with your doubts and take the key steps in your career.
And what did they say about sexist remarks from male managers? As long as your interactions are normally positive and respectful, try to respond with a bit of humor.