Women must occupy their rightful place
By Aude Zieseniss de Thuin
Published: October 15 2008 18:30 | Last updated: October 15 2008 18:30
Now, in the midst of a global financial crisis, a stock market crisis, looming economic recession and a general crisis of confidence, everyone agrees that we are living a historic moment. Everyone is worried and asking questions. Etymologically, ”Krisis” in Greek designates a key moment that demands a decision – that demands action; the use of the word in ancient medicine meant the critical threshold of an illness that can go either way, better or worse. So today let us use this troubled situation to make changes; let us make the decisions necessary to push things in the right direction. Let us understand this crisis, as in Chinese terminology, in its twin senses of both danger and opportunity.
What are the opportunities available to us? What must be changed in this economic and financial world that has gone awry? People are challenging the very basis of the capitalist system. It is impossible not to reflect on a system that engenders or at least allows such events to happen. The subprime crisis seems to be the exacerbated expression of a market economy gone wild. But without going into a philosophical questioning of our economic system, there is one subject that can be addressed immediately in order to bring about change: the way our companies are run. This crisis is not the result of chance; decisions were taken and acted upon; the governance of companies is seriously at cause. ”We are nearing the state of crisis and the century of revolutions,” wrote Jean-Jacques Rousseau* in 1762. We are there now. Has not the time come for a revolution in governance?
Without a doubt, the time has come for women to occupy their rightful place. Why? Would the crisis have been so serious if there had been more women on the boards and in top management? Do women have a better sense of risk management? While history cannot be rewritten, one must ask the questions. In any case, a higher proportion of women in company management is essential because diversity in points of view and approaches engenders discussion. The advantage a feminisation of governance provides is virtually mechanical: multiplicity of ideas and sensibilities leads to more balanced and reasonable consensus decisions. And this is true not only for governance and crisis situations. Multiple studies attest to the importance of women in top positions. Women Matter 2, just published by McKinsey & Company, shows on a worldwide scale that women more frequently develop the leadership qualities needed to reinforce the competitive edge in companies’ finance and organisation than men do. Closing the gender gap in decision-making thus increases competitiveness. In stock exchanges, banks, financial institutions and, more generally, at every level of the economic, legislative or political chain of our societies, doing without the women’s approach means giving up the balance and moderation that gender equality brings. Today more than ever, all the institutions of the world still showing a strong gender gap need renewal, they need to diversity their profiles and approaches, they need to give themselves – and the world – a new chance.
The crisis provides the opportunity for women to claim their rightful place in corporate decision-making. But let us make no mistake, this is a collective opportunity for everyone and must be understood as such. Allowing women the possibility to express their point of view is not a gender issue but a revindication for a world that cannot change, evolve and progress without women’s vision and contribution.
While these ideas have already been developed and fought for, they have not been implemented; gender equality has even regressed. That is why they must be forcefully supported and rightfully claimed. This is what we are doing at the Women’s Forum for the Economy and Society in Deauville, October 16, 17 and 18, 2008. We are debating and discussing with 1,200 women from 88 countries to make our international contribution on the crisis. With progress as the theme of our meeting, we are looking at the rightful place women must occupy today in the construction of a society that has but to learn from the current crisis. New models will surely be imagined. With one certainty: you cannot do it without us.
*Ipsos survey, October 10 and 11, 2008, on a representative national sample of 1007 people, 15 or older, questioned by telephone at their homes.
*J.J. Rousseau, Emile, III.
The writer is founder and chief executive officer, Women’s Forum for the Economy and Society