BR Cover Story | Outstanding Women Rocking the Business world

Mihai Cristea 08/03/2021 | 12:00

Gender equality is one of the key drivers of effective management, regardless of industry. While there are fields like social entrepreneurship and agribusiness where this balance could be achieved sooner than in others, the trend is pretty clear: gender equality is being encouraged in an increasing number of businesses and sectors, so we’re seeing more women rising to C-level positions or corporate board membership. BR sat down with several outstanding women from different areas of business, from both the public and private sectors, to discuss the challenges women face in top executive positions and the unique contributions women leaders can bring to a company’s ecosystem.

By Anda Sebesi

 

According to the fifth edition of the Gender Equality Index (2020), issued by the European Institute for Gender Equality (EIGE), with 54.4 out of 100 points, Romania ranks 26th in the EU. The country’s score is 13.5 points below the EU average. The same source shows that since 2010, Romania’s score has increased by only 3.6 points (– 0.1 points since 2017).

Perhaps surprisingly, Romania has quite a large number of women in C-level positions. “Stats show that boards with more seats occupied by women are associated with increased financial performance and shareholder value. Usually, women face more challenges than men in ascending to board positions in the private sector, where wages are higher. In Romania, the gender pay gap is 3 percent, much lower than the EU average of 16 percent, but this stat is actually misleading because it includes the country’s large public sector, which is dominated by women (e.g. teachers),” says Anca Dragu, the President of the Romanian Senate.

She adds that leadership has no gender, and a leader can always achieve his or her goals through engagement, motivation, and professionalism. “I really felt appreciated during my time in C-level positions and this motivated me to turn my professional goals into achievements. In fact, while I worked in the private sector, I was part of a board where half the members were women. In my political party, PLUS, I am a member of the main ruling body – the National Bureau – where 4 out of the 7 members are women.”

Along the same lines, Adina Nanu, Director of Human Resources and Transformation and member of the board at Auchan, says that board membership was offered to her and that it had not been one of her career goals. She adds that she doesn’t believe gender should ever be seen as an advantage in certain jobs. “I believe only in determination, focus and hard work.” Nanu highlights the fact that about 68 percent of all positions at Auchan are currently held by women, and 40 percent of store managers are women.

According to Ramona Dumitru, Communications and Public Affairs Director at Veolia România, gender balance is a key aspect of effective management. “As for how C-level executives are being treated based on their gender, I can’t say I’ve noticed that many differences. Of course, the occasional unconscious bias or stereotype still exists, probably more often in some cultures or places, but what I focus on is the action being taken to address these types of issues. Gender diversity is strongly correlated with both profitability and value creation inside a company, therefore the case for improving women’s access to C-level positions has never been more compelling,” Dumitru argues. She adds that women are far more involved in decision-making processes and have more seats at the table than they did before. “Diversity and closing the gender gap are not just a couple of KPIs that someone needs to check at the end of the year. They are stepping stones towards creating a work environment that nurtures performance, innovation, respect, solidarity, and inclusion.”

Obviously, no one starts their career in a C-level position. You must be smart and work hard to get there and stay in the position for as long as you want to. A challenge most women professionals must deal with is making the best out of both worlds – being a successful professional as well as a good mother. And female executives all over the world are doing their part to redefine working motherhood and no longer have to choose which part of their legacy to focus on.

“When analysing and studying the epitomes of success, hard skills like technical expertise, empirical experience, analytical thinking, and in-depth knowledge seem to be fundamental, and mostly attributed to men, although this does not mean that men lack soft skills. To women’s advantage, hard skills like the ones I mentioned above can be easily and fairly claimed alongside a roster of soft skills: self-motivation, attention to detail, resilience, networking, communication, collaboration, critical thinking ¬– in short, emotional intelligence (EQ),” says Ramona Dumitru.

According to Ramona Dumitru, the latest research shows that women usually score very high on EQ tests, and this can be linked to the fact that women-led teams are highly engaged. “This approach to transformational leadership and management is strongly rooted in encouraging and motivating teams to partake in establishing both the company’s and the team’s purpose, as well as heightening the sense that everybody is contributing to the prosperity of the company or organisation they work for,” she concludes.

 

How do things stand in the EU?

The Gender Equality Index has been widely recognised for its contribution to monitoring progress on this metric in the EU. The Index covers a range of indicators in areas such as work, money, knowledge, time, power, and health. It also integrates two additional factors: violence and intersecting inequalities. The indicators are closely linked to EU targets and international commitments such as the Beijing Platform for Action as well as the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

With a score of 67.9 out of 100, the EU is at least 60 years away from reaching complete gender equality, if things continue at their current pace. The latest Gender Equality Index from the European Institute for Gender Equality (EIGE) found that the EU was improving by just half a point each year. Among the bloc’s Member States, Sweden, Denmark, and France have kept their top spots. The awards for the highest improvements went to Italy, Luxembourg, and Malta, with each having gained around 10 points since 2010. But Greece, Hungary, and Romania are lagging behind the rest. “We have seen small, steady gains year on year, but this time we have a reason for concern. The coronavirus pandemic poses a serious threat to gender equality progress, which we cannot afford. More than ever, policymakers will need to use the results of our Index to design inclusive solutions that promote gender equality in our society, both during and after the pandemic,” said EIGE director Carlien Scheele.

“Gender equality must be sought in all areas of life for all Europeans – regardless of their gender – to reach their full potential. The Gender Equality Index is a crucial tool in this quest as it tracks progress. Nonetheless, there is still a long road ahead in many aspects, particularly in the digital world. As our present and future are increasingly digital, we need to ensure that women and girls occupy their fair share of this sector and are encouraged to contribute towards its growth. The EU Gender Equality Strategy adopted this year sets out key actions for the next 5 years, to step up the work towards equality, and we need to see it be fully implemented to ensure that women and men can be free and that they will thrive and lead,” said Helena Dalli, European Commissioner for Equality, at the end of last year.

 

Power driving progress

Improved gender equality in decision-making is the main driver of progress in the EU. The power indicator, which measures the engagement of women and men in decision-making in areas like politics, economics, media, research, and sports accounts for 65 percent of all progress in the Index since 2010, yet with a score of 53.5 out of 100, it remains the lowest scoring domain. The biggest improvements have occurred in the private sector, largely due to the improved gender balance on company boards. Belgium, Denmark, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Finland, Sweden, and the UK have company boards where almost a third of members are women. France is the only country with over 40 percent. While these countries have been helping to boost the score in this regard, the rate of change will soon slow down unless other countries start catching up.

 

Segregation holds us back

One of the biggest problems holding back gender equality is segregation in both education and work, meaning a concentration of either women or men in certain subjects or jobs. Despite efforts to tackle this issue, such as special initiatives to encourage women to study science, engineering or ICT, segregation has actually increased since 2010. In the EU, only two out of ten ICT jobs are held by women, while the care sector lacks men, as they make up just 15 percent of workers in nursing, midwifery, and personal care in health services.

 

The digital world and the future of work

The 2020 Index had a special focus on the effects of digitalization on the working lives of women and men. Women face a slightly higher risk of being replaced in their jobs by robots and are underrepresented in developing artificial intelligence, digital start-ups, and high technology products such as space crafts, optical fibres, lasers, and microchips. Overall, men dominate the development of new technologies across the EU.

Interestingly, the expansion of work organised through online platforms is reproducing traditional gender inequalities such as the gender pay gap and gender segregation. For example, men are more likely to work in software development or food delivery, whereas women work more in online translation or domestic services.

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