With Environmental, Social, and Governance standards being highlighted on the corporate world’s sustainability agenda, it is clear that diversity and inclusion – from gender equality in boardrooms and executive roles to equal opportunities regardless of race, sexual orientation or ethnicity – are at the foundation for the development of the next generation of businesses. Last month, Business Review hosted Inspiring Voices #EqualFuture, an event that approached hot topics such as gender-balanced leadership, gender equality, and empowering women, bringing together representatives of companies with the best track records for diversity and inclusion.
By Anda Sebesi
According to the European Institute for Gender Equality (EIGE), the persistent gender imbalance among key decision-makers in large corporations and financial institutions remains a cause for concern. Despite continued political and media attention, pressure from shareholders, and an increasing body of knowledge showing the performance benefits of gender-balanced decision-making, women remain substantially under-represented in corporate boardrooms.
The same source says that in October 2020, the share of women on the boards of the largest publicly listed companies registered in the Member States reached 29.5 percent. France is the only Member State in which the largest listed companies have at least 40 percent of each gender at board level. Belgium, Italy, and Sweden all have around 38 percent women, while women account for at least one third of board members in Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands, and Finland. By comparison, out of 27 EU member states, Romania is ranked 23rd when it comes to the presence of women on boards of companies, with only 12.8 percent.
Only seven Member States have taken legislative action to address the gender imbalance in boardrooms through the adoption of a national gender quota that sets a minimum proportion for the under-represented gender: France and Italy (40 percent), Belgium and Portugal (33 percent), Germany and Austria (30 percent) and, most recently, Greece (25 percent). The Netherlands will likely join this group if it adopts the current legislative proposal for a 33 percent gender quota applicable to the supervisory boards of listed companies. The legislation underpinning a national gender quota typically provides a time scale for compliance that allows companies to deliver change within the normal cycle of board renewals, meaning that change is progressive rather than instantaneous.
In addition, less than one quarter (23 percent) of the largest companies in EU Member States have at least 40 percent of each gender among their board members, and nearly one in five still have all-male boards. In Bulgaria, Estonia, and Hungary, the boards of more than half of the companies in the EIGE sample do not have any women members.
“Back in 2011, France adopted a law that imposed a specific share of women in boardrooms, and companies listed on the French stock exchange were required to achieve this goal by 2017, otherwise they would either be penalised or delisted. The law was applied for both French companies and their subsidiaries in other countries. As a result, companies started to encourage women to join their boardrooms and developed gender-balanced leadership policies. This phenomenon spread to other companies and across the society, so people today perceive it as normality,” says Virginia Otel, Co-president at PWN Global. She also gives the example of Sodexo, where women make up 60 percent of the board, a figure that the company is now looking to rebalance.
According to Otel, out of 27 EU countries, Romania ranks 25th on women’s participation in boardrooms. “I think that if women, men, companies, and governments all make an effort to support this approach, things could change rapidly. There needs to be a concerted effort,” she argues.
Along similar lines, Ana Dumitrache, Country Head at CTP in Romania, admits that companies must be required to have a balanced gender representation in their boardrooms. “This could never come as a natural step,” she says. Virginia Otel shares Dumitrache’s opinion, pointing to international studies that show that it would take 200 years to reach gender equality if companies weren’t legally obliged to reach specific targets.
The international context…
According to the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) 2021 Global Gender Gap Report, which has monitored progress towards gender parity worldwide since 2006, Western Europe is the region with the narrowest gender gap (77.6 percent so far), having further improved this year. North America (76.4 percent) is ranked second, with an average score five points below Western Europe, followed closely by Latin America and the Caribbean (72.1 percent), and the Eastern Europe and Central Asia region (71.2 percent). The East Asia and Pacific region is approaching the 70 percent mark (68.9 percent), more than a full point ahead of Sub-Saharan Africa (67.2 percent), which is followed by South Asia (62.3 percent) and the Middle East and North Africa, the region with the widest gap (60.9 percent). Regional performances also differ in terms of speed of convergence towards gender parity, and each region appears to be on a different trajectory, progressing at a slightly different pace toward parity between 2006 and today. According to the same report, Romania – part of the Eastern Europe and Central Asia region – ranks 88th out of 156 countries included in this year’s edition of the Global Gender Gap Index.
But the Eastern Europe and Central Asia region lags behind Western Europe not just in terms of the size of the closed gap, but also in terms of the pace of progress. Despite just a five-percentage point difference, the estimated time to close the gender gap is 134.7 years in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, more than twice that of Western Europe (52.1 years). Within the region, there is considerably less disparity compared to others. Overall, 20 of 26 countries in this region have closed at least 70 percent of their gender gaps. Ten countries in this region have improved their scores by at least 1 percent over last year, and only four of 26 countries have shown a decline of more than 1 percent, with Romania showing the greatest decline (2.4 percentage points).
…and the local reality
According to Perry Zizzi, president of the Romanian Diversity Chamber of Commerce (RDCC), Romania has managed to avoid the worst excesses of its former communist neighbours. In addition, we have not witnessed any rolling back of women’s rights or municipalities declaring themselves to be LGBTQ+-free zones, as we have sadly seen in other countries, including some of our neighbours.
“Indeed, diversity and inclusion have started to turn into reality for organisations in Romania in recent years, in both small enterprises and large corporates. The younger generation, having been significantly exposed to western culture, is not only comfortable with equality, diversity, and inclusion (ED&I), but demands it,” Zizzi says. He also notes that, as PwC’s Global Diversity & Inclusion Survey shows, the main goals of diversity and inclusion in the workplace are to attract and retain talent.
Speaking about retaining talent among women, Virginia Otel of PWN Global says that there are many women who perform at their highest potential in mid-management positions in Romania, but if they are not offered further career growth opportunities, employers will lose their talent. “There are companies that have specific policies for women on boards or in top management positions. But in general, both at the European level as well as in Romania, just 20 percent of executive positions are held by women. This is why our initiatives aim to accelerate gender-balanced leadership.”
PWN has developed several programmes that help women advance to different positions more quickly or improve their skills to develop their careers. “We have a mentorship programme where both men and women from different industries voluntarily help women participants advance their careers. Over seven editions of this programme, we’ve gathered over 450 mentees and more than 300 mentors,” says Virginia Otel. Last but not least, PWN has also a programme which is meant to increase women’s participation in boardrooms as well as one designed to empower new female entrepreneurs.
Virginia Otel makes another reference to France, where a new initiative regarding women’s access to executive positions is currently in the works. “Women having access to executive positions is a matter of social equity and economic impact. Companies come up with such policies to change the current mindset because they are aware of a series of studies conducted by international consultancy companies which show that gender-balanced leadership significantly increases the profitability of the business sector.”
To illustrate her point, Otel quotes a McKinsey study that shows that a gender-balanced leadership makes a crucial difference in the EBITDA of two companies operating in the same sector. “The company with a gender-balanced leadership posts an EBITA that is 20 percent higher than that of a counterpart that doesn’t adopt a similar approach, because of a better decision-making process and a higher quality of corporate governance,” Otel notes, adding: “Males have a natural inclination towards higher risks, while females holding management positions can mitigate these risks and bring long-term sustainability for the company. Last but not least, it is about reputation, especially in the context of implementing Environmental, Social and Governance standards.”
Diversity and inclusion foster motivation
According to a recent study conducted by the Romanian Diversity Charter and MKOR Consulting, over 70 percent of Romanian organisations strongly believe that employee motivation and job satisfaction increase when the work environment is diverse and inclusive, and that adopting and managing D&I practices have a major impact on business growth.
Of course, Romania still has a long way to go before it reaches an optimal level of diversity and inclusion in comparison to other European countries. Human resources departments are often not trained or sufficiently funded to be able to promote D&I. “Indeed, one of the reasons that we founded the RDCC was to support HR departments striving to improve ED&I within organisations,” says Zizzi. Another initiative that the RDCC supports would mandate the collection of disaggregated data so that the actual effects of gender discrimination can be monitored and assessed more effectively. In short, the RDCC is a non-profit organisation that promotes the principles of equality, diversity, and inclusion in the Romanian business community and supports the development of the Romanian economy through the implementation of greater diversity and inclusion policies.
“We often hear that Romania is a conservative country and that an ED&I-oriented business strategy would not work as well here as it does in other markets, but the truth is that ED&I policies have already been adopted by many companies operating here. We have members that have successfully introduced ED&I programmes for their employees and customers and others that are just beginning the ED&I journey and doing so enthusiastically,” Zizzi adds. Along with other big events on ED&I, RDCC is in discussions with a well-known university to join forces for training and potentially the first ED&I degree programme in the region.
Females taking the lead in tech
According to Eurostat, the European Commission’s statistics office, Romania ranks second among European countries when it comes to the share of women working in the tech sector (26 percent). “Although this is good news, it is clear that this figure still leaves a lot of room for development. But we are seeing positive change in the tech sector, as an increasing number of women are embracing a career in this field,” says Alina Soare, People Experience Manager at Endava Bucharest. She adds that 35 percent of Endava’s global employees are women, while in Romania their share reaches 40 percent. “Another good sign is the fact that we have gender parity across entry level positions. This shows that we are witnessing change and that men and women will be equally interested in the tech sector in the future. It also means that we have to be actively involved in trying to increase the number of female workers in this field,” Soare argues. She also notes that the share of women working at Endava has remained constant over the last few years. “It is very important to avoid slipping into the other extreme, into positive discrimination.” Positions like Chief Information Officer (at the global level), Group Head of Data Delivery or Group Head of Development are being held by women today.
Furthermore, the company recently launched its official diversity and inclusion (D&I) strategy, though D&I has always been a priority for Endava. “Our D&I approach developed along with Endava’s development as an organisation. During this time, we’ve worked with different NGOs with the aim of trying to attract more women to our company in particular and to the tech sector in general,” Soare explains. Under an approach called We Care, the company has developed policies that encourage diversity and balance in terms of gender, disability, race, sexual orientation, and parental status. “We also have initiatives where both female and male leaders share their professional journeys along with tips and tricks for a successful personal and professional development journey.”
A different approach in real estate
Ana Dumitrache of CTP Romania says that it is easier to implement diversity inside the company she runs, as CTP has 82 employees, of whom 50 percent are men and 50 percent women. “We didn’t intend to reach this parity because we don’t have a specific D&I programme; it is just our organisational culture, which is supported by our shareholders. The situation is similar with that seen at the group level, where over 42 percent out of 430 employees are women,” Dumitrache notes. According to her, in the logistics parks managed by CTP, 90 percent of employees are blue collar, which led the company to implement in a novel pilot project inside one of its largest logistics parks: a luxury clubhouse. “The idea behind this project was that all individuals deserve respect, regardless their social and professional status, and this leads to inclusion. The sustainability of inclusion comes from the fact that it brings different perspectives on the same problem and creates a significant potential for creativity, even in sectors like real estate. The culture of respect helps us perform really well and supports an internal leadership model that is based on the power of example, which is a good foundation for any inclusion strategy,” she adds. Dumitrache says that the real estate industry – from agencies to investment funds – is generally dominated by men, both in Romania and abroad. “But women are well represented on the Romanian real estate market, because there is a huge need for attention to detail in our country, and this approach is profitable in the long run.” However, she admits that sometimes it is very difficult for a woman to succeed in this sector, as it is dominated by very powerful and territorial males. “You literally have to conquer territories, which is quite difficult for a woman. But it is a very interesting experience and I think that if they are not afraid, women can ascend to any hierarchical level. Still, we need companies to support this endeavour,” Dumitrache argues, adding that CTP’s top management is aware of the effectiveness of women’s work within the company and of the importance of a gender-balanced leadership. This is why the group’s board includes two highly experienced women.
Betting on diversity and inclusion
According to Alina Amza, Group Wellbeing & Inclusion Director at Superbet, the company’s mission is to excite the world, through a strategy that includes two key enablers: innovation and technology. “As a global employer, we see great opportunity in this because employees come with unique perspectives and experiences, which creates an inclusive environment because it brings a lot of added value,” she says.
The company’s wellbeing strategy rests upon four main pillars: listen, draw attention, engage, and act. ”First, listening means understanding the needs of our employees and being aware of the best practices and new research available on the market. Second, the awareness pillar refers to our commitment to destigmatise topics related to mental health. We fight against this stigma constantly and we want to reiterate the benefits of personal resilience. Last but not least, the engage and act pillars are correlated to the inclusion and belonging areas and represent the next step through which our employees take ownership of their wellbeing. Afterall, wellbeing is a resposibility that is shared between people and an organisation.”
Superbet’s wellbing strategy is multi-dimensional. One initiative is a three-month programme that includes 30 workshops in both Romanian and English, on three main topics: body (sleep, healthy behaviors), mind (anxiety, depression, panic attacks, worklife balance, burnout), and soul (focused on relationships with the community, family, children).
Open annual leave is another initiative designed to improve the wellbeing of Superbet employees. “Any employee can take as many days’ leave as they want, as long as they accomplish their tasks. Although some of our employees weren’t so open to this initiative at first, the company held a series of internal workshops to provide answers to all their questions.
“Superbet is focused on performance and impact rather than on presenteeism. We are aware that gender diversity is a catalyst for productivity, innovation, and empathy, so our approch is intentional: we want to create a framework around safe and inclusive zones, especially for our female coleagues,” Alina Amza adds.
Retail relies on inclusion
In 2021, Carrefour Romania accelerated its involvement in diversity and inclusion projects with the aim of applying such principles at all levels of its organisational structure. According to Alina Gamauf, Executive Committee Board Member for HR, Corporate Affairs, and CSR at Carrefour Romania, 72 percent of the company’s 18,000 employees are women. “We communicate intensively with our employees and try to meet their needs by offering individual development programmes that maximise their potential and encourage them to be part of the projects we launch. By involving them directly, we will bolster their feeling of belonging to both our projects and our company as a whole,” she says.
The company recently closed a partnership with the Angajam 45+ initiative and launched an internal initiative to empower women. In addition, Carrefour works with Lead Network in order to promote the concepts of gender diversity and women in leadership. “This year, we also launched our diversity and inclusion policy, to help each of our team managers know exactly what we want to see in this area. The fact that we are always striving to be more inclusive is something that makes us stand out on an extremely competitive market. We try to apply this concept in our daily work,” Gamauf adds.
While Carrefour’s organisational culture is already based on diversity and inclusion, Gamauf says that it needs to be constantly supported and maintained. “For this to happen, there is a need for ongoing education – we do this through special webinars and discussions about the need for diversity and inclusion,” she explains.
Yet Gamauf admits that even though there is growing interest in diversity and inclusion from many companies in Romania, there is still a lack of understanding of the benefits these concepts bring to the business environment and to society as a whole. “I think that all of us have the duty to continue to provide opportunities, as intellectual ability is not related to race, ethnicity or social status, but to the availability or absence of opportunities,” she adds.
Romania in 10 years
How does the RDCC president see Romania ten years from now in terms of equality, diversity, and inclusion? “An inclusive labour market that can provide equal opportunities to every individual is a target for all societies, as well as one of the Sustainable Development Goals established by the United Nations for the year 2030.” He adds that by 2025, millennials will make up some 75 percent of the global workforce and will hold a majority of leadership roles. The practice of diversity and inclusion will be seen as a matter of course, but today we need to lay the groundwork not only to raise awareness of equality, diversity, and inclusion, but also to establish systems that will function to support ED&I practices and behaviours in the long term.
“I am optimistic that the tide of millennials in the workforce will – within a decade from now – help inaugurate a new era of ED&I in Romania. A recent Accenture study called “Culture of Equality in the Workplace” found that a company’s financial performance can grow by 76 percent if its leaders embrace and implement an equality culture inside their organisation,” Zizzi adds.
To sum it all up, diverse and inclusive workplaces mean more profitable and competitive companies, and that’s not because it’s a trend, but because the world is changing and organisations need to adapt in order to both serve their stakeholders and ensure their own financial growth.
Romania at a glance
- Since 2017, the Gender Equality Index score has decreased in Romania (– 0.1 points).
- The annual progress of the Gender Equality Index in the EU is a direct consequence of the different pace of change in each Member State in the short term (2017–2018) and the long term (2010–2018). Romania had a low annual increase (or took a step back) in 2018 compared to its average annual progress in the long term.
- Changes in the domain of money have had a substantial pos¬itive impact on gender equality in Romania (+19 percent).
- As for progress in the domain of work since 2010, along with Denmark and Cyprus, Romania recorded virtually no improvement in gender equality.
- Reducing gender employment gaps is an important precondition to achieving the Europe 2020 strategy, which set an overall EU employment rate target of 75 percent. Romania is among five countries (along with Malta, Greece, Italy, and Hungary) that have remained below the EU 2020 employment target.
- Romania, the Czech Republic, Latvia, and Lithuania have shown no progress in closing the gender gap in terms of total disposabe income (including income from pensions, investments, and other benefits), as their gender gap in income has grown steadily since 2010.
- A FRA survey in nine EU Member States (Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Greece, Hungary, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Spain) found that 72 percent of Roma women aged 16–24 were neither working nor in education or training, compared to 55 percent of young Roma men.
- Romania is among the EU Member States with the greatest overall progress in its knowledge domain score between 2010 and 2018 (+5.2).
- As for the gender segregation in education, Romania recorded an increase of at least 1 point since 2017, while over the long term, Italy and Romania have achieved the most substantial progress (+12.1 and +7.8 points, respectively).
- Romania has the lowest participation rate (9 percent, similar to Bulgaria’s) when it comes to the engagement of women and men (aged 15 or older) in formal or non-formal education and training.
- Romania’s score for social decision-making decreased by 10 points between 2017 and 2018, with little improvement (barely 1 point) in other subdomains (political and economic fields).
- Romania continued to have more than 80 percent male representation in regional assemblies in 2019.
Source: EIGE Gender Equality Index 2020