Virginia Otel, PWN Global: Accelerating a “gender balanced leadership”

Mihai-Alexandru Cristea 12/10/2021 | 13:42

At BR’s Inspiring Voices #EqualFuture conference, Virginia Otel, co-president at PWN Global, talked about how PWN Global and the local chapter PWN Romania are trying to accelerate the “gender balanced leadership” and how the volunteer-based NGO works towards empowering women through various programs and strategies, such as the “Women on Boards Mentoring Program” or the entrepreneurial education program for women.


PWN Romania is actually a volunteer-based non-governmental organization and we belong to an international federation called PWN Global, which includes 30 such local chapters in many countries around the world. In Romania, we have been operating for almost 10 years, and we will soon celebrate this beautiful anniversary. What we have proposed, of course, cascading from PWN Global to the local level is to try to accelerate what we call “gender balanced leadership”. In Romania we have, let’s say, perhaps a good situation of women’s participation in middle management positions and even at senior executive level and we are proud of this, but as we all probably know, as the organizational pyramid gets thinner, so does women’s participation in leadership. There are definitely companies, which deserve absolutely all the praise, which have such policies, have women in senior management, in top management, in the board of directors or supervisory board. However, overall at European level, if I can give such a statistic, which is somehow also found in Romania, women hold only 20% of top executive positions in companies, so there is a lot of room for improvement.

And how can we do this? Both at PWN Global level and here at PWN Romania level we have this desire to create an impact on the individuals, on companies, and on society in general. And how have we tried to create this impact? Because things can’t happen overnight and there are several factors at the end of the day that generate such an acceleration of gender balanced leadership in companies, and not only in companies, in society and in the public sector. We have tried to develop some programs to support women with managerial experience to promote faster and increase their career growth capabilities and we have developed a great mentoring program. This autumn we will be launching the eighth edition of this program.

We operate on a volunteer basis, we are all volunteers in this association and we have men and women as mentors, from different companies, in different industries, who voluntarily want to help other women. Why? To accelerate their career growth. I was doing the math at one point, and over the previous 7 editions, we had over 450 mentees and a mentor community of over 300. So here’s the impact on society after all, on the community, because maybe otherwise these people wouldn’t have volunteered to become a mentor.

What we are doing is trying to have a complementarity with the mentoring programs that are run inside companies, because mentees have the opportunity to meet other people from other industries with other experience and it is a win-win, because both mentors and mentees find this process extraordinary. Then we have a “Women on Boards” program. And here again I think we are, as the Americans say, frontrunners in Romania, if we look at other associations and foundations that are in this area, because no one so far has focused on this area of increasing the participation of women on boards. Because at the end of the day, that’s where the strategic decision is made. Five years ago we did a research together with the consulting company Deloitte, which we’re going to do again this year, and in Romania, if we take a look at the companies listed on the stock exchange, there are about 15% women on boards of directors, a little more in executive positions, maybe 20-25 percent. Those numbers are not good! At the same time, by comparison, according to a recent study published by Boston Consulting Group, Romania ranks first in terms of women in top management positions within the largest listed companies in EU countries, proving that the pipeline is there and that this is the perfect time to take advantage of it.

In consequence, PWN Romania will intensify its efforts on the Women on Boards pillar in the following year, launching the third edition of the Women on Boards Academy later this year – a comprehensive educational program for women who target non-executive board positions. We will also begin a “Women on Boards Mentoring Program” this fall, with the goal to provide women with the proper one-on-one guidance and support they need to access board positions. To better integrate our vision on the Women on Boards pillar, we are working on creating a database of qualified candidates for Board positions in a program called “Board Ready Women Initiative”, for which we are currently developing partnerships with well-known executive search firms.

Finally yet importantly, one thing I noticed, because the vast majority of our members come from corporations, is that at some point they say “ok, I want to try something else and I want to do something extraordinary with my technical expertise.” They’re generally women around 35 to 40 and they want to become entrepreneurs, or freelancers, or consultants. What we did was we said, OK, maybe they have these expertise in various fields, but it is not enough; to be a good entrepreneur you have to have business skills as well, and so we made a program that we called the “Toolkit for Female Entrepreneurs,” which became our entrepreneurial education program for women.

Empowering women can happen on many areas and levels, and without any lack of modesty, I have to admit, we have some very good results and I am proud of them.

As a newly elected Co-President of PWN Global and member of the Global Board, let me share with you that we have developed a sound strategy and we have ambitious plans for our global organization for the coming future. Maybe we can talk more about them on another occasion.”

Virginia Otel, co-president at PWN Global

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Mihai-Alexandru Cristea | 19/12/2022 | 18:45

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