The world has changed, and the gender gap has become a key topic not only at the societal level, but in corporate boards as well. According to Pew Research, 4.8% of Fortune 500 CEOs were women in 2018, up from 0% in 1995. Based on the same source, the share of women sitting on the boards of Fortune 500 companies has more than doubled, from 9.6% in 1995 to 22.2% in 2017. In the United States, 58% of new management jobs created between 1980 and 2010 went to women and 40% of management jobs in 2010 were held by women (Harvard Business Review). In Europe, one third of management jobs in 2010 were held by women (Catalyst). These somewhat encouraging (if we put things into historical perspective) numbers still mask a high degree of heterogeneity: the number of women serving on a country’s top companies’ board ranges from 41% in Norway, 37% in France, and 33% in Sweden to 2.4% in South Korea, 0.7% in Saudi Arabia, and 0.6% in Qatar (Deloitte – Women In The Boardroom). Thus, much remains to be done to move the needle towards more progress.
As some have demonstrated, greater equality at the CEO level is not only a moral imperative, but also good for overall business. Here is a number to prove it: 21% better performance to the national industry median was expected of those in the top-quartile of gender diversity (McKinsey – Delivering Through Diversity). Equally, there are challenges to be overcome: 45% of women polled in a PwC survey believed that an employee’s diversity status can be a barrier to progression (PwC – Time To Talk).
This is the landscape in which the female successors in superclans’ businesses will have to perform, and they will have a particularly important role in bringing about the new normalcy of gender equality. With the chance to lead handed to them, their success could mean a lot for women representation in corporate boards and could accelerate the current positive trends. However, in addition to obvious opportunities, challenges also exist and will have to be addressed for the process to go smoothly. I will briefly comment on a few of these opportunities and challenges:
- In the consumer market, with global average incomes rising fastest for WOMEN, many women in leadership business positions may be better suited at spotting profitable opportunities.
- New females in boardroom or executive contexts will tend to be younger, by 4 years according to Deloitte, than males, potentially bringing new ideas and help ride the disruptive trends characterizing top industries.
- There is indication that there are advantages for more diverse teams. Here, the greater heterogeneity expected of their networks is expected to have a positive effect and be correlated with a better understanding of the context in which the business operates and of the needs of an increasingly demanding public.
- In banking-led countries, where superclans are most prominent, females may not enjoy the same backing from critical networks and this may be reflected in the companies’ performance, particularly the risk of credit default. This is a battle worth fighting and a reality worth challenging. Conservative attitudes are indeed bad for business.
- In equity-led countries, particularly in an Anglo-Saxon context, corporate failures with female CEOs at the helm are judged more harshly (an interesting article to read here) and may make the appointment of a female CEO more difficult. Compare for example J.C. Penney’s Jill Soltau with Wirecard’s Mrkus Braun in terms of “focus on the CEO” coverage. Obviously, this bias invites action and correction, but should be kept in mind by those trying to break the ice ceiling and establish themselves as competent, visionary, and reliable managers.
- Extrapolating from what happened in the West, in conservative cultures, females may be prone to overly aggressive moves to try to impose themselves on the corporate hierarchy, often with not so optimal results. The advice here is for finding the right balance and for considering the advantages of a “red team”. Cultural mapping and work via national pop culture alliances and global empowerment networks can also help shape mentalities for the better at home, for power ladies.
- The vertical integration that many conglomerates display often require not so much as a skillset as a well-cultivated network that allows for high levels of delegation. That level of trust and loyalty is built through years of private schools and private clubs. Females may not enjoy the same level of loyalty as traditional male leaders and this reality should be equally acknowledged and fought against. Again, this can be mitigated also via the enthusiasm attached to women-led initiatives and platforms, ranging from “Business and Professional Women International” to “Women Political Leaders”. Yes, politics and business go hand in hand for societal and mentalities change.
- Most anti-establishment movements are focused not on males on power but females on power. This ability to identify countertrends should be further cultivated and integrated into the management style of women leaders. In times of change as the ones we see today, this could prove decisive. We need wise, safe pairs of hands, in global business in politics, amid our global economic and health crises collective challenge.
These numbers point to both challenges and opportunities for SHE-successors in international business families, but also, more widely, for ambitious women around the world, who want to break glass ceilings and lead on the corporate – or other political or civil society – ladder. Like with any quest, storytelling to advance one’s cause will be essential, in a continued global battleground for ideas and attention. As mentioned in a previous article, developing narratives and counternarratives in a world of risk and crisis will be essential also for women global success and the empowerment cause. Numbers -like the ones above- help (with perspective), but don’t tell a story (and don’t design a strategy): it’s for all of us who are interested in the topic (as a father of a lovely daughter, I am here, smiling and waving) to help shape and share a success narrative at home and abroad. Ladies, welcome to a global permanent campaign to secure your goals amid economic and health recovery plans. It starts with aspiration, continues with inspiration, the rest is hard -and team- work.
Commentary by Radu Magdin. Here’s what you’ve missed?
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