The Power of Women: How We've Become One of the Most Gender Balanced C-Suite on the CAC40, and Why We Won't Stop Here
Co-authored with Charise Le, Chief Human Resources Officer, Schneider Electric
On July 1, our Executive Committee – the team that is responsible for the day-to-day management of the company – passes an important milestone: seven of its 16 members – 44% – will be women. That means Schneider Electric will be led by one of the most gender-balanced senior management team among the 40 biggest listed companies in France. And this is despite the fact that we operate in a sector that is not typically very balanced.
It wasn’t always like that. In 2010, only one of our executive committee members was a woman. In 2006, there was none.
Getting towards gender balance is hard work…
The increase didn’t happen by accident. Most companies (ours, and others) have to work hard to bring about more gender balance at all levels of their workforce.
It takes years of strategic planning, targeted development, and awareness and accountability mechanisms.
A lot of effort is required to erode the gender pay gap, to combat unconscious bias and boost a spirit of inclusiveness, and to adjust family leave and flexible-working policies, to make life and career development easier. That’s especially important now, given the strains that the Covid-19 pandemic has placed on job markets and households around the world.
Most importantly, moving towards greater diversity and gender balance requires the public support of everyone in the organization, from the CEO right through to anyone involved in hiring or promotion decisions.
None of this is easy. There are costs and many, many work-hours involved in transforming a company culture so that inclusion is more than a buzzword. A mindset shift of this kind takes more than single-track solutions and long-term pledges: it requires a holistic toolkit of approaches and actions, like workshops, learning sessions and policies, with continuous monitoring of progress and implementation.
…but so rewarding…
The effort is worth it.
For one thing, there’s a well-established correlation between the presence of women in leadership roles and a company’s long-term performance. A 2020 McKinsey study, for example, showed that companies in the top quartile of gender diversity on executive teams are 25% more likely to experience above-average profitability.
For another, welcoming women into your employer base, and supporting them once they’re in it, allows you to tap into a wider talent pool. That’s critical, particularly in industries like technology, engineering and financial services, which in many parts of the world are experiencing a shortage of skilled workers.
….so keep working towards it
Do we have more to do? For sure. Our numbers at the executive committee level are good, but female representation among our 128,000 colleagues overall is lower than we’d like it to be.
At the national and regional levels, too, the corporate world has a long way to go: In the US, for example, just 41 of the Fortune 500 companies have a female CEO. And only 6% of 668 listed European companies analyzed last year by European Women on Boards, a Brussels-based non-profit organization, were women.
So none of us should stop here.
Schneider, for one, has committed as part of our 2025 sustainability goals to ensuring that 50% of new hires by 2025 are women. That’s up from around 43% now. And we want 40% of our frontline managers, and 30% of our senior leaders, to be women by then – up from about one-quarter now.
And we won’t stop there: once we reach the next milestone, we’ll continue to raise the standard until we’ve reached gender balance across all levels of the company. In other words, while we’re proud of the near-parity we’ve achieved at C-suite level, our journey towards greater gender balance throughout the organization continues.
In that spirit, some ideas to advance:
Publicly state your strategic ambition for gender parity and equity. Engage with your employees on why and how you’re going to achieve them.
Embark men as promoters and mentors of the change. They feel — more than you might think — very proud of rebalancing their teams.
Design policies and processes that create more equitable opportunities for women and men — for example, flexible working policies or pay equity reviews.
All of us need to be champions of change and equity. To challenge mindsets and stereotypes. To speak up when you see bias. It takes all diversities to help create a more equitable world together.
This article was originally published on the Schneider Electric blog