If women are expected to do the same work as men, we must teach them the same things.

Plato 300 BC

ABIE’S first Women in Business (WABIE) event drew a big crowd of young professionals to the Australian Embassy on November 16.

More than 90 guests joined Annette Young, Journalist and Presenter, France 24 and Host of The The 51 Percent, who lead the round table of high flyers.

The event, Why Gender Equality Means Business, was co-organised with the Australian Embassy and generously sponsored by ABIE corporate member Servcorp.   Rare in the corporate world, women hold an outstanding 89% of senior level management positions in this global serviced offices company.

With Trump almost in the White House, the male singer Bono awarded Woman of the Year (Christine Lagarde received the lifetime achievement award) and comic book character Wonder Woman chosen as the UN’s ambassador for female empowerment, it was a good moment for WABIE to ask the question Women in Leadership: Where are We?

The answer was a qualified Up and Up from three impressive businesswomen and the one male panelist. “Not a token male, but a Champion of Change”, quipped Annette.

The panelists were:

  • Helen Jane Paul,  Group Legal Head of Mergers and Acquisitions, AXA Group
  • Isabelle Loc, Senior Banker, BNP Paribas, and Secretary of the Group Executive Committee
  • Tea Dietterich, CEO, 2M Language Services, ABIE Board Member
  • Olivier Fleurot, Senior Vice President, Publicis Group

Despite many individual successes, the reality is less encouraging.   Among the OEDC countries, women hold just 20% of senior management positions. At CEO level, it is single digits.

“There is a steady drumbeat of change”, said Helen Paul. “But women must ask for what they want, whether it be a promotion, a position on the board or a higher salary.  It’s not enough to think ‘I’m doing a good job – it will be recognized.’ You need the confidence to walk in, put a number down on the table, and defend it.”

While quotas and positive discrimination as a way of achieving equality was unanimously rejected, Isabelle Loc cited a multi-national with a positive way of promoting women. For each senior post, three names have to be shortlisted.  One must be a woman’s.

“People are lazy” said Isabelle.  “They look around for someone close for a job…most often a man.  You have to force them to make the effort, to look at a woman’s achievements, to believe in her.”

Tea Dietterich, who created her own company, said female entrepreneurs had no choice but learn to take risks, including financial risks.  She suggested joining business groups, boards and networking organizations as a way for the single entrepreneur to move ahead. “You have to be bold and brazen. Be your own PR manager – modesty is not the way to go.”

Olivier Fleurot, one of World Women’s Forum’s CEO Champion for Change, touched on the thorny “having it all” subject of work, husband, children.  He said men’s role in gender equality extended from office to home.  A top publicity executive, when asked if advertising was playing a role in breaking stereotypes, he answered “not enough.  And this is something that we should look at.”

At the cocktail, which followed the debate, there was lively and constructive discussion and a great opportunity for networking. The concensus? For ABIE to organize WABIE  each year.