Great shoes. That’s what surprised me most at the Global Women’s Forum in Deauville, France last week: so many great shoes. Stilettos, pumps, and ballerinas in all colours of the rainbow. Walking between the 1300 prestigious participants I realised that I had never seen such an eclectic group of beautiful, feminine businesswomen together. The security guards, the waiters and the bellboys all had that same telling smile on their face; one that says ‘hey, this job ain’t so bad’. Clearly, the days when female business leaders emulated their male counterparts to climb the corporate ladder are long gone. These were some of the world’s most powerful business women, politicians and academics and they all had one thing in common: they were proud of their femininity and not afraid to show it.
During two days jam-packed with plenary sessions, workshops and brainstorm sessions, I listened to some of the world’s most visionary thinkers on topics ranging from gender diversity and its impact on business performance to ‘frugal innovation’ and sustainable, socially responsible business models. It struck me listening to these women that the popularly held caricature of Cruella Deville as female executive (think Meryl Streep in The Devil Wears Prada), was an outdated myth. These women were visionary, level-headed leaders committed to making a difference. Women whom in their speeches, whatever their area of expertise, were all looking to find an answer to the same question: how can we make this world a better place for all?
And with these visionary women also came men. A trickling at first – Sodexho, Barcleys, Ernst and Young - the vanguard thinkers. Men who understood that in the postindustrial economy, which is causing a monumental power shift from men towards women, we all need to evolve in order to survive. Moira Forbes of ForbesWoman put it plainly during the opening debate: “Innovation isn’t optional in today’s economy. Stagnant leaders and organizations will fall by the wayside.”
Throughout the conference, I heard some pretty amazing statements, some of which I want to share with you here as food for thought.
“It’s not the rules of the game that are being redefined, but the game itself” – Peninah Thomson, Director, FTSE 100 cross-company mentoring programme.
Wendy Luhabe on the accountability of female CEOs toward other women: “When you build a society and people want to be in leadership positions, they must be held accountable. If you assume a CEO position we expect to see women in all levels of your organization and we expect to see women on your boards. How can we expect men to be the champion of gender equality when women who are given the opportunity are not prepared to be?”
“Innovation is not a process, it’s a spirit within a company. I can’t arrive at the office on a Monday morning and decide ‘ok, let’s be creative today’.” - Zhang Xin, CEO, Soho China
Peninah Thomson on the low number of women in executive positions and on boards: “It’s always been a supply-side issue. We’ve always said ‘Let’s fix women’. Now we’re looking at it differently. It’s a demand issue. It has nothing to do with supply. Let’s look at how we shape demand.”
“The new economy requires a new leadership skill set: adaptability, flexibility but also a tolerance for failure.” – Moira Forbes, ForbesWoman.
Barbara Bylenga of Outlaw Consulting on Generation-Y as drivers of change: “Generation-Y has separated money from the concept ‘success’. They no longer link the two.”
Viviane Reding, Vice-President European Commission on having it all: “I have done it all and I have raised three boys. I think women should have it all. Do men oppose being fathers and being professionals? No.”