By Raphaëlle Laubie, a blogger invited by Orange to the 2012 Women’s Forum
Day 2 at the Women’s Forum, and the blog team assembled for this occasion has already come across lots of sources of inspiration. Céline was impressed by the charisma and conviction of the two Nobel Peace Prize winners Shirin Ebadi and Leymah Gbowee. I felt the same. This sentiment was the highlight of the day, reflecting Shirin Ebadi’s thought provoking flair and enthusiasm. I also saw Jessica praising, yet again, the talent and passion of Kresse Wesling, one of the Cartier Initiative Awards winners.
So a gripping Day 2 and feedback from Viviane Reding on her proposal to set up quotas for Boards of Directors in Europe. She pointed out that studies show that getting women onto Boards is advantageous and that – 60% of college and university graduates being women – Europe should promote female talent at the highest executive levels. In 2 years, there‘s been only a 2% improvement, mainly led by France where the proportion has gone from 12% to 22%. Viviane Reding admitted that, despite her long and rich experience in the many battles she has fought, this is by far the toughest, despite the support of European governments. She ended with concrete examples such as Deutsche Bank who, having seen the financial benefits of promoting women to top management positions, has raised its own quota to above 40%.
The (amazing) C.I.D. auditorium then welcomed specialists in what are called “hard” and “soft” skills. This plenary session brought together Daniel Cohen who calls himself a Pragmatic Economist, Juliet Schor a Sociology Professor, François Schneider who calls himself a Researcher in “Negative Growth”, and Renault Vice President Olivier Murguet. A wide-ranging mix and, apart from conflicting views from men and women, we discovered that growth is still fatally linked to CO2 emissions and that it’s urgently important to decorrelate these two factors. Olivier Murguet emphasized the development potential of the automotive industry in Brazil while Juliet Schor underlined that such development would damage the local ecosystem. Even though Renault has announced it’s dedicating $4 billion to developing electric cars, opposition is increasing due to fears of the damage caused by industrialization: “Climate changes & disasters and impact on the ecosystem”. The question that will stay in our minds is simple if not simplistic: “Does wealth create happiness?”. François Schneider explained that human beings must learn to curb their appetite for one-upmanship: “Let’s stop wanting more. We’ll fail if we try to keep increasing GDP.” We need to create value not volume! Because, as we’ve been told, the world can’t take any more… I’ll leave you to reflect on this…
There were lots of questions about China at the Women’s Forum and once again I found myself at a conference dedicated to that topic. It addressed the question of the Chinese market, its expansion model and what we have to learn from it.
Jean-Yves Naouri, Executive Chairman of Publicis Worldwide, explained that mind-sets have evolved at an accelerating pace over the past 5 years. China used to be considered “The World’s Manufacturing Plant”, with thrifty consumers and avid savers… That’s no longer the case today. China has its own market and that market is enormous, and is measured in billions. Hong Jing, a brilliant rising talent with, incidentally, an encyclopedic memory of economic statistics, said it would reach 5 billion by 2035. Jean-Yves Naouri is mainly focusing on two phenomena for any business looking to penetrate the Chinese market: i) Protectionism: “In China, you buy Chinese!” and ii) Problems relating to intellectual property, with Microsoft for example having already lost the equivalent of its R&D budget. Gao Lan, the Human Resources director at Lenovo China, is preoccupied by talent retention and ways of building employee loyalty. She says that, sometimes, hesitating for 2 days about whether or not to hire someone can disadvantage a company as businesses need to be very reactive in its choices. Also, the price of highly experienced talent in China is now comparable to Europe. Sylvie Bermann, the French Ambassador to China, backed Sylvie’s statement by pointing out that pay levels are rising 15%-20% a year in that country. And remembering my own New Year’s resolutions: I’m off to learn Chinese…
The final exciting session for me was… The strengths and weaknesses of women entrepreneurs illustrated by a woman with direct experience and by a researcher: Martine Liautaud, founder of the Women Business Mentoring Initiative (WBMI), and Margaret A. Neale, Professor of Management at Stanford. I’m an entrepreneur, I have a great weakness for the academic world and I’ve come from Stanford where I presented the first results of my research. I’m therefore starting the session focused (with memories of the October sun at Palo Alto, ignoring the Deauville rain)… Margaret A. Neale kicked it off with the notion of strong and weak ties. And without getting into details, I believe I recognized that she shares Mark Granovetter’s point of view when he emphasizes the usefulness of focusing on weak network links that are open to different spheres. Women are predisposed to creating weak links, men are predisposed to creating strong ones. Women also have a higher propensity for developing their teams’ skills as a “transforming” rather than “transactional” process and for human “give & take”. Women also have weak negotiation skills… And we were then treated to a stack of anecdotes, tools, and documented facts that made us want to read Margaret A. Neale’s many works that illustrate that gender differences are not just fanciful inventions!