While gender equality may mean different things around the world, its benefits in business are undeniable: a company that sees a 1% increase in gender diversity will also enjoy a 3% increase in revenues. Women are empathetic leaders, they strive towards collaboration, are natural networkers and love building bridges. So, how can we push more equality in business around the world and what are the steps necessary to achieve that goal?
In our webinar – Giving a Voice to all Women in the International Economic Environment, an initiative by Elite Business Women – we spoke to Madiha Raslan, President at Women Leaders Council of Lebanon, Arshi Ayub Mohamed Zaveri, Senior Advisor, Royal Family Office, UAE, Martina Rogato, Sustainability Advisor & Professor. Head of Delegation Women20 Italy (G20) and TEDx Speaker, and our own Bianca Tudor, Founder & CEO, Elite Business Women and a WBAF Senator. The panel was moderated by Andreea Groenendijk-Deveau, entrepreneur and award-winning communicator, and our partner in this initiative.
Gender equality in business means different things around the world, from inclusion to women’s general rights. What are the areas that we’ve seen real success in and how we can do better?
Bianca Tudor: We have the balanced gender boards amendment by the European Commission. Their aim is to have 20% women in board positions by 2020. In 2019, there were 11% women in board positions and now there are 20.3% women in board positions. So, it has been a good initiative. What we need to do is to raise awareness about the benefits of gender equality and women inclusion in the economic environment. For example, for every 1% increase in gender diversity in companies, the company will have an increase with 3% in their turnover. So, for a company CEO, it is a good argument, because, as business owners, we look at a company’s profitability.
We’re on a rise, we still have to be aware of educating young girls, because it starts from the basics, it starts from the ground up, educating young girls. And that’s where I should mention that it’s not about polarizing men and women, it’s about bringing together the skills and the knowhow we have together as a team.
For every 1% increase in gender diversity in companies, the company will have an increase with 3% in their turnover. So, for a company CEO, it is a good argument, because, as business owners, we look at a company’s profitability.
Bianca Tudor, Founder & CEO, Elite Business Women
Madiha Raslan: In Lebanon, for example, in the banking sector, more than 51% of employees are women. And in many other sectors too. But in decision-making positions, women are absent. What we are trying to do is to lobby towards raising the percentage of representation of women in the boards of directors, in decision-making positions. I think that at some point we proposed to do that through legislation and to get incentives for private companies recruiting women and appointing them in decision-making positions. Maybe through lowering taxes for these companies. We have many ideas on this.
I, too, believe that we have to raise awareness, to highlight the roles of women, to talk more and communicate more on their success stories, but also to lobby with men and choose liberal men who really stand for women and for them to speak and say out loud how successful the experiences were when women were leading.
How do you work with men to empower more women to go into business? What kind of support have you seen from the men in business, because obviously, we can’t do it without their support?
Arshi Ayub Mohamed: Female entrepreneurship is often a difficult role. I think empowerment is a very large word, as a concept per se, and everyone speaks of empowerment like it is very easy. Well, I think it takes a lot to be able to empower somebody. It is just not by providing an equal opportunity. It is a huge responsibility that someone undertakes when they intend to empower somebody, whether there’s a community, whether there’s a person, whether there’s a cause. So, empowerment has a lot to do with providing them with the freedom to be able to express themselves within the social and cultural norms of their society or of their country.
So, when it comes to entrepreneurship and empowerment of women, the best example is of the United Arab Emirates. We have huge offices that are held by female ministers, female cabinet ministers and the statistics speak for themselves. We have 46.6% women in the workforce compared to 2.2% in 1975. So that speaks for itself on terms of how many women are coming forward when looking at leadership positions.
Empowerment has a lot to do with providing them with the freedom to be able to express themselves within the social and cultural norms of their society or of their country.
Arshi Ayub Mohamed Zaveri, Senior Advisor, Royal Family Office
Martina Rogato: In Italy, we are not in a gender equity situation, we are among the worst countries in Europe, according to the World Economic Forum, in terms of gender equity in business, but also in politics, and in the labour force. In the last few years, we introduced a law that obliged all listed companies to have, at least, 40% women in their board of directors and we created a law to up gender equity and we are seeing the positive effects of introducing this mandatory law on quota.
There are more women in decision-making positions, companies are performing better. So, the effect was very positive, but it was a shame that it took us introducing legislation in order to have more women in decision making-positions in companies. From a G20 perspective, decision making and women in entrepreneurship are two of the key topics that we will discuss in at the summit in Saudi Arabia later this year.
How can women lead the way towards more cooperation, more business? And how can we open the doors for other women across the globe to get the chance to make a real impact?
Arshi Ayub Mohamed: Fortunately, we’re living in a time where technology plays a very pivotal role in terms of connecting people. Unfortunately, when we started off, we never have any mentorship. So today, when somebody asks me to mentor young, beautiful students, I’m very very honoured and happy to do that.
And one very important aspect for promoting women entrepreneurship would be to never fear each other’s strengths. Always use them to your greatest leverage. So, as partners, as colleagues, as friends or any relationship that you hold together, it is important to stop being fearful, to be able to communicate everything with cadence and clarity and to find a common ground for partnership in business. Because what may work for other persons in the European Union may not work in the GCC and vice versa, to be able to find this business cultural social ground for work is extremely important. Find common ground, and, very important, work with like-minded individuals. We can never work with opposites. It is important to work with like-minded individuals.
How do you build these bridges?
Martina Rogato: We can do it by promoting good initiatives, showing good practices, creating networking opportunities among women and mentorship – with my own organization, we really believe in mentoring. We created and launched the 5th edition of Inspiring Mentor. Inspiring Mentor is a mentoring program where we matched 200 young women with 200 senior professionals, coming from different backgrounds. The idea is that we are trying to support gender equity, giving the chance to young men to have female role models, to discover a new kind of leadership, the female leadership. Perhaps when a young man dreams to become as successful as a woman, we will start seeing real results.
When women advise, what is the approach when supporting others build successful companies and initiatives? What is unique to women in this context?
Arshi Ayub Mohamed: When it comes to advising businesses and when it comes to generally stating or presenting a point forward, the fact that it comes from a woman, that is number one, the fact that it comes from logic is more important. You need to have a very, very logical discussion when you want to discuss any sort of business initiative, any sort of initiative that impacts the society or a community or any sort of work area. So, logical explanation and advice are extremely important, beyond any gender bias.
This is because you can’t always team a huge group of women on a project just because you want to promote empowerment, or just because you want to have women in that position. In fact, it needs to go by merit. If a man is good, he deserves the position, if a woman is good, she clearly deserves the opportunity. So, the fact that there has to be zero bias when it comes to anything, whether it’s gender, whether it’s expertise, anything, it has to be equal for everybody based on merit. That is what I personally look at. When it comes to any sort of advice, often it comes from a lot of experience in that specific field
Madiha Raslan: It’s well known that women are loyal, they are less corrupt and this has been proved and shown through international studies, it is not just my own personal opinion. Women are team players and the ego is less when compared to the men. Women are compassionate and it’s not a weakness. Women have social intelligence skills which help her more in building the team. Women have a new approach to solving problems because they communicate more. As a leader, as a business owner, I think adding all these skills and all these values, women tend to build a long-term relationship with their employees and team members.
We have to raise awareness, to highlight the roles of women, to talk more and communicate more on their success stories, but also to lobby with men and choose liberal men who really stand for women and for them to speak and say out loud how successful the experiences were when women were leading.
Madiha Raslan, President at Women Leaders Council of Lebanon
Bianca Tudor: What I am seeing from a business perspective is that women don’t think about the business in terms of the money, they have a lot of emotional involvement when they build their business, they think about providing for their families, they think about how they can contribute to their communities or to their societies. Sometimes a woman is a volunteer in NGOs – I am also a volunteer – they divide their time between a lot of areas and this is a good thing, and I love that about women.
Women are able to run the business, take care of their families, as well as being volunteers and being involved in communities and projects, I love that. I also see that women are keener to be mentored; sometimes men they don’t like being told how to run their businesses, but women are really keen to be mentored, we have mentorship programs, we have a lot of speakers sharing their knowhow in our businesses, so this is a good thing about women.
Women are great at working in teams – I think there’s huge potential in collaboration and in participating in networking events and in programs, so I will advise women to be really dynamic and go to networking events, business events, collaborate and stay in contact with people. What my mentor told me once was: “it doesn’t matter how much money you have in the bank, what matters is your network.” It’s your legacy, so building networks is a huge asset to businesses and women are really good at creating networks.
Martina Rogato: I don’t believe there are female characteristics and male characteristics. I think we have people, we have different persons, with their own peculiarities, and perhaps we are a bit stereotyped. Maybe there are some characteristics of human nature, like empathy, generosity, that are considered women characteristics or women strengths. We should go beyond stereotypes and talk about people, peculiarities of people’s and maybe help men in delivering also the feminine characteristics to either side. I also believe that probably the majority of women work with lots of passion and emotional commitment to what they do for a living.
When they work, they add a lot of passion and emotional commitment to work. I mean being emotionally when we are to engage people, push the team – it’s perfect and it’s fantastic. When we negotiate something, we should be less emotional and considering that we have a specific goal and it’s a negotiation we should be a little emotionally distant. So, I believe in differences between people but I also believe maybe women have some specific characteristics of empathy and emotionality in working that is good for empowering people, motivating people, but sometimes, for negotiations, is not.
From my international relations’ perspective, it’s very challenging to work with people coming from different cultures and backgrounds. So, in a negotiation it’s very important to be very focused on a specific goal you want to achieve because you can achieve whatever you want by just focusing on a few goals and negotiating, trying to find compromises. I’m learning how to negotiate; it is not something that comes naturally to me. I’ve learned how to be diplomatic and negotiate. Maybe these things, I don’t know if they’re female or not, when we negotiate if we had to opportunity to “feel” the other one – then it is easier to achieve our goals; trying to understand the other’s point of view, and maybe find a common solution, a common perspective. Well, it’s a challenging question but I think it’s something very focused on personality not on gender.
In a negotiation, it’s very important to be very focused on a specific goal you want to achieve because you can achieve whatever you want by just focusing on a few goals and negotiating, trying to find compromises. I’m learning how to negotiate; it is not something that comes naturally to me. I’ve learned how to be diplomatic and negotiate.
Martina Rogato, Sustainability Advisor & Professor
Watch the full webinar here: