Cecilia Burns of Leathwaite, attended the Advance International Women's Day Celebration Event on March 8th, held at the University of Zurich titled “Gender Equality Means Business.”

Advance marked International Women’s Day 2018 (IWD18) by launching their new initiative “Gender Equality Means Business” with over 60 CEOs and leaders having already united with a pledge! Leathwaite joined this thought-provoking event, which aimed at advancing the discussion on gender-balanced leadership to the next level. The session also included an update on the progress the organisation has made within gender parity since last year’s initiative, as well as highlighting key goals and objectives for 2018. #equalitymeansbusiness

Kristine Braden, President of Advance and Citi Country Officer for Switzerland, Monaco, and Lichtenstein opened the event with observations around the importance of Gender Diversity in economics and industry.

Kristine provided an overview which highlighted the following main themes: the need for flexible working, matrix (data transparency) and recruitment strategies to foster a gender-balanced working environment.

The comments and feedback associated with flexible working were not solely orientated around existing parents, but also raised the increasing expectations of younger members of the workforce wishing to harness the opportunities created by technology and connectivity to assist with flexible working.

It was pointed out that in some cases, at the senior level, organisations can lose up to 29% of women [from the workforce] due to lack of flexible working opportunities.

Unconscious bias

Allyson Zimmermann, Executive Director at Catalyst Europe, provided a compelling overview of unconscious biases and how exclusion can affect the working environment.

She raised the point that line managers need more awareness training as unconscious bias affects individuals more than they realise. In particular, it was highlighted that within the UK [above many other countries within Europe] accent, education and class are often unconscious reasons for exclusion.

“Diversity is a Fact, Inclusion is a Choice” 

Studies have also stated that having a mixed and diverse organisation is far more productive and successful. Therefore, it reaffirms the commercial benefit that diversity is imperative, however it was raised that those in senior positions need to make an active choice to be inclusive for diversity to work; some often encourage diversity and “beat the drum” but do not understand that inclusion goes hand-in-hand with diversity.

If employees feel excluded and underappreciated, there are an abundance of statistics to demonstrate that they will not remain in the organisation.

Uniqueness should be valued just as much as the commonalities; finding the balance between appreciating the unique skills of an individual, and how they contribute these skills and attributes within a team, is key.

“Dialogue rather than debate”

A theme that came through throughout the event was that organisations have to make every effort to encourage two-way dialogue, whereas debate unfortunately only creates a winner and loser mentality and/or environment.

Allyson Zimmermann added that the largest obstacle to gender diversity is the fear of exclusion.

The CEO panel included Nicole Burth, CEO of Adecco, the Ikea CEO CH, Simona Scarpaleggia, and the CEO for Deloitte Switzerland, Simon Owen, who all provided an overview of the pledges they have made to support gender diversity within their respective companies.

CEO panel pledges:

The CEO panel included Nicole Burth, CEO of Adecco, the Ikea CEO CH, Simona Scarpaleggia, and the CEO for Deloitte Switzerland, Simon Owen, who all provided an overview of the pledges they have made to support gender diversity within their respective companies.

Adecco’s immediate goal is to reach 35% female leadership, whilst Deloitte is seeking to achieve a figure of 30% female leadership, which would place both companies above the 24% female leadership figure for Switzerland as a whole.

Ikea has already reached gender parity and introduced 8 weeks paternity leave in September 2017 which was hugely successful.

Deloitte implements mandatory unconscious bias training for its senior leadership and expects them to maintain a positive working environment for both men and women.

Furthermore, Nicole Burth [Adecco CEO] advised that if women or men take a break due to maternity or paternity leave, it is recommended that they utilise the time to learn something or study something new, so that when they return to work they are able to possess an even richer skill base.

Prof. Dr Michael O. Hengartner closed the event by providing remarks regarding gender diversity within education, highlighting that within the role of professor the ratio of women to men is still a great concern, with women being a notable minority. The University of Zurich is undertaking steps to support [female] talent by providing a more supportive environment for people who would like to further their education.

Additional CEO pledges: 

Over 60 CEOs and leaders have united with a pledge to foster equal opportunities and inclusion in the workplace. Here are a selection of their pledges:

Axel P. Lehmann, President, UBS Switzerland

“We are committed to hiring, retaining and promoting more women at all levels across the firm and will continue to build on our aspiration to increase the ratio of women in management roles to one-third.”

“Wir wollen auf allen Ebenen des Unternehmens mehr Frauen einstellen, halten und fördern. So setzen wir uns weiter dafür ein, den Anteil von Frauen in Managementfunktionen auf einen Drittel zu erhöhen.”

“Nous tenons à recruter, retenir et promouvoir davantage de femmes à tous les niveaux et dans tous les secteurs de la banque. Nous aspirons à continuer d’augmenter la proportion de femmes dans des postes de direction pour qu’elle soit d’un tiers.”

Susanne Ruoff, CEO, Swiss Post Ltd

“I am convinced that increased diversity and a higher proportion of women in management positions supports our business and the economy. That is why we will continue to empower women in our company. Flexible working options are essential for men as well as women for whom full time employment is not suitable or possible. However, diversity goes beyond gender. We must bring together employees both younger and older, people from different cultures and regions of Switzerland, and people with different skills. It is this diversity that brings us closer to our customers.”

“Ich bin überzeugt, dass Diversität und mehr Frauen in der Führung gut sind fürs Geschäft und für unsere Wirtschaft. Deshalb werden wir im Unternehmen die Frauen auch weiterhin gezielt fördern. Wichtig sind flexible Arbeitszeitmodelle – nicht nur für Frauen, sondern auch für Männer. Aber Diversität geht noch viel weiter. Wir müssen jüngere und ältere Mitarbeitende zusammenzubringen, Menschen aus verschiedenen Landesteilen und Kulturen und mit unterschiedlichen Ausbildungen. So sind wir auch näher bei unseren Kundinnen und Kunden.”

“Je suis convaincue que la diversité et un nombre plus élevé de femmes aux postes de conduite sont une bonne chose pour les affaires et pour notre économie. C’est la raison pour laquelle nous allons continuer de promouvoir les femmes de manière ciblée au sein de l’entreprise. Il est important de disposer de modèles de temps de travail flexibles, non seulement pour les femmes, mais aussi pour les hommes. Cela dit, la diversité va bien plus loin encore. Nous devons rapprocher les collaborateurs et collaboratrices jeunes et moins jeunes, les personnes issues de régions et de cultures différentes ou au bénéfice de formations différentes. Ainsi, nous serons plus proches de notre clientèle.” – directrice générale La Poste Suisse SA

“Sono convinta che la diversità e una maggiore presenza delle donne nelle posizioni dirigenziali facciano bene agli affari e alla nostra economia. Per questo nella nostra azienda continueremo a sostenere le donne in maniera mirata. In tale contesto riveste una grande importanza la flessibilità dei modelli di lavoro, non solo per le donne, ma anche per gli uomini. La diversità va però oltre. Dobbiamo far avvicinare collaboratrici e collaboratori di diverse generazioni, regioni, culture e background formativo. In questo modo saremo anche più vicini alle nostre clienti e ai nostri clienti.”

Franco Morra, CEO, HSBC Private Bank (Suisse)

“I believe that gender equality means better business. Therefore, I commit to making HSBC the employer of choice for female talent in Swiss banking. We will pursue this goal by mentoring & sponsoring high potential female colleagues to support them in their career ambitions, and by continuing to actively recruit women at all levels. In order to better serve our diverse client base, we aim to build an environment where diversity of thought is valued and where we thrive together.”

Click here to view all the CEO quotes on the Advance website

Key learnings and summary points

There were many key takeaways that I personally took note of from the event, however, if I were to summarise, I would highlight the following three points:

  • Firstly, the genuine commitment to providing flexible working and an inclusive working environment is key if your organisation wishes to create a productive and diverse environment
  • Secondly, it is essential that inclusive dialogue needs to be led if an inclusive environment is to be created
  • Finally, appropriate leadership is imperative in order to create a sustainable, commercially-productive, diverse and inclusive organisation; empowerment, accountability, humility and courage are all the key attributes of a successful leader who is able to lead and implement this level of change.

In all, a fascinating event attended by an incredibly diverse range of companies, who we all proud to celebrate the 2018 International Women’s Day. #equalitymeansbusiness

To find our more about our partnership with Advance, please click here

Connect with Cecilia Burns:

Cecilia is based within Leathwaite’s Zurich office and specialises in senior level appointments spanning the EMEA region with a focus on business enablement functions. As well as retained search mandates, she delivers market intelligence and due diligence projects across various market remits.

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