- The context for leadership: globalisation, talent and opportunities for women
- Creating the future
o Organisational leadership and building innovative enterprises
o Advancing women’s leadership in corporations and society
o Advancements in science and innovation leadership in enterprises
o Building networks, communities and cultivating women’s leadership in Europe
o Building sustainable enterprises and a sustainable society
This is what took place at Oxford University Saïd Business School on the 21st October 2011. Women truly did fly in from all over the world to take part in the Womensphere first Pan-European Summit!
The Nelson Mandela auditorium was buzzing. The day was packed full of diverse and rich presentations, panel discussions and networking. I was privileged to play a very small part in setting up the event and a little bit more to contribute in pulling it off on the day. As I was busy with background logistics, I only heard parts of the presentations. However, the speakers totally drew me in when I did get a chance to sit in on the sessions.
The differences in women’s leadership styles were discussed and speakers looked at the issues why women perhaps do not advance as quickly as their male counterparts: we are too “shy”, we don’t speak up about our achievements and don’t grab opportunities as shamelessly as our male counterparts may. I have since come across this blog post on HBR Blogs (Four Ways Women Stunt Their Careers Unintentionally by Jill Flynn, Kathryn Heath, and Mary Davis Holt), which also mentions some of the issues raised by the speakers on the day.
Yet in highlighting the changes that are happening- globalisation, the advancement of technology, pace becoming faster and faster- it became evident that the inherent skills women have are well suited to this new world. We women are, generally, more adaptable, show more flexibility and an ability to work with uncertainty better. The future is ours (but not exclusively) to grab.
Women matter, a series of reports summing up the research carried out since 2007 by McKinsey & Company, highlight that there is a statistically significant correlation between greater gender diversity at senior levels in organisations and better economic performance by those organisations. In fact, it is the combination of the leadership styles of women (tending to have a more participative decision-making and expectation-setting performance drive) and men (who lean more towards an individualistic decision making process and driving performance through direct control) that are very powerful, especially as our business and political environment becomes more complex and uncertain. (The full McKinsey & co report.)
A woman’s better ability to empathise reverberated throughout the day. It was especially evident in the examples brought up in the “building networks and communities” sessions and the sustainability segment. Women tend to lead with a vision beyond that just of self-fulfilment, tending to consider the wider consequences of their decisions:
It was very inspiring listening to presentations by key leaders across technology and science, demonstrating how they made a difference to not only their companies, but the world.
Dr Maud Reiter, the director of New Ingredient Discovery at Firmenich, showed us how chemistry can be sexy. Especially if developing new artificial scents that go into our perfumes, which not only save whole ecosystems (in this case the limited sandalwood stocks of the world), but are also 100% biodegradable.
Lee Epting, from Vodafone talked about the huge value of women as consumers and gave a couple of examples of applications Vodafone has developed to help women- like Next drop a 2G text based service, that helps (mainly women) find where the nearest accessible water source is; or TecSOS an immediate response activation service for women at risk of domestic abuse.
Sonia Medina, of Africa Renewables, a remarkable Spanish lady, talked about how her passion for making a difference to climate change and sustainability led her to identify a wasted natural resource, the old rubber trees, that is being burnt without utilising the energy trapped within. She set up her own energy company in East Africa to harness this resource and provide electricity to the local population. A fine example of a social enterprise with profitability criteria.
In reality there were just too many such inspirational speakers and participants to mention all of them individually!
“When you are young then you start of as if it was a sprint, then you realise you are in for the long haul and need to pace yourself; it is a marathon. Then, even later, you come to realise that it is a relay and you will need to pass on the batten.”
My only addition to this, as a mum who has opted out of traditional employment: when one has decided to actually do the marathon as a relay (dropping out to spend time raising a family), you just hope that you find a team that will be there to pass the batten back when you are ready to pick up the pace again.
With such women leading the world, as I had the pleasure to meet at this summit, I know it will happen! Hopefully rather sooner than later. We women have so much going for us!
How do you see women’s roles changing?
Am I being naive thinking the role of women in political and economic sphere will grow significantly in the near future?