No, it’s not just another Women’s Rights Day

No, it’s not just another Women’s Rights Day

For several years now, the International Women’s Rights Day has become routine. And in a way, that’s good! But this inclusion in the societal landscape should not lead us to believe that the fight for gender justice and equality is over. Locally and internationally, far too many women are still victims of their gender.

What institution in 2023 does not celebrate International Women’s Rights Day on 8 March? For some, it may be an imposed style exercise or a game of political correctness. Perhaps they forget the commitments made the day before. But with good faith or not, they contribute to making the subject talked about. And there is still a long way to go to raise awareness of gender equality and life choices for everyone.

Stop pretending

I run an Institution of Higher Education (IES) in Brazil, so I accompany young men and women on a daily basis in their academic and professional training. Many of them are still inhabited by a pre-formatting that will lead them to reproduce, in one way or another, the models known at home and in society. But the majority of boys and girls have understood the importance of diversity and male-female collaboration. They have understood that this is a matter of justice, starting with choice and access to education and, later, of equal treatment of men and women in their professional careers and in society more widely. Biological differences have, of course, nothing to do with it!

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If we want to celebrate all women, let’s start by taking a look at the available statistics using the Gender equality index, used as a reference in Europe in particular, or the World Forum Economic’s Global gender gap, which mainly considers four dimensions (an economic dimension linked to work opportunities, education, health and living conditions, and political power). Although the methods of calculation differ, the results converge on the global disparity in women’s living conditions and on the time it will take to build a more equitable world, regardless of gender.

Women from Iceland to Afghanistan

In the 2022 Global Gender Gap Index, Iceland and the Scandinavian countries are unsurprisingly the most advanced countries, with scores close to 90/100. Some African countries such as Namibia and Rwanda also perform relatively well. Regionally, North America is the best performer in terms of progress, followed closely by Europe. And Latin America, where I live, comes third. However, there are great disparities in the treatment of women in different countries. Brazil, the largest and most populous country, is in 94th place out of 146 countries with a score of 69.6/100. Access to health and education are Brazil’s strengths. But as in many other countries, it is work opportunities and pay that call for action (85th with a score of 66.9/100) and political participation (104th with a score of 13.6/100).

At the bottom of the index is Afghanistan, at the low end of all dimensions! On this particular day, we cannot forget that in some countries, under the guise of religion, the treatment of women is simply unacceptable. And in this area, as in others, the first battles will be aimed at a return to a democratic system…

You have the right

But let’s first sweep our doorstep. In Western countries, the discourse is one of opening up women’s access to political bodies, where laws are passed that can stimulate a change in mentalities. In public, the discourse is very egalitarian on the equity of career development and salaries. However, the statistics do not reflect this rhetoric. Commitments, which are based on meritocracy, need to address deeper cultural patterns that affect both men and women.

The world of education is involved in this cultural transformation. It shows young girls that they have the right to dream of working in fields such as science, politics or any other field that interests them, and to aspire to the same responsibilities and salaries as their male counterparts.

The world of yesterday is gradually taking with it its clichés of the woman who would be dedicated to family life. For me, the family is still a private, ‘sacred’ space, an institution to be protected, but here again responsibilities can be shared. Positive and tangible developments are already visible among the younger generations, even if we talk about the invisible mental burden borne by women. Public policies dedicated to the family and education, as in Iceland and the Scandinavian countries, are showing their effectiveness. Today’s world also has its share of clichés, sometimes conveyed by the hands of advertisers, which still make women mere objects. Other forms of alienation are emerging and spreading very quickly and in all circles thanks to social networks.  Tragedies are always linked to alcohol or drug abuse and affect men and women, taking all respect with them. Let us not forget: old demons can resurface. Too many feminicides occur. In France alone, 106 have occured in 2022.

SKEMA alongside women

Beyond words, SKEMA is committed to supporting women and men who wish to establish equal rights in the economic and managerial spheres and in access to political responsibilities. Some caricatures speak of ‘women in trousers’ management, a management that would be harder than that of men. I prefer to avoid this image because both men and women can identify with it. On the other hand, and without being afraid of contradictions, people talk about a female leadership that is softer than that of men. This is probably not more true. Rooted in our educational cultural patterns, women are pragmatic and capable of developing several activities parallel to work. And no one needs figures to see this!

In 2007, however, SKEMA created an observatory on the feminisation of business with Professor Michel Ferrary, a researcher affiliated to the faculty. Its aim is to measure and analyse the evolution of the percentage of women in the boards of directors, executive committees, management and workforce of the 60 largest French private companies (CAC40 + CAC Next 20) in order to assess the impact of diversity on the economic and societal performance of companies. The recent results show that there is still a lot to be done to open up Boards of Directors and Executive Committees.

“What do you think of knitting?”

But on this International Women’s Rights Day, I would like to end on a more personal note. As CEO and Rector of SKEMA in Brazil, I have the opportunity to develop an institution, with the responsibilities that come with it. I come from a generation where women were not pushed out of a projected family life, although I was fortunate enough to pursue higher education. I completed my studies at the age of forty and went on to do a doctorate. Under my entrepreneurial profile, I worked at SKEMA and in other institutions, always with the desire to give my all. At the same time, I did not forget my family. I am not the ideal witness to evoke professional frustrations, because the doors opened at the right moments in my career. I do, however, remember a recruitment interview I had when I was newly married and had a Masters in Management. A panel of pension fund managers asked me: “How many children do you think the ideal family is? This was in France, and as we have a pay-as-you-go pension system, you will understand that the birth rate is high. Provocatively, I replied, “a lot, as I imagine you might wish! Sensing the tone of my reply, I was asked “what did I think about knitting?” I replied, “Are you talking about the Tricot report?”, the name of a rapporteur on a special dossier commissioned by the then Prime Minister. No doubt they did not like my last answers: I was not taken on. But six months later, they called me back. And I told them “NO”.

I hope that no other woman will be confronted with this kind of situation. I didn’t come out of it traumatised, but when you’re young it doesn’t give you confidence in the world of work. More than ever, companies need young talent. They should recruit them fairly and take into account the changes in our societies.

Geneviève PoulingueDean of SKEMA Brazil.

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