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Sectors, professions and positions still have a significant gender aspect to them. In 2022, men and women were still not equally represented on the labour market. Of course, business schools now come close to a sense of equality, but the choices of specialities still display economic inequality. What can we do for this? At the Talent & Career Department at NEOMA, we try to strike this evil at the root.

“Let’s move beyond our stereotypes to choose our careers. We can all benefit from that!” This was the theme of a conference organised on 10 January at NEOMA. A welcome initiative when you see that the Finance, Consulting and Auditing track is made up of 17% women and 83% men. The Business Analytics track consists of 30% women and 70% men while the International Business Development track has just 9% women among those enrolled. What’s the only track that manages to get it right? The Supply Chain track, which has a perfect gender balance.

Even if the two sexes are equally represented in business school classrooms, men are more eager to aim at technical specialities, entrepreneurship, while women prefer marketing and communication. Is that a problem? Yes, insofar as the former specialisations lead to less saturated professions that are better paid. In the end, it’s economic equality that becomes weighted in one direction.

The speakers at the conference brought up figures on the topic: in 2017, high salaries went to 92% of men and 8% of women. The disparity is even greater in the private sector. However, everyone is certain of one thing: men and women possess the same skills and professional qualities. According to a survey conducted by CGE-AFMD, 82% of people believe that. The same also think that empathy is more of a feminine virtue and self-confidence is more masculine. This shows that there is more work to do and a bit more education needed.

The obstacle of cognitive biases

“The gender dynamic in different sectors and professions is difficult to combat. Among the more powerful obstacles are unconscious cognitive biases,” said Isabelle Chevalier, director of the NEOMA Talent & Career Department. Men lean towards models of success, and women are not allowed to set their sights so high. According to Pete Stone, the founder of Just Different who spoke on 10 January, we are influenced by three types of stereotypes: what each person thinks of their own community (men, women), what women think of men (and vice versa), and what women think that men think of women (and vice versa). For example, women think that executives think that they do not possess the necessary skills.

“The first step to dismantle these cognitive biases is to be aware of them,” Ms. Chevalier said. Pete Stone, author of Inclusion in Organisations: from Posture to Practice, proposes two additional ways forward. “Do not judge others who do not conform with what is expected of them, and refuse to behave in accordance with what is expected of me.” The school has a role to play in spreading this message. The conference is a first step.

Positive assessment of quotas

To make sure that young women allow themselves to think about more technical professions that offer prominent careers, they need to have models. “The current situation is connected in large part to the lack of models,” Ms. Chevalier said. “We spend a lot of time looking for women alumni in these sectors and we don’t find that many. But the more there are, the more young women will be able to identify with them.” One effective solution for increasing their numbers is through regulations. 10 years ago, the Copé-Zimmermann law required that boards of directors be made up of 40% women, and companies (when they were monitored) ended up finding seats for them. But this did not spill over into other parts of the company. Executive committees and management committees kept their doors closed. “Equality stops at the doors of power,” High Council on Equality stated in its 2021 report. We therefore need new quotas.

The Rixain law, which comes into force this year, extends the quotas to management positions. It sets the 2030 objective as having executive committees and management committees made up of 40% women in companies with at least 1,000 employees,” When you legislate, you find women, when you don’t legislate, you find excuses”, Christine Lagarde, president of the European Central Bank, said. In short, it won’t work without a quota.

Companies need to rethink their organisation

If young women do not flock to finance, consulting and auditing professions, for example, it’s because these jobs, at least at the beginning, do not leave much time for a personal life. And even less for a family life. Most work environments are organised in fact by men who are free from the “mental burden” of daily household chores. As we know, only suited men show up at meetings after 6 pm. However, nothing keeps them from picking up the kids at school. But these biases are persistent. “We need to have men realise that they are also responsible for family life,” Isabelle Chevalier said. And more generally, they must realise that work, even in high positions, is more compatible with an investment in one’s personal life. It should be so for women just as it is for men.

Women also need to be bolder without being scared of sometimes having to be trailblazers. For the past several years, NEOMA has organised workshops to help students develop their self-confidence. And for three years now, the school has taught students, and women in particular, to negotiate their salaries. Because according to Coralie Rachet, managing director of Robert Walters recruitment group, only 44% of female executives dare to request a raise. It’s a shame when we know that 83% of executives receive one. There is a large opportunity for women to succeed, but there are many obstacles to this boldness. Women are not very good at assessing their value on the market. Money is a taboo topic. They lack practice and a pitch… but nothing that cannot be fixed.