Yomri Dabi

International Women’s Day is a day to look back and see how far we have come as a society when it comes to women’s rights. In order to celebrate women’s achievements on International Women’s Day, Room for Discussion held an interview with Dr. Cara Antoine, Diana van Maasdijk, and Carine de Meyere. The interview touched upon genders balance, equal opportunity, and inclusion of females into the working place.

For Dr. Cara Antoine, who came to the Netherlands 16 years ago, it seemed like the Netherlands was not affected by gender inequality. However, as she started working, she realized that this problem is still present. Diana van Maasdijk and Carine de Meyere added that there is still a long way to go to achieve equality, but they do agree that a lot has been done and is being done. For example, the law in the Netherlands has set a target of at least 30% of women in the top positions in an individual firm by 2020. In 2018 only 13 companies have reached that percentage. The proportion of women is only slightly increasing, according to a study commissioned by the Dutch ministry. The minister of Emancipation, Ingrid Van Engelshoven, has expressed her disappointment in regards to this matter and has gone on to “name and shame” the companies that are not implementing this policy.

Diana van Maasdijk believes that gender balance on each level of a company results in its better performance. To increase the transparency and inform the public about gender equality, Diana van Maasdijk co-founded Equileap, the only organization that ranks top world companies based on 19 different gender equality factors. The top 5 companies in the 2018 Gender Equality Global Report published by Equileap are General Motors (USA), L’Oreal (FR), Kering (FR), Merck and Co (USA) and StarHub (SING). Although these companies are the best, they still score only 71% on gender equality.

Balance gender representation

Nowadays, we experience high gender polarization among professions and studies. For example, only 18% of people working or studying in the tech industry are females. This polarization in choices is formed in the early stages of schooling. Girls are stimulated by teachers, parents, and by the overall prejudice of society to choose humanities over sciences, while boys are stimulated to do the opposite. According to the interviewees, there is no such thing as inherent gender predisposition towards professions. Consequently, they are convinced that gender and ethnic diversity should be encouraged as it enhances the performance of the group.

Glass ceiling

Dr. Cara Antoine never thought of the glass ceiling and encourages other females to think only about the next big achievement in their careers. Diana van Maasdijk believes that when hiring females their previous experience is taken into consideration, while for men potential is of the utmost importance. But this bias is not unconscious anymore. The fact that people recognize it is an important step in attempting to resolve it. Carine de Meyere adds that she feels her duty is to come from the shadow and to become a role model of the new generation of females. She wants to show that there is no glass ceiling and that her success in an outcome of her hard work.

Maternal duty

As a society, we should strive for having equal parental leave for females and males, regardless of whether the child was born or adopted. Dr. Cara Antoine points out that company policies have a significant role in this problem. Her company, Microsoft, for example, gives 6 weeks for a male and 6 months for a female as parental leave.

Gender bias

Only 1.6% start-ups that are run by females get loans from a bank. Why? The finance world is ruled by males and males are more likely to give loans to males. However, it is not just males that have a gender bias, but also women.

Gender pay gap

1/3 of female workers in the UK never asked for a pay rise. Females are always looking for a win-win situation for both parties of negotiation, while males are mostly focusing on winning the best position for themselves. This can be explained by the fact that on average females are more compassionate and caring. Nevertheless, such negotiating skills can be learned. The first thing women are taught at negotiation workshops that Carine de Meyere organizes is “Negotiation is not about compassion. It is about getting what you want!”

Leadership position of women

Neelie Kroes once said that the collapse of Lehman Brothers would never have happened if there’d been Lehman Sisters there with them. She implied that by nature females are more risk averse and this characteristic would have helped containing risk-taking behavior of males. The interviewees also emphasized the importance of gender and ethnic diversity.

The inclusion of females into male groups

“I will go where I am invited and I will stay where I am welcome” was the reaction of the interviewees. Women should not act like males to feel included in their group. The characteristics, capabilities, and talents of each individual should be flourished, rather than dumped in the race of becoming like everyone around you. Diversity is what enhances each group and it’s a company’s responsibility to create an environment where everyone feels included.

Females are underrepresented in the top position in 80% of companies in the UK. Diana van Maasdijk pointed out that in the Netherlands only 28% of working females  are in a managing position. Dr. Cara Antoine added that in 2002 only 18% of females were in management positions in the Netherlands. Diana van Maasdijk emphasized that it will take another 200 years to reach gender parity if the process is going at the same pace as it is now. Ultimately, Carine de Meyere agreed that the process is very slow and we need quotas and targets for quantitative references of the speed of progress.