The argument for gender equality has been won, but still inequality persists in the workplace. A local panel stressed the importance of successful female role models, and also the need for mentors of all genders to work to nurture promising talent.
Photo: LaLa La Photo
“Boys are raised to be brave, while girls are raised to be perfect,” was at the heart of the problem, said Denise Voss, chair of the Luxembourg fund industry association Alfi.
She was moderating the “Impact of gender diversity” panel at the “Gender perspective in the financial industry” conference, organised by the Nobelux business chamber and held at State Street Bank on 14 June.
Voss said the challenge is to increase confidence in women to enable them to make the inevitable mistakes without losing faith in their ability, something that comes naturally to most men.
“We need people we can aspire to emulate, but that doesn’t mean a mythical superwomen working 20 hours a day,” said Cristina Ferreira, chief administrative officer at State Street Bank Luxembourg. “Men as well as women are entitled to balanced lives,” she added, featuring high levels of commitment at work, and respect for home life.
The panel drew on the experience of women working in Scandinavia, cultures that are famously attuned to this need for balance. “When working in London I didn’t dare mention that I had a child, but with Nordea when I arrived I was given a laptop and told ‘this is for when you will work from home when your child is ill’,” said Tabitha Cooper, strategic business developer with the bank Nordea in Sweden.
“Society takes the lead in Iceland where we have good state provision of childcare, parental leave and so on,” explained Helga Hlín Hákonardóttir, partner with the consultancy Strategía in Iceland. “Also, I was culturally attuned to the potential for women, not least because Iceland had a woman president when I was young,” she added.
Despite this, it still took her 20 years to get positions on boards despite her extensive, relevant experience. It was only after the law was changed in Iceland to insist upon gender diversity that she gained her first mandate. So although the Nordic countries are held up as paragons of equality virtue, conscious and unconscious biases are still ingrained.
Annemarie Arens, general manager of the Luxembourg-based ethical investment body LuxFlag, said that growing up in a home with four brothers prepared her well for the business world. However, she thought such a grounding shouldn’t be necessary. She is hopeful that sheer weight of numbers will have an impact.
As elsewhere, young women in Luxembourg are out-performing their male colleagues in education. Last year women accounted for 57% of successful high school graduates and 55% of university passes in Luxembourg. Progress is being made, but still only about a quarter of board members and business executives are women.
Voss was hopeful. “Two out of the three financial industry employers federations in Luxembourg are headed by women,” she said. “Maybe there is a lack of bench strength, but we are working on this.”