In recognition of International Women’s Day, on Wednesday 8 March 2023, the British Chamber of Commerce for Luxembourg’s People and Leadership Group, in collaboration with The Network, held an in-person evening event at the offices of Atoz in Luxembourg’s Aerocenter.
This event was an opportunity to hear the story of one of Luxembourg’s most inspirational women: Erna Hennicot-Schoepges.
What do Luxembourg’s Philharmonic Orchestra, the Philharmony, the university, and the Rockhal have in common? The answer is: Erna Hennicot-Schoepges. She kept the audience spellbound with her recollections of how she started out in life as a professional pianist, moving into politics in the 1970s and navigated a stellar political career, while being a mother of three children.
In a wide-ranging interview with Claudia Neumeister, vice chair of the BCC’s people and leadership group, Hennicot-Schoepges talked about the importance of having ideas, believing in them, and pushing through, despite nay-sayers and an often stiff opposition. “My husband advised me to not read negative press articles, and simply focus on my goals”, she reminisced.
Education, quotas and parental leave
Hennicot-Schoepges stated the importance of education, especially mathematics, for the equal representation of women in the future world of artificial intelligence. “There is no reason why girls are worse at mathematics than boys” she stated. “The difference lies in socialisation experiences, which makes girls hesitate to ask a question if they didn’t understand something”.
She shared her opinion about a women’s quota--a controversial topic. “No woman wants to be the ‘quota-woman’”, noting that women want to be selected for their achievements. Recognising however that psychological biases may influence the decision-making processes in male-dominated sectors like corporate boards, she mused that the quota may be a temporary necessary evil. At the same time, she challenged that quotas should also exist at the other end of the spectrum for men, who are under-represented in care professions. It should also become more normal for men to take parental leave.
Quoting Francis Fukuyama’s “Identity”, Hennicot-Schoepges stressed the importance of true equality, both for women and men, and the importance of not thinking in stereotypes, but meeting each individual with the respect and dignity they deserve.
In answering many lively questions from an appreciative audience, it was clear that the overall message was that if you set your heart and mind to something, then you can certainly achieve it, regardless of gender. She also stressed the importance of equality in a relationship, mentioning that without the support of her husband, she would not have been able to have this outstanding career. She also stressed that organization is key to a woman’s professional success, and that with organisation and teamwork, at home and in the community, big goals can be achieved.
At age 82, Hennicot-Schoepges is far from done. She’s an active member of the Luxembourg think tank Idea Foundation and continues to inspire.
Claudia Neumeister is a member of the British Chamber of Commerce for Luxembourg’s People and Leadership group, and founder of Luxdates.