Seven things British chambers of commerce can do to drive the gender debate – from Luxembourg

By Sarah Battey of the People and Leadership Group of the British Chamber of Commerce for Luxembourg

Sarah Battey, British Chamber of Commerce for LuxembourgThe gender debate : a highly complex and entangled converstation, that impacts all sectors of society, and that requires all genders around the table.

So, how can a British chamber of commerce help drive that conversation forward – and does it even need to care?

Why should the gender debate even be on the radar of a British chamber of commerce?

The gender debate is a complex one and involves dismantling and redefining societal expectations, fears, and norms that reach back thousands of years. Giving women a voice and influence in public debates is still not the norm in many countries. While women may increasingly influence behind the scenes – there are still very few who are visible and celebrated.

As a British chamber of commerce, our role is to serve our members and help them to address their business issues. We might do that in the name of UK and foreign trade relations, but we do that in a broader business context.

And the gender debate is fundamental to the reality of today’s business context:

  • 60% of graduates today are women, and 80% of consumer goods decisions are made by women – not only clothes, food and makeup, but also technology, real estate and cars[1]. 
  • Women hold more disposable income than the BRIC markets – the latter being markets which are typically the object of massive business development by many organisations, the former often a missed opportunity.
  • When you as a vendor are facing a buyer which a gender diverse team, they expect you to be turning up with a similar balance – believe it, or lose out.

How can we then propel more women into influential and visible roles?

Here are some of the things that organisations can do, and do, to help promote gender balance:

At a most basic level, organisations can equip women with the tools, knowledge and support to allow them to find their own way up the ladder. This approach can help women build confidence in themselves and their skillset to give them a voice and be able to contribute at the table at senior levels of organisations. In terms of impact, however, this may only ever enable individual women to break the cultural mould. Critics of this approach point out that this suggests that in some ways women need ‘fixing’ and that often means that they have to adopt ‘male’ behaviours to make it to the top, rather than building on their personal skills.

To provide a broader impact, organisations can introduce female-friendly policies to accommodate maternity leaves and flexible working, making the structural framework for working mothers easier to negotiate. These kinds of policies, however, presume that women have ‘special needs’ – but should organisations not ensure that men and women have access to a work environment that allows both sexes to build a personal life that suits their needs? This may in turn pave the way for more ‘normality’ in managing work and personal life flexibly, which is currently seen as an – often frustrating – ‘female’ challenge (with the resulting knock-on effect that women are denied promotions or interesting projects as they are seen as less committed once they become mothers), but which is in reality an issue for both genders.

Networking events give women a forum to discuss their specific issues, and receive advice from women who have made it up the ladder in their chosen field. It can also be an opportunity for women to promote each other’s successes and give each other visibility.

Dealing with Unconscious Bias has become a fundamental goal for organisations looking to increase the number of females in positions of influence. Recognising that our decision-making processes are flawed and skewed towards preferring males in particular roles is the first step. These need to be reviewed and updated to ensure hiring, promoting and developing the best is based on objective measures rather than assumptions and instincts.

But all of these measures can only be successful if the environment within which they take place is creating the right framework for women. As Mary Beard states in her 2017 book ‘Women & Power’[2]: “You can’t easily fit women into a structure that is already coded as male; you have to change the structure.”

It also seems likely that change will only take place if there is an economic incentive.

The goal therefore has to be to reconsider what culture and values foster diversity as well as making companies successful. Recent studies are showing that stereotypically female qualities are now seen as increasingly important for successful leadership[3].  Clients are demanding more diverse teams from their suppliers. Other studies show that an inclusive, not competitive, environment in which all voices are heard are those in which employees can flourish, and organisations become more successful. “Respect” for all employees, regardless of gender, ethnicity, religious or sexual orientation is a word that is heard increasingly in conjunction with employee engagement and talent management.

And what about the British Chamber of Commerce – what can our role be?

 Here in Luxembourg, our chamber is led by a very capable and visible woman, Joanna Denton: “I see the role of the British Chamber in Luxembourg as one of facilitating dialogue in business. In today’s world, the gender debate continues to be one of the most important business topics, and so we have a role to play in facilitating the debate and helping our members ask the right questions.”

A multitude of interest groups have been launched in Luxembourg in recent years to further the gender debate.[4]  In light of those activities, how can the British Chamber of Commerce in Luxembourg complement these initiatives, help drive the discussion forward and contribute to a culture of inclusiveness?   

We can fulfil seven important roles in facilitating the debate, and helping our members ask the right questions. 

1)     Develop a clear position on gender diversity and its importance for the success of our members and be prepared to voice our opinion.

2)     Stimulate the debate and provide knowledge. We can run events with experts that inform about the topic and brief members on the latest findings and trends.

3)     Ensure that a diverse mix of stakeholders and genders are at the table. Only then will the conversation be truly inclusive.

4)     Facilitate best practice sharing. Invite members to share experiences and learn from each other.

5)     Broker partnerships between BCC members and relevant organisations (such as the above) to provide targeted support for members needs.

6)     Provide feedback to relevant government ministries on policy needs of our members.

7)     And last but not least, we need to act as role models for the cultural change, encouraging more women to join the BCC councils and take leadership positions on subcommittees and as chamber heads.

We have run events on diversity topics and are in the process of building our network with relevant associations in Luxembourg. However we are still very much at the beginning of our diversity journey and have some way to go to fully maximise our potential and become an influential and authoritative voice of diversity on the Luxembourg business scene. Change is never easy, but together, we can make it happen.

The People and Leadership Group of the British Chamber of Commerce for Luxembourg is passionate about people and leadership topics and serves the British Chamber of Commerce community by providing valuable insights to help organisations succeed and by creating opportunities to share experiences, exchange knowledge and learn together.

Find more information, visit http://hr.bcc.lu

   

About Sarah Battey

Sarah is a Leadership and Organisational development specialist, with 15+ years experience in international Human Resources leadership positions at General Electric and Amazon.

In these roles she and her teams were responsible for the full employee lifecycle including Talent Acquisition, Talent Management, Leadership Coaching & Training, Compensation & Benefits, Employee Relations and Organizational Development.

Sarah has been an independent Leadership & Organisational development specialist since early 2015. Trained as a psychologist (Dipl.-Psych.), she completed a systemic coaching & organisational development certification with INEKO (Institut an der Universität zu Köln) in 2015.

Sarah is passionate about using insights from positive psychology to ensure business success and innovation while allowing employees to flourish in their daily work. She also works with companies looking to increase the number of women in senior leadership.

Sarah is a Council member of the British Chamber of Commerce for Luxembourg (BCC) as well as a member of the BCC People & Leadership group.

 

Web: www.all-about-talent.net

LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/in/sarahbattey

 



[2] Mary Beard, 2017, „Women & Power – A manifesto“, p.86, London: Profile Books & London Review of Books

[4] In Luxembourg, a variety of initiatives have been launched in recent years to address concerns and provide opportunities for women. Some, such as the Diversity Charter, are linked to EU-wide programmes and best practices.

The Ministry for Equal Opportunities supports the female board pool initiative which provides training for future female board members and connects women with boards. Another organization the ministry supports, the FFCEL (Fédération des Femmes Cheffes d’Entreprise du Luxembourg) similarly aims to develop more women into senior positions.

Equilibre was launched in 2016 with the Ministry of Economy as a think tank on gender complementarity, to contribute to a political, economic and social ecosystem that recognizes the advantages of diversity.

Other organisations provide industry specific knowledge sharing and networking opportunities, such as LILLA (Ladies in Law Luxembourg Organization) or WIDE (Women in Digital Empowerment) and are also linked to relevant EU-wide initiatives.

 

 

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