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CEO Champions

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When I first attended the Women's Forum for the Economy and Society's annual meeting in Deauville, I was struck by the lack of male leaders at this important event. If change was going to happen, it had to be driven from the top of organizations and like it or not, they were dominated by men. That was in 2009.

The following year, I helped set up the CEO Champions initiative with our own CEO, Jim Turley, in collaboration with the Women's Forum. There needed to be some group mechanism to help drive women's corporate advancement and this group of CEOs needed to be mixed gender -- more men need to be part of the conversation and part of the solution. That's how CEO Champions was born. In the first year, we committed to bring 10 CEOs; this year, we assembled 30. Among the many committed CEOs in the room were Michel Landel, Sodexo, Stéphane Richard, France Telecom-Orange and Dominique Reiniche, President Europe Group, The Coca-Cola Company.

CEO Champions is designed to create and gradually expand a peer group of CEO leaders to act as champions of women's empowerment. Each year, after a closed-door session in which we shared best practices and debated the relevant issues, we set actionable objectives to take back with us to our firms to implement on the ground.

This year we set about trying to achieve what I like to call "visibility with teeth" by committing to increasing our global reach, creating an online coalition and leveraging the power of sponsorship. We need to continue these efforts to expand the peer group. After all, what makes our peer group unique is our ability to take a strong leadership role in the broader global business community.

CEO Champions allows safe dialogue where male and female CEOs can talk and share valuable insights. This is and will be the key to its success. We want to talk about things that matter, take it away and make change. In my first year here, many CEOs were learning more about some of the difficulties. While they are still sharing best and worst practices, they are now evolving to want to take a more engaged role in driving broader change. We are opening new doors, ideas and avenues.

We can now call ourselves a global peer network where leaders can speak openly and honestly about challenges and opportunities in advancing women within their own organizations and in society. There was strong recognition this year that CEOs have a unique role to play in sponsoring high-potential women within their own organizations and advocating the business case for women's advancement to career and board opportunities. These actions would further define the role of the CEO in advancing progress.

The incredible importance of peer pressure and role models cannot be undermined. These CEOS understand that targets and objectives need to be visible and transparent -- from entry-level to the most senior level. And we should be using our own supply chains to influence our diversity and the power of our own procurement policies can really make change happen.

But how do we grow the CEO Champions initiative to help drive change throughout global companies? Looking ahead, we need to take the initiative to other localities, establishing a forum that communicates and resonates outside the enlightened circle of CEOs that gather at Deauville once a year. We also have much to learn from other successful initiatives like the Thirty Percent Club in the UK and Male Champions for Change in Australia. We are committed to connecting the dots and sharing best practices across these coalitions. It is only through engaging with other groups and establishing greater visibility for CEO Champions that we can drive real change.