Breaking Through: Stories and Best Practices From Companies That Help Women Succeed

04/29/2016 07:04 pm ET Updated Apr 30, 2017

Breaking Through: Stories and Best Practices From Companies That Help Women Succeed

"When women succeed, we all win."

An excerpt from a newly published book from WILEY.

Foreword by Christine Lagarde, Managing Director, International Monetary Fund

Despite Amartya Sen's astute pronouncement, women still lack opportunities to succeed--and become "dynamic promoters of social transformations." This is especially so for women in less developed countries who suffer daily injustices. But even in places where women fare relatively well, subtle--but inhibitive-- forces hold us back: "traditional" gender roles; the specter of discrimination; and an ever-present glass ceiling. As a result, women face a double disadvantage at work.Women are less likely than men to have a paid job: the difference between employed men and women--the gender gap--ranges from 12 percent in OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) countries to 50 percent in the Middle East and North Africa. To compound this, women who have jobs earn just three-quarters as much as men--even with the same level of education, and in the same occupation. So, empowering women is certainly about fairness, but it is also about economic growth: 865 million women could contribute more to the global economy. If women were employed at the same rate as men, GDP would increase by 5 percent in the United States, by 9 percent in Japan, and by 27 percent in India. Closing these gaps would be transformative--and it can be achieved through what I
have called the Three Ls:

Learning: Investing in schools and making sure girls have a good education, especially in poorer countries.

Labor: Supporting working women through parental leave, affordable and high-quality childcare, and taxes that do not discourage mothers from having a job.

Leadership: Letting women show their true potential by rising to the top, based on their abilities and talents.

This third "L"--which rests not on policies but on women themselves--makes me especially honored to present this encyclopedia of insights into driving women's success. I know from personal experience what mentoring can help women find inspiration in one another, and draw confidence not only to break through the glass ceiling but also to make the most of the opportunity once they have it.

I want to see more women challenging themselves and testing their mettle. When they do, companies prosper: Fortune 500 firms with the best track records in raising women to prominent positions are significantly more profitable than average. Perceptive and powerful, this book is essential reading for any woman who seeks to fulfill her true potential--and become, as Amartya Sen envisaged, an active agent of change.

Preface by Martine Liautaud, Founder, Liautaud & Cie, Founder of Women Initiative Foundation and Women Business Mentoring Initiative

My father was a brilliant man who saw no difference in the intellectual potential of his children--boys or girls. Despite this, however, he was reluctant to see me choose a career, and my choice to become an entrepreneur would have been unimaginable to him. But the values ingrained by my upbringing--for example, that we were expected to make an effort, overcome obstacles, and work toward our goals--helped me pursue my ambitions both as an employee in a large corporation, and later when I found my true role as an entrepreneur. From the beginning of my career as an investment banker, I encountered skepticism from my predominantly male colleagues and business leaders. I was indeed one of the first women investment bankers in France. People in the investment banking environment simply did not believe that I could succeed, and when I did, the bank's general director told me, "We thought that you would give up after six months at most." That same person thought he was giving me a compliment when he told me that despite my appearance, I had all the qualities of a man.

When I started working at that bank, my managers did not really help me: in fact, they specifically discouraged me from taking on existing clients. This turned out, however, to be a real opportunity, since the path was left open for me to pitch and approach all the other companies that were not yet clients, while leveraging the sizeable reputation and capabilities of the bank.

I started offering deals to foreign companies like the Japanese corporation Sony. These companies, on seeing a very young woman investment banker representing such a renowned banking institution (something which was extremely rare for them culturally), concluded that I had to be remarkable. At the same time, I began to notice that top leaders at my client companies liked and trusted me. I was able to communicate with them in a clear and direct way that would have been less culturally acceptable coming from male colleagues.

It was apparent to me that businesses were not by nature hostile to women; they were simply not accustomed to seeing women take on large roles and responsibilities. I also began to see that courage and believing in your own capabilities are essential elements to succeed. In addition, finding yourself in
uncharted territories can present big opportunities to stand out from the crowd while benefiting from external elements like your company's reputation.

Moreover, I also found out that being ready to face any ambitious challenge is key: I co-managed my investment bank's privatization team in the 1990s with this mindset. This team was in charge of very important matters like the privatization of France's TF1 television channel, which was the biggest channel at the time and is now the largest television network in Europe. The complexity of privatizing a public entity was new to all of us and encompassed both political and financial risks. As a result,
candidates for positions related to privatization were not easy to find. I decided to dive into this new arena.

The experience I gained through this opportunity was essential to my career success. It is precisely these highly complex and challenging opportunities that can bring you the most satisfaction, rewards, and recognition when the outcome is successful. These opportunities also increase your confidence and experience. You learn the fundamental reality that it is easier to discuss new ideas with political, business, or other leaders than with their troops. True leaders are always interested in new ideas. After my career successes with privatization and further developing my leadership abilities at Stanford University, I wanted to venture out on my own. My vocation as an entrepreneur was born.

I decided to acquire my first industrial company, Meccano, the leader in metallic construction toys. I also decided to create my own independent investment bank, Liautaud & Cie. During this period, I had the opportunity to negotiate the acquisition of Meccano by Mattel. Mattel wanted to make Meccano's construction toys the counterpart to the Barbie doll. I also helped Hervé de la Martinière create the publishing company Les Éditions de La Martinière, which has since become the second-largest publisher in France. I sold my shares in this publishing company to the Wertheimer family, owners of the Chanel fashion house. When I started my own investment bank, it was not easy to build a competent team and find clients, like IBM or ENGIE, who would trust us.

Indeed, many people in my field of investment banking did not understand my career or my choices, especially since I am a woman. After all, who would want to create their own company when they already had a successful career with a big bank? In fact, the president of the bank I was working for at the time told me that my decision was "pathetic," but that I could come back when I wanted to. But once again, my efforts were rewarded, and large companies trusted us. In this book, you will see that large companies support and encourage women leaders, especially when their presidents and CEOs are convinced that women are essential to any business's success.

Looking back at my successful career at the time, I was satisfied to have been one of the pioneers and to have opened doors for other women. I always had a preference for teams that consist of both women and men with no distinctions made or special help needed. But in 2009, I understood my mistake. At that time, there was a strong movement in France in favor of quotas for women on boards of directors, but I was not convinced at first that quotas were necessary. Indeed, I had been named as a board director at a young age and am still a board member for Savencia, one of the European leaders in dairy products, and for CentraleSupélec, a graduate education and research institute that is the result of the merger of two of France's leading engineering universities. However, I could only bow to the facts: women represented only 8 percent of board directors, and the numbers were not improving. The numbers were even worse for the proportion of women in top management at large companies! Let's not kid ourselves; the place of women in the business world is still an emerging market. I could not stand by doing nothing.

It was at this time that I, along with other Stanford University alumni, created the Women Business Mentoring Initiative, a nonprofit that supports women entrepreneurs in scaling up their companies. In December 2015, we launched the Women Initiative Foundation to support women in economic life even further, whatever their role. My true conviction is that the world is full of opportunities created by the new economy. The new economy changes the balance of powers and gives both women and men the same chances. However, everyone's success must be supported through mentoring and sponsoring activities, and women have generally had less access to business networks. It is the responsibility of all business leaders--women and men alike--who understand the power of mentoring and networking, to support women in their careers and business endeavors.

I am a good example of a woman who has benefited from embracing opportunities, facing challenges, and getting support from strong professional networks. Examples and stories from business leaders are fundamental in understanding how best to progress as an entrepreneur or employee. Indeed, by advising founding presidents of large global companies, like Bouygues or Capgemini, I quickly came to realize that what sets them apart is their vision and energy. Moreover and more fundamentally, they are not afraid of failing. They understand that in the end, they will either succeed or, at the very worst, they will need to reinvent their business.

Women do not lack courage in life, and through our many roles in society we have acquired an inherent sense of adaptation. As a result, the modern world is made for us: don't be afraid to create businesses and to fail in these businesses. You will bounce back because you have that talent in you if you trust yourself and if you are not alone. Many networks can help you. If you are a woman, don't ever believe that you are succeeding by luck. No, you are reaching your goals thanks to boldness, hard work, motivation, perseverance, and team spirit. Also remember that no one succeeds alone and that your oddness is also your strength.

It's true that my successes throughout my career must also be attributed to those who have supported me, inspired me, and opened doors for me. I would never have been able to succeed without them--and I am eternally grateful. In a similar way, I am grateful to Stanford University: without its professors, students, and unique and inspirational campus, none of my success would have been possible. My experience at Stanford inspired me to start my own company and to commit time and energy to support women entrepreneurs, helping them succeed in their lives and their businesses, and contribute to the economy. "It takes a village to raise a child." This African proverb can be applied to mentoring and networking--people working together to support each other for the benefit of both the individual and
the collective.

In this spirit, the Women Business Mentoring Initiative has mentored around 100 CEOs to date and, thanks to our partners, particularly ENGIE and BNP Paribas, we have extended our influence through business clubs in Paris and other regions of France, television programs, books, and executive training. The Women Business Mentoring Initiative continues to grow: the main driver is the success of our women entrepreneurs. I firmly believe that, more than ever before, developing the talents of women, both as employees in companies and as entrepreneurs, is good for the economy, good for the country, and good for the world. The purpose of this book is to both show you how useful mentoring is and to guide you through how to best take advantage of it. In addition, the book provides encouragement and inspiration for women entrepreneurs and leaders. In the first part of the book, I discuss the new economy and the great range of opportunities it brings. Alongside this, I also look at the gender inequalities that continue to exist in the business world, and the forms of support that women employees and entrepreneurs need most.

One support mechanism is mentoring--and the networks it provides. I believe in mentoring and networking because I've benefited from them myself, both as an employee and as an entrepreneur. I am not the only one, as we will see in the interviews with international experts and CEOs of major companies that follow. The remaining parts of the book develop this idea still further, focusing on the stories of women who have benefited from mentoring and sponsoring and who have leveraged their networks both as employees and as entrepreneurs.

Part I: Overview

This book demonstrates women's growing economic power: they are the majority of the world's consumers, they are the engines of entrepreneurial growth, they represent 40 to 50 percent of the world's workers--but they are not yet represented in equal numbers in the top jobs or in equal numbers among the most successful entrepreneurs. We have also seen that women have courage, they take risks, they are innovative and creative, and do a lot with a little--they are efficient and collaborative, and bring new approaches to business. And those companies where women have made it to the top have witnessed tangible growth in their bottom line.

The added value of having women in the top jobs is recognized by the five major international companies (ENGIE, BNY Mellon, Publicis Groupe, BNP Paribas, and Oracle) that this book covers. These companies have set up programs designed to help their women employees break through to the top positions. ENGIE, a French multinational electric utility company, designed a program to develop women's professional careers, train more women directors and senior managers, and retain their talents. The program has not only achieved these aims but been transformational in changing mind-sets. BNY Mellon, an American multinational banking and financial services corporation, set up Women's Initiative Networking (WIN), and they have seen both a tangible increase in the number of women vice presidents, managing directors and executive committee members, and increased connectivity and collaboration across the company.

Publicis Groupe, a French multinational advertising and public relations company, designed a program to retain talented women and develop their careers, and the company has seen more highly motivated employees, an improvement in teamwork and internal relationships, more effective management systems, and improved relationships with clients.

BNP Paribas, a French multinational bank and financial services company, implemented its program in order to increase the number of women in the group's senior management and to benefit from the full capabilities and ambitions of its women employees. Its outcomes are quantitative: more than 20 percent of women in senior management achieved within the first three years. And Oracle, an American global computer technology corporation, developed a program both as a talent management tool to enable top talents to accelerate their professional growth and mentors to develop the leadership skills but also to increase the number of women in management roles. At the heart of all these programs are mentoring and sponsoring.

Both aim to develop women's potential and empower them to use the increasing opportunities that the new economy brings. Mentoring is about advice and guidance, it's about pointing out opportunities, suggesting new ways to take advantage of such opportunities, new ways of viewing the business landscape, new perspectives on old problems. But sponsoring goes further. Sponsoring is about championing mentees--opening doors and leading them through, introducing them and promoting them, speaking up for them, being on the lookout for opportunities and proposing them for new responsibilities and promotions. In sponsoring, sponsors put their necks on the line, use their own
personal and professional capital, and take reputational risks for their mentees. And the results of sponsoring are the top jobs and the most successful entrepreneurs.

But this book shows us that, although women are increasingly mentored, men have traditionally been sponsored through the professional and personal networks they form more easily than women--for whom family commitments mean they are less able to create informal networks, for whom unconscious biases and stereotyping mean they have less confidence to put themselves up for jobs, and when they do, they are less often chosen, for whom lack of role models means lack of ambition, for whom lack of
access to sponsors means lack of access to the top jobs.

It's now time to sponsor women--to continue to mentor them, but to structure sponsorship programs and integrate them into companies so that women are championed and get a shot at the top jobs. This is real equal opportunity. And as we begin to get increasing numbers of women at the top, as both employees and entrepreneurs, and as the networks these women form, and the role models they become, trickle down into our social structures and mores, we'll begin to see a change among our younger women and girls, and they'll ask themselves, Why not me in the top job?

I: Women and the New Economy

The new economy gives women unprecedented and exciting opportunities, but they can only take these opportunities--and have an equal chance of success--if they get the proper support. Using interviews and case studies, this book shows that for women employees and entrepreneurs, the most effective way to provide this support is through mentoring and sponsoring--and the networks and role models they provide.

Mentoring and sponsoring go hand in hand--and they are compelling because they help women get ahead. Mentoring is advising--how to accelerate your career or achieve your entrepreneurial goals. It's normally a relationship between a senior or more experienced mentor with a junior and less experienced mentee, but there are examples of reverse mentoring, with a junior mentor and a more senior mentee. Sponsoring is mentoring taken to the next level--sponsors champion their mentees, put them forward for promotion and positions of responsibility, or, in the case of entrepreneurs, introduce them to influential people, act as their referee, open doors.

In sponsoring, sponsors take a risk on their own reputation and put their necks on the line.

But in both mentoring and sponsoring, the relationship is based on respect, confidentiality, and agreement on how to achieve goals.

The New Economy: Opportunities for Women

Statistics and pervading stereotypes suggest that we still have a long way to go in establishing gender equality. This is true, but by delving deeper into employment trends we find some indications that the new economy is helping women gain a more equal footing. The Gender Gap Huge progress has been made in the United States and Western Europe in establishing equality in educational attainment.

In 2013 in the United States, more women than men enrolled in college. For OECD countries, 74 percent of women successfully completed upper secondary programs versus 66 percent for men in 2008. In major corporations in the United States, women represent 53 percent of new hires but this decreases at each transition up the management ranks: only 37 percent of those promoted to managerial level are women, 26 percent vice presidents and senior executives, and only 14 percent on executive committees.

But in the workplace it's a different story, with most women only making it to the junior management levels and few achieving senior responsibility. In major corporations in the United States, women represent 53 percent of new hires, but this decreases at each transition up the management ranks: only 37 percent of those promoted to managerial level are women, 26 percent vice presidents and senior executives, and only 14 percent on executive committees.

Outside of the corporate world, inequality persists in other forms. In the United States and Western Europe, women are more likely to work part-time and in less well-paid occupations. In the UK, nearly 40 percent of employed women work part-time (less than 30 hours a week) compared to just over 10 percent of men. The median wage gap between men and women remains significant: France (14 percent); Germany (17 percent); UK (17 percent) and the United States (18 percent). And it's the same story among the self-employed: across all Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries, self-employed women earn 35 percent less than their male counterparts. In the United States this figure is 43 percent (2011). Yet it seems that the type of the work women do, and the time they have to devote to their business, provide only a partial explanation: it is still the case that many women spend more time on household work, leaving them less time for paid work and restricting the type of work they feel willing to take on.

The Opportunities of the New Economy

The new economy, led by rapid innovation in information technology and the spread of the Internet, is a revolution--a revolution that has created new business models and shattered the traditional roles of women and men. The organizational structures and working practices of the old industrial and manufacturing economies no longer fit. Organizations have redefined themselves--their products, their services, their customers, their markets, and their income streams. Labels for this new economy, if used at all, include digital, social, sharing, and circular.

The economic impact of new economy is striking. In the United States, e-commerce sales amounted to $300 billion in 2014, and are expected to grow to more than $400 billion in the next few years. In France, a new website is set up every 30 minutes, and the number of e-commerce retailers grew by 17 percent between 2011 and 2012, and more than doubled in 2013. A Boston Consultancy Group study estimates that across all G20 countries, the new economy is set to grow at 8 percent each year, far outpacing growth in traditional sectors.

Against this backdrop of upheaval and innovation, women have everything to play for--and everything to gain--and mentoring and sponsoring can help them to take these opportunities.

Women in Corporates and Finance

In previous decades we used the term "glass ceiling" to describe the lack of women at senior executive and board level. But while glass ceilings still exist in the face of stereotypes and male networks, the phrases "leaking pipeline" or "frozen middle" are perhaps also appropriate when we see women falling behind as they go up the ladder of seniority.

There is a growing understanding of the difficulties women face, and governments and corporations have taken active steps to redress the imbalance--and have made some progress. In Norway, where a "pink quota" was introduced in 2008, women now make up 36 percent of boards. In France, a law was passed in 2011 imposing progressive quotas for equal representation of women and men on boards of directors and steering committees: as a result, in 2013 women received 48 percent of new directorships
(compared to 39 percent in 2012). But in the United States and UK, such moves have not been government-led--and both countries lag behind other developed economies. In 2013, only 16.9 percent of board seats in the United States were held by women;10 this low figure has remained unchanged for the previous nine years. The UK was a similar story until a burst of activity following the 2011 Davies report,11 which had an impact. Latest research from Cranfield School of Management reports 23.5 percent of women on boards in the FTSE (Financial Times Stock Exchange) 100--with only 17 more women on boards needed to reach the 2015 target of 25 percent. The FTSE 250 has also made great progress, more than doubling the percentage of women on their boards since 2011, from 7.8 percent to 18 percent. Though far from gender parity, this represents a significant success in a relatively short space of time.

In the finance sector, the shortage of women at senior level is keenly felt. As set out in the Financial Times in 2014, just 6 of the top 150 banks have female CEOs. And there are few examples of improvement--the number of women on the executive committees of large financial institutions rose just 3 percent between 2003 and 2013.

Encouragingly, however, many financial institutions are taking steps to redress this balance. In an industry that needs as much innovative thinking and constructive leadership as possible, institutions have recognized the long-term commercial benefits of tapping into the full potential of women as employees and senior business leaders. For example, Barclays set (and met) a target of having 20 percent of women on its board. At BNY Mellon, promoting women at all levels has been built into their Corporate Social Responsibility program, with measurable results: since 2009 there has been a 100 percent increase in the number of women at Executive Committee, Operating Committee, and Regional Operating Committee levels. Some of these figures do mask the fact that women tend to head up soft-skills departments and men income-generating ones, but the willingness of financial
institutions to engage in promoting women in all fields is a step forward.

Women in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics)

In STEM it is the action being taken to encourage more girls and women, rather than the numbers themselves, that suggests progress to a more equal future.

Women are historically underrepresented in STEM. Statistics released by theWhite House show that women in the United States earn 41 percent of STEM PhDs, but make up only 28 percent of tenure-track faculty. Over the past three decades, there has been a steep decline in the number of female graduates with computer science degrees. According to the U.S. Department of Education, the number of computer science degrees awarded to women peaked at 37 percent between 1984 and 1985 compared to only 18 percent in the period between 2008 and 2011. As a consequence, women hold only 20 percent of all U.S. computer software engineer and computer programmer positions. In France, a report on managing gender and age diversity in IT teams (November 2013) concluded that, at less than 25 percent, women were significantly under-represented. This report revealed that only 11.6 percent of women engineers were graduates in the new information and communications technologies (NTIC) in 2010.

Across developed nations, business, academia, and government are working to help girls and women overcome the social and psychological prejudices preventing them from pursuing careers in STEM. The New York Academy of Sciences launched the Global STEM Alliance, a private-public partnership with industry, academic and educational institutions, government, and the nonprofit sector, aiming to provide resources, support, and mentoring for the next generation of STEM leaders. Through a virtual platform, the initiative pairs students as mentees with international STEM expert mentors. Showing what orporates can do, CISCO, a founding partner in US2020, has pledged 20 percent of its workforce to spend 20 hours a year on STEM mentoring by the year 2020, with a particular emphasis on encouraging girls and women. In the UK, Code First: Girls, sponsored by the City of London and the Royal Bank of Scotland, inspired Abigail Holsborough, a young digital entrepreneur (see interview in Chapter 20), to take up coding and ultimately to found her first start-up.

Women Entrepreneurs

The stereotype of female entrepreneurs is that they run small businesses in niche, low-profit areas of the economy. As with all stereotypes, there is an element of truth behind it.According to the Census Bureau Survey of Business Owners (2007), 77 percent of women-owned enterprises were founded with $5,000 or less in capital. Nearly half of all women-owned firms were in service sectors, such as health care and social assistance (16 percent); professional, scientific and technical services (14 percent); and "other services" (16 percent).

But, as with all stereotypes, this puts a negative spin on what can be interpreted as a positive development. Entrepreneurship, across all sectors, is a real growth area for women in the new economy. By offering women the opportunities and flexibility they don't always find in major orporations, entrepreneurship provides a new arena in which to pursue their ambitions. According
to the 2007 Census, the number of women-owned businesses grew for men-owned firms.

The economic contribution of women-owned businesses is significant. The Center for Women's Business Research measured the economic impact of the estimated 8 million U.S. businesses currently owned by women entrepreneurs at just under $3 trillion annually, which translates into the creation and/or maintenance of more than 23 million jobs--16 percent of all U.S. jobs. These jobs not only sustain the individual worker, but also contribute to the economic security of their families, the economic vitality of their communities, and the prosperity of the nation.

It is not clear what proportion of the sharing economy these women-owned businesses represent--this is fertile ground for further research. What is clear is that women choose to start businesses because working in this context is liberating and allows them to make direct changes to people's daily lives.

The comparatively low start-up costs of digital businesses is another positive for female entrepreneurs, who are less willing to take on debt than their male counterparts. Innovation and set-up in the digital economy have so far been predominantly male, but this is changing. Apple, Facebook, Microsoft, Yahoo! and Twitter are no longer typical, and the chance of success for women digital entrepreneurs is increasing. At the end of 2013, the French commission for Digital Women for a Digital Economy, in partnership with the French engineering school EPITA (École Pour l'Informatique et les Techniques Avancées), launched "Excellencia," an award for tech women. One of the three prizes awarded in September 2014 was given to a woman digital entrepreneur.

Women Entrepreneur Networks

Many women entrepreneurs say that they feel isolated and lack networks. In the new economy, this is limiting. At a time when pace and visibility are key to success, networking is essential for sharing business information, gaining wider recognition, and marketing. Indeed, being undernetworked can significantly slow down the growth of new businesses.

So given the proven importance of networking, why do women continue to lag behind? Brigitte Gresy, French General Secretary of the Equality Council, believes that negative stereotyping and socialization are at the root. She suggests "Our society teaches boys to dare and girls to conform." Diana Vanbrabant, Managing Director of ETACC (the European Training and Coaching Company), offers another perspective. She says that men and women have different attitudes towards networking: women are often better one-on-one listeners and invest more time in nurturing close relationships, while men engineer their networks for their own gain. Shifting this attitude is essential for women's success. It can only be done if we start to tackle the stereotypes and find more innovative ways to help women overcome professional obstacles. Numerous measures are already underway, such as positive discrimination, quotas, industry-led school programs and mentoring-sponsoring networks.

Excerpted with permission of the publisher, Wiley, from Breaking Through: Stories and Best Practices From Companies That Help Women Succeed by Martine Liautaud. Copyright (c) 2016 by John Wiley & Sons, Inc. All rights reserved. This book is available at all booksellers.