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Diversity, Equity & Inclusion

Cultivating the Next Generation of Women Leaders: A Global Viewpoint

  • April 2016

Insights and Findings from our Discussions

“Leaders & Daughters” capitalized on the momentum of International Women’s Day, marked on March 8, by bringing together more than 1,200 esteemed leaders and their daughters to engage on how to best foster opportunities to enable the success of the next generation of women leaders. What follows is “what we heard” from the 15 panel and roundtable discussions across the globe held during the first two weeks of March 2016, as well as insights garnered from a global survey of young women on their career motivations and aspirations.

Egon Zehnder inaugurated “Leaders & Daughters: Cultivating the Next Generation of Women Leaders” to catalyze a global conversation designed to educate, inspire and uncover the opportunities and challenges facing young professional women and to better address how to support their long-term career success.

The series of roundtable and panel discussions was held in Mumbai, Amsterdam, São Paolo, Istanbul, Lisbon, Sydney, Singapore, Düsseldorf, Paris, London, Toronto, Chicago, Mexico City, San Francisco and Milan.

Passion for Fostering Positive Change Worldwide

Young women worldwide have an innate drive to succeed professionally, and we heard a resounding enthusiasm from leaders and young women to collectively support building a better model for women’s professional success.

Regardless of geography, our participants indicated that the current corporate culture is not aligned to support women through their professional journey—but the onus also rests on women themselves to be their own personal champion. Too often we heard of women’s reluctance to “ask for what they want” and a deficiency in being direct enough in defining what they need to succeed.

“A fundamental dynamic of leadership is now driven by cooperation—by bringing together a diverse group of people and using their combined skills to get to a better outcome.”

Mike Coupe, CEO, J Sainsbury plc, London

“It’s about open and honest dialogue. It requires you to expose yourself and be misinterpreted. But if you are not willing to take that risk and be misinterpreted, you probably are not going to create as much value as you can.”

Thomas J. Wilson, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, The Allstate Corporation, Chicago

“The blockages are in large parts cultural and aspirational. If you want to make a big change, you really have to want to do it.”

Antony Jenkins, former CEO, Barclays, London

“Being able to let confidence in the room—whether it’s male or female—I think that’s a really important part of entrepreneurship.”

Young Sohn, President and Chief Strategy Officer, Samsung, San Francisco

Responsibility for furthering women’s success ultimately lies in fostering changes in the workplace. Our events underscored that most corporate institutions represented already are actively implementing action plans to raise awareness of gender issues. There was great clarity about the importance of involving women directly in all conversations: the desire by women to be perceived as business leaders first—not merely identified by their gender—and the need to create more support mechanisms through sponsorship and mentorship programs for women.

“I don’t do the gender conversation. A good day is when I’m looked at as a businessperson, not a female.”

Laura Alber, Chief Executive Director, President and Director, Williams-Sonoma, Inc., San Francisco

“I would argue that actually it is more through the organization, the day-to-day organization, where it is actually going to make a difference.”

Baroness Hogg, Former Chairman, 3i Group, and first woman to chair a FTSE 100 company, London

The Changing View of Success

For the next generation of leaders, professional fulfillment is a combination of passion, purpose and ambition. It is as much or perhaps even more about finding their own route to success—where entrepreneurialism, flexibility and mobility play a critical role rather than trying to fit into pre- conceived ideas about leadership roles, career progression and success.

“To me, success is not just about a balance in my career—a happy career. It’s really about a happy life.”

Emily Finlay, Schafer Condon Carter, Chicago

“Follow something you’re curious about and say yes.”

Megan Taylor, DJ and Producer, Fig Media, Chicago

The definition of success is somewhat different for younger women than from the leaders’ generation. The idea of living one’s purpose, having a “purposeful life vs. a profit-making life” underscored the young women’s ambitions.

The Global Women’s Survey conducted in tandem with Leaders & Daughters confirmed these assumptions about success—and the importance women place on balancing career ambition with personal and family life.

Our survey findings indicate that while entry- level and junior employees maintain top-level aspirations, this sureness drops somewhere mid- career when transitioning into parenthood or other family dynamics—when negotiating work/ life balance becomes more prioritized. Percentages of those who believe women can “have it all” rise again at senior executive levels (Figure 1).

Peer Support and Mentorship Prove Effective Enablers

Leaders worldwide reinforced the importance of peer support systems, mentorship and corporate sponsorship as being pivotal to their career progression. In fact, worldwide, guiding the daughters to seek and secure a mentor was a resounding priority. Women leaders shared that their mentors often had been men, as female leaders were in short supply during their rise to the top. The leaders on our panels emphasized that the younger generation must be assertive and seek out what is needed, proactively and courageously.

“We as men need to understand female behavior —as much as we say that young women need to understand more about how to navigate in this male-dominated world. That is fine, but it needs to go both ways.”

Carl-Henric Svanberg, Chairman, BP, London

“Just for argument’s sake, why is it necessary that women have to have a woman as a mentor? Look, we have a shortage of senior women—we have to match with men to do this.”

Richard Edelman, President and CEO, Edelman, San Francisco

“Is there an obligation for women leaders to mentor other women? There is for men.”

Thomas J. Wilson, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, The Allstate Corporation, Chicago

Our Global Women’s Survey also asked how important is it for young women to have executive women role models in their organization. We found that 79 percent of the women we surveyed confirmed the need to have female executives in their organization with 91 percent of entry-level women in agreement.

“For women in particular, there aren’t enough senior women to go around to provide the sort of mentoring that young men can get. So it becomes really important that the senior women and the senior men make sure that they are reaching down and helping the women—not just the ones who come to you and say I would like some help because, very often, some of these people who could benefit the most are uncomfortable.”

Andie Kramer, Partner, McDermott Will & Emery, Chicago

A Question of Balance

Even as we learned of progress across the globe in bridging the gender divide with increased conversation and transparency and greater emphasis on mentorship and support networks, women still struggle at a purely personal level with balancing work and home life. Event participants worldwide, and those responding via the Global Women’s Survey, agreed that balancing their career and personal life remains a critical issue: Thirty-eight percent of our survey respondents declared it their top professional challenge, second only to lacking opportunities to showcase their ability and potential (43 percent).

Conversations on work/life balance varied across the globe. While it was widely acknowledged that there is no ideal system in place, there is a keen awareness globally to address the issue at its core and to provide solutions.

In Closing

Every Leaders & Daughters event held, regardless of geography, was both illuminating and inspiring for everyone who participated. Each event was shaped by the rich, candid and emotionally powered conversation that took place, while, collectively, the topics raised had global resonance and commonality on the challenges, motivations, drivers and solutions to the gender parity issue.

As a firm, we believe that diverse and inclusive leaders create a better world where individuals and organizations not only grow but thrive.

Perhaps one of our speakers said it best:

“Together, we can change the world, one girl at a time.”

Karuna Rawal, Executive Vice President, Arc Worldwide, and Global Planning Lead, Leo Burnett, Chicago

We look forward to continuing the conversation next spring as we host Leaders & Daughters 2017.

Be a part of the ongoing #LeadersAndDaughters conversation and experience Leaders & Daughters here.

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