“I believe in the added value created by having gender parity in the workplace”
Posted on 20.02.14 by
Valérie Beauzemont, chief financial officer, ArcelorMittal France
“I had only just completed an ArcelorMittal training course on the development of female leadership when an email from French magazine “Finance & Gestion” arrived: would you like to share your experience as a female chief financial officer?
I had been in a bit of a dilemma whenever I had received this type of proposal before. I don’t feel part of a minority that needs to be integrated. Women represent more than 50% of the human race. But then, curiosity takes over quickly and the answer becomes: why not? Today, the growing number of women’s groups and associations shows the interest in and need to discuss this topic, among females and with our male colleagues.
A career in a male-dominated environment
I started my career in an audit firm, and at the time only 10% of associates there were women – even though an equal number of men and women had been recruited in the first place. Clients, as well as accounting and financial officers, were mostly men.
Then, when I joined the industrial group Usinor in 1996, I wasn’t surprised that financial management meetings were dominated by men: women accounted for around 15% of attendees. Since then, although the percentage hasn’t increased sufficiently within the group, the mentality has started to evolve with the arrival of a new generation of managers. Women are no longer confined to assistant or administrative roles. There are more women in the plants, also thanks to the evolution of technology. Just like women, men now also aspire more towards a better work-life balance, and companies acknowledge the importance of having a more fulfilled personal life. 7pm meetings are no longer synonymous with success.
It is true that new methods of communication and the possibility that they offer to work remotely help people to better manage the periods of intense workload which sometimes cannot be avoided. I decided to dedicate the slot between 7.15pm and 9pm to my family, and to resume work after that if needed.
It is also true however that there is still room for improvement when it comes to the percentage of women within the group (23% of managers). In 2012, ArcelorMittal’s corporate responsibility report stated that in 2012 “11% of managers, 5% of general managers and 4% of vice presidents were female. This is a low percentage, but not unusual for the mining and metals industry”. Aware of this gap, the group has developed a training course specifically for women called “Women in Leadership”.
Towards the development of female leadership
The idea behind the course originates from the following analysis: while women tend to have better results when it comes to achieving their objectives and facilitate team work, they should improve their strategic vision and dedicate more time to networking. They put more emphasis on the general interests of the company than men and spend less time focusing on their personal interests and promotion.
Women in financial management positions are more detached from political games that exist in companies, and probably perform a more objective analysis of their company’s results. However, they do not want these specificities to be interpreted as them having a lower interest in the company’s strategy, which they need to master in order to get access to managerial roles. They would rather want men to be trained like them to acknowledge behavioural differences between genders, and to be encouraged to think about parity when appointing managers.
Indeed, while women are convinced of the need to increase their visibility, they do not want to model their behaviour on men’s leadership standards which are now predominant. I think this would be the same as requiring them, consciously or not, to wear a trouser suit. As for me, I have always refused to imitate men, including when it comes to clothing, even if sometimes this was to my disadvantage.
I think that becoming aware of the added value brought by genders complementing each other is a better way to achieve gender parity. I had already reached this conclusion intuitively when I was working in an audit firm, and I tried as much as possible to have a mixed representation in my teams which I found improved efficiency.
As a consequence, increasing the number of women in management positions, including in finance, will require a change in the way we interpret individual performance. Internal selection processes should also take into account the female tendency to promote their skills less compared with men. Some recruitment companies have started taking this into account when selecting candidates. So when will companies start doing the same?”
This article was first published in French in “Finance & Gestion” magazine in February 2014