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HEC au Féminin and Les Glorieuses : Different Methods but Same Call for Gender Parity in the Working World

On November 7 2016, the French feminist collective Les Glorieuses called for women workers to go on a symbolic strike at exactly 4.34pm. It lasted exactly seven seconds. According to the collective’s calculations, when compared to their male counterparts, that is precisely the moment this year when women would start working for free until December 31. Their arguments echo those heard two weeks earlier at "Be the Future", an evening of workshops, speeches and award-giving, organized in Paris by HEC au Féminin. The association commissioned an Ipsos France survey revealing discrepancies, not only in terms of revenue, but also career paths taken, work conditions and professional attitudes. These were backed by rich and varied experiences shared by HEC Alumni such as Mercedes Erra, Aude de Thuin and HEC president Evelyne Kuoh. On a day aimed at mobilizing France’s working women, HEC Communications reports on an evening rich in exchange and discoveries.

Mercede Erra - Be The Future - HEC au féminin 2016

If the Icelanders do it, why can’t we? This is the question asked by the feminist collective/newsletter Les Glorieuses, in reference to the October 24 movement successfully launched in Iceland. There, according to a 2013 EC report, Icelandic women earn an average 18% less than men in similar posts. That compares to 15.1% in France. The collective calculated that women’s annual wages is equivalent to 301 days of a working man’s year. This is how they went about it: "We took into account the calculation on the disparity in salaries made by Eurostat, the EU's statistics organism . This disparity calculates the difference between "the average gross revenue per hour for men and women workers". We then adapted this figure to the number of working days in 2016 (253), which gave us a total of 38.203 working days. This method allowed us to find the date of November 7 2016 at 4.34pm and 7.5 seconds (to be exact)."

Such pre-occupations on gender inequality in the work place were at the heart of the “Be the Future” trophy ceremony organized by HEC au Féminin two weeks earlier. Along with co-organizers HEC Paris Alumni, this association had three reasons to engrave October 25 2016 in stone. This date marked exactly a century since French women broke through in the business world; 40 years since a score of students became the first women ever to graduate from HEC Paris; and 15 years since HEC au Féminin was created. The anniversary was celebrated end October with the annual prize-giving ceremony that the women’s association created exactly a decade ago.

“These are important and positive gatherings,” enthused the association’s president Evelyne Kuoh, “they are inter-generational, making people aware of the challenges ahead. They’ve also shown that HEC women have achieved long-term goals by taking risks, seizing opportunities when they present themselves.”

Succeeding in a man’s world

Few incarnate these dynamic qualities better than Mercedes Erra. The Executive President of Havas Worldwide believes it is vital to use such evenings to discuss the challenges ahead. "These are opportunities for me to tell a few simple truths: that women have a long way to go and need all the good will from both sexes to progress.” The creator of the “Roller Babies” Evian campaign,  added: “Since it’s not going as fast as it could, and even going backwards at times, we better get down to changing things each and every day."

The winners of the 2016 Trajectoires awards that evening seemed to prove Erra’s point. Julie Leibovici, unexpectedly topped three other finalists for the top prize which rewards former HEC students who have marked the business world with a career notable for its success, originality and perseverance. In a male-dominated sector, the 2004 graduate has successfully run a medium-sized hardware and gardening tools company in Basse-Normandie ever since the brutal death of her father 12 years ago. Leibovici underlined her pride at winning the trophy despite having one of the competition’s most unusual profiles. "It’s a great honor for me, especially since I didn’t take the classic route to where I’m at," explained the former architect who left a promising career at Louis Vuitton to take over the family business. "But, yes, it’s not been easy to reach a certain prosperity.” And, indeed, Leibovici has managed to expand her Monin company to five separate production sites which currently employ 180 people.

Sophie Hennes decided to leave the northern hemisphere to make her career blossom. She was the winner of the Jeunes Pousses, or Young Sprout trophy, designed for the younger generation of women entrepreneurs. For several years, Hennes has been directing a team focused on sustainable development at Alstom Transport Australia. This helped the enterprise to enter the Dow Jones Sustainability Index. But on the evening of the award Hennes turned to the question of men-women representation in business. The 30-year-old insisted that her adopted home of Sydney is both gender and color-blind: "In Australia, we are more open than here, not just in terms of gender but also immigration. On my project we have the target of 20% women in the company and we’re completely smashing it (sic.), we are largely above it."

Women role-models

Yet, in France, the statistics speak for themselves. In the West, women work on average 30 minutes longer a day and earn between 15 and 23 percent less. For Aude Zieseniss de Thuin, there must be a change in recruitment for things to improve. She runs the influential association Women in Africa, part of the Global Economic Forum. “There must be a change of attitude in the human resources department. They just don’t recruit enough women to high-level posts! But,” the veteran continued, “I come out of this evening with a lot of energy because I see that everyone is willing a change.” Evelyne Kuoh was similarly fired up as the evening devoted to women and business closed. “It’s important to have messages brought to us by successful women. We need these role-models, but there must be many different voices heard. That’s one of the vocations of these annual awards: to light up the careers of women who will inspire others.  Progressively, by osmosis, we will give women that desire to succeed.”