'Davos for Women' takes aim at glass ceilings

6th October 2006, Comments 0 comments

DEAUVILLE, France, Oct 5, 2006 (AFP) - Dubbed 'Davos for Women', the second annual Women's Forum for the Economy and Society began on Thursday, aiming to spotlight female viewpoints and bring down barriers to top jobs for women.

DEAUVILLE, France, Oct 5, 2006 (AFP) - Dubbed 'Davos for Women', the second annual Women's Forum for the Economy and Society began on Thursday, aiming to spotlight female viewpoints and bring down barriers to top jobs for women.

The three-day forum, entitled "Women's new responsibility for improving our societies", brings together on the Normandy coast some 800 business leaders, political players, academics, scientists and artists from more than 61 countries from Korea to Kuwait.

A recent study of the top 100 businesses in North America, Asia and Europe, commissioned by the forum, showed that women fill less than 10 percent of board-of-director and executive committee seats.

"We need to tap into the valuable resources that women represent as 50 percent of the population," said participant Sarena Lin, Managing Partner of McKinsey and Company in Taiwan.

Organisers say that the forum is not a feminist movement or a passing fad but a practical move to create networks of influence to help women move into better jobs.

"It's not at all a fashionable trend, it's a deep and lasting evolution," forum president and founder Aude Zieseniss de Thuin told AFP.

The first forum, with more than 500 participants, took place last year and a third is already planned for 2007.

Some 20 percent of this year's participants are male, including top business leaders Carlos Ghosn, CEO of Renault, and Didier Quillot, chairman and CEO of Orange France.

"Their aim is to listen to women because we don't hear them very often in decision-making assemblies," de Thuin said. "They're also looking to recruit women."

"Women bring different skills, different reactions and a different point of view to the workplace," Bernard Fornas, president and CEO of Cartier, told AFP.

Fornas joined de Thuin to launch a new international prize for female entrepreneurs, the Cartier Woman's Initiative Awards. Fifteen regional finalists will be selected from a study of short business plans from around the world and the winner will be announced at next year's forum.

Host country France is seen as a spearhead for equality in some areas. Women take half of its university places and the country offers celebrated female role models such as Laurence Parisot, head of the Medef employers' association, Anne Lauvergeon, chairman of Areva nuclear company, and likely Socialist presidential candidate Ségolène Royal.

Yet only 6.1 percent of top management jobs in France are claimed by women and many of these women are seeking changes at the top of the pyramid.

"A white male will recruit a white male," Lauvergeon said during the forum's first plenary session.

In North America the picture is slightly more balanced, with 15.6 percent of positions on directors' boards and executive committees held by women. That is double the percentage in European firms (7.6 percent) and eight times higher than in Asia, according to a joint study by the financial groups Ricol, Lasteyrie et Associes, Christian and Timbers and Capitalcom.

Businesses are now beginning to realise the need to help women move upwards, Marie-Jeanne Chevremont-Lorenzini, a partner of PricewaterhouseCoopers Benelux, told AFP.

Now a member of the forum's board, she was initially sceptical about the event when it began last year.

"At first I said we wouldn't go. There are lots of women's forums going on and I didn't see what that kind of event would bring to us."

But the company is now one of some 40 private sponsors that each contribute between EUR 20,000 and 100,000 to the forum.

"It's not simply about the role of women, it's about demonstrating women's views on the evolution of the economy and society," Chevremont-Lorenzini said.

Participants in the lively discussions included a member of Afghanistan's parliament, a Moroccan defender of women's rights who is under a fatwa and a Tibetan writer.

The event aims to be inclusive, with many participants criticising the use of quotas to promote women and calling for the creation of more networks of like-minded females.

After a long day of discussions, participants were able to relax in a series of complementary workshops titled Discovery Moments. These offered tips on such things as improving presentation, overcoming tiredness and developing artistic ideas.

The evening's programme included the presentation of a Diversity Trophy to three leading international companies for their efforts to promote women at senior levels, and a dinner attended by Queen Rania of Jordan.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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