You said there are cases where you had two equal candidates the decision will always be to offer the job to a woman. Do you feel any negative feedback from the male colleagues, or do they buy in, within KBC, to this approach or do you have to handle sometimes a negative feeling?
Never! There is no issue in that respect. I also believe that the main reason is that women which have been appointed within KBC are doing a great job like they are doing in other industries.
One thing we need to keep in mind is that the person must agree, some of them prefer not to get to that level. For women, but also for men in KBC, money is not the key driver and has never been the key driver, not even in the good days. But with the finance crisis, I also must admit that, the appetite of taking on more responsibilities has also decreased. We must be honest in that respect, why would you, nowadays, take on more responsibility in a financial climate which is still very volatile? At the moment, when you do something good, we never get a positive remark from the external the market, but if you do something bad, you are nipped. That is also why we have launched the new culture change because we want to go back to the very proud company that we were some years ago.
Networking is a major help in professional development. Is this a gender issue? Are gender specific networks helpful or do they reinforce stereotypes? What networks have you found most helpful in your career?
Networking is very important to get women out of the cocoon they are working in.
So to have external memberships in different networks such as a women organization or a professional one, is important to have exposure outside your own company. You have to take the time to do it. We need to be careful that when we have an event, a women focused event, not to have only women there. I am very much in favor of a mix in that respect.
External networks are important but you need also a good internal network. I worked abroad for several years and when I came back I underestimated that a bit in the beginning. Internal networks are extremely important also in terms of role models, it is important that female managers show their capabilities within the organization taking part in various activities, fun as well as professional. So you have to get out of your own environment to show to the remaining part of KBC that you exist.
I found also when I was abroad that the external networking with the embassy, the chamber of commerce, etc was really interesting. There, as a woman, you are representing KBC abroad and showing that they do have women at top position. Representing your company externally is for me the most important exposure, and of course in my position you are invited to interesting events and I always try to attend. You have to divide your time of course- to accept this extra “work”.
What is your view on the discussion of the difference in management styles for women to achieve at senior level? Are there masculine behaviours that are still required or more helpful for women to succeed?
What would I consider as being typically a male characteristic? Men tend to be more direct and task oriented while women tend to be more relationship oriented and seek harmony, that’s the classic.
When I look to communication styles in KBC for example, we have been evolving to some more balanced leadership. Team work became extremely important. 5 or 10 years ago you would move in the management ladder on an individual basis by being the best and the most pronounced… but this has now completely changed. Now it is how you are able to make the best out of your team
and I must say I find this an extremely good evolution which is recognized at the top management level. So when the evaluations are being made it is not only
about how have you been doing in terms of your individual performance. It is also how you have performed in terms of team building, both in your own team and beyond. Half of the evaluation is made by colleagues and by people external to your directorate.
One of my KPI is also to what extent have I been creating synergy or have I been working on helping someone else to excel. Helping someone to excel is not in our human nature, certainly not in a hard industry like the finance industry. This is also part of KBC's internal strategy; we want to promote the businesses to make the best decision.
The financial crisis was triggered by quite a small group of individuals, but it has changed the industry and my firm. Individual performances are being looked at in a different way. This could prove beneficial to female bankers.
Do you see in internal or external leadership and management programs any changes coming through to reflect on these kinds of changes?
Yes, also in KBC, the program that we have on leadership is about these issues. It is about how to be a balanced leader by listening to your people, encouraging innovation through collaboration, giving open access to information, also vulnerability.
Returning from abroad I was promoted to senior management level – the first woman in KBC's history at that level. In the new directorate I had to establish, there was a huge task to get it back on the rails. I chose to tackle this task solely with my management team.
Now I would do things differently and also discuss with my peers. I would tell them: “There is a huge problem on the table. I don’t think I can solve it alone. Can you give me some advice, how would you deal with that etc”. But I will read it completely differently now. I will also discuss it with peers, tell them: “There is a kind of very huge problem on the table. I got this assignment, I am not sure that I will succeed in that, can you give me tips and tricks on how you will read that, how will you deal with that etc”.It is all about showing vulnerability - we have all progressed at lot about this within KBC over the last 10 years.
You mentioned earlier the hard feedback and how important and valuable receiving it has been for you. Do you feel that women generally have more difficulty dealing with hard and negative feedback? Are women not given so much negative feedback as an indication that their work is not taken so seriously (by themselves or others)?
Boys and girls are different and are socialised to be different! Sorry if I sound stereotypical but I do believe women seek more harmony. Try not to take comments personally. Women are never totally satisfied although the product or the service they deliver is often of a very high quality . Personally, it took me some years to get through that and when it is done, you feel better
I feel of course much more comfortable than 5 or 10 years ago presumably because I am a bit older, but also because I can say: “I also have an opinion, I know that I can do it, the feedback I get is not personal and is not meant to break me down but is meant as a constructive feedback”. Women generally have more difficulty dealing with hard and negative feedback. We do not have what I call an elephant skin, we are more sensitive. But we do not have to give up our emotional side because it is part of us but it should not stop us from progressing.
With the 40% directive for Women on Boards, I would like also to add a question about how KBC wants to implement the quotas.
I am personally convinced that you need to work with quotas. I found that women against quotas are usually the ones who already belong to boards. The fact that companies will have to explain if they fail to comply may help but that would only be at a board level. I found it is a pity that the focus is only about the board of directors as the strategy is done at the executive committee level. At KBC, not only at the executive committee but also at my level, there are certainly not enough women. You can really only make a difference when you represent 30%.
Christine, clearly you made it to the top, do you see yourself as a role model? What will be your advice to a young woman starting her career now?
I think women, but this also applies for men, have to make clear decisions what you want to achieve in life. You can’t get it all; you have to make some sacrifices.
I think I am not a good role model because although I do have a husband. we do not have children. And I admire enormously the women who have children and can combine all. But they also had to make clear choice and presumably decided to have less time for themselves. Personally I wanted to have a career but at the same time also have some time for myself and for my husband.
So making the right choices is important but also young women should not be afraid to express what kind of qualities they have, to be more assertive, and show what they can do. In a word don’t be afraid and be convinced you have all the qualities you need to succeed.
Disclaimer - Any views and opinions presented in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of KBC Group, nor do they constitute a legally binding agreement.>
|Christine Van Rijsseghem is the Senior General Manager of Group Finance since 2003 and also CFO KBC Bank NV,
KBC Verzekeringen NV and KBC Groep NV. Prior to this, Mrs. Van Rijsseghem was the CEO of KBC France and then London, before becoming the Senior General Manager Securities and Derivatives Processing Directorate.
After receiving her law degree from Ghent University RUG, she then received her MBA Financial Sciences from Vlerick University. Her career has been focused in the Financial Services sector.
Being a native Belgian Dutch speaker, Mrs Van Rijsseghem is also fluent in French, English and German. Her hobbies are reading, sports, swimming and golf.
Christine Van Rijsseghem Senior General Manager Financial Group KBC Group
B - 1080 Brussel