People are different because of their uniqueness, not because of their gender

23 Jun 2012 22:24 | Deleted user

"People are different because of their uniqueness, not because of their gender"
An interview by Alessandra Zocca


An interview of Massimo Michaud, Director at Kinetica

PWI – 
What are your thoughts on quotas? Are mandatory measures the best means to getting more women into the boardroom and executive positions? Will quotas work? Or is it better that it happens organically, no matter how long it takes? 
Quotas in my opinion are a “necessary evil”.  It would be much better, if these measures were not needed, but it is so difficult nowadays to find gender equality applied in companies that quotas becomes a second best option. Over time quotas will be effective, when gender is no longer taken into account as a difference.
I believe that it is merit we must promote and merit is not linked at all to gender, it’s neutral. Actually, when merit will be the promotion factor, we will not have gender discrimination.
The risk I envisage now is that to comply with the quotas rule women are brought to the board with lawyer or academic profiles, not women with managerial background; this is potentially a way to limit women’s influence on the board.
The second risk is that companies claim there are not women professionally ready for the C-positions, just because they do not support women along the company pipeline. 

PWI – Have you noticed distinctive traits in women compared to men? What do you think about women stereotypes? Let’s take some of them …
Alessandra, here are some examples of what I have noticed along my career; I have always worked in male dominated environments, so I cannot bet that my experiences would have been the same in more gender balanced firms. For sure women have to struggle more to reach the same levels as their male colleagues, the business world is still a male rules world. Let me give some examples, with the caveat that I do not believe that the differences I have noticed could only been explained by gender, personality has a much greater role:
Reticence of many women to advocate for themselves - Women have a tendency to be more interested in the work they do than in the career they can make. In some ways women are more consistent with their own needs, and consistency is a trait of leadership. Women seem to be more motivated by their job content than the opportunity to climb to the upper level. I have seen men taking whatever job in order to have the opportunity to move up on the company ladder. Women often had refused the job. 

Lack of self-confidence - A gender disadvantage for women is – generally speaking – poor self-confidence; women are much more cautious in taking a position, they wonder whether they are right or wrong, they consider the point of views of colleagues. Men are or appear more self-confident, more convinced about their opinions and, if they change their mind, they try not to show it: this allows men to have the advantage in their career.

Lack of support/solidarity of women towards other female colleagues - I have noticed, to a certain extent, lack of solidarity amongst women, lack of support. Actually, in such a situation I would have expected that the few women in managerial positions would have supported the other women strongly, but I have remarked more solidarity towards men than women.

Women don’t make their expectations explicit – I would say that it is part of the female behaviour that women prefer that their boss and other people try to understand what they want, men make their expectations clear. I think that this attitude is linked to the fact that women have a very strong ability to observe what’s happening in the environment around them and they perceive more, so they assume that men can observe and perceive as well.
Lack social capital – Women network as actively as men in their company, but for many reasons take less advantage of social opportunities for networking.In some companies it is critical to socialize with your upper management level and in others with the second upper level, so far I have seen very few ladies building their second upper level social capital.
It is important to highlight that women are bearing the family load and they try to run both work and family in the best way, so they sacrifice the social side.
Last but not least some social environments are like rugby team clubs, are they easy enough for a woman to cope with it or are women attracted by these environment at all?

Women’s need for perfectionism penalizes them – Perfectionism is a personality trait and not gender related. I guess this stereotype comes from the fact that successful female executives/managers are basically technically very competent, and experts tend to be perfectionists. 

Women are not visionary - In my experience I often remarked that women, when they have a vision, they are more cautious than men in externalizing it. I want here to break the prejudice that women do not have enough vision, they are visionary but they tend to speak up less and they have a different way to express themselves and persuade others, a more subtle approach. Additionally, cultural implications have to be taken into account, the behaviour expectations with which women are confronted in some cultures.

PWI - Does women's leadership differ from men's one in your opinion?
First of all it’s necessary to clarify and agree on what leadership means. As a CEO in several companies I have been very curious about the definition of leadership and the difference between a leader and a manager, so I read a number of books on this subject with the result of being more confused … Some authors – for instance – claim that “we are all leaders”, which looks to me hypocritical, like trying to motivate people by telling them flatteries. Other gurus describe leaders with such rare qualities that probably one person in millions in the world can have them…

So I found my own very simple definition of leadership: “A leader is somebody who:
• Identifies and defines a new direction --> vision
• Goes towards this new direction --> action
• Is able to convince/influence people to follow him/her --> followership

Having said this, I do not think that gender is a differentiating factor in leadership; I’d rather believe that there are different types of leadership as far as we have different personalities. 

Let me make the example using “intelligence”: now we know that there are many types of intelligence (for ex. logical-mathematical, linguistic, spatial, bodily-kinesthetic, interpersonal and intra-personal, etc.) and not just one type of it. The same can be said for leadership, each person can have his/her own kind of leadership, but he/she needs to be able to bring people with him/her, to make the others follow him/her. The first key characteristic that enables an individual to convince others to follow is being authentic, being yourself and not fake. You can dare to be a fake, maybe, but you have to cleverly ensure nobody will suspect!

Another prerequisite for leaders is to know themselves deeply and to know their team members well as single individuals. By understanding themselves better leaders become more aware of their potential and more consistent in their own behaviour, and can better understand the other individuals. 
Managers sometimes tend to manage their subordinates in the same way they manage themselves; they apply the same criteria and they do not understand why co-workers do not accept, do not comply or why they are not happy about this: they are just different people with different aspirations.

PWI – Massimo, in your opinion is leadership innate or can it be developed?
I do not know whether leadership can be innate, but I certainly know people who have developed strong leadership over time.

PWI - 
In your experience is life/family balance still a barrier for women? 
What about paternity leave?
Yes, I believe that for women – at least in Italy – family is still a barrier. I have seen many very promising women that at certain point in their career decided to leave the company or to make a step back, because of family/children, despite the fact they would have loved to develop their career. The lack of social infrastructure is a great enemy for women’s careers. In France, where I lived for many years, I noticed that there was more social support. 
Anyway, not allowing a woman to stop for a while and restart again means (and it will be an increasing problem) losing an enormous amount of value and talent, a waste of useful skills.
Paternity leave? I am absolutely in favor, my only true doubt is whether during their paternity leave men do what they would be supposed to do within their family or they go playing golf, for instance …
In my experience I have noticed very bad reactions from men towards male colleagues that chose the paternity leave and with very silly rationales behind, which they show by laughing behind these men’s backs, making jokes about them, etc..

PWI - Massimo, I think that women struggle also to re-enter their company after the maternity period, especially if they take a longer break.
You are touching a very important point: there is a prejudice that if you stop your career for a while, you are not able to start again without losing a lot. This prejudice comes from the past when the technical/functional skills were more important than the behavioural skill: of course employees need to be “technically/ functionally” competent, but these skills are quickly obsolete and it is relatively quick to learn them. 
On the contrary behaviour and management skills need time to be acquired … actually one of the few advantages of aging is that experience helps you to become better, a better person and manager. Being out of work for a while could be the opportunity also to gain different competencies, to acquire different approaches that will allow you to see things from different points of view, to be more versatile.

PWI - Have you in your current and previous company undertaken actions to recruit, develop, retain and promote women? Which ones? Which ones have been most successful and why?
I have always put meritocracy as one of my main principles in the companies I managed as CEO. I therefore promoted and retained the women who deserved it and who were very clever and capable in their job. 
Specifically I took action to ensure that capable women were in a position to reconcile work and family. It has been difficult, but I managed to let women take sabbatical breaks and have flexible hours when their kids were sick even if they were in key positions, and despite the hostility of other employees – men and women - towards these measures in favor of maternity.
Why is it possible to have flexible hours? Because people work by objectives, there is no need to stay long hours in the office, or to send emails during the night or in the week-end, just to impress the CEO.

PWI - Which policies, processes and infrastructures (services for family balance, etc.) would be effective to foster gender equality and support quotas targets?
I think that governments should put in place a sort of “social architecture”, meaning health and welfare services. A lot of women are trapped into services they need to render to their family like old parents, sick relatives or eventually disabled people in their family.
Social infrastructure would allow women to be relieved of this responsibility and to concentrate on their work or to make a profession what they currently do as “volunteering”: care and assistance, new professions and new jobs … I am especially thinking of the aging  population in Europe and in the western countries.

PWI - 
European Commission Vice-President Viviane Reding furthered her initiative to obtain more gender balance in European boardrooms by joining together with Europe’s leading business schools to shatter the glass ceilings impeding senior women executives from acceding to corporate boardroom seats throughout Europe.

Do you think this initiative will be effective? Successful? What are the potential limitations?
I think that it is a little bit like quotae, it is not perfect because not all women go to these management schools or they went years ago, but at least it’s a lever, anything which ensures more women reach the boardroom will be an improvement.

 Short Biography
Massimo Michaud spent 10 years in management consulting working for major banks in several European countries after obtaining an MBA from Insead. 
He then spent 15 years as managing director of insurance companies in France, Belgium and Italy working for the three largest European groups in insurance. 
In 2010 he started a new career to support entrepreneurs and foreign investors in Italy, while being himself an active investor and entrepreneur.

Massimo Michaud 
Via Montenapoleone 23
20121 Milano (Italy)

  Disclaimer -
Any views and opinions presented in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Kinetica, nor do they constitute a legally binding agreement.

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