MADRID, SPAIN. Women in business start with the same qualifications, commitment and drive as men, yet still each female MBA-graduate in the USA earns 93 cents to every dollar of their male counterpart. Not only are the earnings less, fewer women are reaching the top positions. Also in the USA, where 46.8% of the workforce is female, only 4.8% are CEOs. At Startup The Fusion, a startup event in Madrid, a panel entitled ‘Power Women Takeover’ aimed to show what women are capable of by inviting four successful women from four different countries to take to the stage. Is this the right way, though, of tackling the disparity in business?
As a woman who strongly believes in diversity as a necessary strategy in business and leadership, I was excited to see the panel as part of the programme. However, as the panel prepared themselves, I surveyed the room and noticed that the attendees were predominantly male. It was only then that I also realised that the previous panels and expert talks that day had been given exclusively by men. I couldn’t help but think that by singling out these women, rather than integrating them, the issue was made more obvious rather than less.
As the first ‘power woman’ introduced herself, Elena Betés (CEO of Rastreator.com), she mentioned alongside her business accomplishments that she was also a mother of two. Céline Pasula (Co-founder and CFO of Grand Cru) also highlighted that she had a child and launched her business in the same week. This is impressive indeed, but none of the previous male speakers had touched on their personal or family lives. I have no doubt that these women chose to focus on their achievements as parents due to the pressure on women to make a choice. However, the majority of female CEOs are in fact mothers, and such capable women are surely able to manage such challenges. We are also living in a world where economic difficulties increasingly require both parents to work. Balancing family life and work life is a problem that is not exclusive to mothers.
Heather Liesman (Managing Director, Europe of Hotel Tonight), made some pertinent comments on men and women in the workplace, stating that we should not think about business leaders in terms of gender, but instead in terms of the skills that they are able to bring, which is generally stereotyped by gender; women tend to excel in the soft skills of nurturing and ‘mothering’ employees, for example. A mixture of skills will create a diverse workplace.
It is important to recognise the achievements of women, especially to encourage other women, however by singling them out at an event such as Startup The Fusion, it felt like they were a unique exhibition. The message, unintentionally, seemed to be that the only way women can succeed is within their own context, rather than as equals. Instead, organisers should look to integrate women into the other panels and have male and female entrepreneurs side by side, where they should be, sharing and comparing their experiences.