In a two-part feature, Prof. Viviane de Beaufort, Director of the European Center for law and Economics and Women ESSEC programmes, joins battle to focus on the barriers to knock down for women seeking fulfilment in the world of work.
By Tom Gamble from an interview with Prof. Viviane de Beaufort
A question of non-belief?
Some may express surprise at the professional predicament of women in developed countries. After all, the skills are there, the qualifications are there, and increasingly the law is there to ensure that women have both the credibility and the weight to achieve career success. But inequalities persist. Could it simply be a lack of self-belief that holds women back?
For Viviane de Beaufort, an obvious initial reason is that of cultural factors, although less present in Anglo-Saxon cultures more at ease with money and generally more egalitarian. ‘From generation to generation in many countries,’ she states, ‘including continental Europe, a sharing of roles and tasks between men and women has been transmitted that is clearly borrowed from the tradition that man goes out to hunt while the woman takes care of the home.’ This is often relayed in religions which, to an extent, codify these traditions. ‘As such, this doesn’t signify that a woman lacks self-confidence,’ asserts de Beaufort, ‘but that she can lack confidence within a male environment such as business where the model was created without her.’ It can be observed that in exceptional events and periods of history – from yearly harvest time to wartime – this distribution of tasks and roles explodes with women being recognised as able and sometimes being ordered to take over the load of tasks otherwise allotted to men. Food for thought.
Is it the right time to be optimistic?
Viviane de Beaufort has consecrated more than thirty years of her life to the women’s cause and gender equality. While delighted that things have generally changed for the better, she notes that there is a long way to go, notably in terms of equal pay and career promotion. ‘Are these laws and new egalitarian precepts the result of a change in mentalities, or the result of economic pressure which has led to a penury of talent, and linked to demography?’ she asks, with slight irony. Three things have to be taken into account on the road to career fulfilment, she asserts. Firstly, the individual needs of the modern-day couple and the understanding that either partner – whether male or female – would have the right to pursue professional ambitions, even if this meant that the man would step down from the limelight and take care of the home. Secondly, the political and regulatory will to think and act equality, and therefore provide the means for parents to structure an equal double career. And lastly, the question of whether we economically require all a population to be active and at work. ‘I’d love to know if, in 15 or 20 years’ time,’ states de Beaufort, ‘with the potential arrival of sophisticated robots and machines able to replace a part or all of human work, it will have an impact on this scenario?’
Do women necessarily need success stories?
When asked the question, Viviane de Beaufort points to the frequent claim that there is a general lack in feminine role models. ‘It is true,’ she states, ‘that to project oneself as a leader, female entrepreneur, director, data scientists, etc., female models are useful.’ However, she believes that for the generations to come – GENY, then Z – the issue is not necessarily a blocking point. For her, women have access to the world as a universe via the web – and therefore finding a role model is easier. In addition, men and women of these new generations do not have the same conception of success than those of older generations. The book Génération Startuppeuse or the new era was written in 2017 with the special support of her daughter, Marine de Beaufort whom she quotes: ‘We grew up with mothers, career models, but not always fulfilled women. As a reaction, we rooted the desire to succeed professionally, excluding the issue of being a stay-at-home mother/housewife, but having at heart not to sacrifice our personal lives. This manifests itself 1 – by the desire to have purpose in one’s job. 2 – to prioritize one’s personal life, and 3 – and as such find innovative solutions to manage all that’.
A further point is that women’s relationship with power and ambition appears to be different today. In the research on Women and Power undertaken 2011, and developed since then, the majority of women no longer appear to be interested in power per se but rather achieving something that power can bring symbolically. Women today are team players who do not hesitate to put themselves into question. They thus take part in breaking the now-obsolete dominant vertical model, notably under attack from the GENY which no longer recognises hierarchical power but accepts that of an exemplary model. ‘Many men today,’ states de Beaufort, ‘are turning away from what I call the royal leader model to embrace a collective leadership that is more respectful of others, whoever he/she may be. And this is good news.’
-  ‘Génération Startuppeuse ou la nouvelle ère’, Eyrolles, 2017 Viviane de Beaufort with the support of Marine de Beaufort
-  https://www.linkedin.com/in/marine-de-beaufort-6030a71a/
-  Transmettre ou tout simplement Partager entre générations ? 4 mains mère-fille, https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/inter-g%C3%A9n%C3%A9rationnel-bienveillant-le-salut-viviane-de-beaufort/ by Marine de Beaufort and her mother
-  ‘Femmes et pouvoir : tabou ou nouveau modèle de gouvernance ?’ October 2012, Viviane de Beaufort, Professor at ESSEC Business School, Director of the ECLE and “ Governance, Gender and Empowerment programme, founder of ‘Women Be European-Board Ready’, (with the help of Boyden Executive Search).
Read Part 2 of Viviane de Beaufort’s article.
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