Blog

July 12, 2012What's on the horizon for women in the EU? Eleanor Tabi Haller-Jorden, General Manager, Catalyst Europe AG, reflects on the recent Catalyst Europe CEO Summit in today's guest-post. The high-profile event brought together CEOs and senior executives from top European and Europe-based companies to discuss current challenges for women in business and determine an agenda to accelerate change.

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Could a new Age of Enlightenment be upon us in Europe? Based on the success of our inaugural Catalyst Europe CEO Summit, held on 7 June 2012 in Zurich, I think so. Attended by CEOs, academics and policy makers from across Europe, the Summit created a surge of momentum for more women in business leadership.

Last year, seven European countries adopted legislation to increase the representation of women on corporate boards, while others set targets and increased self-regulation. The region, however, is also in crisis, and the need to create growth in the name of European competitiveness is driving change at a faster clip.

Today, the diversity and talent issue is less about supply than demand. The challenge for leaders —business, academic and political—is to “expand the demand” for educated and experienced talent in order to keep businesses competitive and society and its institutions more equitable.

Despite accounting for around 60 percent of Europe’s university graduates, women represent only 14 percent of board members in Europe's biggest listed companies, and only 3 percent of board presidents. The dissatisfaction with the status quo and the will to change it is palpable in the region.

Delegates at the Summit were tasked with providing immediate and concrete steps to increase the representation of women in business leadership and address the need to adapt internal work cultures to reflect the shifting expectations of work and the workplace.

Attendees included Catalyst President & CEO Ilene H. Lang, Germany’s deputy government spokeswoman Sabine Heimbach, Herminia Ibarra Ph. D, Professor of Organisational Behaviour at INSEAD, Trevor Phillips, Chair of the UK Equality and Human Rights Commission, and other noted leaders from government, academia, and influential NGOs.

Judging from the individual pledge cards, organizations are embracing this potential tipping point in Europe’s history and looking to make fundamental changes for the long-term benefit of women and business.

We received many suggestions, including making leadership more accountable, convincing men this is not a women’s issue, and making diversity part of hiring objectives and bonus schemes. We now look forward to working with delegates and making good on those pledges. In the meantime, we keenly await the EU’s announcement concerning women on corporate boards, which is expected shortly.

Will 2012 go down in history only as the year of a major economic crisis, or also as a catalyst for positive change? I’m placing my bets on the latter—what do you think?

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Eleanor Tabi Haller-Jorden has led Catalyst Europe since 2006, when it was established to work with corporate and academic members in Europe through thought-provoking events and programs that reflect the cultural diversity of the region. A frequent media contributor and lecturer (IMD, London School of Economics and Political Science, Yale School of Organization and Management, Columbia University Business School), Ms. Haller-Jorden also sits on numerous boards. She is Chairperson of the The Humanity Initiative’s Executive Board; a member of the Healthcare Businesswomen's Association (HBA) European Board; on the EU’s Steering Scientific Committee, Seventh Framework Programme, Meta-analysis for Gender and Science Research; and on The Academy of Business and Society and Öko-Institut's Advisory Board for the IMPACT initiative. Ms. Haller-Jorden serves on the Advisory Board of the Tosca Group Future of Organisations Consortium, with Dave Ulrich and other thought leaders. She attended Princeton University as an advanced standing scholar and Bryn Mawr College, where she earned her A.B. magna cum laude in history. She earned her M.Sc. in Industrial Relations from the London School of Economics and Political Science.