“Hybrid work can harm women’s professional growth”
The professional setback faced by women during the pandemic has already been the subject of several studies – it is estimated that women lost their jobs 1.8 times faster than men. But few have approached the topic from the point of view of women executives. And few people have been talking about what happens to these professionals in this post-pandemic moment and flexible work.
In that sense, the Egon Zehnder – global leadership consultancy with a presence in 35 countries – has done a consistent job. The approach started with a study called “Reversing the “She-cession” and continues with a close monitoring of the situation of female executives in the workplace. “The losses were very big, and it will be difficult to go back to what it was before”, says Ãngela Pêgas, partner at Egon Zehnder. “There are many leaders talking about this and expressing solidarity with women. But talking is not enough. We need concrete actions.”
One of these actions, he says, should be to encourage female leadership at all levels of the company, something that Egon itself is trying to do with its Leaders & Daughters program, which brings together leaders from different companies – both men and women – and their daughters.
Check out below the main excerpts from the interview that Ângela Pêgas gave to BUSINESS season.
Egon Zhender has released a detailed report on the situation of women in leadership roles during the pandemic, the She-cession. What has changed in this flexible working phase?
The changes were not enough to reverse all the damage that was done in the first two years of the pandemic. I mean, the fact that we now have the hybrid model is great, on the one hand, because it gives employees that flexibility, which allows them to solve certain problems. But when going to the office is optional, women are the ones who end up staying at home more, as they were the ones who took on more responsibilities in the pandemic – whether taking care of children who studied remotely, or taking care of older parents. And then men, who attend more face-to-face meetings and spend more time at the office, end up gaining more visibility, which favors them when it comes to a promotion. Not to mention, of course, the women who simply left their jobs to take care of the chaos at the height of the crisis. In our study, we showed that, overall, women lost their jobs 1.8 times faster than men. And this also happened among executive women.
How can we try to reverse this process, in the case of women executives?
Some leaders have been quite vocal on these issues, saying you can’t penalize women just because they ended up having a greater workload during the pandemic. But talking is not enough. We need concrete actions. We have companies that have adopted the same hybrid model for everyone, making the number of days men and women go to the office the same. This might be a good move. But we need broader and more structural actions. In the study, we saw that only 25% of leaders are promoting women, and only 12% are striving for gender pay equity.
We recently had good news, which was the growth in the number of women on boards of directors. That’s really good. But these executives are usually more senior and have a more balanced family life. And obviously the time spent on the board is less than in an executive career. So we need to go further and work the entire chain, from the lowest positions, to the management, board and presidency positions.
The idea of promoting female leadership from the beginning is at the base of the Leaders & Daughters program, which was recently published in Brazil. Can you tell how the program came about?
In 2015, we were having a series of conversations in our London office about how to create some initiative that would foster in women this feeling of seeking leadership positions from an early age. As we have a very large network globally, with CEOs, directors, executives, we thought we’d take advantage of that. So we decided to invite board members and relevant people from the corporate world – both men and women – to bring their daughters, nieces and mentors to an event that would show the difficulties faced by women who reached the top of their careers. The first meeting, in London, went very well. Today the event is in 40 countries – we started in March and continued throughout the year.
I find it curious that you have included men as well.
The idea was always to call the leaders, whether they were men or women. It is very nice that men come, because that way they understand a little more of reality. When seeing the real difficulties of executive leaders, when hearing reports of prejudice faced by panelists, they realize that their daughter, niece or mentor can also go through this. I think that, in this way, the chip sinks a little more that their behavior has to change.
We have incredible stories from an executive who, prior to Leaders & Daughters, had never had deep career conversations with his daughter. Another tells us that the daughters, because of the encounter, had made a less obvious career choice. She said, “Dad, I know you’d like me to be a super executive, but I really want to be a leader within the scientific world!” And today she is building a career in the field. And she has stories of parents who brought their older daughters to the event, and they liked it so much they convinced their younger sisters to come too. I am very happy that these girls, from an early age, have the opportunity to open the fan to everything they can eventually achieve in life.
You mentioned mentors and mentees. Do they also participate in the event?
Yes, because we wanted to be as inclusive as possible. Because not everyone decides to have children, and others already have grown up children. But we see more and more men and women with a huge dedication to developing female employees for senior positions. So we decided to bring these people into the discussion as well – and, along with them, their mentees. In this way, we were able to count on many more women leaders, who decided not to have children, for the event.
How has Egon Zhender been working with executives of large companies in relation to the theme of diversity? Do you see any important developments?
The biggest change, from a few years ago, is that today there are companies that already have well-established diversity programs. So we have been increasingly called upon to meet specific demands: we want a black counselor, or a female executive. Even for all the pressure that has been made by the shareholders themselves, many actually want to see a more diverse board. But in family-controlled companies, which do not suffer this pressure from the capital market, this is still a more difficult conversation. They want robust talent for the company, but the concern for diversity is not always there. It’s a secondary theme for them. So, we have to raise the issue, say: “Your board doesn’t have any women, or doesn’t have any black people”.
With regard specifically to the issue of racial diversity, have companies made progress?
Very little. The truth is that the issue of female diversity has advanced much more in Brazil than that of racial diversity. Amazing in a country that has more than 50% of the black population, isn’t it? But it is still a topic less explored by companies. When we talk about diversity for a company, it’s always in a broad way. But most of the time, what stands out is the issue of gender. Topics such as racial diversity and sexual orientation, for example, are still far behind.
And what has changed in relation to the search for CEOs?
Today, a much more curious CEO is sought. Curious not only about the company and industry, but also about himself. He has to want to discover himself, accept feedback, change. He is not that leader who knows everything. He can show vulnerability, he can show ignorance of some things, as long as he has a great desire to learn. The leader also focuses much more on developing people than before. He is someone who is more up to date with new technology and more open to being a perennial agent of change.
Source: Época Negócios