Chapter 3 Transformative education
Redressing the gender balance
Reading time: 6 minutes
In a 2014 article published in RSM Outlook magazine about the founding of the Erasmus Centre for Women and Organisations (ECWO) by Prof. Dianne Bevelander, it was reported that just 17 per cent of executives in Europe’s largest listed companies were women. Fast-forward nearly a decade and the number of women in these executive positions stands at 19.3 per cent. While that is an improvement, there is clearly much work still to be done.
Domestically, the gender equality struggle has suffered something of a setback. In 2010, 20 per cent of women in the Netherlands earned less than men. By 2019, however, the gender earnings gap had, according to the EIGE Gender Equality Index, increased to 21 per cent. Globally, achieving gender equality in business – and society – remains an uphill struggle, a point emphasised by the World Economic Forum (WEF) in its Global Gender Gap Report 2020, which gloomily forecasts it will take a century before gender parity is a reality. What’s more, the WEF’s Global Gender Gap Report 2021 noted that the Covid-19 pandemic had set back efforts to close the gender gap by a generation.
Changing people’s lives
Addressing – and redressing – gender equality encompasses more than equal representation and wage parity. At its heart is engagement and empowerment, which ECWO achieves by providing women with the tools, networks, knowledge and confidence to drive their careers – and positively impact gender equality in society as a whole.
In April 2021, leadership of the ECWO passed to Hanneke Takkenberg, Professor of Management Education focusing on Women in Business at RSM, and Professor of Clinical Decision Making in Cardio-Thoracic Interventions at Erasmus Medical Center (Erasmus MC). She is charged with taking forward a thriving, dynamic organisation built by ECWO founder and gender equality pioneer, Prof. Dianne Bevelander.
Hanneke was formerly Chief Diversity Officer at Erasmus University; her work now is broadly focused on empowering and connecting women to help them drive their careers forward, and achieving gender equality globally through advocacy and research. Additionally, she is an active participant in the European Commission-funded Horizon2020 EQUAL4EUROPE research project, which is developing and implementing gender equality plans in European universities.
Building confidence and networks
Among ECWO’s purposes is increasing the confidence women have in their own abilities. It does so by helping women with their negotiation and communication skills, and hosting debates on issues around gender and what holds women back. The focus is on delivering executive development programmes that provide the leadership skills and insights to help women accelerate their careers. ECWO’s research provides deep understanding and broad perspectives of the challenges and opportunities facing women in business. And through coaching, mentoring and an extended support network, the Centre helps women define and realise their individual goals in a way that also positively impacts their organisations.
ECWO’s programmes – Women in Leadership; Communication with Power and Impact for Women, and Negotiating for Success: Women, Careers and Business – optimise women’s leadership capabilities by empowering them with the tools, shared insights, broader perspective and the enhanced management skills needed to advance their career and fulfil their potential as agents of change.
Communication with power
The challenges faced by women in business are still many, as Olga Konovalova has found at first hand. A master degree graduate from Kiev who moved to the Netherlands, Olga has worked in the food industry for more than a decade. As R&D quality manager for Upfield, a plant-based food company, she wanted to find ways to progress her career, with a particular focus on understanding the gender issues that sometimes confront women in her industry.
“I work in an industry which is male dominated,” Olga says. “This is especially so in the Netherlands, where I soon realised that women product and process technologists are not as common.”
Olga came across ECWO’s LinkedIn page and knew she had found what she was looking for: “I was immediately drawn to its focus on empowering women in our careers,” she says. Understanding and improving how to communicate in gender-imbalanced environments was a priority, so Olga enrolled in the ECWO programme, Communication with Power and Impact for Women.
“Getting a deep understanding of how to build my profile and also what my leadership style is has been invaluable,” she says. “I also found the emphasis on networking to be powerful.”
ECWO’s research-based approach very much appealed to Olga. “As someone working in the sciences,” she says, “I like the fact that ECWO is based in research – that it’s not just about what we think about the gender imbalance in the workplace but what research has shown.”
"I have found ECWO’s emphasis on providing research-based knowledge that shows how, and why, gender imbalance exists, is really, really powerful.”
- Severina Scarnecchia, Government Affairs Director, EMEA, at Eastman Chemical Company
Severina Scarnecchia, a former EU government affairs senior counsellor and, since 2015, Government Affairs Director, EMEA, at Eastman Chemical Company, says she found politics to be an environment where gender equality and diversity is missing: “There are so few women across all areas of the parliament. In that way, being in Brussels was a slight disappointment to me.”
At Eastman she connected with ECWO. “I have found ECWO’s emphasis on providing research-based knowledge that shows how, and why, gender imbalance exists, is really, really powerful – and helps women understand each other and their own possible gender biases,” she says. It was exactly this approach that saw Eastman and ECWO working together and led the company to sponsor ECWO’s 2018 conference.
“When ECWO ran our first Women in Leadership programme at Eastman, I felt such energy and drive and I immediately looked for ways for Eastman to support ECWO’s work,” says Severina. “As a result of that, we created an internal team called The Catalyst in every region. That was the start of an ongoing and dynamic initiative towards gender balance and equality across all levels of the company.”
Equality, equity and true inclusion
Looking to the future, ECWO will continue to play a pivotal role in not only empowering and connecting women to drive their individual careers forward, but also in achieving gender equality globally through advocacy and world-leading research.
Prof. Takkenberg says: “We want to add even more value as we move forward. ECWO’s aim is to undertake research connected to the education that we give – in particular, focusing on the effectiveness of the networks being created through our educational programmes. Do women get bigger, more effective networks after participating in our courses? Do they advance in their careers? Do they feel happier in their work? Most importantly, our work is informed by our commitment to addressing gender equality and gender equity – and building true inclusion through a culture of care.”