I was recently approached by a headhunter. He asked me whether I wanted to be brought forward for an executive position as a wildcard. A wildcard? I hadn’t heard of the term before, but I had heard of risky or unconventional profiles in the context of people being proposed for a job or position.

This article was originally published on my LinkedIn blog.

These terms are apparently used to indicate that someone does not yet possess enough experience in a certain role or industry yet, or doesn’t meet all the job requirements.

Apart from the fact that I’m not even looking for a new job, this term suggests that it is very difficult to look at people’s talents, competencies and qualities with a neutral, fresh pair of eyes. Perhaps that’s why women are still seen - completely unjustifiably - as a wildcard for senior positions. And that’s worrying. To my eye, it’s not the candidate, but the CEO exhibiting a risky profile, if he or she is not aware of diversity and does not act on it. Still, a lack of awareness is all I see when it comes to diversity and having more women in top positions in business.

For the celebration of international women’s day on 8 March, I attended various events. The question asked at the top breakfast hosted by D&I Company and also attended by minister Bussemaker was: How is equality coming along in the Netherlands? Well, as it turns out, far from great. Admittedly, there are many initiatives to help women get into top jobs, including a database with female candidates. But the bottom line is that there’s just no real progress. The Female Board Index shows, for example, that none of the 26 executive positions at AEX companies was filled by a woman over the past year. The situation on supervisory boards is slightly better. But these aren’t great results. A quota seems the only way forward, and although I don’t actually support the idea of a quota, it seems that hard measures are necessary. “Where there’s a will, there’s a way. And where there’s no will, there’s law”, in the words of Bussemaker.

Minister Bussemaker about diversity

Bridging the pay gap quicker

The annual study published by Accenture for International Women’s Day, Getting to Equal 2017, highlights that we have a long way to go in terms of equality. Not only do women get paid less for the same job, there is also a hidden pay gap. There are relatively many women in the Netherlands who do not work, work part-time, do unpaid work or work in low-paying industries. Where there is a will and ambition, this can change. And change it must. According to the study, the generation of women graduating around 2020 could be the first generation that no longer has to deal with the pay gap. In order to quicken the process worldwide, the study mentions three factors. Most importantly, women need to take matters into their own hands. Digital technologies offer the opportunity to learn more and quicker, to make work more flexible and to improve connectivity. And that’s just what women are proven to be good at. But it’s also essential that women dare to be ambitious and really act on that ambition. Take charge of your own career and embrace new technological advances. That will speed up the road to equality and better paid jobs.

#HeForShe

Apart from everything that women can do themselves, male leaders also have a role to play. A short while ago, I experienced an example of principled management first hand. During the European Utilities week in Barcelona, I participated in an executive panel about accelerating energy transition. When I arrived, I was met by a multitude of suited men. An executive of a French utility who was also on the panel welcomed me and made the point that he would not have participated in the panel, if I hadn’t been invited. I was a bit surprised, but the man happened to be one of the backers of #JamaisSansElles, a French initiative that involves top business people making the public promise to never participate in panels, round tables or other discussions that do not include at least one woman. It’s a marvellous move, based on the UN’s #HeForShe campaign, which enlists men as allies in the battle for gender equality. Although it is a small example, it’s a powerful statement. I believe we should make the same promise in the Netherlands and stick by it.

Topontbijt or breakfast about diversity

Diversity catalyses innovation

An equal distribution of men and women in teams is all but a gimmick. Various studies show that when more women start working, economies grow. During a panel discussion I was invited to participate in, along with Neelie Kroes, at the Salesforce World Tour Amsterdam last week, Vivienne Ming presented her neuroscientific research proving once again that diverse teams perform significantly better. But her insights don’t stop there. Her results show that the most innovative and creative teams consist of a ratio 60% women and 40% men. That’s why gender equality and equal opportunity are so important for us at Accenture. For us, it’s not just a foundation for meaningful and profitable growth; it’s scientific fact.

We strive for gender equality

So how can we accelerate this process in the Netherlands? I don’t usually advocate a top-down approach, but in this case I think that the people at the top have to take effective action. CEOs and executives need to get up and do something. Because if nothing happens next year, it will be hard to escape the 30% quota announced by Bussemaker. At Accenture we strive for gender equality, so 50/50, on all levels. That’s not just empty words. By 2030, we want to have achieved gender equality worldwide. That’s our vision, so that’s what we’re aiming at. In the Netherlands, my management team consists of 5 women and 5 men, but the distribution of men and women in other parts of the organisation is more skewed. We must be consistent. In practice, I find that exceptions are sometimes made when it comes to who gets promoted and these exceptions are often to the detriment of women. In organisations as big as Accenture, all these small deviations add up. So it’s up to management to make sure it doesn’t happen.

Equality is normal

Of course it’s not all bad news. Internationally speaking, businesses in the Netherlands are taking action and doing relatively well and that’s something to be proud of. But it’s still not enough. We have to focus on increasing awareness on all levels. It’s not about 30% or 40%. It’s about equality. The idea that equality is normal should be commonplace for everyone, and we should all strive to achieve it with our words and our actions. Women are no wildcard. The moment of truth is now. I won’t let it happen and I will do something about it. I promise. What will you do?