A few days ago, on November 25, 'World day for Violence against Women', all the media and social networks reported the gruesome numbers of femicides committed in the last year (more than 100 women killed since the beginning of 2022 in Italy alone) and the chilling videos of what happens to Iranian women - and in the rest of the world.
During the other 364 days of the year, the news that shocks with impressive stories and images is still accompanied by the sensation caused by the election of a female Prime Minister (last but not least, the election of the Italian Premier Giorgia Meloni ), while the appointment of the new Rector of the Milan Polytechnic fades almost into the background.
Donatella Sciuto, one of the 50 most influential Italian women in technology with a respectable curriculum vitae, dotted with important positions that could only lead her to very high goals, has been elected to lead the prestigious Italian university. There was talk of another "glass ceiling" being broken.
The same phrase was used recently by Ursula von der Leyen to give the green light from the European Parliament to the Directive on Women on Boards of Directors.
By the end of June 2026, all large companies listed in the European Union will have to reserve at least 40% of Non-Executive Director posts and 33% of total Director posts to women. This consensus comes 10 years after the European Commission's proposal and on which the current President commented: “The glass ceiling that prevented women from accessing top positions in companies has been broken. It's a truly historic and moving moment."
But is it still necessary to 'guarantee' with legislative provisions the access of women to institutional positions (the quotas raised in politics) or to the top management of a company of any kind? Wouldn't it be enough simply to recognize the merit, the careful preparation, the experience gained, the performances obtained as it happens when it is a man aspires to certain positions?
We certainly think that it would be more important and necessary to 'protect' women's lives with more restrictive legislative measures aimed at defending them from the harassment they suffer in many areas of daily life, from work to family.
In conclusion, it is important to make women autonomous and to recognize their independence, but it is essential to protect the freedom with which they decide to live. Only then, in our opinion, will the "glass ceiling" really be broken.
In the future, board members with four or more members will have to have at least one woman.
In addition, in certain life situations, such as maternity leave, parental leave, caring for family members, etc., members of the Board of Management can take liability-free time off.
In order for this strong signal for more equality and for a cultural change in Germany to be implemented quickly, the law has to be passed by the Bundestag before the summer break.
I look forward to when companies discover that more diversity is not a chore, but an essential key to growth!
Meltem Ay, Principal
Today, the fifth and final report from the Hampton-Alexander Review was published.
The Hampton-Alexander Review was an independent, voluntary and business-led initiative supported by UK Government to increase the representation of women in senior leadership positions and on boards of FTSE 350 Companies, from 2016-2020.
The scope of the Review covered over 23,000 leadership roles in Britain’s largest listed companies, covering the board and two leadership layers below the board, making the UK’s voluntary approach to improving women’s representation at the top table, arguably the biggest and most ambitious of any country.
FTSE 100, 250 and 350 all reached target of women making up 33% of boards by the end of 2020. Culture change at the top is paving the way for greater gender parity across business with women’s representation in wider senior leadership also rising. Hampton-Alexander Review CEO, Denise Wilson said:
“The lack of women in the boardroom is where it all started a decade ago, and it’s the area where we have seen the greatest progress. But now, we need to achieve the same - if not more - gains for women in leadership.”
The final report states that there is no doubt that the executive search community has a critical part to play in the selection process and working together with clients, has been a major driver of progress.
Friisberg has a long established success in helping appoint women candidates to a wide range of business and public boards. This is important given the significant reach of many of these boards generates a critical ripple effect across boards in a wide range of sectors and positions of influence.
We work with our clients to ensure talent is evaluated on a level playing field.
We ensure that briefs are drawn as widely as possible, which prevents candidates with the appropriate skills and attributes being unintentionally ‘written out’ at an early stage.
We offer support and guidance to staff, and clients alike, on how to evaluate different work and life experiences with the more traditional career paths, and on the power of bias in the process, and final appointment stage.
As we look to build back better from the pandemic, it’s important businesses keep challenging themselves to use all the talents of our workforce and open up the top ranks for more, highly-accomplished women.
As diversity gradually increases in many boardrooms (still too slowly, in my opinion) we are seeing more women take on the role of:
Now, I know some would argue that Chairman is not necessarily a masculine term in much the same way as we use hu(man), wo(man) or fe(male).
If it doesn’t matter, then why don’t more men call themselves Chairwoman?
Well, I asked a couple of Chairmen and they felt to call themselves a Chairwoman would just be daft. Yes, perhaps, but no more daft than the other way around – surely?
We still live and work in what is irrefutably a man’s world, and historical semantics dictates Chairman literally means a Chair who is also a MAN.
However, I know plenty of women who refer to themselves as Chairman.
In the UK, the Companies Act 2006 actually specifies the term 'Chairman' - which is as astonishing as it is unnecessary - and may be the reason.
But, do women really aspire to holding a masculine title? Are they content that it’s the way it has to be? Do they care nothing for its sexist overtones? Perhaps they are actually afraid to rock the boat in what might be a predominantly male boardroom?
But argue I must and argue I will.
I care deeply about the message it sends. If men want to call themselves Chairman, fine. It’s accurate. If women want to call themselves Chairwoman, well, that’s fine too. However, if women use Chairman, aren’t they saying, “I identify as a woman, but this is a man’s world, and I need to conform to get on."?
It sends the wrong message to women, and it also sends the wrong message to men too, especially younger men who shouldn’t be growing up with the potential for a sense of entitlement - that the seat at the head of the table is reserved for ‘men’ only.
Why not use the simple, non-gender specific term Chair?
It’s short, to the point, offends no one, creates no sense of entitlement, and does not attribute gender to something that is absolutely nothing to do with gender…
If you are reading this article and huffing and puffing or muttering about ‘political correctness gone mad’ – there is no need to ask ‘What’s the problem?’...
Many résumés for women in top positions read like a handbook to business success. They didn't need a quota, the career steps followed one another seemingly logically, opportunities always presented themselves and women took advantage of them. But there are few - at least in Germany.
The legislature now wants to change that.
The plans for a binding quota of women on executive boards affect almost a third of the 100 largest listed companies in Germany because 29 of them have more than three board members, but no position for a woman, according to an analysis by the Boston Consulting Group.
As a diversity officer, I speak to highly qualified women in management positions every week. Many of them have come along a rocky road, yet not all are in favour of a quota; and have differing opinions on the advancement of women.
But when it comes to the question of what women need above all to make it to the top, they all agree:
Courage to seize opportunities and also to fill uncomfortable roles - even if you do not yet have all the skills.
What do you think?
Do women lack courage?
I look forward to a lively exchange with you!
The world needs more women leaders – whether that is leading companies or running countries. Why? Because gender equal leadership results in a more inclusive and effective society.
Global talent shortages are at a record high (almost double that of a decade ago) so surely it is critical to harness all potential talent. Did you know that although women enter the workforce in relatively equal numbers as men, but the rise to the top can be slower and more challenging for them?
At Friisberg we constantly challenge the status quo and actively seek to create truly inclusive and supportive environments where women can excel and constantly achieve their full potential.
There are many ways companies themselves can aim to attract and retain more women leaders:
Break the male line of succession
A lack of women leaders at the top cannot always be attributed to a lack of female talent. Many women feel blocked from senior ranks due to all-male lines of succession. Breaking this line of succession requires reversing stereotypes. Companies must clearly articulate and make transparent the specific skills and experiences needed for movement into leadership levels and should identify suitable mechanisms for helping women build exposure to the scenarios they need in order to progress.
Offer workplace benefits beyond pay
For companies to attract women into leadership roles, they need to offer more than just good pay, such as employee training and development opportunities, good work/life balance, and flexibility. Many women still remain the primary caregivers outside of working hours, so it is important that companies understand and respect the wide demands often placed on working women.
Look for employees who are willing to adapt
The world of work is changing thanks to the increasing influence of digital technology and this can mean breadth of skills and not always depth. Yet, many companies still require candidates to have many solid years of experience behind them, something that greatly favours men who have not had career breaks. Some of the biggest barrier to women's progress is an entrenched male culture that is based on merits created by men, shaped by presenteeism and defined largely by male standards.
At Friisberg, we always remove bias and barriers from interviews and ensure our assessment criteria are designed with all candidates in mind.
Encourage leaders to take responsibility for their actions
All leaders have the influence to instigate change, so it is important that the words, actions and decisions of leaders are fair and inclusive in promoting and encouraging women.
Leaders should ensure there are adequate policies and strategies in place to create inclusive workplace cultures where people's differences are valued. Such workplaces ensure everyone - regardless of background or identity - is respected, their voices heard and their actions valued.
Atila Yenisen, CEO of Metro Bulgaria.
Reducing gender inequalities is one of the UN 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to transform our world and the topic about the role of women in business is becoming increasingly relevant today.
Atila is highly engaged regarding the role of women in business and is an active member in LEAD Network as Co-Chair in the Sales & Buying chapter where he is actively involved in projects aimed at increasing the influence of women in trade.
Our industry is very dynamic and consumer behaviours are continuously changing and evolving. Real success comes from not only following the customers, but also from shaping their choices. It is therefore paramount to have the diversity of the market reflected into our decision-making processes - only then we can move where the customers move and even move the customers towards our solutions.
We have set targets at a local level within Bulgaria. We have a minimum of 50% women in our development programs and at least 50% of candidates interviewed for Level 3 and up positions are women. This helps us to manage our pipeline for all the levels in our organization including for leadership positions.
According to a global survey on the topic, having children was stated as the biggest challenge for female colleagues. We know that over half of mothers change jobs, over 30% contemplate leaving work entirely and nearly 20 % of women leave employment in the following 5 years after their child’s birth. Therefore, we decided to focus our maternity policy to help women not to disconnect during their maternity leave which then helps them to restart effectively when they choose to rejoin.
In METRO Bulgaria we also initiated the Women in trade chapter within the company. The aim was to promote awareness as well as engaging with teams giving them the opportunity to drive decisions. We have already 26 employees involved in the project. We are also in the process of adapting our Global Diversity and Inclusion training.
I believe the role of leaders, regardless of their gender, is critical. Leaders set the context, they set the tone and they set the norms of culture. However, considering the male dominance in leadership positions, it is vitally important to actively engage men with diversity and inclusion.
The first step is increasing their awareness that diversity undoubtedly improves results. However, I would suggest we avoid only focusing on women and men, but more on real diversity including sexual orientation, religious and political views, as well as all cultures.
I can count numerous qualities of a good leader. However, let me highlight the three most important in my opinion:
1. Self-belief: everything starts with confidence.
2. Assertiveness: a good leader should not easily give up.
3. Persistence: very few initiatives elicit good results at the first attempt and only the ones who try again and again make a difference.
We are delighted to observe that nearly 37% of our business customers are owned by women.
The biggest challenge for women business owners is to multitask. I have hard time believing that all women actually delegate all their historical responsibilities to men. So, managing everything can be quite a challenging task. When it comes to managing their businesses, just like their male counterparts, there are many different areas about which they need more knowledge and support such as the legal requirements, fiscal rules, quality standards and measures etc.
I have been part of LEAD for the last 5 years. My colleague Tanya was already part of it and invited me to join. I have been actively participating as a mentor for female leaders from different industries, companies and geographies. Being a mentor in this network has enabled me to appreciate different perspectives and realities which have subsequently shaped my opinions. This year I have also agreed to be the Co-Chair of a new Chapter which is called the “Sales & Buying Chapter”. Its mission is to equip emerging female leaders in Retail and FMCG with expertise, confidence and international exposure. It is a very exciting role in a very interesting chapter.
I would like to invite women from the Procurement and Category management fields to join our sector. These roles are both challenging and strategic, requiring analytical skills. In the current circumstances the growth opportunities in organizations are bigger.
My most important advice to women in trade is to believe in yourself, follow your dreams and things will work out in the best possible way!
Interview: Nevena Nikolova, Partner, Friisberg & Partners Bulgaria
"Women in the Workplace 2020" is a must-read report from McKinsey & Company.
[ Go to full source report on McKinsey.com ]
Yellow Eve, a newly-launched magazine for equality-driven career women, featured an article by Friisberg Partner, Lorri Lowe.
Over the past 14 years, the Global Gender Gap Index included in The World Economic Forum Global Gender Gap Report 2020 has served as a compass to track progress on relative gaps between women and men on health, education, economy, and politics. Through this annual yardstick, stakeholders within each country are able to set priorities relevant in each specific economic, political and cultural context.
This year’s report highlights the growing urgency for action. Without the equal inclusion of half of the world’s talent, we will not be able to deliver on the promise of the Fourth Industrial Revolution for all of society, grow our economies for greater shared prosperity or achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goals. At the present rate of change, it will take nearly a century to achieve parity, a timeline we simply cannot accept in today’s globalized world, especially among younger generations who hold increasingly progressive views of gender equality.
Lorri Lowe, Chair of Friisberg's Diversity Group, who writes and speaks regularly on employee engagement and corporate cultures, highlights the slow rate of progress being made towards parity between the sexes, particularly in boardrooms:
"Without some widespread recognition that there is a problem to be addressed, these statistics will continue to be disheartening. The acknowledgement needs to made, by employers, that - as Jesse Jackson famously said - when everyone is included, everyone wins."