The Feminine Century

16/07/2012 Barcelona


According to IESE’s first Alumnae Conference director, Prof. Nuria Chinchilla, we’re well into the “F” century, when businesses, governments, families need to incorporate the feminine perspective into their worldview in order to reach long-term success.

As the testimony of 12 speakers at IESE’s recent Alumnae Conference made apparent, the workplace only thrives when it accounts for and adapts to the growing number of women who are joining the ranks of leaders today.

The 2-day conference was part of a series of events hosted by IESE’s International center for Work and Family designed specifically as a space for businesswomen and directors to compare notes and learn from leaders who are blazing trails.

Various panels were combined with discussion, casework and networking during the conference. Professors Chinchilla and Mireia Las Heras, along with Yo Dona magazine director Charo Izquierdo, moderated sessions, grouped under the following headings: “Growing with Passion,” “Growing and Nourishing,” “Leading for Growth,” and “Developing with Excellence.”

For Lary León, journalist and author, Cristina García-Orcoyen, director of the Entorno Foundation, and Arantza Quiroga, president of the Basque parliament, the secret to being passionate about your job is simple: do what you love.

All three women share a long-standing vocation for public service and a deep desire to change the world around them. In the case of León, the strong-willed tenacity her parents instilled in her as a child has given her strength to overcome a physical handicap in order to fulfill her calling of helping others. Unexpected twists and turns along her career path finally led her to her current job, in which she creates and orchestrates television programs for children in hospitals, at the Antena 3 Foundation.

García-Orcoyen also credits her parents for endowing her with a sense of security and self-confidence that has enabled her to navigate politics and the corporate world successfully.

“Love has become a hackneyed term, but it’s essential that you love what you do, that you love those around you, and that your goals and pursuits be defined by love,” she summed up. Quiroga added her perspective to the mix, emphasizing that it’s good and healthy for women to be ambitious, even though at times this pursuit of excellence may be questioned by others who aren’t used to seeing this quality in a woman. “We’re the ‘bridge’ generation,” she pointed out, “and society still has some catching up to do.”

Crisis and conflict can bring our values into sharp focus and force us to reexamine our priorities, as in the case of Consuelo Crespo, president of UNICEF Spain, Cecilia Duque, director of INALDE Business School’s Alumni Association, and Catherine Lanvers, founder of The Living Springs Association.

Crespo went through an early identity crisis that made her acutely aware of leading a privileged life simply due to the fact that she was born in Barcelona.

She’s since become convinced that our top priority must be investing in fellow human beings. “It’s not about building nice school buildings,” she said, “but about making sure that citizens understand the rights they’re entitled to, and that governments around the world understand and assume their duties and responsibilities.”

Duque has witnessed conflict thanks to her job in promoting Colombian traditional crafts, which has brought her into contact with the violence that many people throughout her country have suffered. Her work on the ground and knowledge of indigenous communities has proven to her that women in Colombia play a large role not only in crafts-making, but in agriculture as well. For Duque, even when circumstances are terrible and violence rages, “as long as people have vision and dream of a better future, there’s hope.”

Lanvers, in turn, suffered persona trauma and tragedy when her husband died in a mountain accident. She went on a personal quest in search of meaning and purpose, one which led her to agree with Crespo’s conclusion that putting humans first is what’s most important.
Her goal is to “humanize globalization,” and help countries “put humans at the center of their economic activity,” so that individuals can condition economics, and not the other way around.

Leading, Growing, and Developing

The invited speakers who gave presentations on the second day of IESE’s Alumnae Conference featured company directors Helen Munter, Clemencia Restrepo de Tobon, and Gloria Perrier-Chatelain, who shared their thoughts on how to foster a culture of growth, both personally and within an organization. Scientists and researchers Natalia López, Elena Reutskaja, and Celia Sánchez headed up the second panel of the day, which addressed the challenge of how to develop with excellence. The conference ended on a positive note, as participants and speakers agreed on the value of hearing from women in positions of leadership.

The importance of having women leaders is not restricted to events such as these, however, as Munter emphasized in her opening talk. “The advancement of women,” she said, “is not a ‘woman’s issue’ but a business imperative.” One way to progress in this direction is by investing in people and making sure they don’t fall by the wayside when they face challenges like maintaining a healthy work-family balance, according to this experienced company director. Munter, who runs the Division of Registration and Inspections of the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board (U.S.) stressed the importance of having mentors and being a mentor as a tool for growth. Even though “everyone has to take ownership” of their own career plan, she pointed out, mentoring allows you to gain advice and wisdom.

De Tobon picked up on the idea of ownership, and commented that “it comes down to the individual to galvanize resources and take action in order to grow.” De Tobon is president of MCTR & Asociados, in Miami, and is convinced that women are leaders by nature. “We live surrounded by negativity, and contradictions,” she said, rallying her audience to implement change: “now is the time to start clearing up this mess.” This IESE alumna (she enrolled in the IESE MBA program in 1976) added a word of wisdom from her years of experience in the corporate world, saying that you should never ask those you lead to do anything you’re not capable of doing, and that what’s most important is to provide solutions, not necessarily to fish for recognition.

Perrier-Chatelain also commented on the current situation, but from a different point of view: “this economic crisis is not a crisis, it’s a change. And change is always positive.” And in order to see what lies ahead, she continued, “the best way to predict the future is to invent it.” Perrier-Chatelain, global director and online marketing strategy, encouraged listeners to seek feedback and new learning experiences regularly, and summed up her insight with the “3 p’s” that growing takes: passion, presence and a positive attitude.

Panelists López, Reutskaja, and Sánchez concluded the IESE Alumnae Conference by sharing their passion for research and education as ways to “influence everything”, in the words of Reutskaja. López, who has spent a lot of time researching the biological differences between X and Y chromosomes, sustains that men and women really are different in some respects, though there are still many unknowns regarding how differences on a cellular level play out.

Reutskaja shared her experience as a professional in higher education, and the misplaced expectations that she has come up against. In her opinion, “sometimes it’s better not to enter into arguments and simply show good results.”

Lastly, Sánchez remarked that although women’s contribution to science has increased, the majority of professionals are still men. She was optimistic about the future, however, since the number of women who are excelling in academics has grown tremendously and is on the rise.