Avivah Wittenberg-Cox Contributor
Gender and generational balance – in countries, companies & couples.
Women In Business. A new BoardEx study across 26 countries shows that gender balance of corporate Leadership Teams is well behind that of corporate Boards. The average Board ratio is 27% women/ 73% men, compared to 19% women/ 81% men on Leadership Teams. And while the many of the women who sit on Boards are non-execs, the majority of the women making it to the Executive Team are in staff rather than line roles, what BoardEx refers to as roles of ‘influence’ rather than ‘power.’ Australia, Sweden, Norway and South Africa are at the top of the league tables on gender balance, Japan, as usual, trails the pack.
BoardEx’s Chief Data Scientist, Dominick Sutton, describes the difference: “If you control a major resource, then you have power – the ability to do something or stop something being done.” The BoardEx survey shows that 60% of HR positions are held by women, but account for only 6% of all leadership roles. Legal roles are 37% female, and account for 8% of the roles in leadership teams. Compare this to general management roles, which account for 44% of leadership roles. They are only 11% female, so you can see the pipeline challenge for further balancing these teams in the future. As Sutton explains, “more women in positions of power increases the likelihood of more women in leadership teams.”
Bucking The Trend: Chr.Hansen
All the more salutory to see some companies – and particularly some CEOs – consciously addressing both issues. Mauricio Graber, the Mexican-born CEO of Danish bio-science firm Chr.Hansen, is one. He came on board in 2018 to a company where he said he “couldn’t find an unhappy employee.” The successful, high-growth, sustainability-oriented company didn’t need a new strategy. It was poised for growth with increased interest in enzymes, bacteria and human health sweeping the world due to Covid.
Women In Business: The Battle For Power Vs Influence
Graber decided to focus on further strengthening the company’s leadership and culture. From ‘pretty male and pretty Danish,’ he knew a better balance of both nationalities and genders would fuel innovation. So that’s what he prioritised. Denmark is a country in the middle of the BoardEx ranking. Danish Boards are dominated by more than 70% men, ExCos by more than 80%.
Graber was determined to buck the Danish averages and bring cultural innovation in alongside scientific innovation. So when his CFO left for greener (i.e. private equity) pastures, he refused the slates of male replacements the search firms were offering to replace him. Unsurprisingly, as the CFO function at this level is dominated by 82% men, and he was determined to balance the interview process.
“Every decision is a signal,” says Graber. “Every promotion signals the values and culture of a company. Just as appointing me, a Mexican, to be CEO spoke volumes. Had I not pushed hard, we would not have found the CFO we did, Lise Mortensen, from Microsoft. It takes commitment. And I’m glad we did, because in the end she was simply the best candidate.” Graber has set ‘aggressive targets.’ By 2025, he wants his director levels to reflect the same 50/50 gender ratios as the rest of the company.
The balance is also building, in parallel, at Board level. It helps that Chr. Hansen is the only C25 Index company in Denmark with a female Chair, Dominique Reiniche, a well-known French executive and former President of Coca-Cola in Europe. Chr.Hansen just announced its Board will be gender balanced before the end of 2020. Graber’s Executive Team, reporting into him, now has three women and four men.
“We’re blessed working with bacteria and fermentation. It allows us to convert the world’s challenges into opportunities. We’re not green-washing, we really are working for a better world. And this attracts a lot of the brightest minds in business.” The focus on biological therapeutics and the human microbiome, increasingly key to immunity, give the company a clear path to growth. So do gender and nationality balance, thinks Graber. “There is a strong catalyst for balance now and there is no going back. In addition, more financing is available for companies with good sustainability and diversity metrics.”
Balancing the Broader Picture
The challenge, Graber recognises, is getting the push to trickle down from big global companies. “Lots of male CEOs are aware of the benefits of balance. But they need to communicate it more. The level of advocacy isn’t high enough yet.”
The BoardEx survey reveals that even big global companies are still stacking their staff roles with women. And that behind the overall marginal improvements in gender balance at the top, lies a lot of work in getting more women into positions of power – and more men into HR.