Women’s Forum chief: EU should stop infighting and regain ambition

Clara Gaymard, executive president of the Women's Forum for the Economy and Society. [Daniela Vincenti]

At a time of deep reflection on the future of the EU, the executive president of the Women’s Forum insisted Europe should regain its ambition, adding that the biggest market in the world and its well-educated labour force have enormous potential.

“We need to come back to our roots. That will boost our optimism. I really love what one of our founding fathers once said. Robert Schuman said that building Europe is so difficult and complex that when you fail it’s not a mistake, it’s just a step,” Clara Gaymard noted.

Clara Gaymard is the executive president of the Women’s Forum for the Economy & Society, the world’s leading platform featuring women’s voices on major social and economic issues. She is also a co-founder of Raise France, an investment company and Endowment Fund for growth based in Paris.

She spoke to EURACTIV.com’s editor-in-chief, Daniela Vincenti, on the sidelines of the Women’s Forum in Rome.

You’ve been in charge of the Women’s Forum for the last three years. This edition in Rome is focusing on Europe. How do we tackle the problems we are facing in the EU?

I’d like to pay tribute to our managing director, Chiara Corazza, who, as an Italian, is the one who has really made this forum possible. Sixty years on from the signing of the Rome Treaty, women have benefitted a lot from Europe but have also been important actors. So this was about showing what women can expect from Europe and what they can give to it.

Because we are women and we are very engaged with the capability given to any woman in the world to empower themselves, we have invited women from the Mediterranean to be here. We believe Europe doesn’t mean anything if we don’t help others to be empowered. In this forum, the voice of the woman in Europe will be heard.

It’s a very timely debate, coming as southern Europe faces a big migration crisis. Do you think women have a better understanding of migration? Especially given the criticism that has been levied at Angela Merkel.

I’m not keen to say that women are one way and men are another. That is what we as feminists are fighting against. It’s not true that all women are nice and sweet or that all men are spoiling for a fight. I hate stereotypes.

So I wouldn’t put it that way. But maybe because we are women and we have children, perhaps we are more pragmatic. So maybe we see things as they are, rather than how we wish them to be. We take situations as they are.

We see the situation of women around the world is less than satisfying and we can’t accept that. We in the forum believe that since we have been lucky enough to have an education, a job, a family, then we want to help those without a voice and help them be actors.

This forum in Rome is important because the Treaty of Rome was designed to empower all citizens through peace, freedom, respect of cultures and diversity. That’s our philosophy too and we want to revive it. We as women want that re-expressed and we want to engage with all of this. A better world is, by definition, one where everyone has a place.

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Gender equality is still wishful thinking. How to make sure we accelerate progress? Do we need quotas?

For many years, there has been this view that because the law has been adapted to promote gender equality, then that will be enough. But it’s not true.

You need voluntary action, to remain vigilant and accept it is happening. Yes, we have the regulation and it needs to be there but it’s not enough.

We want to engage for impact, not just to promote women but because we think women can bring something new, something different.

It’s untapped potential. Managing directors around the world are only about 4% women. We are losing out on so much. We have a long way to go. But if we are not engaged, things are going to go back to how they once were. It’s happening in certain countries. It’s revolting. And it’s not just off in far-flung countries, there are women who are forced to stay at home, cover their face, living in London, Paris, Rome. It’s not about religion, it’s about respecting people. If we don’t call this out every day, people begin to treat it as normal.

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How do we help women from the Mediterranean and empower them to speak up? There’s a feeling that they are endangered.

It’s not a feeling, they are in danger. They are very courageous. Some of them are putting their lives in danger and we have to support them. It is important that we make sure that people don’t accept this state of affairs as being normal.

After leaving GE, you have built a company that invests in SMEs and other companies that are run by women or empower women. Is the economic path the right one? Or is investing in culture and education the way to give them a voice?

Everyone is a policymaker. Wherever you stand, even if you are a mother who stays at home. The way you educate your children makes you a policymaker. We can’t say we have bad government and bad policy because we are all actors in that.

Education is key because educated women will educate their children the same way. You see it in India. Entrepreneurship is also a key way to do it. Every time our company gives money to companies, I always ask if there is a woman in the decision-making team. If there is not, there is no money. Even if the project is great.

My partner in this venture is a man, a great professional who has always promoted women. But when we started he wanted to hire three men. I told him from the beginning that I wouldn’t join if it was going to be that way. I told him there has to be parity. He told me that in the investment business there are very few women. Only 5%. I told him we only needed two of them. It was what we did.

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The Commission has come up with quotas, they wanted it to be mandatory. But are quotas the right tool if there is no change of mentality?

I believe they are the right thing to do. In France, we had a law that imposed quotas on boards of directors. The business community was against it because it supposedly limited their freedom to do business. They said they wanted to hire women but that they couldn’t find them and that it could lead to a reduction in quality, etc. When you see the result today, not only do women make up 40% of boards but recruitment has become more professional.

For the first time now you see the French parliament is composed of 46% of women. When you put quotas you force people to find the right woman.

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The EU is in a reflection period. If you had to design your vision as a woman in business who has worked across cultures, what would be your recipe?

I don’t have a recipe, but I have a dream. It boils down to ambition. Europe is the biggest market in the world. The diversity of culture and people give a lot of tools in the new world. Creativity is at the highest level, people are well educated, so the potential of Europe is enormous. It is bigger than in the US and China.

Europe should not fight against itself but claim that it is a culture, an ambition and a power that can shape the world.

We need to come back to our roots. That will boost our optimism. I really love what one of our founding fathers once said. Robert Schuman said that building Europe is so difficult and complex that when you fail, it’s not a mistake, it’s just a step.

We need to remain confident that we are building a future for our children and ourselves. We should continue the work.

My dream is that we come back to a leadership that understands that there is no other way than building Europe. It does not mean we will lose our culture. But because we are strong and confident in our culture, we can build Europe in a stronger way.

This is really my dream. To do that, the key word is respect. You know what Churchill was saying: The key to success is to go from failure to failure with enthusiasm.



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