Together with men: Is gender equality really about gender?

By Sofia Merlo, Co-CEO / BNP Paribas Wealth Management

In November 2017, equality between men and women was declared a "major nationwide priority" in France by the French President Macron and his Women's Rights State Secretary Marlene Schiappa.  
I was actually present at this declaration and was truly impressed by the energy, commitment and potential gathered around this noble cause. Like many people in the room, I wanted to further support this initiative. That's why I felt so honoured when the French media Mid&Plus, led by Marie-Hélène Cossé, suggested I participate to a white paper, aiming to inspire future actions towards gender equality.

My level of enthusiasm stepped up when Marie-Hélène told me the theme of the white paper: "Tomorrow with men: daring to build together a more equitable world". What an inspiring angle! How true it is that gender equality has to be an inclusive topic, not one that excludes.


In my experience, working with men on gender equality topics can completely change the working mind-set.
This is not anymore about fighting, but about building. Not arguing or defending, but sharing and cooperating. And men are ready to do so: for example I’ve been pleased to notice that there were more male than female contributors to this white paper. Another example is the recent call of the (great) French filmmaker Jacques Audiard denouncing the under-representation of women in the movie industry.

Obviously, my participation in this white paper has been the opportunity to speak about the strategy we’ve set within BNP Paribas, and my entity, BNP Paribas Wealth Management, to promote gender diversity, both internally for staff members and externally by supporting women entrepreneurship. I hope this might inspire other decision-makers, even beyond the finance industry.

But the most interesting part of this white paper deals with immersing ourselves into others’ testimonials, as there is so much to learn from others’ personal experiences. Here are some examples of insights and recommendations I noticed, even if it is so hard to summarize such a rich content.

        1. Education

This is where everything starts, whether your consider babies, students or young entrepreneurs—these three ages are explored in the white paper. Albert Louppe considered how younger children are building their perception of gender differences, and how important it is to take into account gender diversity within day care and kindergarten structures. Jean-Louis Audunc revealed how girls benefit from a better success rate all along their studies, representing 54.1% of French doctorates. He also highlighted that orientation is more and more differentiated between boys and girls, and warned about the risk of identifying sectors as a ‘natural fit’ for women (those linked to relationships and daily life), and others for men (those related to technics and IT). Viviane de Beaufort suggested a reinforcement of mentoring and coaching of female start-uppers so they won’t suffer the feeling of being an impostor in a sector where norms have been based on male models.

        2. Professional Life

It is indeed at work that women face the most discrimination and stereotypes. And at the same time the for-profit and non-profit structures employing people are also the best place to innovate and encourage new policies! As Gonzague de Blignières mentions, this is both about regulation and exemplarity. Gonzague raises interesting ideas on recruitment, in particular about having female candidates on short-lists for job opportunities, publishing gender neutral job titles and always having both male and female contacts at a job interview.

        3. Private Life

The most diverse points of view were evident in the private life section.

The psychiatrist Fatma Bouvet de la Maisonneuve underlined the psychological pressure sustained by women in the context of pregnancy and maternity. Dr Gilles Lazimi suggested many measures to fight domestic violence, though prevention, welfare protection and also research. Last but not least, Armelle de Guibert, general delegate from the French Association “Petit Frères des Pauvres”, highlighted the level at which women are impacted by poverty, with retirement pensions 39% lower than men and representing 70% of the 70+ beneficiaries of old-age minimum revenue assistance.

        4. Civic Life

You can encounter under-representation and discrimination of women in many areas of public life, even where you wouldn’t expect it. For example I’ve been fascinated by the views of the landscape gardener Michael Hössler on how public spaces in western countries are still designed and meant for men, dating back to the ages when women were confined to the private space. A concrete consequence of this mismatch is the worrying situation on street harassment.

In a nutshell: many solutions can be explored around education, training, mentoring, awareness programs, new policies, sound practices and commitments... To be scalable and efficient, these solutions will have to involve every part of society, whether it be families, companies, politics, and/or associations. And again this aspiration for a more equal world will only succeed if men and women work together on it!

Should you like to know more, take a look at the white paper (in French) "Tomorrow with men: daring to build together a more equitable world".