Gender equality in the workplace

Published on 16 August 2023

Testimonials by Paula Guesnet, Head of the Data Competence Centre at SPIE Deutschland & Zentraleuropa and pilot of the So’SPIE Ladies network in Germany and Isabella Lenarduzzi, founder of JUMP, a social enterprise for equity at work

In Germany, mothers who choose to work have to overcome both practical obstacles, such as inadequate childcare systems, and cultural barriers. Still today, they are often held in low esteem, both in the private sphere and in the workplace, where long-standing biases prevent them from advancing to certain positions. And this is valid for all women. No matter if they have children or not. SPIE isn’t responsible for the prejudices in society, but we are not outside of society either. We have a duty to take action.

We do have a duty to take action and change our practices and culture.”
Paola GUESNET, Head of the Data Competence Centre at SPIE Deutschland & Zentraleuropa and pilot of the So’SPIE Ladies network in Germany

and that’s what the So SPIE Ladies network is all about.

Launched in 2015 in all of the Group’s host countries, the network seeks to foster gender diversity through concrete actions focused on sponsorship, employer branding, recruitment and the training and retention of female employees. In Germany, we began by developing a range of in-house initiatives to build our reputation and lay a solid foundation.

This includes training on unconscious bias, a mentoring programme that enabled us to support 13 women in 2021, and a diversity newsletter and two-monthly discussion meetings for all employees. We also organise an innovative event called ‘lunchroulette’ that helps women employees expand their professional network.

The feedback from employees who participate in these initiatives is very positive. It enables them to help each other, share their experiences, discover new ideas and, often, thanks to all this, do their work better. Today one of our priorities is to get more men involved in the process. They represent an overwhelming majority of the workforce, and if they don’t come on board, nothing will change. We also want to enhance our external visibility, by participating in job fairs, for example. This is crucial if we want to achieve our target of increasing the number of female hires by 5%, a goal shared across all the divisions in order to make everyone feel involved.

Men must take the lead in promoting workplace gender equality because it’s much easier for them to take up these battles.”
Isabella LENARDUZZI, Founder of JUMP, a social enterprise for equity at work

As things stand, the career gap between men and women varies considerably from one European country to another. Norway and France, for example, have the highest levels of equality: 44% of board members in large French companies are women. On the other hand, I’ve noticed a big step backward in many countries with regard to these issues.

What action can a company take when, like SPIE, most of their jobs are still held by men?

The first thing to do is to acknowledge that there are systemic inequalities between men and women. Very early on in life, we are conditioned by society to adopt certain behaviours according to our gender. This is a reality that companies need to address by making their own culture as inclusive of women as it is of men to enable all staff to deliver the best they can. What this means, first of all, is taking positive actions that tend to compensate inequalities in order to achieve true equity. If I am hiring a manager, for example, I’m not just going to cross my fingers and hope that women will apply, because often they haven’t been ‘conditioned’ to stand out or to believe that they have the skills for the position. To rebalance, I will therefore proactively motivate some women by reassuring them that they fit the job.

Another important point is that company managers and board members should receive inclusive management training. In addition, when a woman joins a team composed mainly of men, the team should be given support and guidance. This is vital because changing long-established behaviours is something that needs to be learned. And this is what will make new recruits want to come and stay – seeing that the company’s actions are consistent with its stated values.

It shows that SPIE truly wants to make progress in changing the situation. Just look at its commitment to increasing the number of women in executive positions. It’s great because it sends a message to all women, both internally and externally, that it’s possible to have a career at SPIE! One thing to remember, however, is that women shouldn’t have to bear the burden of the struggle for equality. It’s a responsibility that men should embrace as well. It is more effective because of their position in the company. And it is also easier for them and more valued because they are seen to be doing it for fair and altruistic values, whereas women always carry the suspicion that they are dealing with professional equality for their own advancement or for « radical feminism ».