EBF CEO Wim Mijs speech at the PWI Brussels International Women’s day Gala organised on Saturday 7 March 2020
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EBF CEO Wim Mijs at the PWI Brussels Gala
- Gender equality is about both conscious and unconscious bias
- We all need to be aware of unconscious biases. Principles, rules and procedures are a big part. However, at the heart of it, minds must change. We need to confront and get rid of unconscious bias. Look in the mirror and recognise where we make assumptions about others. In order to have a lasting effect, we must change values, and not just behaviour.
- Leadership can – and should – influence culture. Corporate values have an impact on employee behaviour. This is true for values such as integrity, transparency, ambition, cooperation, and, of course, fairness. Hence a company can confront and remove unfairness only if the leadership endorses fairness as a key value and incorporates it in all its actions. This is a big responsibility for leaders.
- What are we doing at the EBF?
- We have been involved in responsible banking and gender equality for some years now. In 2018, I signed the European Commission’s ‘Digital4her initiative’. In 2019, I endorsed the United Nations’ Principles for Responsible Banking.
- Last November, we adopted the Women’s Empowerment Principles – a set of 7 very simple and clear principles offering businesses guidance on how to empower women in the workplace, marketplace and community. They result from a collaboration between UN Women and the United Nations Global Compact. Over 2500 other businesses around the world have joined this journey.
- And what are Women’s Empowerment Principles?
- Establish high-level corporate leadership for gender equality.
- Treat all women and men fairly at work.
- Ensure the health, safety and well-being of all workers.
- Promote education, training and professional development for women.
- Implement enterprise development, supply chain and marketing practices that empower women.
- Promote equality through community initiatives and advocacy.
- Measure and publicly report on progress.
- All this is normal behaviour. But the fact that they are obvious does not mean that they are to be taken for granted. We need to incorporate each and every of these principles in the daily life and culture of our organisation. We look forward to learning from global experiences and best practices. We are very happy to have UN Women as partner.
- At the same time, we are a pioneer, because we are among the first trade associations to sign the WEPs. The EBF is essentially an SME, but because of its membership, it has a potential impact on thousands of banks. We want to use that power carefully. This can amplify the impact of the principles.
- What will we do with this?
- We have outlined three distinct ways in which we should implement these principles:
- First, we will focus on gender equality as an employer and as a trade association in our own internal decision bodies and external activities. We will develop experience so we can start helping others adopt the WEPs.
- Second, we will promote best practices among the banks implementing diversity projects. By working with our banks, we can help women’s employment and careers in banks. Many European banks are pioneers of diversity, but as their federation, we want to ensure there is no one left behind and change happens quicker.
- Third, we will promote policies to improve the access of women clients (entrepreneurs, savers, investors, etc) to finance. In finance, women are underrepresented at all levels of the global financial system, from depositors and borrowers to bank board members and regulators. Of the 1.7 billion unbanked adults, 56 percent are women. The EU does better in this regard, but we should also improve. It is especially important to increase access to borrowing, which enables women to start a business, contributing to increases in entrepreneurship and self-employment.
- So, this is a multi-year plan that starts now. We will be transparent and inclusive. Like the European Commission, we will publish our gender diversity strategy. In every step of the way, we will stop to listen, learn and communicate.
- And finally, I want to say a few words about why this work matters.
- First of all, there is the moral dimension. Gender equality is a human right. Like all moral objectives, gender equality is its own prize. The best gift of all is living in a society in which everyone can fit in as they are. When you walk into your office, when you show up at a bank, when you take the bus, when you run for President…whatever you do in society, you are accepted as you are, and you can give your best. This is the ultimate goal and prize of all gender equality work. That is also why gender equality must be within a wider culture of diversity and inclusion.
- At the same time, gender equality is good for society and economy in many ways. In fact, it is good for both men and women. Let me just mention a couple of things that will improve in our societies when we have more gender balance:
- First, we will a develop a healthier corporate culture.
- A recent Harvard Business School study on what holds women back at work shows that the biases about women being the primary carers of families are allowing an unhealthy structure to continue in many firms. For us to address our gender problem, we have to confront a general problem of overwork that prevails in contemporary corporate culture. Our corporate culture puts unrealistic demands on employees’ time that leaves no time for family or other personal needs. Women pay higher professional costs, but women and men alike suffer. If we want to solve this problem, we must have reasonable hours. And if we do, we will all be healthier.
- Second, if we have gender equality, we will be using all of our talent and listening to all the voices. This means a more productive, more efficient, and more innovative economy. Why?
- More diversity means better-run companies, banks, supervisors, governments, etc. Women make up 65% of university graduates; 30 percent of economics graduates and about 50 percent of graduates in business and the social sciences. Yet women on the boards of the largest listed companies across the EU is now at 20%; they account for only 7% of board chairs and presidents and 6% of chief executives in the largest companies. We are simply not using our full talent!
- And this has real consequences. Research shows that greater board diversity leads to higher meeting attendance and better monitoring; also, female board directors are found to be more diligent monitors and to demand more audit efforts than male directors. Financial sector companies with more women board members have higher profitability and better stock-price performance. Even the performance of funds that are majority-owned by women has outpaced the financial industry since 2007.
- Diversity also means making fewer mistakes and managing risks better. It is simply about avoiding a groupthink. Many people believe that the 2008 crisis would not have happened with more women in bank board rooms or in supervisors’ offices. The IMF has discovered that more women on bank boards leads to bank stability, financial resilience and higher profitability, because diversity of thought leads to better decisions.
- Research suggests that firms run by female CEOs have lower leverage, less volatile earnings, and a higher chance of survival. Even loans screened by female loan officers might be less likely to turn problematic.
The banking sector and the lobbying world have both progressed a lot since I started, but gender balance is still not achieved in the sector (banking, or finance more generally) as well as in the trade association business itself. Old ‘traditions’ of lobbying business and old assumptions have changed, more women have joined the ranks of both banks and the trade associations, but as the business gets more competitive, it becomes even more important to ensure that all women have equal opportunities to work, be promoted and have access to finance.
Tonight’s dinner matters. Gatherings such as PWI are crucial.