James S. Turley, the chairman and chief executive of Ernst & Young, spoke at a press conference at the Deauville conference to discuss a new initiative called CEO Champions, launched by the Women’s Forum for the Economy & Society with Ernst & Young’s support.
The members of the initiative shared six goals:
1. As CEO, being visibly committed and “embed” women’s advancement into the business strategy;
2. require diverse candidates as a priority when recruiting for leadership positions;
3. hold themselves accountable for progress around the proportion of women in leadership positions and running parts of the business;
4. building a CEO network;
5. create a catalogue of best practices; and,
6. developing ways to foster balance between personal and professional lives.
Chris Viehbacher, chief executive of Sanofi-Aventis, the healthcare company, says that looking back 27 years to his time as an MBA student, he recalls that there had been a 50-50 gender split in the class. Now, however, as he looks around he doesn’t see that parity any more at the top. He adds that people with ambition will always have to work very hard to get anywhere, and it will be impossible in most cases for them to manage a 9-to-5 working life. The challenge, he says, is for companies to create structures that allow both men and women to work as hard as they need to in a more flexible way.
As always, the devil will be in the details. Turley noted that the CEO Champions aim to present a “thoughtful game plan” to the forum next year.