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Diversity in the boardroom

One in three, that was the quota law of 2011 imposed on listed companies in terms of the number of female directors by 2017. Today, the counter for female directors stands at just over 33 per cent. "Good news, but we are not there yet" says Özlem Simsek, Managing Director at Robert Walters. She expects diversity in the boardroom, both the number of women and professionals with a non-Belgian background, to increase further. Through globalisation and sustainable business. And by the corona crisis.

In Belgium, there is currently no obligation for organisations to include women in top management. However, the board of directors of a company must consist of at least one-third women. That quota has now been met. Small and medium-sized companies were given time until 2019 to meet this obligation. But we see that for one in three companies this is not yet the case. 

Quota or not?

Making diversity quotas a legal requirement for organisations can work, but it is not ideal. More and more organisations see the benefits of diversity in the workplace. After all, a healthy mix in the workforce stimulates productivity, creativity and involvement of everyone. Organisations that bring new talent on board naturally opt for the best match. When there are several suitable candidates, we regularly see that diversity plays a decisive role. "Compared to a few years ago, job seekers today also look at the 'employer brand' of an organisation with a critical eye before applying for a job. How do they deal with the welfare and safety of their employees and the environment, for example? When organisations commit massively to sustainable business practices, there is no need for quotas.”

Corona driving flexible working

One of the main reasons why women do not advance to top positions often enough is because they work part-time to a greater extent and work less overtime. The public sector, where there is a better work-life balance and more flexibility, is therefore leading the way when it comes to women at the top.

This flexibility, according to Özlem Simsek, is now seeping into the business world because of the corona crisis. "In the public sector, flexible working are more accepted than, for example in an Anglo-Saxon multinational. But due to corona, everyone now organises their time more independently. Because we work from home, or by necessity because we have to help the children with distance learning during the day."

Özlem does not expect this trend to change much after the pandemic, and is already seeing the business world become more flexible when it comes to organising their own time and working from home, which means that the demands of the private sector are more in line with the wishes of women in executive positions.  

If this model ensures that more women make it to the top of the business world, it will also make it easier to create a more diverse boardroom in the future. Özlem: "For executive positions, it is very important that you already know the industry. Because the percentage of top women in the public sector and the healthcare sector has been high for years, it is easier to attract someone from another organisation at C-level. The more women that hold top positions in the future, the easier it will be to have executive vacancies filled by women."

Globalisation leads to more cultural diversity

While sustainable entrepreneurship and corona eventually bring more women into the boardroom, the ever-increasing globalisation has the same effect on top people with a non-Belgian background.

Over the past decade, the number of students with a non-Belgian nationality at Flemish colleges and universities has grown by almost 10%. Currently, 12.1% of all students have a non-Belgian nationality. According to Özlem, the increase in the number of international students in Flemish higher education also ensures a (future) growth in the number of executives with a more diverse background. But not all foreign students stay in Belgium to work after their studies. Those who do, are mainly those with a lot of drive, entrepreneurship and ambition.  We therefore see the number of international candidates for executive positions increasing. Organisations are therefore very keen to see a shortlist with half a non-Belgian background.

Özlem: "Nowadays, many organisations, from SME to multinational, have customers and suppliers from all over the world. So you also need to have diverse cultures within your organisation. If only Belgians work in your organisation and you do a lot of business with China, for example, I think you will never achieve optimal business results."

Diversity strategy

For years, Özlem has been advocating a clear diversity strategy for organisations by being transparent about where they are now and what they are aiming for. "There is no result without a goal, so speak out if you want more diversity in the top positions within your organisation. As a recruitment specialist, we can help with this, although we will always nominate the best suited candidates, regardless of gender or background." 

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