Janet Clark, International Marketing Director, CEO Worldwide

If there is one thing I have learnt in the 25 years of my career, it’s the importance of role models and mentorship.

Janet ClarkWe live in a male dominated world, where many important roles are automatically attributed to a man, the more subservient to a woman. In our minds, the person flying the plane is a man, the one serving the drinks a woman. The person managing the company is male, the person organizing this man is female. That’s what we experience in our daily routines, in the films we watch, the books we read (did you know that nearly 70% of all main characters in films and the majority of news reporters explaining the world to us are male?)

Luckily, I grew up with an internationally educated working mum, who was living proof that career and family do not need to be exclusive. It was tough on her, day after day returning to her desk the moment the kids were in bed, but I never once felt that I was missing out on her love and attention. On the contrary, I was proud of my clever, hardworking, warm hearted and successful mum and I knew that I wanted to have both too: children and a career.

Still, the ambition alone is not enough. It’s not even enough if you have the better grades, work harder and perform better than your male colleagues. At the end of the month your pay cheque proves the inequality of perception by a staggering gender pay gap of above 20%.

Worse when it comes to the next career step – if you are young, the fact alone that you could get pregnant puts you in a back row seat, then if you do have children, back row becomes your middle name - and when your kids are grown and you are 50+… well, do I need to continue?

Again, I have been lucky. As a young mother, Patrick Mataix, Co-founder & CEO Europe at VistaPrint Ltd became my superior at VistaPrint Ltd. He saw my potential and gave me the promotion I needed, to prove how much I could contribute to the success of the company. Moreover, he understood that as a mum, I needed more flexible working conditions, including a company laptop and mobile phone, so I could do what my mum did when I was young: continue to work when my children were in bed rather than stay at work until they were asleep. At a time when home office hours and a company laptop and phone where exotic ideas, Patrick realized how much a mother will prove her worth given the chance and gave me the mentorship I needed to exploit my potential.

I have passed his mentorship onto many of my staff since, and I am acting as a role model promoting diversity – in my work and private life, and as the president of a professional women’s association: encouraging women to embark on their careers and to value their knowledge and abilities.

Setting up an executive search service dedicated to female executives is an important step to encourage women to follow their career dreams and to get inspired by other women who already have succeeded to increase female influence in the male-dominated, top layers of the business world.

Patrick Mataix, CEO and Founder, CEO Worldwide

I believe a gender balance at top executive level is a competitive advantage for most businesses.

Patrick MataixBack in the 80s during my Engineering studies, just five percent of my class were women – and in the first phase of my professional career, working in large corporates in Europe I was surrounded by male executives. It was exceptional for a female executive to be present in a leadership meeting.

During that phase, I always felt these businesses weren’t benefitting from their 100% male C-suite environments, but at the time I wasn’t a decision maker, so I was unable to do anything about this lack of balance.

When I became an entrepreneur in 1996 and co-founded Vistaprint in Paris with Robert Keane (another INSEAD MBA Alumnus), we shared the same common objective of gender diversity to grow our business. Now, we were the decision makers, so we could hire female executives at operational director and board level. The growth and success of Vistaprint over time, with female executives running large chunks of the business from North America, to Europe and Asia, led the company to its current position as a 5bn USD Nasdaq venture. I experienced many great benefits of this gender balance across the business – not only at the strategic and board level, but also at an operational and management level.

As biodiversity is essential to life, gender balance at board and top executive level is a significant competitive advantage for most businesses. The female C-suite executives that I saw in action at Vistaprint tended to show more professional courage and career focus, less interest in politics, more transparency and loyalty – and were much less ego driven than their male counterparts. With this mix of soft skills they added huge value to the running of the company in terms of decision making, problem solving, crisis management and culture.

After 16 years’ of operation at CEO Worldwide, I am still frustrated to see that less than 10% of our iCEO certified executives are women – and less than 2% in a CEO or NED position! I sincerely hope that by focusing on the value of female executives through Female Executive Search we’ll improve these figures. More importantly I hope to see the number of top executive placements filled by women in the future, for the benefit of the global economy and humanity.

France Dequilbec, Managing Director, Female Executive Search & International Talent Acquisition Director, CEO Worldwide

Although a woman may have a different approach to business, her objectives to succeed are the same.

France Dequilbec, Managing DirectorI was still very young, when I first developed my fascination for all those great women who pioneered the ongoing fight for women’s rights: Lydia Becker (inspiring figure of the Suffragette movement across the Channel), Simone de Beauvoir, Simone Veil – and this continues today, with Nobel Peace Prize winner, Malala, who fights for the right of education for girls (unbelievably, worldwide, 130 million little girls are still deprived of education!)

Yes, I felt feminist, because from being a little girl at school, throughout my university studies, and even when I started my professional career, I had experienced how difficult it was for a woman to be recognized for her skills alone - and yet I found myself in France, the home country of men's rights (and women's rights with Olympe de Gouges, creator of the first declaration of women's rights following the 1789 Revolution).

After having started my career in two large groups, with zero women in general management positions or the management of subsidiaries, I created my own company. It was back in 1995, when the idea of gender parity at board level was unheard of.

For me, creating my own company was the key to finally fully evolve my professional potential without having to constantly justify my position, my responsibilities and my salary! Of course, it wasn’t the end of the battle, there were many men who doubted my ability as a woman to act as managing director, as well as to run my own company. Consequently, there was no room for error and I had to continuously outperform my male colleagues. It’s tough, but possible…

This is where the complementarity between men and women comes in, because although a woman will have a different approach to business, her objectives to succeed are the same. In short: the form is different, but the base is identical. A woman is just as demanding as a man, if not more so, because - as I have realized during my career, women are much less in danger of being led by their ego as men, which can prove to be an important asset for the running of a business!

Still, fortunately there are courageous men who are convinced of the huge potential of women's contributions to business, and Patrick Mataix is one of them – having surrounded himself with women in key positions long before regulations and the media took on the subject.

It was therefore a natural and obvious step to launch this service, dedicated to promoting and placing female executives: Female Executive Search.

It is high time to break the taboo and to promote and show the talent of women within business. Ladies, join our community and demonstrate your capabilities – and gentlemen, jump on board and help CEO Worldwide to support the advancement of female executives in senior positions!