Q&A: Rudi Symons: “We want women to push themselves forward”

Author: PM Editorial | Date: 25 Nov 2015

Organisations need to actively support ambitious women if the gender gap is to close, says Maxus’ head of talent and culture for EMEA

Rudi Symons - ProfileDespite significant progress in recent years, closing the gender gap remains a challenge for many organisations. Rudi Symons, head of talent and culture for EMEA at media agency Maxus spoke to People Management about her plans to support and promote women in 2016.

Tell us about your ‘Mind the Gap’ and ‘Walk the Talk’ initiatives.
Mind the Gap is the data-driven side of our female equality project. It started with a salary survey of all Maxus’ leading global markets and showed that there was only a four per cent pay gap in men’s favour, which we’re quite pleased about.
 
We’re also carrying out a huge investigation into maternity, paternity and flexible working policies, across all of our markets, to find out what we’re offering and how this compares to local law. There are huge differences, depending on where you live.
 
Walk the Talk recognises that women in media need a boost. At Maxus, 40 per cent of senior roles internationally are taken by women, which is a really good figure. However, only 24 per cent of board level roles are held by women and in the top 500 companies in the world, only 12 per cent of board members are women. Shockingly, fewer than four per cent of global CEOs are female.
 
This has got us thinking: are women getting to a certain stage and finding something is preventing them reaching board level? There is a business case for having more women at board level. It’s proven that when you have a board with a better mix of men and women, the organisation is more successful.
 
We want women to promote themselves more and push themselves forward. It’s something we’ve identified that, generally, women are not as good at.
 
Is that because women are more modest and less comfortable promoting themselves than men?
Some women are juggling so many things in their life that pushing themselves up to board level might be one thing too many on their plate. For other women, it might be a confidence issue - but that is something that both men and women suffer from.
 
We’re not assuming that all women want to be the next CEO, but if they have that fire in their belly then, my goodness, we’re going to support them.
 
What we’re not keen on doing is saying that all organisations must have a 50/50 male and female board. I don’t know any women who would want to be promoted just because of their gender. This is a meritocracy and we need the right people in the right seats. But the aim of this project is to help women take those steps towards board-level management if that’s right for them.
 
Do you think organisations in the Middle East are doing enough to close the gender gap?
Bayt.com, the biggest job site in the Middle East, recently surveyed women in businesses across the region. Nearly a third (34 per cent) believed that women have lower chance of being promoted than their male counterparts. That’s a big problem. The same survey found that 77 per cent of women are reporting to a male manager, which might point to change that needs to happen.