#1 Are you planning to dance for Sanna Marin in September or become a Manbassador? From the glass ceiling to the glass cliff, the battle is still far from won.

I was happily singing lullabies to my third newborn when my social networks went crazy: the Finnish Prime Minister had gone on a night out and private videos of her party had been leaked. At first I thought nothing of it. We’ve seen quite a lot in recent years, like our French president with dancers at the Fête de la Musique, the Italian president’s parties and, most recently, the British prime minister partying during COVID. But a few days later she apologized and passed a drug test. Netizens went on fire with wider work-life balance issues and several of my business friends have posted videos of themselves dancing and partying as part of #solidaritywithsanna. I know little about Finnish culture and politics, but my jaw dropped in front of the humiliation and pressure she felt to do this despite an incredible career as the world’s youngest Prime Minister at 34, a mother and a strong track record as a politician.

This echoed the 2021 HEC Women’s Trajectories award ceremony where I crossed paths with two HEC colleagues Valérie Boussard and Maria Del Peso whose research topic with CNRS (French National Research Center) was on women’s access to the resources needed to exercise power (1). Their research clearly showed that despite the progress made, women are far from a leadership quick fix. They highlighted the central role of political action within management and the subsequent need to acquire specific resources to bridge the gender gap around gender socialization, class socialization, marital arrangements, the degree effect and the generation effect. And when women break through the glass ceiling, they often face the glass cliff: they are appointed to the highest position in times of crisis with the most challenges ahead. As Eleanor Roosevelt said: « A woman is like a tea bag, you can’t tell how strong she is until you put her in hot water ». Research into the glass cliff was launched in 2004 when an in-depth study of the FTSE 100 found that women tended to be appointed to lead failing organizations (2). And even when they do perform well, they are subject to unnecessary criticism, such as the inappropriate comments made to Aviva’s CEO at this year’s annual shareholders’ meeting, which were publicly denounced by chairman George Culmer. George was the CFO of Lloyds Banking Group when I worked there, and many executives have praised him for hitting back at investors.

Who will be our George? I remember when I was at Lloyds we had the ‘Mambassador network’: men publicly supporting and mentoring women in senior positions. Not because they were women, but because they were outstanding leaders who get the job done.

Who will be our Sanna? Working hard, playing hard to build the world of tomorrow in the face of the difficult years ahead after this dreadful summer.

So, when Daphne and Flavia from HEC Stories asked me to write a short column for you on women in business, I initially thought there was not much to add: much progress is being made and quotas, although controversial, are proving to be effective in closing the gender gap and have been adopted in several countries and organizations. But I remembered that it would take 132 years to reach and close the gender pay gap if no action is taken and nothing changes and it’s not getting greater in time of crisis (3). I remembered the last mentoring session with a female startup founder and CEO as part of the Societe Generale partnership with 50inTech, where it was about both how to make ends meet for a young mother boss and strategies to develop resources around politics and reaching positions of power to grow the business. Gender equality is a fundamental human right (UN General Assembly, 10 December 1948). That we still need to act to make it a reality. And that it won’t happen in my lifetime, which irritates me every time I think about it. That we have to form hives around those who can take the next step, because it’s hard.  That gender equality is a basic human right, and it is also linked to performance and building a better and more subsaintanble world. Studies show that organizations with 30% women in leadership positions could increase their net margins by 6% (4). So, I’ll be around in future columns to talk about women and CSR, investment, power couples, motherhood, why we leave management positions for boards, sport and our bodies. I’ll steal my children’s time and my sleep to be there for you. Because it matters to me.

So, what else do you want to talk about? Let me know in the comment section and don’t forget to attend the next HEC Trajectories Awards on October 4th at the Société Generale Tower in La Défense as Sanna or George to build the world of tomorrow. You will have the opportunity to hear one of our Mambassador at Société Générale and I will be holding a golden box with my golden shoes to receive your promise to be part of the hive. Because it matters to you too to reduce inequality and build a sustainable future for all of us, regardless of our gender.


Column by Claire Calmejane


(1) Boussard, V. & del Peso, M. (2020). Les ressources du pouvoir : féminisation des instances dirigeantes et difficile pouvoir des femmes. Entreprises et histoire, 100, 99-111.

(2) Glass cliff 

(3) https://www.weforum.org/reports/global-gender-gap-report-2022.

(4) Which is the bigger issue for women leaders: the glass ceiling or the glass cliff? | EY UK


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