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March 8th 2024 : International Women's Rights Day


International Women's Rights day illustration with quote

At Abyss, we're a bit ambivalent about International Women's Rights Day. On one hand, we think it shouldn't exist, and that it wouldn't exist if women were the equals of men, that if March 8th is Women's Day and there is no Men's Day, then all the other days are men's days. On the other hand, we still have such a long way to go that this day is unfortunately still necessary.


We asked Alexis, President of Abyss, for his opinion on the subject.

 

Women’s role in workplace


Did you know that only 25% of women in France are in management positions and only 5% are CEOs? What do you think?


« We talk a lot about equality between men and women, but in reality, it's a long way from being realised. It must be remembered that we have more than 2,000 years of history behind us, including a very patriarchal regime that took over, and today things are starting to change in terms of public discourse and awareness. But the real change would be women in politics, women CEOs, women in science, women in cinema...

So, we're still a long way from equality, or equity in any case, unfortunately. »


What do you think of the fairly common refrain in the professional sphere: "There are limits to parity between men and women, we're not going to hire a woman if she's less competent than a man"?


« So I'm thinking mainly of politics, and I think we need a law to force the issue in terms of equality. A law that would speed up the process of gender equality, because without a law, it will take an incredible amount of time to achieve that coveted equality!


I don't think this belief in competence means very much: there have been so many incompetent politicians!  If, in order to speed up the transition to equality, there are a few women who are less competent to begin with, that's not a problem. Once there is equality, skills will actually make the difference. But today the imbalance is so huge that we need to redress the equilibrium first, even if it means putting the skills aspect slightly to one side.


In my opinion, this is what is known as positive discrimination. It's a term that has been studied, tested and validated for other subjects such as skin colour in the United States. I'm only talking about the political field in France, which I have as an example. We need to speed up the process and give women as many opportunities as possible to accede to power and positions of responsibility. And it's only when women are in power that there will be much more balance. And to do that we need: laws, whatever the criteria. Do you think we talk as much about skills for men? I can guarantee they don't! It was very often a question of "between people" or relationships.


This lack of equality is reflected everywhere in the workplace and in schools, which are still very much gendered. For example, engineering schools have few girls, as do the IT and automotive sectors. Conversely, in fields such as health or communications, it's often men who are in the minority. So, it's all this that we need to change, gently but surely, with the law as our starting point. »


What about gender equity at Abyss?


What role do women play at Abyss? And what is Abyss already doing to promote gender equality?


« To be perfectly honest, we haven't had to work very hard for gender equality at Abyss. Of course, every time we recruit, we check whether we're really equal, whether we've got parity, but then again we can't be perfect. Even if we have a good overall parity (9 men and 9 women!), we also have unbalanced departments with 100% men or women depending on the department.  In any case, I think that at Abyss we really do emphasise fairness, equality and above all the notion of balance between men and women.


Balance for us means that we listen to each other's points of view, it means that we share each other's expertise, whether men or women. But it's true that we've never really had to work at it, or force ourselves to do it, it came quite naturally, and we're very happy with that, or at least I am very proud of it.  And we're proud to be breaking the statistics at Abyss, because we've got a great parity in the company: two division heads (out of two) and two members of the management committee (out of three) are women. So I'm proud of all that, and we have to keep on doing it. »


Nobody's perfect, so what could be done at Abyss Ingredients to continue improving gender equality?


« We already have flexible schedules: if there are appointments for children for example, or other appointments relating to health or things like that, but for both men and women, we're flexible. After that it's a question of balance, because with these possibilities that we give to the women at Abyss, we don't want to have the opposite effect either. In other words, we don't want these flexible schedules to encourage women to take on household chores or look after children, tasks that men are also supposed to do.


What we could do, however, is guarantee a more flexible schedule for a young mother, for example, knowing that the child will be very demanding of a female figure.  We could also think about incapacitating female pathologies. I think that specific and additional leave has been accepted in Spain for endometriosis or painful menstruation. French regulations do not yet allow this, but the idea could be to introduce additional leave for all women suffering from incapacitating pain due to endometriosis or menstruation.


From a regulatory point of view, I don't know if it's possible, but if not, we could also encourage teleworking for this kind of reason. We already do it without saying so, but if one of the Abyss employees needs to, she knows she can do it, because we operate in a trust-based internal ecosystem. Everyone manages their own timetable as they wish but given that teleworking is already widely practised at Abyss, from a human resources point of view we could look at how to formalise the right to telework already in place for this type of reason; and to what extent it would be possible to grant specific leave. »


What advice would you give to business owners/directors who read our article?


« Frankly, I'd be wary of giving advice on these things, because nobody's perfect. In any case, what I maintain is the concept of balance, which is very important to me. Gender balance in business is a very unifying concept, a driving force, a stimulant and a creator of new ideas, because each person has a wealth of ideas to contribute. It's this principle of difference that creates strength within the company, as does the mix of generations, for example. Older people can bring hindsight and experience, but younger people can bring dynamism, innovation, skills and an eye for new technologies that can sometimes be lacking. And it's the same for the women, they are there to shake things up and bring a way of thinking that is just as interesting as that of the men, and at the end of the day, it's all to the good!»


Generally speaking, what would you say to women who are afraid of dreaming big?


« That's what I could say to my daughter, but I would tell her: "Go ahead, take the plunge, it's not going to be easy, but don't be afraid! You need to be convinced of your abilities and have self-confidence to show the world who you are". I agree, self-confidence can't be decreed, it's not something that's easy to acquire. If I say to you, "OK, you need to build up your self-confidence", you'll say, "OK, so what? So it's a long-term process, but the essential thing, I'd say, is to be respectful of others and to dare, that's where it all starts. It won't all be easy, but in the business world, the world I know, we're moving in the right direction, but there are still clichés, old and young alike, unfortunately, who still think that women are more appropriate at home, and that's why we have to be vigilant. Current events bear witness to this improvement and I'm very happy about it, as abortion is about to be enshrined in the French Constitution, which is a great step forward for women's rights.


After that, I'm an optimistic person and I have the impression that things are getting better and better, but if you pay attention, you'll notice that there are some people who are hoping for a step backwards, so we have to be careful. In conclusion, women have to dare, because there's no reason why they shouldn't.»


A word for your female coworkers at Abyss?


“On behalf of Abyss, I'm very proud of the team and the female employees. I think it's a pleasure and one of the strengths of Abyss to have this dynamic team of women with a sense of humour who want to move forward, and that's a real success and a real source of pride. This is the real value of Abyss today, it is the women but also the men who make the company what it is today. We provide our customers with solutions and well-being, but I think we do it with a radiant team, I'm not afraid to say it (he laughs)! What's essential is that each and every one of us develops and grows through this experience. All that to say that I'd like to thank our employees, because we're all talking about equality, because we enjoy working together and that's what success is all about.”

 

Alexis Mehaignerie,

Abyss Ingredients’ President




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