Could you please introduce yourself?
I became an entrepreneur in 1999 and, twenty years later, I did research on female entrepreneurship as part of a master’s degree in Management & Business Administration. In 2021, I set up LEXI-L, a company that studies the impact of digital technology on management practices and changes in the workplace.
At the same time, I’m working on a doctoral project in the field of entrepreneurship and its contribution to territorial dynamics, which allows me to go back and forth between the ‘field’ of my daily life as an entrepreneur and its ‘theoretical analysis’ through my research work, thereby gaining some distance. I’m an entrepreneur because I’m passionate about developing projects and doing useful things. For me, female entrepreneurship is synonymous with economic independence and fulfilling projects.
Could you please describe your organization in a few words?
Lexi-L focuses on managerial know-how and on interpersonal skills. Between the two, the storytelling method acts as a link and is used in each of our activities (organisation and management consultancy/training/research). Using this method, which is unique in France, Lexi-L designs, pilots and supports projects in 4 areas: democratic governance, gender equality, digital for people and territorial dynamics. We are keen to share our discoveries with as many people as possible through workshops and conferences for the general public, as well as digital literacy training courses accessible to all.
Could you please give some facts and figures/ status-quo description related to the gender equality situation/approaches in your sector/ecosystem or region/country? What are the challenges encountered?
The main problem is the difficulty of recruiting women in the digital sector, and this problem is linked to the fact that young girls are not oriented towards the digital professions during their schooling.
The Epitech survey conducted in 2022 among parents and young people of career guidance age shows that 80% of parents and young people in the sample believe that digital technology is a promising, lucrative sector that can have an impact on the future and help change the world. Yet only 33% of parents advise their daughters to go into this sector! Their parents, grandparents and teachers would rather advise them against this sector, thinking that it would be “too difficult in terms of the pace of life, too masculine, too sexist, too time-consuming…”.
The study by the Centre Hubertine Auclert on “Barriers to girls’ access to IT and digital careers” shows how this very gendered approach is established very early on. My aim in setting up workshops and a guidance scheme is to open the doors to these professions and try to reverse the trend so that girls and those around them change their outlook.
The other problem is the huge gap between men’s and women’s pay. An URSSAF study on entrepreneurship figures shows this. As this organization has access to our contributions, it has the data to carry out such a study as it is very difficult otherwise to have figures for entrepreneurs who are incorporated, i.e. legal persons, whereas when you are self-employed or a liberal profession, you are a natural person, and there the statistics on remuneration are much more easily accessible.
To understand the difference in remuneration, which can vary between 15% and 40% depending on the sector, you have to ask yourself what makes you successful or not. Even if you can determine your own salary as a woman entrepreneur, you don’t always have the same ambition as a man, and it’s this ambition in particular that will determine whether or not you’ll be able to generate the income to earn the salary you’ve chosen. This is the problem with women’s education, which tells them that they have to make do with “little” and therefore little ambition, and that they have to put themselves at the service of others.
Entrepreneurship is a lever towards gender equality, because it’s the opportunity to take economic power. But if you don’t have power, you can demand all the rights you want, but you won’t get them. We’re seeing a positive trend among female entrepreneurs to improve their profitability and take steps to improve their performance and earn better remuneration. What’s more, there are “women investors” who have a targeted approach to female entrepreneurship.
Could you please indicate what levers you see to address these challenges or to improve the situation you just described? Where do you see clusters playing a role in the process?
The first lever is to break down stereotypes and work with the very young on their orientation, so that in France we don’t have this distribution of girls in literary streams and boys in scientific streams. These stereotypes are very powerful, as shown by a study by CNRS researcher Pascal Huguet : when he says “we’re going to do this geometry exercise”, the boys succeed and the girls don’t, and when, to do the same exercise, he says “we’re going to do a drawing”, the girls succeed and the boys don’t.
So it’s not enough to tell girls to go into maths/science to become engineers, because that doesn’t work. It’s essential to start at a very young age to break down stereotypes. For the digital sector, it’s all about showing girls that the jobs in this sector are not what they think!
This is how I developed two actions with my company:
- A workshop aimed at 12-14 year-old girls who are beginning to wonder about their future direction. The aim is to introduce them to computer code through a story based on the discovery of an unknown and mysterious language, in order to introduce them to the digital world in a different way from the math/science approach.
- An orientation and information tool on digital professions, called “immersion avenir”, contained in a smartphone game to enable everyone (as it’s open to girls and boys in the interests of gender equality) to discover which professions exist in relation to their own abilities (creativity, logic, memory, etc.) and also to identify on a map the different places and types of training to access these professions, and finally to try their hand at the different tasks involved in these professions. The idea for this game arose from the observation that young people are often at a loss when it comes to making career choices, and that the vast amount of information available to them doesn’t necessarily give them the answers they need.
Another lever would be to have a statistical measurement tool on entrepreneurship when it is a company creation, i.e. legal persons (legal entities) and natural persons (individuals such as liberal professions and self-entrepreneurs) to specifically monitor the development of female entrepreneurship and in particular the pay gap.
The cluster has an important role to play because, through the network it leads, it can guide several companies towards professional equality and therefore have a greater impact than isolated actions. And then, thanks to the cluster, I’ve been able to talk to the heads of schools that provide training in the digital sector.
I’ve also been able to talk to other company directors of different sizes. They have major recruitment problems for certain types of profile, especially network engineers. They can’t find a man or a woman to recruit, so we can’t just turn up and tell them to achieve their parity targets. Talking together allows us to compare different points of view. The cluster helps to create these real-life, human encounters, and that’s very useful.
Do companies in your network face recruitment difficulties? Would you say that efforts to create (more) gender equality lead to solutions to overcome these difficulties and why?
There’s no point in telling an SME to recruit on a parity basis if it can only find a minority of girls when they graduate from digital training courses. It’s a very complex problem that we need to try and solve at a very early stage (at the level of career guidance) and with a number of players: institutions, associations, clusters, entrepreneurs and researchers.
It’s interesting to use entrepreneurship as a way of revealing talents for career guidance. You can be an entrepreneur and if it doesn’t work out, it’s no big deal. It’s a self-revelatory experience that helps you get to know yourself better and find your bearings.
There are recruitment problems everywhere, but particularly in the digital, construction and health and social sectors, i.e. professions that are either highly skilled or physically demanding and not sufficiently valued for training. There are sectors such as construction and the army, where the fact that girls are invited to train is highlighted. They’re trying to move towards gender diversity because it’s part of the specifications and, in theory, it would solve the problem, but in reality, girls don’t go into these professions.
I’m involved in a course for construction apprentices and there are 2 girls out of 20. In my view, the recruitment problem won’t be solved simply by taking action on gender equality. What’s more, it’s more complicated than that because the inequalities that are created are often systemic. Women are more likely to find themselves single parents and more likely to find themselves in precarious situations, because as soon as one difficulty arises, other difficulties will accumulate.
Gender equality in the workplace goes beyond that. If we were to achieve gender equality in the workplace, we would be moving towards a society that creates more value, because gender diversity always produces more ideas and much more interaction. So collectively we would be richer, more innovative in every field.
Do you think that companies of your sector are aware of gender equality rules? If so, do they know how to comply with these rules? What could be helpful (trainings, webinars, reference person in the company, etc)?
The same obligations do not apply to all companies. Only companies with more than 50 employees must calculate their gender equality index. Companies with more than 250 employees must also publish the results for each indicator in the index.
The majority of companies are smaller, since almost 70% of French companies have between zero and one employee, so they are not affected by these obligations. When you have a very small company, with up to 5-10 employees, it’s not so much a question of parity. It’s more a question of the difficulty of recruiting, because the benefits and salaries are not the same as in larger companies.
Would you say working on gender mainstreaming can bring solutions to other challenges you observe (retaining female HR in organizations by addressing issues such as equality in wages, work-life balance, fight against sexist acts ; populating rural areas, etc)
There are plenty of issues that can be partially resolved by taking action on gender equality. Retention is a real issue in the digital sector. Women often leave their jobs in the digital sector because they are put off by a sector that is ill-suited to their pace of life (working in start-up mode, until late in the evening). As this is a very male-dominated sector, there are no working hours or working arrangements for mothers. It’s very difficult to balance work and family life.Maternity leave often results in women losing out on pay rises, and since pay negotiations are on an individual basis with no reference to equal skills and equal tasks, women are frequently short-changed. What’s more, they don’t dare ask for an increase, expecting what’s on offer as proof of recognition, whereas men are more likely to push open the door to ask for a raise.
Around the age of 35, women often leave their jobs in companies of the digital sector because they are not being promoted, even though they are starting to develop their expertise. Not feeling respected, poorly paid, etc., they often opt for entrepreneurship. It’s also a way for men in the sector to reinvent themselves!
Normandy is very rural, and in these areas, there are few activities and therefore few jobs, but professional diversity is not going to change that. To revitalize rural areas, we need to rethink our relationship with the land.
Could you please describe why gender equality is important for you personally and/or for your organization?
As I said at the beginning of the interview, I’ve done some research on female entrepreneurship and my company designs, pilots and supports projects in the field of gender equality. For example, to help resolve the gender imbalance in the digital professions, I offer a workshop aimed at girls aged 12-14 who are beginning to wonder about their career choices, with the aim of introducing them to computer code, and a guidance and information system on the digital professions.
How would you describe the added-value being a woman leading an organization ? What are the challenges and opportunities?
So for me, the main qualities needed to set up a business are: tenacity, a mixture of recklessness and optimism, and a taste for adventure. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a man or a woman. It’s the same when it comes to running a business. It’s experience that shapes us.
What would be your closing word? Your main message on advancing gender equality approaches in companies/clusters/public authorities/governments?
- To make progress on gender equality, we need to see things not just from the point of view of women or men, but from the point of view of humanity as a whole, otherwise we will be depriving ourselves of half the solutions (intellectual resources and energy) and therefore of half the performance. Gender equality has the potential to take us a long way!
- We can’t do it alone: we need institutions, companies, associations and politicians, because it’s in society’s interest not to deprive ourselves of half the talent!