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16 Jan 2017

Women and Economic Renewal: the FERE Research Chair

Could women hold the key to change? In the current context of digital technology and ever evolving business models, what role do women play in these changes? Is management still gender-oriented? The FERE Research Chair on Women and Economic Renewal was founded by Grenoble Ecole de Management to promote 40 years of little known research on the subject of women and innovation.

As part of the chair's work, Séverine Le Loarne and Benoît Meyronin, both researchers and professors at Grenoble Ecole de Management, launched a novel day of study and exchange on the subject of transforming customer relationships. On November 25th, the two researchers welcomed 25 female managers to exchange on the subject. The results will lead to the publication of a white paper in September 2017.

Marie-Hélène Chavigny was one of the participants. She is head of human resources for the French supermarket chain, Carrefour. "The transformation of customer relationships will be a key factor over the next couple of years, especially because of new internet players. Our advantages are quality service, advice and proximity. I'm convinced that the HR department has a vital role to play in change. In order to have happy customers, we have to have happy employees. My job is to prepare them for this transformation. Do women have a particular vision of this change? In any case, they will have to be more involved in the process in order to bring about greater equality in management."

A European reference

The chair aims to measure the input of female managers in current transformations. The chair was founded in February 2016 by Grenoble Ecole de Management and Les Pionnières, the first network of French incubators for women. "FERE aims to become a European reference over the next ten years. This will enable us to analyze the economic and social impact of female entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs in order to offer new models.

The goal is also to support female entrepreneurial initiatives by providing knowledge and tools to enable this economic renewal." explains Séverine, who is also head of the FERE Chair which falls under the umbrella of the GEM School for Business and Society Foundation (under the auspices of the Foundation of France).

Popularizing 40 years of research

FERE aims to popularize 40 years of research on female entrepreneurship and innovation. To do so, the chair organizes conferences to exchange views on current practices such as a recent conference with the HP Women at Work club. The chair also carries studies for companies such as BNP Paribas.

"The company asked us to check the existence of stereotypes and therefore discrimination in its processing of funding requests. Another company recently asked us to study the impact in human, economic and social terms of various women who work with the French administrative status of auto-entrepreneurs. The goal of FERE is to help overcome societal problems related to women by promoting the work of women," explains Séverine.

In a competitive context, a man's idea tends to win out

FERE is also building tools to measure gender equality by carrying out actions in middle schools and high schools with the support of partner companies and the Foundation of France.

"After Scandinavian countries, France is one of the most advanced countries in terms of gender equality. However, around 21 years of age, when comes the time for competitive entrance exams and applications, studies demonstrate a male domination over female counterparts. It's always the boy's idea that wins out simply because girls shy away due to a lack of confidence. It's not a matter of agility or creativity. It's about how we position ourselves. That's why GEM would like to work earlier on with middle and high school students to develop a smartphone application that will enable boys and girls to design their dream job. Using this information, we will create a database for research and help younger students understand and break away from stereotypes. This will include the input of GEM alumni who can serve as mentors," concludes Séverine.

Is there such a thing as female and male entrepreneurship?

Yes, definitely! "It's one thing to be an entrepreneur, but it's another story to become a separate entity that contributes to the economy. This enables you to set your business up solidly and accelerate its evolution. Because women must often manage responsibilities both at home and at work, they have a harder time thinking about their project, setting up a vision and sticking to their objectives. They're often stuck in the operational side of things. But organizing your work, career and business means being able to take a step back. Men don't suffer from this constraint because our societal model 'supports' them. However, as we see more and more 'daddy-entrepreneurs', we discover that once they become single parents, they face the same challenges as women do in relationships. There's lots of research on this topic such as a study carried out by Mark Smith, the Dean of Faculty as GEM. He studied gender equality in ambitious contexts," highlights Séverine.

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