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The FT’s first Women at the Top summit took place in 2010 in London.

Its aim was to gather “world-class thought leaders and decision makers to discuss the role of women in business and to celebrate female leaders worldwide”. Christine Lagarde, then France’s minister for economic affairs, was the opening keynote speaker.

To launch the latest Women at the Top conference, held in London on Thursday, we asked three of those who spoke in 2010, including Ms Lagarde, to tell us what they thought had changed for women in business over the past six years.

Christine Lagarde, managing director, IMF

‘The 18th century writer, Madame de Staël, once described progress as a series of spirals. When I think about the continued struggle for female empowerment, I am inclined to agree. More women are entering companies’ higher echelons — but gender parity remains elusive. In 2015, women still held just 12 per cent of executive positions in Europe’s largest 620 companies.

How do we accelerate progress on women’s leadership? Policies play a critical role. In many advanced economies, for instance, priorities include removing tax disincentives for secondary earners, providing high-quality childcare and supporting parental leave. By taking these actions, we may begin to see the progress of female leaders less as a series of spirals, and more as a rapid ascension.’

Nani Beccalli-Falco, chairman, ENAV

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‘Progress is slow and it is not helped by legislation in France or Germany that sets quotas. Quotas force a few women to occupy many positions and create cynicism in the organisation.

Diversity needs to be created with a mindset change and it is a slow-developing process. In this the American companies are much better equipped than the Europeans.’

Nancy McKinstry, CEO, Wolters Kluwer

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‘Study after study has shown that gender diversity contributes to positive business outcomes, and that has driven the focus on closing the gender gap at senior levels. One factor that has expanded opportunities for women in terms of senior executive and board level positions is the rapid growth of digital capabilities — an area with strong female participation.’

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