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Aniela Unguresan is the co-founder of the Economic Dividends for Gender Equality (Edge) Certified Foundation, a Swiss-based organisation that assesses gender equality in the workplace. It launched at the World Economic Forum in 2011 and considers policies, practices and numbers across five different areas of analysis: equal pay for equivalent work; recruitment and promotion; leadership development training and mentoring; flexible working and company culture.
Ms Unguresan grew up in communist Romania and now lives in Zurich. She has an executive MBA from HEC Geneva, a degree in international trade from the Academy of Economic Studies in Bucharest and has worked for several companies, including the Arthur Andersen law firm.
1. What convinced you of the need for a certificate like Edge?
The necessity to tackle the issue of workplace gender equality in the same ways in which organisations approach their business-critical goals: clear measurement, tracking of progress, accountability for results, full support of the top leadership team and the strive for a best-in-class performance.
Since launching we have worked with just over 100 large corporations in 30 countries across 17 different industries. In all cases, one of the most significant outcomes of the process is a systematic and structured way to close the gender gap. We have seen the Edge process drive more accountability and transparency. We have also witnessed gender equality become a key topic on the chief executive’s agenda and executive teams become actively involved in reaping the economic dividends for gender equality.
2. Who are your business influences?
My main business influence is Ricardo Semler and his concept of leading by omission, which created one of the most successful management structures in business — Semco, the Brazilian engineering group.
Semco’s employees set their own work hours and pay levels, and hire and review their supervisors. There are no organisation charts, no five-year plans, no corporate values statement, no dress code and no written rules or policy statements beyond a brief “survival manual” in comic-book form.
The employees elect the corporate leadership and initiate most of Semco’s moves into new businesses and out of old ones. The result of this is a rare record of profitability, innovation and employee engagement scores.
3. What is the best piece of advice given to you by a teacher?
The best piece of advice was given to me by Herminia Ibarra, professor of organisational behaviour at Insead. Prof Ibarra said, “Outsight as opposed to insight will help change the way you think as a leader: about what kind of work is important; how you should invest your time; why and which relationships matter in informing and supporting your leadership; and, ultimately, who you want to become”. You need to act like a leader to become one.
4. What advice would you give to women graduating this year from business school?
Building a great career requires two main ingredients: the right company and the balanced sharing of the domestic chores with one’s spouse.
5. How do you deal with male-dominated environments?
By shifting them to become inclusive so that men and women feel equally valued for the different points of view and contributions they bring to the table.
6. What is your favourite business book?
The Seven-Day Weekend: Changing the Way Work Works by Ricardo Semler: “The lack of challenge, meaning, and purpose would be suffocating. Human beings thrive on being productive, on working toward goals, on providing for their families, on building a future — just don’t ask them to do it all the time and without the freedom to say, ‘Now, I need time for me.’”
7. Which three people, living or dead, would you invite to a business meeting?
Indra Nooyi because of her unprecedented capacity to drive profit with purpose and to create sustainable shared value for the shareholders, employees, clients and community alike.
Angela Ahrendts for her outstanding capacity to protect the core of iconic brands while making them evolve.
Peter Grauer for his unconditional support to gender equality in the workplace as a source of competitive advantage and economic benefits for corporations.
8. What has been you best business trip?
Speaking at the Global Female Leaders Summit in Berlin and debating with a diverse group of female politicians, business leaders, artists, philanthropists, civil society leaders on the current state of the world through the eyes of women.
9. If you could do it all again, what would you do differently?
I would be less afraid of failing as this is something that inevitably happens sooner or later and it comes in different sizes and magnitudes. Somebody told me once that experience is not the total sum of what happens to us, but what we do with it.
10. What is your plan B?
To become a midwife. I am fascinated by the intimacy with life and death that this profession offers.
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