Taking Aim At Historic Gender Bias

Chiara Corazza, General Manager, Women’s Forum for the Economy and Society, in her office in Paris. (Photo credit: Women’s Forum)

“I am not a feminist, no,” Chiara Corazza declares. This sounds a bit odd, coming from the newly appointed managing director of the Women’s Forum for the Economy & Society, an international organization founded more than a dozen years ago in France to improve the status of women in the world.

“I’m not a feminist in the sense that I’m not in competition with men, or fighting them,” she continues, suggesting that the battle for female inclusion in the previously all-male business world has evolved into a new frontier over the past four decades. “As women, our way forward is to prove we have added value. For example, we take a long-term view. We are mothers so we are thinking of what kind of future there will be for our children; you don’t learn this at business school. We have to show that ‘I am so good that you need me’.” Because society needs us. We just have to prove it. Every day.”

Corazza has herself “proved it” consistently as General Manager of the Greater Paris Investment Agency (GPIA) – tasked with attracting talent and investors to the French capital – for the past 15 years, before taking on the Women’s Forum – an organization best-known for its global meetings attracting thousands of women (and men) every autumn for the past 12 years. She spoke with me in Paris for this blog.

Born in Parma, Italy, raised in Rome by a German nanny in an international family, Corazza speaks five languages fluently, holds British-Italian dual nationality, and holds a degree in political science and a PD in law from the University of Rome. Since marrying and moving to Paris in 1984, she has been active in a range of economic development activities and has developed a global perspective as well as an international network of business and political contacts that is already serving her well in her new role at the Women’s Forum.

Women’s Goals

“My goals for the Women’s Forum,” she says, “are two-fold: to stimulate people, to give them an opportunity to grow, and to instill confidence in women.” This includes not just women aiming for a seat in the corner office, but also women at the bottom of the pyramid. It’s about economic empowerment and political visibility.

“At the Greater Paris Regions in the ’90s I created a Solidarity Fund in Mali, Mauritania and Madagascar to improve the quality of life for women,” she says. “In Madagascar we rebuilt 27 schools after a hurricane destroyed a large portion of the island in 1993, for example.” In Vietnam, she was instrumental in creating schools for management and technology and ensured women students were included. She’s visited China some three dozen times, and is a frequent traveler to the Middle East. She is concerned about the rising tide of conservative religious politics in the region. “If we don’t help these women, they will be sent back to the Middle Ages!” she opines. That help is forthcoming through Women’s Forum outreach and seminars planned for the region.

For women in the industrial world, Corazza admits quotas have been useful in helping them find their place on corporate boards (she herself is Board member of RATP, the Paris regional rapid transit system). And she still thinks the issue of “choice” is paramount. “Women have to be able to choose whether to stay at home or not, and they have to understand that it’s OK to be ambitious.“

She’s also on the lookout for those she calls “hidden women” – women between the ages of 40 to 55, who have had solid careers but who remain unknown, out of the limelight. “We need to give these women the opportunity to be seen,” she says. “We always showcase new talent, but we should also be talking about these other women who are too shy to put themselves forward.”

Another agenda item for Corazza is the development of women as mentors. “We grew up with mentors who are men,” she recalls – and among hers are two French icons: legendary businessman Claude Bébéar, founder and first Chairman-CEO of AXA, the global insurance and financial services company, and Thierry Jacquillat CEO of drinks company Pernod Ricard. “But there are women who can step up and become mentors,” she says. Corazza herself cites IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde as the best example: Lagarde awarded Corazza the Legion d’Honneur, France’s highest civilian award, in 2009.

Women’s Forums

Corazza has set out an ambitious agenda for the Women’s Forum over the next three years. For one thing, the global meeting will move from its original home in Deauville to Paris in October. “I’ve been promoting Paris for the past 33 years in my professional life. It is THE place to promote women,” she believes. “Paris is a feminine city, with 12,000 startups it is a city of innovation. If you want to create a manifesto for women, you do it in Paris!”

The next forum, however, is a regional one – in Rome, at the end of June, commemorating the 60th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Rome, the cornerstone of the European Union. Then in November, the Women’s Forum holds a meeting in Mexico. Next year, sites include Singapore, Toronto and possibly South Africa.

But while the venues and the attendees may be diverse (and the attendees always include men), the goal for Corazza remains singular and focused – bringing the power of women to bear on important issues of the day. “If I were to name one overarching goal,” she says, “ it would be to continue to level the gender playing field – to help our economies and societies rebound from historic gender bias, and to help women fully realize their ambitions for their lives and their careers.”

Editor’s Note: This Article originally appeared on Forbes and is featured here with Author permission.


Shellie Karabell
Shellie Karabell
Shellie Karabell has spent more than 40 years in international broadcast journalism, including executive news and management positions in her native USA, Europe, the USSR/Russia and the Middle East for ABC News/WTN, Dow Jones Broadcast, PBS, AP Broadcast and CNBC, responsible for news coverage, bureau management, and budgets of several million dollars. She has specialized in business news since 1982, covering hundreds of tier-one international companies and executives. As a TV correspondent in Europe, her coverage included the release of the American hostages from Iran in 1981; the Pan Am 103 crash in Lockerbie, Scotland,1988; the civil war in Lebanon in 1983; the civil war in Yugoslavia in 1991-92, and the collapse of the Berlin Wall. She is a recognized expert on Russia, having started her coverage there in 1986 (including interviewing Boris Yeltsin and Edvard Shevardnadze) and continuing to the present day, and living/working in Moscow from 1996-1998 for ABC-WTN. Before moving to Europe in 1983, she was a chief news editor and field reporter for ABC Radio Network News in New York, and the business anchor for Satellite News Channel. From 2009-2013 she was Director of Media Relations and Editor-in-Chief of INSEAD Knowledge, the business school's online business magazine. Born in Philadelphia, PA, she has a BA in English from Pennsylvania State University and masters work in political science (Penn State) & Russian History (NYU) and lives in Paris.

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  1. Twenty some years ago I was in a meeting, shadowing an operations executive. I heard the phrase “you’re just a woman” directed to a marketing VP just to the right of me. This was a response to her presenting numbers and customer feedback from a few strategic accounts that people at the table didn’t want to hear. From what she presented it sound like our three main clients were jumping ship. No one there could argue with the numbers or the evidence presented. Instead they kept on bringing up her sex. This continued on with every meeting I attended. Well, she resigned a month after. A month after than those three clients left us.

    There was a strong bias twenty years ago towards women. Today I don’t see that bias nearly as strong here in Canada and the USA, though you wouldn’t believe that if you listen to social media. The only real bias I personally see now is when women pretend to be men; when women mimic male behaviors and exaggerate these behaviors under the assumption that more is better. This bias women face today are not because they are women, but because they are pretending to be something they’re not.

    Women are not the only ones prone to this. Beta-males pretending to be Alpha-males and vice-versa. People from other nations with very polite cultures adopting aggressive gun-slinging attitudes.

    The problems women face today in the workplace are more from individual biases on not being “to your own self be true” than any systematic prejudice constructs. Therefore, I strongly agree with that point on mentoring mentioned in this article.

    Please note that there are exceptions. There always are.