Webster’s 7th Annual Alumni Symposium 2014

Gender equality and diversity as the secret to economic success

The Alumni Symposium hosted by the Alumni Association at Webster University took place on November 24th in the beautiful Palais Eschenbach in Vienna’s first district.  Palais Eschenbach is owned by the Austrian Business Association and offered a historic setting to the pleasant atmosphere. The panel consisted of four women and two men, each from a leading role in the business world. Reflecting on their personal experiences, the group produced a lively debate regarding gender equality to-date and its status of “under construction” within most career fields.

Political scientist, managing editor at “Der Standard” and Webster professor Dr. Eric Frey moderated the panel discussion with the following participants:

Vera Budway-Strobach, trans-national Chief Diversity Officer at Erste Group Bank AG in Vienna and cooperating partner of the Symposium explained the economic advantage of gender equality: „ Numerous studies show that businesses which are diverse in culture as well as in gender on the management level are more successful in an economic sense. Gender equality and diversity in a team do not only have a positive effect on the company, its services and productivity, but also for the economy and society of a country as a whole.“ Ms. Budway-Strobach implemented, through Diversitas, the first comprehensive and systematic program to advance diversity and integration at Erste Group. In line with this program, women are offered training measurements for social competencies such as assertiveness, presentational, as well as negotiation, skills.

Nadja Jokanovic, Co-Founder & CMO of the largest fashion and lifestyle magazine of the Western Balkans, thinks that Serbia will have a lot of catching-up to do in the matter. Gender equality certainly is an issue there, but the traditional role of women is still prevalent. Media and advertisements in Eastern Europe still show stereotypical role models from the 1950’s. Changes need not only to take place in the business world, it is equally important for parents to raise their girls with a certain awareness and encouragement towards a career. 

Ines Stilling is of the same opinion: what needs to be changed is the attitude of society towards this topic – starting from a shared responsibility in raising children all the way to maternity leave. The Austrian Ministry for Education and Women’s Affairs is currently evaluating a prospective model for child benefits, where parents who share the maternity leave time equally, will receive a bonus. First steps in this direction have already been undertaken with the implementation of the so-called „Papa-Month“. Eric Frey reported that such a „Papa-Month“ is well accepted for employees at „Der Standard“ and demonstrates good business practice there.

There was a clear consensus on the issue of quota, something all panelists deemed necessary to close the gap between words and real actions. Without the implementation of quota and standards many commitments to touchy issues in business would have only been addressed verbally.
Equality and diversity must become a standard and fixed part of a business strategy. The correct handling of diversity is a competitive advantage for every international organization or firm. Having a broad spectrum of knowledge, experience and perspectives will help to better understand the diverse needs of clients to be able to offer relevant products and services in return.  

A special thanks to our sponsors for contributing to the success of the event, in particular, our main sponsor, Erste Group.

Erste Group

 „Gender Equality“ – founding characteristics of Webster University

The story of Webster University portrays a few ground breaking moments for the pathway of women into equality. In 1915, the "Sisters of Loretto" founded the university as a college for women, where women also held key staff positions. Also, Webster Vienna's 1988-1999 director, Elisabeth Chopin, was the first women to lead a university in Austria. And even today, when Webster is celebrating its centennial anniversary, the worldwide president is female, Dr. Beth Stroble.