Gender equality within junior enterprises: the effect of President’s gender

gender equality business

(Matt Lee, Unsplash)

This article was exclusively written for The European Sting by Mr. Maxime Delatte, the Executive Vice President of Solvay Consulting Club (SCC). The opinions discussed in this article belong to the writer.


Nowadays, gender equality is all over the news. Legally, culturally and organisationally, it is shaping today’s world. However, several factors are playing a pivotal role in bridging the gap between man and woman.

As gender equality is of growing matter within global organisation, a stretch to Junior Enterprise (JE) was a relevant category to be addressed. A Junior Enterprise is a non-profit organisation fully led and managed by students. Its goal is to professionalise the academic cursus of students through extra-curricular activities directly in contact with real-life companies. It’s linking professional practical experience to theoretical knowledge acquired in class. In today’s economy, JE’s are to be taken into account as undeniable entities as part of the business world; They account, in Europe, for around 15M EUR per year in turnover.

It all started with an anecdote during supper on a evening of October 2019. As board members from the Solvay Consulting Club noticed, this semester was surprisingly full of women within our club.   A long discussion followed therefore wondering whether it was due to internal or external factors; Is it a pure coincidence? Was our communication towards women better this year? Or is it linked to the fact that our president is a woman herself?

In 2018-2019, the Solvay Consulting Club had the pleasure to have a woman at its head. With regards to major KPI’s for the SCC 2020 vision, the long term action plan developed to ensure continuity, gender equality ranges first. As a matter of fact, this year was only the second time a president was a woman in the club’s 8 year existence.

From that point on, it was interesting to measure whether the president’s gender played a role in the recruitment of women within the club. In 2018-2019, the club welcomed 48 new consultants. Out of the 48 consultants, 30 were women. The year before, a man was president. Out of 53 members, 22 of them were women. The trends goes back over the past couple of years; In 2016-2017, the first semester saw 34 members with 19 women and a female president, whereas the second semester counted 28 consultants from which 10 were women. As you can guess, the president during the second semester was a man.

It is clear to the author that the president’s gender is of paramount importance in the recruitment of women being consultant. Therefore, one way to achieve more gender equally among members would be to elect a female at the head of its JE.

Some may wonder why throughout its existence, the association -The SCC- only saw 2 women president. First described by psychologists at the University of Michigan in 1973, Queen Bee effect depicts a woman in a position of power and authority, in a man-dominated environment. The effect becomes relevant to the extend that the woman in power treats her subordinates more harshly if they are female. This effect is under no circumstances internal. Indeed, gender equality is not hindered because of women themselves, but rather because of the behaviour and representation of male and female in business settings. As stated by Prof Ellemers who studied gender inequality in the workplace for 20 years, it is a response to sexism and a way to adopt male characteristics, in order to succeed. Even if it has been eluded in the last editions of the Deloitte Woman in boardroom analyses, this effect gained significant exposure as well as relevance in the literature.

Would it be possible that such behaviour is displayed in a structure like a student club? For the author, behaviours are changing and fortunately, at a even faster pace within a flexible and dynamic framework. That is, Junior Entreprise. Therefore, it is useful to be aware of the Queen Bee effect to ultimately better embrace gender equality.

As a final word, one may argue that the external validity of such observations do not hold true in every JE around the globe. It is indeed irrefutable and the reason why more data are needed.

About Solvay Consulting Club

The « Solvay Consulting Club » was founded in 2011 by Solvay students and high-quality partners from the consulting world such as McKinsey and AT Kearney. The club is based in Brussels, Belgium. The main objective of the Junior Enterprise is to provide companies with solutions in various domains; mostly Business but also Engineering. The SCC purpose is to create a real added value for companies along with giving first-hand experience to students.

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