Preparing Women for Promotion is Key, by Dominique Leroy, CEO of Proximus

Dominique Leroy is the CEO of the Belgian telecommunications and ICT company Proximus.  Prior to her appointment, she was executive vice president of the consumer business unit and was a member of the management committee.  Before joining Proximus (Belgacom at that time), she was at Unilever for 24 years where she was managing director of Unilever Belgium from 2007 to 2011.  She went to Solvay Business School where she obtained a master’s degree in business economics in 1987.

Was it always your ambition to lead a company?  Why?

No, not to lead a company. My ambition has always been to have an impact on results and people, and that is where I have focused my own personal development so I can achieve results in these two areas.

What were your initial feelings when you were first appointed to a board as a director?

I was first asked to sit on a board by Lotus Bakeries just after I had been appointed managing director of Unilever Belgium (where I sat on the management board).  I had met members of the family that owned the bakery in professional networking groups and they wanted to tap into my expertise in marketing and customer insights.

The board had four external members, while the other five directors were family representatives.

I was incredibly lucky.  The Chairman was someone who had been tasked to develop governance advice by the Belgium Enterprise Federation and it was a great education for me, learning from someone who had created the governance rules for Belgium companies.

I felt very proud – and a bit surprised – when I was asked to join the board but I also felt a strong sense of responsibility around the need to deliver in the role.  I learned everything I could about the company, read a lot, and asked other directors I knew for advice about how to develop and deliver a board mandate.  That’s how I learned the job.

How many women sit on your board?  Are they executive or non-exec appointments? 

I am the only executive director on Proximus Group’s board.  Of the other 14 members, it used to be a 50:50 split male/female directors, but we lost two women recently who had reached the end of their term.  They were replaced with one man and one woman.

Among the BEL20 listed companies on the Belgium Stock Exchange we are the only company to have this degree of gender equality on the board. Attitudes are changing but it will take time.

Do you see benefits in term of better business performance through having a gender balance on your board? If so, what?

Our Chair has always favoured a gender balance in the boardroom because of the different perspectives men and women can bring to a debate – it helps boards to function more effectively.

For example, women tend to ask how decisions will impact on people and stakeholders, men tend to be more focused on the financial outcome and results.  Both are important.

But it’s not just gender balance – it’s also important for us to have a balance of skills and experience, so our directors have diverse backgrounds including marketing, finance and technological expertise.

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