Events Fin&Tonic People Transformation

Beyond Boundaries – 9 important insights from our panel about gender diversity

Date:May 24, 2024

Gender equality comes in many forms: equal pay, equal participation, equal opportunities. Even though we’re on the right track, there are still biases and unwritten rules holding us back. “Women who go back to work after having a baby often feel like they have a big sticker on their head that says ‘not ambitious anymore’, and they cannot take it off,” says Claire Godding, co-chair of Women in Finance.

Our latest Fin&Tonic event was titled Beyond boundaries, shaping the narrative for women in finance. This edition was all about gender diversity and inclusion. The evening started with a keynote from Conny Vandendriessche, [Check out the key takeaways from Conny’s keynote speech here.], and was followed by a very interesting panel discussion with Claire Godding (Febelfin and Women in Finance), Beatrice de Mahieu (BeCode), Ludivine Pilate (Puilaetco), our own Rea Bakiasi (DEI Country Lead for Projective Group Belgium), and finally – for the male perspective – Vincent Van Bueren (GIMV). It was an interesting discussion about the role of women in leadership positions, micro-aggressions, benevolent sexism, assimilation, and many more insightful topics. Below, we’ll share the main takeaways from this riveting panel discussion.

Lack of representation leads to assimilation (and that’s bad).

When you join a company and you don’t see anyone at the top looking like you, this can drive assimilation. Assimilation is like being pushed to fit into one narrow definition of success, even though there are many different ways to thrive. For women, this can mean behaving more ‘like men’. “When they do, these women might get promoted, but they’ll also be criticised,” says Claire Godding. “Men may assert that they’re not genuinely women, and other women may not necessarily be accepting of them either. The silver lining is that when these women transition to a more inclusive environment, there’s hope that they will undergo a transformation and embrace their genuine selves once more.”

If the environment is not okay, you can either change company or you can change the company.

Claire Godding: “Are you experiencing a pressure to assimilate? Then you can leave or stay and change the environment. If you feel you can bear it, you should try to avoid assimilation. If the pressure to assimilate is really strong, then maybe you should move on, because in some places it can be very toxic.”

If you don’t believe in it, you shouldn’t force it; if you want to do it, you should stick to it. And, don’t be afraid to ask for help.

75% of women in executive positions have experienced imposter syndrome in the workplace.

Rea Bakiasi: “I call it my inner shadow. It follows me everywhere. I’ve noticed that I feel it mostly in moments where I’m not represented. When I’m the only woman, the only young entrepreneur, the only person with an accent, I’ll think: how did I end up here? There is no one like me in this room. Maybe I don’t deserve to be here. I believe that to overcome these thoughts, you need to fight that voice inside your head. Just say shut up, it’s my time now. Obviously, a lot of practice, a lot of preparation and building up your confidence is also key to overcome this feeling.”

A woman wears many hats (and people will have opinions about that).

Ludivine Pilate: “As a woman, there’s more than work that’s putting pressure on you. You may be a wife, potentially a mother. When you work late, you may have to justify why you do that. Other people will think it’s very hard for you, even if it’s your decision. There are so many occasions where people – and they mostly all mean very well – will challenge you on your choices. Why do you work so much? Why don’t you spend more time with your child? Here’s the thing: it is your choice. If you don’t believe in it, you shouldn’t force it; if you want to do it, you should stick to it. And, don’t be afraid to ask for help.”

Benevolent sexism is also sexism.

90% of women have experienced some form of sexism at work. There’s the obvious sexism when it’s immediately clear that something’s unacceptable. “For example, when you are told that, since you are the only woman in the room, maybe you can serve the coffee,” says Godding. “But there’s also such a thing as benevolent sexism. That’s when you don’t feel the aggression, but you do feel bad, and you start to doubt yourself.” Claire gives the example of women returning from maternity leave. Their boss might say: you must be very tired, that’s why I’ve asked your colleague to go on this international trip. “Many women have told me that when they go back to work after having had a child, it’s like they get a big sticker on their head that says ‘not ambitious anymore’. They don’t get it. They’re the same person, but they’re not treated the same.”

culture is not about healthy snacks and yoga lessons. It’s about the words and the behaviour that you tolerate.

Queen Bee is born from toxicity.

There’s this perception that women can be very tough towards other women, what we call the ‘Queen Bee Syndrome’. According to Claire, this is true for toxic environments. “In a place where women feel a high pressure to assimilate if they want to grow in their careers, female leaders will not dare to support other women and help other women to climb. However, in inclusive environments, women are very solidary. I’m happy to say that I see women supporting other women more and more.”

We need a new balance, for women AND men.

It’s true that 90% of women have experienced sexism in the workplace, but so have 40% of men. “The pressure not to ask for full parental leave, for example, or the pressure to be the alfa male in terms of ambition and behaviour. That’s also very toxic. I know that there are plenty of men who would love to leave work in time to pick the kids up from school, or who could use some rest as well,” says Beatrice de Mahieu. “Let us also listen to the men’s needs and find a balance for both sides.”

Stand up for people, speak up against microaggression.

Rea Bakiasi: “What I believe makes DEI initiatives really effective, is standing up for people. As a young woman who was born in another country, I have faced microaggressions in the workplace. When this happens, I find myself blocked. I don’t know what to say in the moment. I feel very lucky that I have a leader, a man, who speaks up for me on those occasions and says to the person: I heard what you said, and you need to apologise because that is not how we do things here. For me, culture is not about healthy snacks and yoga lessons. It’s about the words and the behaviour that you tolerate. It’s one thing to stand up publicly about these things, but standing up for women behind closed doors is just as important.”

Many women have told me that when they go back to work after having had a child, it’s like they get a big sticker on their head that says ‘not ambitious anymore’.

Don’t be a part of the problem.

Vincent Van Bueren: “From the male perspective, I think as a man in leadership you need to ask yourself whether you have strong, confident, accomplished women in your close professional support system. If the answer is yes, then you have the basis to contribute to the solutions of these gender challenges. If the answer is no, then you better make sure to change this quickly. Otherwise you’re part of the problem.”


Our panellists all agree that gender should no longer be an issue. We should be past this by now. Especially since many of the perceived differences between men and women are false: ambition is not thrown out with the placenta after a woman gives birth, just like men are also tired from sleepless nights at home with an infant. If we want true equality, we need to listen to both sides and find the right balance for men and women alike.

About Projective Group

Established in 2006, Projective Group is a leading Financial Services change specialist.

We are recognised within the industry as a complete solutions provider, partnering with clients in Financial Services to provide resolutions that are both holistic and pragmatic.  We have evolved to become a trusted partner for companies that want to thrive and prosper in an ever-changing Financial Services landscape.