When Aude Zieseniss de Thuin heard the saying “Women hold up half the sky,” she wondered why women weren’t making half the contributions to society.
“I am sure three years ago, if there were 50 percent women in the financial area, the crisis of the time would not have existed,” she says.
De Thuin, who is French, may be the woman who actually changes all that. In 2004, she created the WEFCOS company to manage the Women’s Forum for the Economy and Society, which is a high-level international forum (think Davos) that brings together leading corporate, government, scientific, media and artistic leaders to debate and create action plans for women’s visions to build a more balanced world. DiversityInc is a media sponsor of the Oct. 14–16 event planned for Deauville, France.
She urges young women in particular to be confident in their ability to lead, as well as have a personal life. In her younger years, her experience was quite different. Her mother, a widow, expected her to follow a traditional role, but de Thuin, a psychologist by training, created her first company while still in her 20s.
“I have been blessed with strength,” she says. “Physically, I am tall and have red hair. My presence in a meeting room has often been seen as unusual because I am a woman and people often think I am the president’s assistant. I turned my experiences and my look into success, reminding them I was the head of the company. I played the part—but always with a smile.”
One of her first companies, the International Direct Marketing Week, which ran the direct-marketing professional forum, was a huge success in Europe and was sold in 1993. She created another company, the garden show “L’Art du Jardin.” When she decided to launch the Women’s Forum, she thought male bankers wouldn’t agree to finance it, but they were impressed and thought the risk worth taking, so she sold the second business and invested in the forum.
“In an ideal world, the women’s forum would not exist, but in this world, it’s necessary,” she says.