Connecting, inspiring and empowering women to lead the way
Meet our Members
Interviewed by Hanna Müller
Núria Martín is not only Managing Partner, co-founder of Osborne Clarke Spain, and one of the‘Top 50 inspiring women lawyers in Spain and Portugal’; she is also a mother of two children. Núria discusses her career achievement, the importance of networking events and balancing career and family.
You are Managing Partner, former Chair of Osborne Clarke’s International Council, and co-founder of Osborne Clarke Spain. Could you tell us about your current Managing Partner role and what skills have been required to be successful?
In my current role as Managing Partner, I focus on one major client and the rest of the time I manage the firm and our people. People are the most valuable asset in all businesses but especially in a law firm. I try to anticipate everyone’s needs, give my best and make sure that Osborne Clarke remains a great place to work. I also keep an eye on turnover, profit, and growth.
What makes me successful today is the time I spend listening to our people, always keeping the door of my office open, trying my best to achieve goals and make our firm profitable.
What makes me successful today is
the time I spend listening to our people,
always keeping the door of my office open,
trying my best to achieve goals
and make our firm profitable.
You have over 30 years of experience in both transactional and advisory work, leading major acquisition projects and coordinating legal councils around the world. What helped you get to where you are today in your professional career?
It is always a mixture of things, but luck remains an important component of success. We had always believed in the idea of building the Osborne Clarke office in Spain and we worked very hard for it. What helped contribute to my professional success was having loyal clients and great partners not only professionally speaking, but also on a personal level.
You played a big role in our 5th Women Talent Pool Programme Kick-off in Barcelona where we welcomed 39 new participants. What is the impact of such events and networking opportunities on young female leaders in your view?
I have good memories of this event because it allowed me to work hand in hand with WIL Europe. These types of events are quite important, especially for younger female lawyers. They can learn a range of things, such as communication skills and the importance of building a strong network.
Now that the Covid-19 situation is slowly getting better (note to readers: this interview was held on 19th November, 2021 when this was the case), I believe we should try to get back to normal life, go outside, join networking events and connect with other professionals at least twice a month.
Besides being a successful leader, you are also a mother. What type of opportunities and initiatives does Osborne Clarke Spain offer to new and expectant mothers?
For female lawyers, life can be as challenging or as easy as for their male counterparts. At Osborne Clarke Spain, we have more female than male lawyers and we want them to give them an opportunity to combine both maternity and their professional career. As long as mothers want to come back and continue their professional careers, we are very open to adapting to their needs. We have some female lawyers who work until the day before birth but we also have colleagues who leave two months before. Both are fine! We try to be very accommodating with young mothers returning to work after parental leaves. We try to find individual solutions for young mothers such as child-friendly working hours, part-time or home office. They can come back little by little and we adjust because we do not want to lose these talents.
We, at Osborne Clarke Spain,
have more female than male lawyers
and we want them to give them an opportunity
to combine both maternity and their professional career.
Returning to the office after maternity leave can be scary, not to mention challenging. How did you manage the return to work after becoming a mother and did you, like many working parents, face parental guilt? If so, how did you manage it?
Parental guilt happens to a lot of mothers. Women always tend to feel guilty when things do not go smoothly. This is a very common pattern which we should try to fight against. As a mother of two children, I still remember very well the first day when I returned to the office after maternity leave. Indeed, I felt very guilty leaving my four-month-old baby at home.
After a couple of months, I was happy when it was Monday again because my weekends with the kids were much more exhausting than my job. That is why it is important to find a balance between your professional and personal life. In the end, this only works when husbands and partners support you. Parenting should a 50/50 and responsibilities must be shared. Women have just as much right to work and grow professionally as men. It is important that everyone, not only their partners but also their colleagues and bosses, understand that.
I try to tell our female lawyers who become mothers for the first time that we do not work at the same speed throughout our entire career. For different reasons, there will be moments where we must slow down and moments where we allocate more effort and time to our jobs. Everybody understands that. We should not feel guilty about it.
Parenting should be 50/50
and responsibilities must be shared.
Proust Questionnaire: what do you consider your greatest achievement?
Professionally speaking, I am very proud of having built up the local structure of our office and being a founder of Osborne Clarke Spain. When the founders retire, the firm will continue being in good hands. I have been working with some of my colleagues for the last 39 years now. There are some whom I know since the very first beginning of my career.
In my private life, I am really proud of my daughter and son and the people they have become.
Video edited by Dovilė Bogušytė
Interviewed by Alison OATES and Dovile BOGUSYTE
Meet our Member, Bénédicte Micard, Southern European Business development lead at Virtu Financial, based in the South of France. We talked about being a woman in the male-dominated financial sector, the diverse competencies required for successful business development, and the impact of being a long-term remote worker on her career.
You are responsible for Southern Europe business development at Virtu Financial, a large financial services provider. What does your job entail and what part of it gets you up in the morning?
Virtu Financial offers a wide range of financial services and solutions that support retail and intuitional firms across the world.
The definition of Business Development is to find new clients and generate new business. In my view and experience, it entails so much more than that. To effectively engage with institutional prospects and clients, a successful business developer requires a multi-phased approach that includes Prospecting (identifying new clients) Analysis (listening to clients to understand their needs), Marketing (presenting and promoting solutions), Sales (converting prospects to clients) and Relationship Management (solving new client challenges as needs arise and ensuring their satisfaction in the long run. ).
What I value most about my role at Virtu is the relationship management aspect―solving client challenges and providing excellent service― it’s a key driver for me. I’ve learned that it takes years to earn trust and build confidence with clients and it’s personally satisfying when they recognise that your day-to-day efforts help.
In the years that you have been leading Southern European Business Development, have any new country markets emerged? Who are the key European players and which countries do you most enjoy working with?
In 2007, I began covering seven European countries (France, French and Italian speaking Switzerland, Spain, Portugal, Belgium, Norway and the Czech Republic), a time in which two financial crises led to many clients shuttering or being acquired. The client-culture in each country I manage are all very different. Success is gained through a tailored approach, and given the variety of my territory, a one-size-fits-all strategy simply would not work. I am creative in my approach (figuring out what works best and for who) and this challenges me and ensures my work is interesting and rewarding.
I am creative in my approach (figuring out what works best and for who) and this challenges me and ensures my work is interesting and rewarding.
You have worked for both small to medium-sized companies, and multinationals. What have you learned from being part of such different organisations?
To work in any size firm you need to be flexible and open-minded—that is a winning strategy and the mentality of today. I started my career in a small office of a large investment bank which was very people-oriented. Communication was open, and management was very accessible. I transferred to London with the same company and joined a trading floor of 500 seats and the sheer size seemed impersonal to me―like losing human contact with your peers―though I was surrounded by people. While the work was interesting, I missed being able to meaningfully interact with my colleagues. Networking and interaction with other teams build knowledge, but also creates strong connections and work relationships.
Networking and interaction with other teams build knowledge, but also creates strong connections and work relationships.
Based in Montpellier, you have been a champion of remote working since long before the Covid crisis. Tell us about the impact that this has had on your career and how attitudes towards it have evolved.
I enjoyed my life in London it’s is a great city to live in, especially when you are in your early 30s. I appreciated my work and travelling, but I was away from home too often, which was difficult with a baby. So, in 2009 I decided to move back to Montpellier to raise my child and I have worked remotely ever since.
Thankfully, this did not have a negative impact on my career trajectory. A few years after moving to France, I was hired by Virtu Financial―a firm that appreciates people's strengths and values professionalism.
Almost overnight, Covid-19 required people to become self-sufficient and motivated whilst working from home―a more difficult task than many people first anticipated. Fortunately, Virtu was a thoughtful and supportive employer who put their people first. They supplied all employees with the necessary tools and technology to set up a home office, offered child support, tutoring, community support and more. The employee and social/emotional support they continue to provide was instrumental in the firm’s successful transition to a physically distant work environment.
Working closely with clients through the periods of historic volume and volatility accelerated the shift and enhanced the appreciation of Virtu’s scale and technology-based solutions. The firm’s workflow technology, trade analytics and data, venues and execution services coupled with a client-first attitude is the heart of how we managed. We really are all in this together.
You have always worked in the finance sector, one which Board Member Paulina Dejmek-Hack wrote about in our July 2021 newsletter. What is your experience of being a woman in this male-dominated industry, and what in your view can be done to improve the career prospects of women in Financial Services?
Generally, when you work in a male-dominated industry you need to work harder as a woman to get the same recognition as a man. That is why networks like WIL exist, because as women we know we are strong and that we are super capable, but at the end of the day the gender pay gap is still a reality.
I grew up surrounded by male cousins and with whom I spent all my vacations, and my father was an FX dealer, so I was used to being in male-dominated surroundings. When I joined ITG (now Virtu Financial) in 2012, I was surprised by the large percentage of women in senior roles which convinced me that even in a male-dominated environment, women should pursue to access senior roles, as parity is just around the corner.
I do believe that people should be valued for their work, strengths and capabilities, and not be penalised because of gender. I feel that for women to be recognized professionally we need to trust ourselves and put forward our skills and knowledge with confidence.
I do believe that people should be valued for their work, strengths, and capabilities and not be penalised because of gender. I feel that women, in order to grow professionally, need to trust and believe in themselves more.
Finance, trading, and investment can seem quite daunting for non-specialists, especially women who remain unrepresented in the finance world. Do you have any podcasts, books, or blogs to recommend to our readers who may want to improve their knowledge of Finance and Investment?
The best book I have read relating to the overall business of trading would be the Nick Leeson autobiography, TRADER. Leeson was a senior trader at Barings Bank during its collapse in the 90s.
For more specific podcasts on investing, the website The Balance offers a wide choice of worthwhile content: https://www.thebalance.com/best-investing-podcasts-4584068
You are a new member of the European Network for Women in Leadership, having joined in April 2021. What spurred you to become a WIL Member and what are you hoping to get out of it? Also, what would you like to contribute to our network?
I have been following the WIL Network for some years now and have been inspired by the variety of different backgrounds of the WIL members–most of them outside of the financial services sector!
What inspired me to become a WIL member was the isolation due to the pandemic. Technology and e-networking have allowed me to meet WIL members online and participate in sessions that were previously held in person and were difficult for me to attend.
I value the exchange with senior women from different industries and look forward to engaging and meeting other female professionals. I can contribute by sharing my work experiences with younger members/talents and help women discover possible career paths within the financial services industry.
I value the exchange with senior women from different industries and look forward to engaging and meeting other female professionals.
Video edited by Dovile BOGUSYTE
Interviewed by Maria Luiza MENEZES DE OLIVEIRA
Meet our member, Dr. Andrea Schmoll, a Partner at Osborne Clarke specialising in Intellectual Property Law. In this interview, she talks about the future of legal tech, why patent protection is so important, and the need for diversity within and beyond the legal profession.
You are a Partner at Osborne Clarke focusing on Intellectual Property Law, you have been described as one of Germany’s leading experts in IP related transactions, and in 2018 you won the Client Choice Award for copyright. What led you to specialise in Intellectual Property Law and what has receiving these various awards and recognitions meant to you?
That’s a very good question, actually. The reason I became an IP lawyer is because, when I was a young student and dreaming about becoming a journalist, I met a renowned editor who told me I should study law in order to become a good journalist and learn how to use language most effectively.
That’s why I chose to study law. I began to really enjoy the legal discipline and, when I started to work as a lawyer, I quickly got into intellectual property and life sciences-related issues. After 20 years of practicing law, it still is a fascinating area for me, and I enjoy my day-to-day work. In terms of my awards, of course, they are a great recognition of the quality of work one delivers but, to be honest, they don’t mean that much to me. It’s a "nice to have" but it’s not what drives me.
Intellectual property has become one of the most influential and often most controversial issues in the knowledge-based economy, especially in recent months when debates have raged about IP rights on Covid-19 vaccines and the impact that waiving them could have on curbing the spread of the virus. Where do you sit on the issue of IP and Covid?
Being an IP specialist in the Life Sciences sector, I advise many biotech and pharma companies on the commercialisation of IP Rights, in particular as regards license agreements, research and development agreements and technology transfer agreements. Knowing how much time, efforts and funds my clients are investing in order to develop vaccines and other pharmaceutical products, I am really concerned about the current patent waiver discussion. It is incredibly expensive to develop a pharmaceutical product and is only worth it for pharma companies if they have an adequate return on investment when a development is successful. You only get that when you can exclude your competitors for a small amount of time to enjoy the exclusivity given to you by a patent. I have, in fact, a very strong view on this – and sincerely hope that we will soon have moved on from this debate.
This last decade in legal tech has been transformative, with a rise in the number of legal tech startups and legal technology and software. How has legal tech impacted your work, and what do you see as the future for legal tech?
We at Osborne Clarke are very much focused on digitalisation and were one of the frontrunners in terms of legal tech. We have, for example, an affiliate company that focuses on legal tech solutions. I see the need for legal tech, and many of my clients are using legal tech. We host platforms for our clients to help them navigate their daily challenges, upload work products and information material, keep in touch with them and use legal tech. And this is even combined with AI solutions, for example, for contract templates. So, yes, while legal tech is useful, I do not expect it ever to replace the involvement of a lawyer. Being a lawyer is so much about assessing the particular situation and then giving practical and pragmatic advice. It is also about understanding the position and concerns of the other party and then finding a good compromise. You do not only need extensive business and sector knowledge but also negotiation skills in order to get the best deal for the client.
Legal tech is useful, but it will never
replace a lawyer. Being a lawyer is so
much about assessing the situation and then giving
practical and pragmatic advice. You need extensive business
knowledge in order to find a good solution for the client.
You support clients from the Life Science and Healthcare sector. Here it has been said that there has been a “resetting of parameters”, allowing businesses to develop new technologies quicker than before. How has this resetting of parameters affected your role as an intellectual property lawyer?
As a lawyer, you have to adapt quickly to new developments and new parameters, whether it is new technical inventions or new regulatory landscapes. You have to be at the forefront and always have to know what is going on. It is not just that you qualify as a lawyer and that’s it. You have to constantly learn and adapt. This can be challenging. In terms of developments in the Life Sciences, there is certainly a lot going on, with many investments and transactions taking place. I actually think that, due to the pandemic, the Life Sciences sector is currently the most vibrant part of the economy.
As a lawyer, you have to adapt quickly to new
developments and new parameters, whether it is new
technical inventions or new regulatory landscapes. You have
to be at the forefront and always know what’s going on.
On your LinkedIn profile you state proudly that you are “driven by diversity”. How do you put this into practice in your career? What are the benefits of a diverse workforce, especially in the legal field?
Diversity is something that always drove me and was always important to me. I never understood why women or people of colour or anyone else should be treated differently than others. In my career, I never experienced any disadvantages being a woman. I was promoted to Partner when I had just returned from maternity leave after the birth of my first child. However, I learned early on that it is important to speak out and to put forward one’s requests. If you do not believe in yourself and fight for yourself, no one will. Despite this, I see that there are younger colleagues who need support, so what I really try to do is being a mentor and encourage others. I try to encourage people and help them to shine. Not just women – diversity is not just about gender. I really try to be a role model. In my case, for example, you can be a successful partner in an international law firm and enjoy a happy family life.
Working with a diverse team is more fun and helps the negotiation process. I really think that diverse teams lead to more effective and more successful results. That is why I am very eager to push diversity forward. We at Osborne Clarke show that we are on a good path, but there is still room for improvement.
Diversity is something that always drove me
and was always important to me. I never understood
why women or people of colour or anyone else should
be treated differently than others.
Before embarking on this rich and inspiring career in law, you studied at the University of Hong Kong. What impact did this experience of studying abroad have on you and how did it enhance your future career prospects?
I studied in Hong Kong for eight months when I was 20 years old. I am still a huge fan of Asia and take any opportunity that comes my way to spend time there. That is why, back in 1995, I chose to become a visiting student at Hong Kong University (HKU). It was far away and seemed very exotic. I was one of the very few Westerners at HKU at the time and it was a wonderful experience. In German, we have a saying "über den Tellerrand schauen", which means leaving your small-town life to see what is going on the other side. I could not describe it better.
I did an internship with a Hong Kong lawyer who was an expert in criminal law. One day we visited a client who was imprisoned in the New Territories (China). That was really a wake-up call in terms of my legal education. I also saw how great it is to work internationally, and that is something I always valued upon my return from Hong Kong. For my PhD thesis I chose an international topic that enabled me to spend time in the US, UK and France. I started working in an international law firm. Honestly, I think I could never work in a purely German law firm, that would not make me happy. I need to have an international exchange and to be surrounded by people of all nationalities and genders.
I could never work in a purely German law firm,
that would not make me happy. I need to have
an international exchange; I need to see people of all
nationalities and genders.
Video edited by Nadège Serrero
Interviewed by Aurélie Doré
Meet our Member, Carina Tyralla, Senior Vice President of Supply Chain Management, EMEA, at Adidas. In this interview, she talks about her vision of supply chain and desire to change perceptions of this field, how her leadership style has evolved over the years, and why giving back to the young generation of female leaders is crucial for her.
Can you describe your current role as Senior Vice President of Supply Chain Management for EMEA at Adidas and which aspects of the job you enjoy the most?
My team and I look after the European, Russia/CIS and Emerging Markets supply chain organisation at Adidas group. We are responsible for ensuring the best in-class fulfilment based on marketplace needs, which includes purchasing and order management through to final mile distribution for all channels, whilst driving strategic transformation programmes. It covers the whole chain, from buying to delivering the products to our various consumers and customers.
I recently took on the Russia/CIS and Emerging Markets which elevated the role from a diversity standpoint. Today, I have a truly diverse team in place, covering eleven different time zones! Since we cannot travel, I had the pleasure to virtually meet my team: it was great seeing their energy, their dedication, their ideas. They really want to make a difference, which is what drives me as well: elevating supply chain, moving it away from its image as a pure cost centre, having a cross-centred approach, focusing on partnership organisation, making sure that we deliver value to our customers and consumers. I look forward not just to executing the work but to bringing in innovative ideas and reaching the next level.
You were recently featured as part of the Top 100 Women in Supply Chain by Supply Chain Digital, the World's No.1 ‘Digital Community’ for the Procurement, Supply Chain & Logistics industry, celebrating female executives who are having a profound impact on global supply chain development. Congratulations! What does this recognition mean to you?
What an honour, it was so unexpected! I was excited, I felt privileged to be recognised for my work. It is powerful to be part of a great network of women. I hope I am making a difference in reshaping the supply chain industry, moving it away from stereotypes. I do what I do because I am passionate about it, and I strongly believe that this sector is much more than just delivering products to consumers. We create moments, we foster inspiration, and we can make a difference to someone’s life. Imagine that you forgot your Mum’s birthday: you order a gift online, and it is our mission to make sure that it will be delivered on time so that you can celebrate this event with your family.
Collaborating in such a network will make us all stronger. We can learn and benefit from each other, we can share best practices. It is great to have another community I can rely on. One woman from the network already reached out and suggested we organise a virtual gathering to get to know each other: this is where the power and inspiration start! Being appointed is great but it is only the beginning: we need to make something out of it, and I hope the next Top 100 will be open to all without distinction around gender.
We create moments, we foster inspiration,
and we can make a difference into someone’s life!
There is still a misrepresentation of women in executive business roles, especially within the field of supply chain management, with men holding 75-80% of jobs in the supply chain. Was it difficult for you to jump in the industry? Do you think we need more women in supply chain and logistics to close the gender gap, and do you feel that recruiting female talent is an issue?
Ending up in this industry was pure chance. When I finished my studies, the only thing that was clear was my desire to work with people internationally. My professional journey started in an agency, surrounded by men smoking, yelling, and shouting in different languages into their phones! When I walked in, as a nineteen-year-old girl from a village, everyone was radio silent and basically stared at me, probably thinking what the heck is she doing here! That experience shaped my career. I learned that if you bring the right mindset and attitude, everyone is supportive and helpful. When I joined the logistics and supply chain team of Adidas a few years later, I was still often the only woman in the room. But it has never been a problem for me, since I’ve known this environment from an early stage.
I recently rejoined Adidas after being with Tom Tailor for four and a half years, and there are many more women around than there were ten years ago. In general, we lack talent when it comes to supply chain, and i in particular female talents. It starts with the recruitment process: we usually ask for people with supply chain backgrounds to take on these roles, but, because there are not yet many women that have this, applications from them are limited. The second challenge lies with us as women: we often suffer from imposter syndrome, believe we are not good enough, that we are missing something to even apply. We need to be more courageous, to speak up about what we want, and recognise that we have something valuable to offer.
As a manager, I need to be flexible. I’ve always focused on mindset and attitude when hiring people, because to me you can learn everything. But our job descriptions are still asking for ten years of experience in supply chain, so maybe we should reconsider this habit, because doing so is part of the solution. The good news is that I currently have a decent balance between women and men talents in my team, which means there are plenty of talents who are keen to take on responsibilities!
As women, we often suffer from imposter syndrome,
believe we are not good enough, that we are
missing something…We need to be more courageous,
to speak up about what we want, and recognize that
we have something valuable to offer.
You joined WIL Europe as a Member last year. Why is it important for you to be involved in a network dedicated to female leaders?
I always considered myself as being privileged, thanks to my strong personal network. My family and my friends always support whatever idea I come up with, except when I wanted to try volleyball - everyone was convinced that it wasn’t a good idea. I went for it anyway but I must admit that they were right! From a professional point of view, I never had a masterplan. I was never the kind of person to plan my career for the next ten years. But I always had a mentor or direct manager who believed in me and gave me opportunities to prove myself.
Unfortunately, not everyone is that privileged, with a supportive personal and professional network. This is why I am trying to give back, to help future leaders believe in themselves. As I mentioned, recruiting female talents in supply chain is still a challenge. Some of them may be resistant because they do not understand it fully, and by sharing my experience I want to encourage others to give it a try. It is such a cool area, where innovative minds are required! Networks like WIL can help foster a better reputation of supply chain, but mainly support women to believe in themselves.
Network like WIL can help foster a better reputation
of supply chain, but mainly support women
to believe in themselves.
Managing a team effectively requires vision, communication, and diverse skills. As a Senior Vice President, what is your leadership style and how has it evolved since the beginning of your career? What advice would you give to your younger self and to other women hoping to become the next generation of female leaders?
I consider myself to be a rather balanced leader: I try not to over-dramatise things. There might be the worst crisis going on, but you still need to have a laugh!
Honesty is what I value the most, in my professional but personal life as well. The most important thing is to create a trusting environment. I always say that it is totally fine to make mistakes - we are human beings. But we need to talk about it and find a way to fix it as a team. Without that environment of trust and acknowledgement of what is working and not, I do not see how we can grow. It is never about blaming someone for not performing, but more about teaming up and finding solutions to grow together.
Diversity and inclusion are important to me, not only gender but also in terms of age, geography, and culture. I believe in collaboration, so let’s bring our different strengths together and figure out what the best solution is. I’m not in favour of silo decision-making and it is our responsibility as leaders to bring diversity of thoughts together to ease the process. My team are the experts: I want to hear from them, all of them. Any decision is better than no decision at all, even if sometimes it feels like trying to read a crystal ball.
My style of leadership has definitively adapted over the years. My younger self was more on the introverted side, wondering what value she could bring to the table in front of all these experienced people. But I learned that everyone has an opinion, and as loud as people can seem, it is important to raise your voice, speak up, share your opinion. Because if you don’t, others might take decisions that you think are the wrong ones.
The advice I would give is to the next generation of female leaders is to join the conversation: do not stay on the sidelines!
Interviewed by Alison Oates
Meet our Member, Fiona O’Brien, EMEA Chief Channel Officer and Head of EMEA Operations at Lenovo. We hear from her about technology’s potential to enable inclusion and participation, how to develop and maintain successful working relationships remotely and her unique take on mentorship.
You have been working for tech multinational, Lenovo, for 16 years where you have held a number of different positions. Can you describe your current role at Lenovo, and explain what you most enjoy about it?
I’m the EMEA Chief Channel Officer for Lenovo and I’m responsible for our engagement with our Business Partner Community. Lenovo sells its products with and through partners and so my team is responsible for strategy and relationships throughout Europe, the Middle East and Africa. I also hold a number of other roles within the company: leading our mid-market sales organisation and managing our business transformation mission. In addition, I have the honour of chairing the Lenovo EMEA Diversity and Inclusion Board. Lenovo’s company strategy is “Smarter technology for all” and being the leader and enabler of Intelligent Transformation – that “for all” part means everyone. We can’t create products and solutions for a diverse global customer base if we’re not developing our workforce to reflect that diversity. We achieve that by adopting a robust D&I framework, with global and EMEA Diversity & Inclusion Boards and wide array of employee resource groups such as Women in Lenovo, Pride and People with Disabilities. We are particularly proud of our Product Diversity Office who help ensure accessibility, diversity, and inclusivity are reflected in our product development processes.
How has Lenovo operation evolved over the past decade and what are you most proud of?
I’m originally from Dublin, Ireland, and joined IBM’s Graduate Programme at the age of 19 straight after my studies. I held several positions up until 2005, when I ran IBM’s Personal Computing Division, and soon after we were acquired by Lenovo. I was given the option of joining Lenovo and setting up a new structure in Ireland. The company was relatively unknown but I saw the unique opportunity that moving could give me so I took the leap, joined Lenovo and haven’t looked back since! Lenovo has transformed into an industry leading technology provider and it has been a privilege to build this success with the extended team. Becoming the worldwide number 1 PC provider was a major milestone of us as a company. However, what I am most proud of is the Lenovo culture, where everyone feels empowered to be successful and where change is embraced. We value talent over location and today have created a community of employees who are best suited for their job, regardless of where they’re based.
I’m most proud of Lenovo’s culture...We value talent
over location & have created a community of
employees who are best suited for their job, regardless
of where they’re based.
COVID-19 has drastically affected the way that we work. As someone who works with a number of teams internationally, what methods do you use today to connect with people meaningfully at work?
Working with people you do not see — or who live in a different time zone, or think, talk, feel or act differently from you — can make even simple tasks difficult. I have been managing teams across countries for many years and have learnt the importance of building trust, understanding cultural nuances & unifying under a common direction. I’ve been quite lucky since, prior to Covid, I had been able to meet my teams in person and form close working relationships with them. As a result, this made moving into a remote world easier as we have been able to work similarly to the way we did before the pandemic. It is definitely more difficult to form new relationships remotely and therefore requires more effort on everybody’s part. In particular it is important to nourish human connections during remote working. Engaging with individuals, asking them what they, as individuals, need to be able to work remotely and supporting them is vital for remote working to succeed. Technology has been instrumental in enabling us to remain connected through this challenging time.
Engaging with individuals, asking them
what they need to be able to work remotely
and supporting them is vital for
remote working to succeed.
You are a strong advocate for mentorship amongst women. What have you learned from your different mentors and what do you try to pass on to women today?
Mentorship, both formal and informal, has been a key part of my career. My first manager taught me the importance of having a plan and ensuring that I was putting actions in place (making new connections, volunteering for a project) that would bring me closer to reaching my end goal. We all need help one way or another and in order to succeed, we need to get better at asking for it. There is no weakness in seeking support. Speak to as many successful people as you can and listen to and learn from them. We can all learn from our own experiences as well as others, no matter the level. In addition, try to lend a helping hand and be seen as an example to those coming up the ladder.
I am a true believer in the value of support systems and developing a trusted community of people, who you can turn to for advice, guidance and inspiration. I call this “situational mentorship”. When I’m faced with a problem or want feedback on an idea, I go to my network and simply ask someone. As a mentee, it is key to know what you wish to get out of mentorship, and we shouldn’t be afraid to aim high and ask people to help us get there.
As a mentee, it is key to know what you
wish to get out of mentorship, and we shouldn’t be
afraid to aim high and ask people to help us get there!
You recently participated as a guest speaker in WIL’s panel debate “Technology: Obstacle or Enabler for Inclusion and Participation?” Why was it important for you to participate in this debate and what were your main take aways from it?
Working for a global technology company, we have to develop our products with diversity and inclusion in mind. Technology is a tool. Its usefulness depends on human agency and political will. My firm belief is that technology is and can be a great enabler for inclusion and participation, but only if it is developed in a responsible manner. It was wonderful to see, during the WIL debate, so much passion and activity and a group of women campaigning to make a difference.
Technology can be a great enabler for inclusion
and participation, but only if it is developed
in a responsible manner.
We like to conclude our interviews with a question from the Proust questionnaire: Who are your favourite writers?
During Covid I’ve finally had the time to catch up on my reading list - I’m currently discovering Irish female authors such as Megan Nolan, Laura McKenna and Emma O’Donoghue. While I love reading fiction to unwind, I also enjoy dipping into history books. Tom Holland is a great historian, and his work is so accessible! I always try to educate myself on Diversity and Inclusion topics, and recently read the children’s book Breaking the Mould by Sinéad Burke with my young son, which taught us both so much about celebrating difference, in particular around disability.
Meet our Founding Board Member, Viviane Chaine-Ribeiro, President of the French Federation of Very Small Businesses (FTPE). In this interview, she talks about female entrepreneurship during the pandemic, the future of new technologies, and what advice she would have given herself when she was starting out in her career.
When we last interviewed you, in 2009, you were President of the Supervisory Board of Talentia Software, a provider of HR and Finance software, which you successfully managed for 12 years. Today you are also President of the French Federation of Very Small Businesses (FTPE) and Co-President of the European and International Commission of MEDEF, a network of entrepreneurs in France. How has pursuing diverse roles and interests benefitted your career, and what have been your career highlights so far?
I never thought in terms of a career. All throughout my professional life, I have been lucky. In fact, every time I felt certain about a job or mission, it was because I wanted it and because it was right for me. This meant that I was able to manage it successfully and accept the challenge. I am probably not a good example of how to build a career, because I never asked for a job with additional responsibilities: opportunities were often given to me before I even felt the need for change. The same is true when it comes to my non-profit responsibilities. These opportunities were proposed to me before I asked for them. Looking back, these diverse roles gave me a much broader view on many things: more ideas, open views, but also an incredible network and a limitless relationship with many different people, which is the greatest gift you can be given.
Your current organisation, FTPE, represents small companies in France. What has been the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on these small companies, particularly those led by women, and what are the prospects for them when we finally reach the end of this crisis?
The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has been tremendous for all companies and for some sectors the worst is yet to come. The cash crisis and levels of debt are big risk-factors; and I am not talking about state debt, but the debt of small and midsize businesses (SMBs). The rise of unemployment might well bring us to a social crisis. The future has never been more uncertain.
What is particular for women-led companies? Nothing. Women faced the same turmoil reinventing their businesses or trying to find a way to generate revenues. Thankfully, in France at least, the government has played its role and supported the economy quite efficiently. What is particular for women working from home? They spend more time on housework and childcare than men. Life during the pandemic has become more challenging for all but certainly much more for women. Equality was not such a key word until people’s personal situations entered the game and people found themselves in quite different environments.
Life during the pandemic has become
more challenging for all but
certainly much more for women.
As well as being a founding Board Member of WIL Europe, you are also actively engaged with Women Equity Partners (WEP), which invests in female-led companies. In your view, what can be done to encourage more women, particularly those with young families, to become entrepreneurs, and what happens when they do?
Let us start telling them to be confident in themselves, to not being shy, and stop thinking that they are unable to do things. They need to be sure that they can if they get support. That is why Women Equity Partners (WEP) exists. Women are as capable as men if they trust in their business plan and creative ideas. Once they do, their companies are more profitable and faster growing that those led by men, as revealed by different studies conducted by WEP. None of them should hesitate to create their own business. We need to help all women who want to start their entrepreneurship journey. It is never easy, but it is doable.
WIL recently launched the 6th edition of the Women Talent Pool leadership programme for promising female talents. Earlier in your career, when you were an aspiring leader, what piece of advice would you like to have received and why?
I always had someone to discuss with, someone to ask for advice when doubts came to mind, someone with more hindsight than me. That is my only advice: have someone around to push you to think differently than you can do on your own.
In April WIL will hold an event to analyse how technology can contribute to inclusivity, rather than promote discriminatory practices. As an expert in digital, what is your response to those who say that advanced artificial intelligence (AI) poses a danger to humanity? What can be done to ensure technology contributes to a more just world?
Every advanced technology or scientific discovery has presented a challenge to humanity. It has been a matter of “equilibrium of forces” for centuries. At the international level, when it came to nuclear weapons we went from the permanent research of “equilibrium of forces” to the deterrence theory. Deterrence also brings a kind of equilibrium. Why should it be different for advanced AI? Let us be confident that we will find a way to capture all the benefits of this wonderful invention and curb its use for negative purposes. I believe in our ethical values and have faith that advanced AI will not simply be used by the “bad guys”. What is a more just world? Isn’t it an old dream? Don’t be naïve: you must believe in your future to make it as you wish it to be. We are living in a more open world and thanks to technology, everyone has the chance to disrupt any business model. Let us be creative. We can change the world and we will.
Let us be confident, we will find a way
to capture all the benefits of the wonderful
invention AI and curb its use for negative purposes.
We like to close our interviews with a question from the Proust questionnaire. The one we have chosen for you is: What is your motto?
I don’t have only one, but this one is my favourite: Do not refuse to yourself all the possible ways you could be offered or could be taken. There is always an opportunity to come out of situations on top.
Interviewed by Anel Arapova
Meet our Member and Board Member, Maria Pernas Martinez, Group Executive Committee Member, Group General Counsel and Commercial and Contract Management at Capgemini. Following our first interview with Maria in 2015, we hear from her about her current role, about why having a diverse and inclusive workforce is so important for her company, and about what Capgemini is doing to promote gender parity at all levels.
You have vast experience working as a General Counsel in multinational firms. Currently, you serve as the Group Executive Committee Member, Group General Counsel and Commercial and Contract Management at Capgemini. Can you please tell us what motivated you to pursue a career in the Legal field and what your current position involves?
As you have noticed, I have built an international career as an in-house counsel. I studied Law and I quickly became attracted by figures, margin and growth. I enjoy working as a wholly integrated part of the business team, going beyond pure legal compliance and making the regulatory framework a strong growth and profit driver.
I am a Group Executive Committee Member and I am responsible for the Legal and Commercial Contract and Commercial Management functions with circa 700 professionals. This involves, on one side, working very closely with the Group’s senior management to advise on strategic matters (Business Operations, Corporate Affairs, Data, Cybersecurity, Regulatory, Intellectual Property or M&A, among others) and, on the other side, leading the CCM team to optimise contract performance.
I can therefore develop my two passions: business and technology. I work in an industry where challenges evolve at a very fast pace. We are required to contribute to the creation of the “soft law” and to develop innovative commercial behaviours.
The month of March saw the launch of WIL’s Women Talent Pool Leadership Programme, for which Capgemini has put forward five fantastic talents. We also commemorated International Women’s Day on 8th March. What are Capgemini’s commitments to gender diversity and representation? As a professional in a leadership role, and as a Board Member of WIL, what do you think are the next key steps to be taken?
As a Group, we believe in an inclusive culture and actively encourage more women to join our business and empower them with career paths and opportunities.
In the last few years, the number of women joining Capgemini has increased, reaching 34.9% of the headcount on a Capgemini legacy basis at the end of 2020. We are also committed to continuing to close the gender gap when it comes to accessing management and executive positions. We have put together a number of initiatives, including:
The proportion of women promoted internally to the highest grade of Vice-President (VP) reached a record high of 29.3% during the 2020 promotion campaign and the percentage of external hires exceeded the threshold of 30%.
We have the “Women@Capgemini” network and Capgemini’s commitment to Gender diversity has been recognised with different awards in multiple countries (eg. second runner up in India in the Gender-Inclusive workplace category from the United Nations Women 2020 Asia Pacific, 2020+ Top Companies for Executive Women by Working Mother Media in North America, Times Top 50 Best Employers for Women in the UK, or Best employer for Women (5 stars out 5) by Brigitte in Germany).
With regard to Capgemini Legal, we are proud to embrace and exemplify Capgemini’s diversity and inclusion values. In fact, around 57% of our VPs within the legal function are female. We continue focusing on talent, professional excellence and value to the teams, and we support everyone to reach their maximum potential, regardless of their gender, background or other personal considerations.
In terms of next steps, although major progress has been made during recent years, we need to continue to have female leaders acting as role models and we need the strong sponsorship from the business and public sector leaders. This sponsorship exists and is visible in Capgemini.
Being a leader in consulting, digital transformation, technology and engineering services, Capgemini has a global presence. With teams located across the world, what is the role of the multicultural workplace to you? What have been some challenges you have faced and lessons you learned from working with your international colleagues?
I have always been a strong believer in Diversity and Inclusion. Placing people of different nationalities and personal backgrounds around a table fosters innovation and increases our chances of achieving the best result. Capgemini is truly a melting pot of all cultures and nationalities, and I feel honoured to work for this amazing company. This brings so much value to my work: learning from others, discovering new ways of doing things and building out-of-the-box results.
One of the challenges of multicultural teams is communication: making sure everyone works from the same semantic baseline and background and that cultural implied messages do not lead to miscommunication. Lessons learned: I find it is important to define and explain our Capgemini legal common “codes” and behaviours and put in place practical tips. For instance, when I start a meeting, I set expectations and make sure that we finalise with a detailed take-away to make sure we are all on the same page.
With the field of technology advancing rapidly, there is no doubt that the legislation surrounding it is also evolving quickly. How do you keep up with such changes? Could you tell us about how the accelerated pace of digital transformation during the Covid-19 pandemic has impacted the Legal field?
The Information Technology industry has substantially evolved over the last years and it is becoming heavily regulated. This trend does not look like it will be slowing down any time soon. For the legal professionals this implies a new challenge; legislation changes go more slowly than technological evolution, and this means that we need to find appropriate legal solutions to complex technology problems, within legal frameworks that are not always fully adapted. In Capgemini Legal I have developed a strong regulatory practice with experienced lawyers in charge of digital, innovation and policy issues. Thanks to our digital Legal Academy, we keep up to date and continue developing and enhancing our knowledge and expertise.
With regard to COVID-19, the Capgemini Legal and CCM teams continued to work alongside operations with minimal disruption; many of our processes were already digital. However, new topics arose: contractual issues associated with remote working; impacts on the data and cybersecurity frameworks; changes in the employment domain, etc. This required extra efforts, but we managed to address the challenges by showing agility to adapt to the new framework and finding the best solutions in the interest of our clients.
In addition to altering our lifestyles, the year of lockdowns and working from home has blurred the lines between private and professional life. What is your approach to a sustainable work-life balance? Moreover, what do you think that work-life balance will look like after the pandemic, particularly for women?
Work-life balance is a key success factor for professional growth. One positive aspect is that the home office has allowed us to increase time with our families by reducing time in transport, however the pandemic has definitively blurred the lines between work and family time.
We need to help our teams get through these challenging times. I have launched well-being sessions with a strong focus on resilience. The Capgemini Legal ‘Department of Joy’ sets up informal virtual meetings twice a week to maintain social exchanges. In India, the legal department implemented a “not online-day” to disconnect from email, virtual meetings and such to focus on specific subjects without the buzz of all the electronic devices. We have also set up a monthly survey to employees to make sure we have feedback from the ground up and can adjust our strategy accordingly.
With regard to the future, nothing will be the same (partial remote working will become the rule, less travelling, enhanced digitalisation….). We are defining new principles for the “New Normal” post Covid19, but I don’t see any specific issues for the female population. Both men and women will embrace the New Normal.
We always ask a question from the Proust Questionnaire at the end of our interviews. You could pick the question you prefer more: which talent would you most like to have? or what is your motto?
Meet our Member, Elke Grooten, Head EU Relations at Novartis. In this interview, Elkeshares with us her insights on the impact the COVID-19 pandemic on healthcare systems, how the crisis has transformed the pharmaceutical industry and tells us why it is important to be optimistic about the future.
You are currently Head EU Relations for Novartis. What does your job entail and what do you enjoy most about it?
I currently work as the Head EU Relations at Novartis, a pharmaceutical company and a market leader in Europe for innovative medicines as well as generic and biosimilar medicines. We also have a huge footprint in Europe on Research and Development activities as well as manufacturing and supply. My job is to represent the company to EU institutions - the European Commission, Parliament and Council – as well as to define our strategy alongside different trade associations and stakeholders.
I really love my job! I always say that Novartis is full of smart people and that I’m able to learn every day in this company, even more so because I also work with great experts in Brussels.
Throughout your career you have had extensive experience within the pharmaceutical sector. How has this sector changed since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and what are your predictions for the future?
On a personal level, since I really enjoy working with people, I miss having more human interactions. When it comes to the pharmaceutical sector, COVID-19 has definitely been a stress-test on healthcare systems and companies like Novartis. We have had to find collaborative solutions in cooperation with the European Institutions to continue our operations. Supplying medicines at a time when borders were closing and conducting clinical trials during national lockdowns has been a challenge.
COVID-19 has forced us to be better and more efficient. We have also been able to reduce some of the administrative “red tape”, giving us more flexibility in regulatory processes within the pharmaceutical sector. For the future, I am optimistic. Never before have we seen such collaboration between different organisations: we have already approved several vaccines which is incredible!
COVID-19 has forced us to be better…
Never before have we seen such collaboration
between different organisations
Improving access to healthcare is a topic very close to your heart. What are your views on why health systems across the world have struggled to cope with COVID-19, and what more can be done going forwards?
The COVID-19 pandemic has been extremely stressful for healthcare systems. Firstly, we can see across Europe that countries with strong digital infrastructures have responded better to the health crisis, and at the same time, countries which did not previously develop their digital health infrastructure have found themselves less well-equipped to deal with the pandemic. In Europe we need to see a more coordinated approach to digitalising healthcare.
Secondly, healthcare professionals have had to prioritise COVID-19 patients when administering healthcare. I hope moving forward that we will create resilient systems that can deal with both pandemics and other illnesses.
Finally, I believe that we need to prioritise mental health in the future. Everybody has been impacted by this pandemic. Luckily, at Novartis, a great deal of attention is given to mental health, but we can all go further within our families, our friends and our communities.
I believe that we need to prioritise
mental health in the future.
Everyone has been impacted by this pandemic
I always knew, even as a child, that I wanted to go into the scientific field. I am also quite stubborn, and so I made sure throughout high school that I kept up my studies in Science and later, Pharmaceutical Sciences. Even though I was passionate about pharmaceuticals I could not see myself working in retail pharmacy, and so I decided to study Business Management in order to transfer my knowledge and skills to the private sector. A few years later, I joined Novartis.
Throughout my professional and private lives, I have always had two strong driving forces: global access to health and empowering individuals and communities. Because of this, I became very interested in geopolitics, international relations, cooperation and collaboration.
During the lockdown, I wanted to do more than I actually did! Having said that I did learn new digital skills, and also discovered a passion for Lego!
I have always had two strong driving forces:
global access to health and
empowering individuals and communities.
When going through such turbulent times, it always helps to know what you want. Once you know what you want, you have to pursue it yourself - nobody will do it for you! That being said, I often say “No-one has ever accomplished anything alone”. Finding mentors, coaches and broadening your network is crucial. Networking is more important than ever and unfortunately many women, especially compared to men, are not comfortable networking. Women are extremely capable of networking for their children, their companies, their friends, however unfortunately we seem to find networking for ourselves embarrassing. Like I said, no-one can do it alone!
When going through such turbulent times,
it always helps to know what you want.
Once you know what you want,
you have to pursue it yourself - nobody will do it for you!
COVID-19 has been difficult for everybody- let’s be honest, life was so much more fun before! I love music and dancing, and before COVID-19 I used to DJ in Brussels which I cannot do anymore. More than ever, I prioritise sleep. I make sure to get eight hours of sleep every night so that I can switch off and spend less time in front of a screen. Exercise is also very important, as well as, where possible, personal contact with friends and family.
Proust question: What do you consider your greatest achievement?
I love people, and while I’m very proud of my career, I’m most proud and passionate about how I’ve empowered people.
Meet our Member, Claire Paponneau, Deputy Chief Executive Officer at Mauritius Telecom. In this interview, Claire shares with us herlove for mentoring, her vision of an inclusive leadership and her message for the younger generation.
You have worked at Orange for numerous years throughout your career. Moreover you have been involved with Amnesty International, serving as their International Treasurer for six years. How would you characterise this experience? What were some successes and/or challenges you have encountered?
The common feature of these two experiences is multiculturalism. I was very lucky because I got to work with great teams in Orange and Amnesty International, and I met fabulous people from all around the world. I found myself working with people from different countries, cultures, and native languages, as well as different types of competencies. These experiences were about opening up my mind to different ways of doing work and being respectful of those differences. Although I have learned a lot, the greatest challenge for me during my time in Amnesty International was combining my professional duties, personal life and commitments to human rights.
You are now a Deputy Chief Executive Officer at Mauritius Telecom. Could you please describe what this job entails, as well as what is your favorite part of it?
I am the Deputy Chief Executive Officer, as well as Chief Operating Official. The finest part of my job is being in charge and managing customer experience, in addition to day-to-day operations and results. I appreciate the chances I get to be with the staff in understanding our customers and their pain points. Our goal is to make the solutions simple for the customer, even if their enforcement is not as simple for us. I am happy about being in Mauritius where the culture is a diverse mix of French, English, Chinese, and Indian traditions. For example, 12 February marks the celebration of Chinese New Year, which is a Bank Holiday here.
Our goal is to make the solutions
simple for the customer, even if their enforcement
is not as simple for us.
You are a Career Development leader/mentor for the WIL’s WTP Programme, what motivated you to take on this role? How do you approach mentorship and what have been your greatest takeaways from this role?
In my view, all of us should give back to others what we have been lucky to receive. I see mentorship as a transgenerational gift which we must pass on. I was lucky to receive help in the beginning of my career, so now it is my time to help the younger generation. On a personal level, meeting and learning from the young female talents is a wonderful experience. As for the takeaways, it is about remaining open and flexible enough to understand specific needs and coordinate effectively during sessions. The key to open sessions is that at the end of the day if the session didn’t exactly go as planned, specific needs that arose in the moment were answered.
I see mentorship as a
gift we must pass on.
It is obvious that the pandemic has not only changed the workplace, but also the nature and role of leadership in organisations. What is your vision for female leadership of the future and how do you think it will evolve going forward?
My vision is not about the division of female or male leadership, but something broader. It is about inclusivity and the ability to listen, as well as being mindful of stakeholders’ needs. Both now, and in the future, we need leadership that creates value. The question that needs to be asked is how could leaders embark on their usual activities whilst also showing interest in more global aspects of their work? The leadership of tomorrow should not only care about the customers and the staff, but also, for example, the environment and the impact they have on communities facing the consequences.
The leadership of tomorrow should not
only care about the customers and the staff,
but also, for example, the environment
and the impact they have on communities
experiencing the consequences.
Based on the professional experience and success you have had, what advice would you give your younger self?
To my younger self, I would recommend to stop working so much and trying to do everything perfectly.
In school, I suffered from the pressure to complete everything requested of me. Later, I learned that in a professional position, trying to complete all the actions given on a to-do list is not the key. What is truly important is keeping time to focus on strategy. You need time to up your world and keep time to read, learn, and experience new things out of your comfort zone. For example, even when being interested in Communications, taking some time to learn about the food industry could be interesting and helpful in learning new tricks and strategies. Very often, young people are focused on lists and achievements, like making the perfect presentation, when all they need to do is to stop, look outside and open their minds.
Very often, young people are focused
on lists and achievements,
like making the perfect presentation, when all they
need to do is to stop, look outside
and open their minds.
We always conclude our interviews with a question from the Proust questionnaire: Who are your favorite heroines in fiction?
I am an avid reader of fiction, mostly in French, but also in English, depending on what type of resources I can access. The characters I appreciate the most are not the heroes of the big battles associated with success, but rather those day-to-day heroes who are doing their best in the life they have. I like the characters who are managing how to love and be happy while facing the events of their lives. In particular, I am thinking about a book written in 2018 by Gaëlle Josse called Une longue impatience (the English translation is A long impatience). It follows a fabulous female character and I highly recommend it!
Interviewed by Lucy Lawson and Nadège Serrero
Meet our Member, Anne Houtman, Lecturer at Sciences Po Paris. In this interview with her, she talks to us about the challenges in the EU reaching climate neutrality by 2050, the difference between leadership and management, as well as the importance of having more women in visible positions.
The last time we interviewed you, in 2012, you were Head of the European Commission Representation in Paris, after which you became Principal Advisor in the Directorate General for Energy in the European Commission. Today, you are a lecturer at Sciences Po Paris and a Member of the Royal Academy of Belgium, specialised in European Energy policy. In which sector - pubic or academic - do you believe you have been able to make the greatest difference to advancing understanding of European policy goals, and where do you expect to go next?
I will start by answering the final part of this question, as it is easier. I believe that I have been very lucky, and now also in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic. I am very curious by nature: I love reading, sharing ideas, discussing, and exchanging opinions. I am very busy with these tasks and they make me feel content and fulfilled. I also have more time to dedicate myself to reflecting and communicating since I no longer have the administrative tasks to do which occupied much of my time in my roles at the European Commission. I feel very blessed, and privileged, to be in this position - it is because of this that I feel optimistic about the future.
The next part of the question is not as easy to respond to. We are talking about completely different audiences to which I am pitching my knowledge and ideas. In my role as Head of the European Commission Representation in Paris, I was the voice, eyes, and ears of Europe for the whole of France. In this role, the first major challenge was the breadth of subjects on which we had to communicate – from immigration, to fishing regulations. You cannot claim to be an expert on everything, so you must acknowledge this and remain humble and modest. The role also included communicating policy to the whole of France – which is a pretty big country! When fulfilling this goal, one of the biggest challenges was conveying the message from Brussels, formulated to be addressed to 27 - and later 28 - member states, in a way which speaks to each region and community in France. Occasionally when you communicate these messages, the message gets misunderstood. To give an example, the notion of public service changes from one member state to another. In some countries, public services do not function very well and thus have a bad reputation; in others, public services are cherished. In some countries, public services are centralised, like in France – whereas in Germany, they operate on a more localised level. Therefore, in this role, it is important to read and re-interpret the message based on your audience.
The second challenge relates to grabbing the attention of your audience. It is easy to appeal to those who are already interested in European Affairs and are convinced of the benefits of a European Union. The difficulty is reaching out to those who do not want to hear about Europe. In this role, you need to understand where people stand and accept that whilst people may hold a very different opinion to your own, you still need to work with them. You must separate this lack of agreement from a lack of understanding of the issue and deliver the information without lecturing people. The communication in this role requires striking a very fine balance.
My experience as Head of the European Commission Representation in Paris contrasts completely with that of being a member of the Royal Academy of Belgium since, in this position, I am amongst peers with a wide range of backgrounds. I am a member of this Academy as a mathematician; yet I find myself surrounded by lawyers, economists, architects, scientists, engineers, and experts from many other fields. This role comes with its own set of challenges. Everyone is a high-ranking specialist in their field, but we all come from different areas, which means we must try and communicate with people from very different backgrounds and professions.
This role also contrasts with my position at Sciences Po, where I teach a class of 25 students. These students all come from completely different backgrounds; Chinese, German, French, and more. Thus, the challenge in this role is being able to communicate in a way which resonates with all the different experiences of the students. I have students who come from backgrounds where EU institutions have always been present in their country, and others who have had no experience with the EU. Therefore, I really have to gauge how much they need to know in order to understand my class and how to communicate my syllabus in the most engaging and effective way.
Throughout the public and academic sector, one challenge remains constant: understanding who my audience is, what they want to learn, and creating my message in relation to this.
Since I was a child, my goal was to be a professor. When I was 12 years old, I would stand up on blackboards and explain concepts to the other children in my class. I made all my pocket money by tutoring younger students in Maths, Physics, even French. I have a real passion for educating; it is what I love doing. I also loved my time at the EU Commission. I feel incredibly lucky to have worked there, as it is a place where you can really change things, even when you are not at the top level. You can formulate ideas, push them, and see them take shape after a few years.
Throughout the public and academic sector, one challenge remains constant:
understanding who my audience is,what they want to learn, and creating
my message in relation to this.
The European Union (EU) has committed to becoming the first carbon-neutral continent by 2050, an objective which is at the heart of the European Green Deal, which we debated in a high-level WIL Europe event in October 2020. Is the EU’s objective a realistic one and what needs to happen to get us there?
I believe we shouldn’t be asking whether it is realistic: it is necessary to limit global warming to 1.5°C. It is of the upmost necessity to push this objective. We have already seen some effects of climate change, and scientific evidence tells us to do everything in our power to limit these changes and to be carbon neutral by mid-century at the latest to reach this objective. What we are looking at here is the question of the planet’s survival and thus our survival, so we must not ponder if it is realistic – we must just do it and act fast.
This objective is certainly attainable, but it will be incredibly difficult. It requires completely changing the way the economy is functioning, the way we as citizens behave and consume, the way enterprises conceive their products, and the way all of this can fit into a circular economy. We must reset our way of thinking and producing. It also requires the work of public authorities in implementing different policies and regulations on both an EU, national and local level.
Whilst the task is daunting, it is also exciting. Never in the history of humanity have we been in front of something so existential for humanity. I believe the European Green Deal proposes an exciting transformation. If we do it well, it will bring us a better world with more meaningful cooperation.
What we are looking at here
is the question of the planet’s survival,
so we must not ponder if it is realistic
– we must just do it ad act fast.
In 2019, hundreds of thousands of young people across the world took to the streets to protest the inaction of governments on the climate crisis. What is your analysis of the impact of these protests on global thinking and action on climate change, and do you think these protests will set a long-term trend for young people’s engagement in policy and politics?
I am not a sociologist nor a policy analyst, but what I can give you is my own understanding. The first thing that strikes me is that there is a notable dissonance between what people believe in, and know to be right, and how they act in their daily life. We all know that we should use our cars less – but do we do this? Not always.
When we consider these young people, who may be moving into policy-making positions, the changes they can make depend on their personality. People are very diverse in nature: there are some young people who are very idealistic and may become frustrated if changes do not happen almost instantaneously. This may result in them becoming very angry at politics in general, since they can see a better world and future in sight, but they see no change. On the other hand, there are young people who analyse what should and could be done, and this constitutes a very different attitude. When you realise how hard it is to change reality, you are either frustrated at the complexity and obstacles or excited by the prospect of the challenge. This spectrum of responses can make working in policy a difficult experience depending on your personal traits.
An example that I would use to demonstrate this is the phasing out of coal. We all know that we should get rid of coal as soon as possible. However, if we look for example at regions such as Silesia in the south of Poland, we realise that coal is integral to the profession of thousands of miners. Coal is also used in Silesia to heat homes, to produce electricity and in many other economic activities. How do you change this system to function without coal? These activities come with jobs and assets, so the social and economic impactsare huge. This shows that, when you start to unpack the reality of these changes, you realise that you must confront an idealistic vision with a harsh reality. Not everyone is prepared to face the discontentment that will come from allowing this transition. You must ask yourself: do I have the strength, the empathy, and the imagination to create alternatives, and does this prospect excite me?
You participated in last year’s WIL Women in Talent Pool leadership programme as a Career Development leader, working with a small group of our talents to hone their leadership skills. How would you define ‘leadership’?
I believe that leadership is very different to management. You can have leadership in any position in the hierarchy. What you need to be a leader is a vision of where you want people to go to with you. You need a clear direction to get people to work with you, and then you need the quality of inspiring people. Inspiring people requires empathy, as they need to feel an emotion which gives them a desire to work with you. This is a key difference between management and leadership – you can manage by authority, but you cannot lead by authority as it destroys the empathetic aspect of leadership. However, being a good leader does not always mean being a good person. Hitler and Mussolini were great leaders, but terrible people. They did, however, have a clear vision and the ability to inspire others.
Becoming a good leader requires working on yourself and understanding your motivations deeply, as it is with these motivations that you will be able to inspire people. You also need to like people; not every leader generates a real love, but they can generate a certain empathy and find themselves surrounded by people who will follow them.
Becoming a good leader requires
working on yourself and understanding
your motivations deeply,
as it is with these motivations that
you will be able to inspire people.
How in your view can mentoring and other programmes help to empower emerging leaders, particularly women, and what else can be done to achieve gender parity in leadership positions in Europe?
I believe that coaching is sometimes understood as being a way to climb the steps faster in your career to achieve a higher position. I would disagree with this perception: we do not coach women to create an army of women ready to take the top posts. There is only one CEO, one Prime Minister; there are not that many high-ranking positions and not everyone is made to fill these positions. As I said earlier, learning to be a good leader is so much more than your rank. You can manage by authority and organisation, but this is not the same as leadership. Management is a skill which you learn, whereas leadership is a journey of self-development and understanding.
In coaching, I help women understand who they are, what they want in life, their limits, their inner power, their inner confidence, and how to build upon all these elements. The work on leadership comes from within yourself. When I myself was being coached on leadership, the best sessions I had were when the coach identified something about me of which I wasn’t aware and hadn’t understood about myself before. This is why I love coaching small groups, because you can really work with the person and create a mirror to help them discover themselves.
Some people are natural leaders; becoming a leader is easier for them given their inherent qualities and the environment of their upbringing. An upbringing where you have been supported to grow independently helps this development I believe. Everyone has a different starting point in their journey to leadership. I believe that everyone can become a leader, but it is easier for some than others.
To respond to the question “what else can be done to achieve gender parity in leadership positions in Europe”, I would say that we definitely need more women in visible positions. I think that change begins with women talking – be it in debates, events and so forth. Many organisers claim that they cannot find women, so I believe that we must create tools such as databases to avoid this. Furthermore, we cannot promote the cause of women if we do not change the perceptions of men. How men perceive women in both the professional and private sphere is integral to change. If some men believe a woman should stay home to clean and raise children, we cannot change this perception by talking to women only. We are not working against men; they have everything to gain by creating empowered women. And life in the office is not the dream for all men. Creating women who want to work would allow more men to stay at home should they wish. I want men to feel more comfortable in having this desire, and to realise their right to stay home should they want this.
We cannot promote the cause of women
if we do not change the perceptions of men.
I also believe that all women are in very different situations. In certain cultures, women have much more complicated situations. I feel privileged that I already have a freer mindset where I feel able to progress in life, and I know that this is not the case for all women. The challenge is often reaching these women. We know the women who surround us, and these are the privileged ones. Thus, the question is, how do we reach and understand the stories of women who are more tightly bound to the family system? The answer is collaboration with local associative systems who know these neighbourhoods, and we cannot do all this work from an office in Brussels. We need to develop a more open network and adopt an open perspective. Furthermore, we must also face up to the reality that this is an enormous task; the goal is visible but far in the future. This means we must also celebrate each little win we get along the way.
We like to finish our interviews with a question from the Proust questionnaire. Your chosen question is: Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
“I don’t know”. I always say this when I react to questions. I begin by saying “I don’t know”, and then I start to piece together my thoughts to come up with a response. I don’t claim to be a specialist in everything or to have a big or final answer. That is why I think I overuse this phrase. I would say I should replace this with “I don’t know... But I want to know!”.
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