Brigitte is Senior Vice President Human Resources Development and Performance for the France Telecom Orange Group. She combines a vast experience in human resources with a strong background in marketing, and communications in an international environment. The initiatives she has led in Orange have determined an evolution in the thinking of gender issues and contribute to increase the number of women in leadership positions in the telecommunications and IT sector. The plans for 2010 are even bolder as France Telecom aims to change the way young women pursue their career paths by helping them through mentoring actions and with a better understanding of their work-life balance expectations.
What led you to the top leadership position you are holding today?
I discovered the world of human resources thanks to one of my managers. He decided to take a bet on me based on my previous experience in marketing and communications. He asked me to become the Human Resources & Communications Director in the international division where there were many expats, but who were experiencing blockages in their work and career paths when they came back from international. As I was already familiar with the ins and outs of how relations evolve in the international marketing environment, he was confident I would be able to overcome these challenges and address the needs and concerns of these employees. So I relied on my know-how in marketing and communications, where it is essential to understand the context, the employee's needs, and the stakeholders, in shaping our human resource policies.
From your experience in human resources, have you observed a change in the roles women hold in organizations?
When I joined human resources, I had more women than men in my network, but the top positions were basically a male enclave. At Orange, we accompany the managers to rethink their attitudes toward equal gender opportunities. For high level positions, for instance, the Executive Vice-President Group HR asks for a gender balanced shortlist from the managers so as to bring more women into top positions and make our teams more diverse and more efficient. We also decided to eliminate those criteria which discriminated women having left for a parental leave such as the dogma saying that top talents should be under 35 years of age. So far, the strategy is going paying off as we now have more women in leadership positions than we did a decade ago.
What other practices have you developed to enable women to step up in decision-making positions?
We have created a mentoring framework for women with high potential as well as an environment where women can build new connections, both within and outside the company. The goal now is to make them more efficient, but there is openness toward using these platforms that we can build on. We also offer them the access to some professional women networks. As a matter of fact, in 2010 we plan to create an e-mentoring platform where women outside our company will be invited to participate in a cross-mentoring platform between companies.
Why is it important for Orange to set up networking tools for women?
First, women represent approx. half of our customers, 70% of purchasing decision on our consumer market and in order to respond to their needs we need to better know them. If women are equally involved in the decision-making process, we can ensure that our products and services will respond to all of our customers' needs. Second, technical teams should bring innovative products and services and it is a simple fact that the more diverse a team is, the more innovative it will be. At present, ensuring gender diversity is a priority across all Orange Group. After we develop the full range of tools such as networking, mentoring, equal career opportunities, each company will have to take gender balance into their own hands and adapt these tools to their cultural background.
What incentives should industry and policy makers put in place for greater participation of young people in technical sectors? What is Orange doing in this direction?
The issue is mainly due to stereotypes and communication actions targeting teachers, parents and girls should be promoted. In this field, we contributed to design with 4 other prominent companies the "Code of Best Practices for Women and ICT" launched by the EU Commission. In light of this initiative, Orange has enabled young girls to meet with our engineers so as to get an insight into what tech careers involve. We also work with engineer schools to help female students find the recipes for their future careers (H/F management). To identify those actions which should be prioritized, we conducted some surveys and sponsored others. We have also built upon the "training tax" (taxe d'apprentissage) in France. One of its objectives is to have employers contribute to the financing of technical and professional studies by deciding for a part of the total amount of this tax where it is allotted. Beyond simply looking at this, we decided to ask engineering schools to present us their efforts in promoting scientific studies to girls and adapt the amount of this tax to the schools making the most efforts to attract women. While it is too early to say whether this is an efficient tool, we have noticed increased awareness of the issue among their directors. I also think that policies aimed at promoting ambassadors of technical fields, marketing or IT&C with young people should be followed, either by companies or governments if we want to expand the pool of technology graduates.
What are the top 3 recommendations you would give to a woman at the beginning of her career?
One strong piece of advice is to be professional whatever you do and keep building whatever skills and competencies are required in your field. Also, to dare and try to avoid auto-censorship. Besides, if you stay open to all opportunities and curious about pursuing new opportunities this can make your career interesting, challenging and thus successful. Last but not least, having a supportive personal environment is extremely important. If friends and family are there to support you, without any strings attached, this can give you the self confidence you need to grow.