Following our EU Breakfast Debate on gender diversity in the workplace last month, we had the pleasure of meeting one of the key leaders in this field. Catherine Ladousse, Executive Director Communications EMEA at Lenovo, has been pushing for gender diversity for over two decades. She is co-Founder and Chairman of the French women's network “Cercle InterElles”, active WIL Member, and the co-creator of Lenovo’s global diversity program ‘Women in Lenovo Leadership’. Catherine talked to us about her educational background, the role of women in tech, the importance of joining women’s networks, and her New Year wishes. Read the interview to find out more.
You hold a Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Literature and Philosophy. How did your educational background help you in your career and why do the humanities still matter in the 21stcentury?
Through exploration of the humanities we learn how to ask good questions, analyse and synthesize a text, and how to think critically. All this helps us better understand what is happening around us. When facing a situation where something is unclear, we learn how to ask the right questions to better understand it.
Working in communications requires you to have the ability to bring your message across with high impact. You need to understand different target groups and know how to adjust your message accordingly. Curiosity, open-mindedness, and adaptability are crucial for this kind of work.
All in all, I can say with confidence that the humanities still matter. In this fast-changing world, it is important to have some solid foundations and the humanities can equip you with good communication and critical-thinking skills that will help you thrive in today’s world. However, this kind of general education should ideally be complemented with some additional technical courses.
In this fast-changing world, it is important to have some solid foundations and the humanities can equip you with good communication and critical-thinking skills that will help you thrive in today’s world.
You have over 25 years of high-level corporate communications experience in leading global companies (IBM, Lenovo…). How has the role of women in tech evolved over the years?
The progress has been relatively slow. For example, in the 1960s, there were more women in computer manufacturing than today. There is a decrease in interest. We do not encourage enough girls to pursue STEM studies, despite all the efforts made by private companies and government initiatives to attract more women to STEM. This makes it difficult to hire more women in these lucrative and exciting industries. Encouraging female students to choose these industries is key to success!
On average, tech companies currently have less than 30% of female employees. At Lenovo, we are currently at 34%! We have a lot of female employees in China, probably because there are fewer cultural stereotypes about these jobs than in the Western world. In Europe, we still have plenty of work ahead of us!
On average, tech companies currently have less than 30% of female employees. At Lenovo, we are currently at 34%!
You are a co-Founder and President of Cercle InterElles, a professional network of women in STEM, and an active member of WIL Europe. Why is it important to join women’s networks?
Mentoring is key for helping women increase their confidence. I created my first women network about 20 years ago, when I was working at IBM. The network was led by women but stayed open to men who wanted to participate in our initiatives. While women should be provided a safe space to network, exchange, and grow, it is also important for men to help us create a more inclusive company culture.
Women’s networks allow women to feel part of a community and learn from their peers. They are also beneficial for the companies involved. For example, Cercle Interelles unites 14 women’s networks from various companies in the scientific and technology sector. We exchange best practices and we play a role of ‘think tank” as we try to come up with concrete solutions for the management to get a better gender balance and promote an inclusive culture. If we share our expertise and diverse experiences across our companies, we will go faster!
While women should be provided a safe space to network, exchange, and grow, it is also important for men to help us create a more inclusive company culture.
What are the best practices you have noticed at Lenovo to encourage gender diversity? What is the secret to your success of building inclusive leadership behavior?
Our company has its roots in China. In order to be able to grow and expand, we had to build an inclusive culture and make sure that people from different backgrounds can thrive in the company. We often say that diversity is the DNA of our company, and we just issued our first report on Diversity & Inclusion, presenting our programmes and our commitment in this field.
Since the very beginning, we have been focusing on the question of gender. We have thus put in place both internal and external programmes on gender diversity. Internally, we have a variety of programmes for leadership development of our female employees, such as WIL’s Women Talent Pool Programme. On the top of that, we have been working hard on shutting down sexism in the workplace and creating safe spaces for everyone. Invisible sexism is the most difficult type of sexism to avoid when you have such a big gender imbalance. Men tend to form groups among themselves and do not make the effort to include others. In order to tackle this overarching challenge, we conduct an employee survey every year, which allows us to find out how to create a better and more diverse workplace.
At the external level, through our women’s network “Women in Lenovo Leadership (WILL)”, we are partnering with diverse organizations across the world (e.g. the Women’s forum, Women in Africa…) to develop our female talents and get a better gender balance in each position. Through this network, we try to identify key obstacles for women in STEM and develop strategies for tackling these challenges. Last but not least, we launched a very successful marketing campaign 2 years ago that aimed at attracting more female candidates.
We have been working hard on shutting down sexism in the workplace and creating safe spaces for everyone.
Lenovo is our Women Talent Pool (WTP) Partner. Why do you find this programme valuable for your employees?
Our employees have been very grateful for this opportunity. By nominating them and asking them to be part of it, we give them both the recognition of their talent and the confirmation that we want to develop it even further. In short, the Women Talent Pool programme allows our employees to gain confidence and expand their horizons by learning from peers from different backgrounds. One member of my team has been selected to attend this program, and I have seen some concrete progress throughout the programme: she gained in confidence, improved her ability to speak up, and developed her leadership skills. I am very pleased to have the opportunity to support this initiative, which has been a great success.
The holiday season is quickly approaching, and you may already have some New Year wishes. Do you have any wishes you want to share with our readers?
My wish is to increase access to technology for everyone. Technology can help solve a lot of gender-related problems. Let me give you two examples: women find it more difficult than men to speak up in public. However, they tend to be more active on social media than men. In other words, giving them access to technology enables them to participate more in the public sphere. Technology has also made it easier for women to work from home. Freedom and flexibility allow women to attain a better work-life balance.
Finally, I hope that the young generations will have the skills and the persistence to eliminate sexism. I have three daughters myself and I wish to ensure that we create the world in which girls can pursue their dreams.
There is still a lot of work to do… but we are moving in the right direction!
Technology can help solve a lot of gender-related problems.
To learn more about Catherine, have a look at her biography!