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Connecting, inspiring and empowering women to lead the way



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  • 28 Jun 2024 11:39 | Anonymous

    Meet Carine, an HR professional with 20 years of experience across various sectors. With expertise in organisational design, change management, talent development, and more, she shares her insights on navigating different challenges inherent in her role and elaborates on her huge commitment to mentoring future female leaders and cultivating supportive work environments.

    Interviewed by Anastasiia Hresko

    In your diverse leadership roles across various sectors, what have been the most significant challenges you've encountered in the HR field, and how have you addressed them?

    I indeed worked in different industries including the automotive, money transfer, tobacco, and electricity distribution industries and have encountered several universal challenges.

    The first main challenge is talent acquisition and retention. The competition for skilled professionals is fierce and requires a lot more than just competitive salaries. We, recruiters, have to focus on employer branding, showcasing company culture, values, and career opportunities. Employee engagement is crucial to the competitiveness of the companies: that is why at Rexel we conduct yearly satisfaction surveys and organise department-level working groups to develop actionable plans based on feedback.

    The second challenge would be linked to technological advancements, which have evolved exponentially these past years and require continuous adaptation. Our “Power up 2025” Strategy at Rexel is based on a culture of continuous learning and development. We integrate advanced HR technologies like AI-driven recruitment tools, employee self-service portals and chatbots. In January we implemented Rexel GPT and we deployed training sessions to promote adoption and good use of Gen IA by our employees. We are also working on other advanced HR AI-driven systems to predict suitable roles for employees or to predict employee churn.

    Change management is also of highest importance nowadays. Organisational changes arising from mergers and acquisitions, or the restructuring of a company or a service can create uncertainty among employees and clear and transparent communication throughout the change process is crucial in these very peculiar moments. We ensure that the benefits of the change are understood, we identify change agents to refer to, we implement change management programmes that include training, coaching, and providing resources to help employees adapt. Employee involvement is key, and we seek their input and feedback during the change process.

    Ensuring the physical and mental wellbeing of employees, especially in high-stress environments, is yet another challenge. At Rexel we make sure the employees have a proper work-life balance, we strongly believe that in order to be comfortable and productive employees need times to recharge their batteries, which is why we implemented various wellness programmes and sports initiatives. Psychological risks prevention is also key thus we train our managers and HR teams to detect weak signals and know how to react. We also provide our employees who need it, access to a psychological helpline as well as experts.

    By addressing these challenges with the strategic and proactive measures mentioned, we aim to create effective and resilient HR practices that support both organisational goals and employee wellbeing.

    Organisational changes arising from mergers and acquisitions, or the restructuring of a company or a service can create uncertainty among employees and clear and transparent communication throughout the change process is crucial in these very peculiar moments.


    Let’s elaborate on one of the common challenges, namely culture. Company culture can vary significantly between industries and among individuals. How do you approach building a unified and inclusive work environment, particularly across diverse and international teams?

    This challenge is really evident at Rexel, which operates in a traditionally male-dominated industry where women constitute 23% of company’s workforce. To address it, we have implemented several diversity and inclusion programmes to foster an inclusive environment.

    One of our key initiatives is the creation of a women@Rexel network named “Univers’Elles” aimed at promoting gender diversity. This group of 20 women regularly brainstorms concrete initiatives to support gender diversity. Last year, they launched a mentorship programme using new technology to facilitate mentorship opportunities for women at Rexel. Additionally, we have partnered with female associations like Force Femmes, which helps women over 45 find new jobs or start their own businesses, and Capital Filles, which supports young women from underprivileged neighbourhoods around 18 years old in their career aspirations and recruitment processes.

    We aim to increase female representation, especially in sales, where only 18% of our 3,500 sales staff are women. To achieve this, we partnered with the National Unemployment Agency to hire and train women from diverse backgrounds for the role of branch sales representatives. After a rigorous recruitment process, selected candidates undergo a 400-hour training programme and are offered permanent contracts in case they succeed a final test. Since September 2022, this initiative has resulted in the hiring of nearly 40 women.

    As part of our recruitment strategy, we also hire over 1,000 interns and apprentices annually. 35% of our apprentices are women. We train them for one to three years and then offer them permanent contracts. This programme is a success as 60% of apprentices stay at Rexel afterwards.

    Additionally, we have included a section to raise awareness about non-discrimination topics on our recruitment training programme for managers. We signed the charter “StOpE to ordinary sexism” early in 2023 and we developed a widely recognised guide to fight against sexism. We also signed a disability collective agreement that includes initiatives to improve communication, work conditions and recruitment practices, resulting in hiring of nearly 5% disabled employees. Our goal is to meet and surpass the mandatory 6% quota. Our D&I policy also addresses the needs of young people from underprivileged neighbourhoods, senior employees, and those with disabilities.

    These initiatives are a part of our holistic approach to tackling diversity and inclusion challenge and reflect our commitment and progress so far.


    You are currently an HR Director at Rexel France, which operates in the electrical distribution industry. What unique strategies do you employ to attract and retain top talent, and how do these strategies differ from those in other industries?

    Apart from the ongoing Diversity and Inclusion challenge, we also need to ensure the recognition of Rexel culture beyond the industry. While the company is known for its caring culture, respect for employees, and operational excellence within the industry, we need to ensure that its reputation reaches beyond our immediate ecosystem to attract talent from other industries as well.

    Regarding employee retention, we believe that everyone has talent. Our role is to help employees shine by offering various programmes. For instance, I’m soon launching the Lead for Future programme for 20 employees to strengthen their leadership skills to support their professional development at Rexel. They will receive training in leadership, public speaking, project management and presentation, culminating in presenting their projects to the executive committee.

    Talent reviews and development discussions is not something we just do once a year to get It done. It is part of the company culture; it happens throughout the year. We have monthly rituals where managers and HR discuss with employees the progress made during training. This ongoing process ensures we walk the talk, building employee confidence and meeting our goals for attraction and retention.

    Additionally, we have an advanced HR system, including a new LMS platform called Skill Up, offering ergonomic and flexible e-learning options for employees. This platform enhances our training capabilities and supports continuous employee development.

    Our belief is that employee’s development is a partnership; this is a shared responsibility between the employee, who is the first actor of his own development by activating his new skills and increasing his agility to learn, and Rexel who provides tools and learning programmes to support their professional development.

    At Rexel, we believe that everyone has talent, ­and our role is to help employees shine


    With globalisation and technological advancements, how do you envision the future of HR leadership evolving?

    HR leadership is set to evolve significantly in my opinion. HR leaders will increasingly tap into global talent pools, leveraging new working technologies to hire the best talent worldwide, emphasising global management. Developing cross-cultural competence will be crucial, as HR leaders must understand and manage cultural differences to create inclusive global teams.

    The integration of advanced technology, such as AI and automation, will streamline HR processes, enhancing recruitment, onboarding, performance management, and employee engagement. As mentioned, at Rexel, we have implemented Rexel GPT and we train teams on creating efficient AI prompts, demonstrating the importance of AI awareness and automation. Also, predictive analytics will aid in assessing workforce needs and developing proactive strategies.

    Not only the technological aspect, but also focusing on employee experience and well-being, along with implementing adapted work models, will be essential. Continuous learning and development will be a cornerstone of HR strategy.


    Did you have mentors or role models who played a significant role in your career journey? How do you see yourself contributing to the success of other female leaders?

    Mentors like Sheryl Sandberg, Michelle Obama and Christine Lagarde inspire me with their leadership, advocacy, and commitment to­­ female empowerment. My biggest role model, however, is my mother, who overcame various challenges arriving to France at a very young age, starting from nothing yet succeeding in her HR career and becoming a recognised HR director of several structures.

    To contribute to other female leaders' success, I actively mentor them and host co-development sessions. I advocate for gender equality policies and help build supportive networks within and beyond my organisation. I co-established a rapidly growing HR Directors network, and I’m involved in many activities to contribute to the success of other female leaders and create a more inclusive workplace where everyone can thrive.

    I’m involved in activities to contribute to the success of other female leaders and create a more inclusive workplace where everyone can thrive.

  • 06 May 2024 12:17 | Anonymous

    Meet Pinuccia Contino, Deputy to the Director for Consumers and Head of Unit for 'Product Safety and Rapid Alert System' at the European Commission. In this interview, she discusses her role in shaping consumer rights, the challenges and complexities of product safety globally, and her recent recognition with the Ross Koeser Achievement Award. Pinuccia shares her insights on the evolving landscape of consumer protection in the age of globalisation and digital innovation, reflecting on her journey from language policy to spearheading major initiatives in consumer rights at the international level.

    Interviewed by Juliette Gill


    You were recently awarded the Ross Koeser Achievement Award by the International Consumer Product Health and Safety Organisation, in recognition of your contributions to this organisation. Congratulations! As the Deputy to the Director for Consumers and Head of the Unit 'Product Safety and Rapid Alert System' at the European Commission, a particular focus of yours is on the transnational and international relevance of consumers’ rights, could you tell us more on this aspect?

    Yes absolutely, thank you very much for asking about the award. It was a total surprise for me, because this award is usually given to people who have been in the field of product safety and consumer protection for decades. In my case, it has “only” been 7 years. It was a great recognition of the action we are taking at the European level, to lead and to better protect our consumers. For me, the international level is a fundamental aspect of the policy, not just a nice, more glamourous bit. Just think, quite simply, that consumers face the same challenges everywhere in the world. The fundamental point, the basis of all consumer protection, is the asymmetry in the relationship between consumers and economic operators: consumers have less information on the product, the services, different aspects of the contract. Consumer protection exists to rebalance this asymmetry, which is a fact in our society and the functioning of our economy

    There is another important element which comes with globalisation: the fact that supply chains have become completely mobile, they have no borders. Companies can source their products one day from one continent, and the following day from another continent. This has international relevance. If we take product safety in particular, with the explosion of e-commerce, it becomes challenging to see whether a product is safe or not when you don’t have it in your hands. It is also very important to talk not only about consumers but also about those who are tasked with protecting them, the responsible authorities in each country. They are tasked with assessing whether a product is safe or not, whether they have it or can only check it on a website.

    All these elements make the international aspect even more relevant than before.

    A fundamental aspect of my daily job is to bring the conversation to the international level, be it through bilateral agreements with other jurisdictions outside of the EU, or through cooperation in multilateral organisations. In particular, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) is very active, and the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), an agency of the United Nations (UN). My team and I work a lot with these international counterparts so that we can bring our common challenges to common discussion fora and take action together.

    The fundamental point, the basis of all consumer protection, is the asymmetry in the relationship between consumers and economic operators: consumers have less information on the product, the services, different aspects of the contract. Consumer protection exists to rebalance this asymmetry, which is a fact in our society and the functioning of our economy.

     

    As we navigate through rapid digital innovation, could you explain the EU's actions to protect consumer rights, especially with the rise of AI-powered and online products?

    At the European Commission we try to understand current challenges and future trends every day. For example, we were among the first ones in the world to understand that artificial intelligence, e-commerce, mental health issues were going to become very important and much bigger as far as consumer rights are concerned. This has been brought about by many different elements, starting with the Covid-19 pandemic. With this, issues of mental health became prominent. Everybody realised that health is not just about our body, but also our mind – we all knew this, but actually we didn’t realise it completely until the global pandemic, which brought it to everyone’s attention. This has also spurred a very deep reflection, with the help of experts and stakeholders in different Member States and at the international level, showing that issues of mental health have to be taken into account for consumer rights. The latest laws adopted at the EU level address this gap. If you take Artificial Intelligence (AI), we are the first jurisdiction in the world to come up with a law addressing its main challenges, covering fundamental rights and ethical aspects too. These new technologies are fantastic and very exciting, yet we also need to pay attention to certain aspects and risks which become more prominent. We try to anticipate what may happen, so that our laws, which take quite a long time to be discussed, decided upon and implemented, can cover the emergence of new, exciting and challenging phenomena. Who knows what will happen next year! We really do our best and we actively collaborate with excellent experts and stakeholders. We listen to all those who have a voice in this, and strive to give a voice to those who don’t.

    We try to anticipate what may happen, so that our laws, which take quite a long time to be discussed, decided upon and implemented, can cover the emergence of new, exciting and challenging phenomena. Who knows what will happen next year!


    Before working on consumers’ rights, you had a focus on languages and translation, and managed to achieve instrumental progress in the convergence of high-level translation qualifications across Europe. With the advancement of AI and digitalisation, translation is one of the sectors potentially endangered. How do you feel about the future of the profession?

    Today I can no longer say that I am an expert in this field, as I left it almost ten years ago. Languages and intercultural communication in all its forms have always been a passion for me. By the way, when we look at the large language models that power ChatGPT for example, they are based on language. Languages are a key feature of humankind, unique to us, and they are at the front of most, if  not all, new technological developments. I don’t think this happens by chance or luck, rather it is because languages express a lot of our human characteristics. For this reason, I believe that linguistics professions will always exist, what will happen is they will evolve. It is very possible that translators and interpreters as we know them today will disappear. However, I don’t think that intercultural mediation will ever be left to machines. It is too innate to the human condition and too complex. Maybe in some science fiction scenarios we can imagine having an AI which is exactly like a human being, but I am not sure it will happen very soon. Until then, there is still a role and a bright future for language professions, possibly with new twists. For example, what’s happening in the field of translation is that more and more translation is automatised, but when you want really great quality, you still need to have a human revisor. You do not translate anymore like 20 years ago, with lots of dictionaries and a pen and paper, but the human factor continues to make a fundamental difference.

    I believe that linguistics professions will always exist, what will happen is they will evolve. It is very possible that translators and interpreters as we know them today will disappear. However, I don’t think that intercultural mediation will ever be left to machines. It is too innate to the human condition and too complex.


    You’ve become a Global Advocate for compassionate leadership, notably through your certification by the Centre for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education at Stanford University. Could you tell us about what compassionate leadership means to you and how you implement this in your daily life?

    In a nutshell, compassionate leadership is leading with compassion, for compassion. When we talk about compassion, it is about noticing suffering and doing something to decrease that suffering. Compassion starts from us becoming aware of the suffering within ourselves, in the people around us, and in the world, and realising that we want to decrease that suffering. We all want to be happy, we all want to be free from suffering, to be able to enjoy life, doing what we like with the people we love. It seems like starting from a negative point, that of suffering, but actually it makes us feel closer together, more collaborative, more willing to help each other, more creative and innovative through this. This I see every day in my daily life, in my job, in my family: when we have a focus on compassion and we have chosen to do as much as possible to decrease the suffering in us and the people around us, what happens is like magic – don’t take me wrong, there are a lot of studies that demonstrate this. What happens is that we become focused on what we can improve, on the quality of relationships, on all the great, beautiful things we can create together to make the world a better place.

    My experience after studying compassion at Stanford and with other very capable teachers, is that when we choose compassion it permeates every part of our life, it gives sense to everything. It connects with our personal purpose, which is different for every one of us and gives us the direction to the unique contribution that we can bring to the world. That for me is the definition of purpose. Just think about the people you know or yourself: purpose is always linked to doing something good. In order to do something good, generally one must solve problems, improve something, and these generally relates to some sort of suffering, even without realising it. So the compassion transformation has been happening for me and with my team in the last few years, because I have been involved in compassion since 2019, with the pandemic making us realise that we needed to decrease people’s suffering, because everybody was suffering so much. There were all these problems and issues coming up everywhere because the whole world was suffering due to the consequences of the pandemic. And compassion is not an individual quest, it is contagious, when you start people see its power and are encouraged in this direction, they become legitimate if they do the same, they are not afraid to show up as compassionate beings anymore.

    This multiplies, creating an energy and a dynamic that really produces miracles, which I have seen at policy level, in my team, in my department, in the whole organisation, where compassion is being revealed more and more. This makes me highly optimistic for the future, because by doing this we are improving the chances of all humankind to be happier. I guess we can all agree that this world needs more happiness.


    Having been Secretary General for WIL Europe for 16 years , what have you observed in the evolution of the network over the years?

    I consider myself very privileged and fortunate to have been able to be there from even before the birth of WIL, from its conception. This was when it was just a few of us with Thaima, who has always been a great source of inspiration and a great leader for us. This began with several others, who have changed along the years, alongside many great women who have joined afterwards, adding their talent, their vision and their passion to what the network is doing. Like in every organisation, the first times are those of pioneers, where you are building a vision and still don’t know exactly how, but you know that you want to bring something bigger and better, in our case to active women in society. This has been our focus from the beginning. In particular I remember that we started with technologies, bringing more women into more technological studies and jobs. From there we expanded, because we realised that what was missing was a network where women could connect and exchange on their daily challenges, on their job issues, on combining career and family,  and so on. We wanted to create a network of women who are giving their best to society as professionals, as citizens, as complete human beings. I really like the fact that our network is not limited to gender equality issues. We support gender equality by promoting the talents, the competence, the creativity and the innovation brought to the world by our members They each have a different, marvellous story, and can share this to reinforce the solidarity and the support that we can offer to each other, all while leading the way for the younger talents coming up through the professional pipeline. It is also about showing what women can do for society, which can still sometimes be overlooked.

    We wanted to create a network of women who are giving their best to society as professionals, as citizens, as complete human beings. I really like the fact that our network is not limited to gender equality issues. We support gender equality by promoting the talents, the competence, the creativity and the innovation brought to the world by our members.


    You studied Politics and International Relations at university, a field of academia in which more and more young girls are choosing to specialise. Could you share some advice for young women undertaking studies in Politics and International Relations? What was it like to enter that sector upon completion of your studies?

    I will certainly not be impartial in answering this question, because Politics and International Relations is really my passion, and it has been for a long time. It is not my only passion, but it is definitely one of the strongest ones. I can only encourage young women who feel like getting into this field to do so because it is marvellous, it opens up so many perspectives and offers so many different angles to act! In order to be able to give our contribution to this field, we need to understand history, politics, law, philosophy, economics, we need to speak more languages. We need to have a special interest in people, and in people who are different from us. To do Politics and International Relations, you need to work with people who come from different backgrounds, different countries, with different cultures, languages, habits. So this field is something that opens up a lot our hearts and minds to be able to connect with so many different people. It’s a beautiful passion, almost a mission, a calling, for me.

    It is certainly more complicated today to find one’s own way compared to when I started my career thirty-three years ago, not only in Politics and International Relations but also in other fields. The world currently changes at a much quicker pace. In my younger years the world seemed tofunction in more predictable ways, so at the beginning of our studies we would choose where we wanted to go, what we wanted to do. Personally, I fell in love with the idea of Europe as an antidote to war and an agent for peace when I was eleven. Today things change a lot in a reduced time-span. Young people are the object of many solicitations every day, almost every minute, through social media, through so many different channels that we didn’t have at that time. This also means that finding one’s own path has become more blurred, more complicated. There is not one or two or three main avenues, actually you can do Politics and International Relations in so many different fields and jobs. So I think what is essential, and what I really recommend to every young woman who wants to do this, is to know who you are, to understand what your talents, your gifts, your desires and your purpose is. Think what you want to bring to the world through this particular angle, and then explore. You probably won’t find your answer with your first job or first traineeship. That’s not a problem, actually it’s great because you are going to be able to taste different fruits so to speak, and then to choose the one you really want. So I would say be open, be brave, be creative, and don’t worry if you’re not completely settled when you’re twenty-five. This happened to me. But today I think that would be almost impossible, and in today’s world it’s better like this. You are allowed to be young for longer, you can keep exploring and reinventing what is happening to you, provided you know who you are. If you stick to that, you are authentic, you respect who you are and you don’t put any false limit or boundary on your wishes.

    I can only encourage young women who feel like getting into this field to do so because it is marvellous, it opens up so many perspectives and offers so many different angles to act. In order to be able to give our contribution to this field, we need to understand history, politics, law, philosophy, economics, we need to speak more languages. We need to have a special interest in people, and in people who are different from us.



  • 17 Apr 2024 11:43 | Anonymous


    Meet Helena Kazamaki, Executive Vice President at Axens, deeply immersed in legal and integrity functions. In this interview, she reflects on her career journey, transitioning from a law firm Associate to a pivotal role at the European Commission, to finally bringing her into the private industrial sectors. Helena discusses challenges in balancing legal responsibilities with broader organizational roles and shares insights on fostering professional growth. She also offers valuable advice for aspiring legal leaders.

    Interviewed by Irene Reyes Suero


    Since 2021, you've been serving as the Group General Counsel, Executive Vice President at Axens in Paris. What does a typical day look like for you, and what unique challenges or opportunities have you encountered in your current role?

    I'm definitely an early bird, so my day starts early. Coffee is non-negotiable; it's what kicks off the day together with the colleagues. Being an early riser also gives me those precious early hours to prepare for the day ahead, especially for upcoming meetings. With the decrease in travel post-COVID, we've found ourselves spending more time in face-to-face & Teams meetings, which has its advantages nowadays. I really value the direct as well as informal interactions with our legal and operations teams. We cover a variety of topics, from day-to-day management to strategic issues. Each day brings something different, which keeps things interesting as well as intellectually challenging.

    One thing I'm particularly keen on applying when not in meetings, that is the open-door policy. My office door is always open and colleagues are welcome to drop in anytime to discuss ongoing matters or anything else on their minds, needing advice and support. It fosters a real sense of collaboration and ensures everyone feels heard and involved.

    My office door is always open and colleagues are welcome to drop in anytime to discuss ongoing matters or anything else on their minds, needing advice and support.

    It fosters a real sense of collaboration and ensures everyone feels heard and involved.


    Earlier in your career you transitioned from an Associate role at a law firm, in Stockholm and Paris, to joining the European Commission in Brussels and then finally transitioning into the private industrial sector. Can you share more about this time and how did this transition shape your career?

    My first experience was in a law firm; after studying European Law at the University of Stockholm and in Paris, my passion for European legal matters was evident from the start. Transitioning from there to Brussels was a natural progression for me; it was fulfilling a dream to work for the European Commission. It's a decision I've never regretted, as it brought me into contact with incredibly intelligent and multicultural colleagues.

    One individual who stands out vividly in my memory is my head of unit—a truly remarkable female leader who also became my mentor. Back then, mentorship programmes like the one available at WIL were not as prevalent as they are today. So, the guidance and insights she offered were invaluable. She provided me with a different perspective on work methodologies and interactions that I still carry with me today.

    Even after all these years, I'm immensely grateful for her willingness to impart her knowledge and invest in the next generation of talented individuals. It's something we deeply appreciated at the time, and now, it's our turn to pass on that legacy to the youth and emerging leaders who will follow in our footsteps.


    How did these leadership positions influence your approach to legal and integrity functions, and what challenges did you face in balancing legal responsibilities with broader organisational roles?

    Looking back, and in a previous role early in my career, I found myself as the first female leader heading a legal department within the leadership team. Being the first and only woman in such a leadership position sometimes felt isolating and challenging. Obviously over the years, this has changed as female leaders have joined leadership teams either on the operational side or on the functional side.

    But back then, discussions around diversity and gender balance weren't as prevalent as they are today. Women had the opportunity to move upwards in fields like HR, legal, and communications, which tended to be more female oriented. It's encouraging to see more women now rising into leadership roles, within traditionally male-dominated sectors like engineering and operations.

    But, let's be honest, it wasn't an easy journey. Overcoming challenges required resilience and persistence.

    Thanks to that experience, it became clear to me that I desired more than just focusing on legal work or integrity; I wanted to be fully immersed in the company's operations and have a direct impact on its future.


    Looking back at your career, which role or project stands out as a significant milestone or turning point?

    I consider my time at the European Commission to be a turning point in my career. While it was fulfilling to realise my dream, it also made me reassess my future goals. Transitioning from a private law firm to the public sector exposed me to two different worlds.

    Working at the EU Commission, which was undoubtedly a period filled with passion, I came to the realisation that my true passion lay in the business sector. I wanted to actively participate in decision-making processes, contribute to strategic initiatives, and play a role in shaping the company's future direction.

    It became clear to me that I desired more than just focusing on legal work or integrity; I wanted to be fully immersed in the company's operations and have a direct impact on its future.


    As a Career Development Leader for the Talents in the 8th edition of the Women Talent Pool Programme at WIL, how do you approach fostering professional growth and development, both for yourself and others? Are there specific strategies or insights you find particularly valuable?

    I believe we have the opportunity to share our knowledge with our talents and offer what we can provide. The important thing is to think outside the box, dare to venture into new adventures, and step out of your comfort zone, perhaps even leaving your country for something different. It's about living your dreams because if you don't, you'll regret not seizing those chances. It's an amazing opportunity for personal evolution.

    The important thing is to think outside the box, dare to venture into new adventures, and step out of your comfort zone, perhaps even leaving your country for something different. It's about living your dreams because if you don't, you'll regret not seizing those chances.


    Throughout your career, you've navigated diverse roles and responsibilities. What advice would you give to individuals aspiring to reach executive leadership positions in the legal and integrity domain?

    In leadership, whether it's legal, integrity or any other role, thinking outside the box is crucial to move forward. Never be afraid of new challenges. You need to dare to leave your comfort zone. Stepping out of your comfort zone is not easy, but it is necessary for growth. In our career path, everything is possible if you are willing to dare to take the bold step to move forward and upwards.



  • 28 Mar 2024 12:10 | Anonymous


    Meet Katarzyna Baranska, Partner at Osborne Clarke, deeply engaged in sustainability infrastructure and decarbonization. In this interview, she talks about her journey from competition law to environmental specialization, her impactful work in academia, and her advocacy for female empowerment in the legal sector. She also shares insights from her multifaceted career, her approach to mentorship, and offers valuable advice for aspiring leaders in the legal field.

    Interviewed by Juliette Gill


    You’ve had a very varied legal career, starting as an Attorney at an international law firm, then as Counsel in various international consultancies, progressively evolving towards a specialisation in sustainability, infrastructure, and decarbonisation as Head of Decarbonisation at Osborne Clarke Poland. What made you choose this direction?

    Throughout my studies I worked in different law firms and spent a year and a half at Warwick University in the United Kingdom (UK) on an exchange programme. This was a very inspiring experience for me because I looked at law from a completely different perspective, experiencing alternative ways of teaching and learning. The nature of the UK university system means that you can choose modules that are interdisciplinary, studying a combination of fields such as real estate, infrastructure, and labour law simultaneously. This is very useful in the practice of law because you often have to support the client in many different fields within one project.

    I started with competition law and then went on to real estate. There, I then realised that I was most interested in infrastructure projects and started to think about them in an interdisciplinary way, as I had been encouraged to do in the UK. It occurred to me that we often gloss over the environmental aspects in these projects because not enough is known about the field. After some research, I realised that expertise in environmental issues was rare in the legal market.

    I did postgraduate studies in environmental law, in order to provide clients with complete, well-rounded advice, not only in real estate and regulatory fields but also in environmental law. I changed the way I did projects, integrating a sustainability aspect thanks to my broadened knowledge. When I joined one of the ‘Big Four,’ PwC, I knew that we had to offer “real estate +”, adding the perspectives of infrastructure and energy to real estate projects. Coming from a conservative international law firm to PwC was daunting because they look at legal support in a completely different way to law firms. However, it was helpful in understanding the business side of things and adjusting to clients’ business needs. I learnt that lawyers can evolve - there are transformations you can undergo during your professional career, without actually switching from one topic to another but adding other layers, to the benefit of your clients.

    One can also see a transformation in legal regulations, with many new sustainability, environmental, and energy regulations being adopted throughout Europe. Climate law is an emerging field and I’m always telling my trainees at the Bar that this is a new field of regulation that is ongoing, so for them it's essential to understand what's happening in jurisdictions, how they can benefit and acquire clients by knowing more about emissions, energy, and sustainability.

    I learnt that lawyers can evolve - there are transformations you can undergo during your professional career, without actually switching from one topic to another but adding other layers, to the benefit of your clients.


    At a time when European companies are required to adapt to changing environmental legislation, and globally, companies are having to develop their own strategies and commitments to tackle climate change, what role do you see for legal counsel in this field? How do you think it might evolve?

    I believe it's about upskilling, so learning about the subject and taking part in training offered by the Bar or other associations for lawyers. Climate law is a new, complex field. It is not well known, like M&A where you learn a few codes and then you’re in – this is different. You need to have the ability to connect the dots, try to acquire new clients and take on these new topics which are being discussed all around Europe.


    You have even referred to a “change in the legislators’ philosophy” at the European level, which is most certainly a welcome change for attaining the goals of a sustainable and inclusive ecological transition. Are you confident that legislation is advancing at the right pace to deal with the environmental challenges we face?

    That’s a really difficult question, and I believe that the answer will only become clearer within a few years. It is important that we all transition towards the circular economy. The European legislator’s new philosophy is to provoke and to put pressure on the market in order to reach circular economy goals. The best example of this is EU battery regulation, which was recently adopted at the union-wide level. It addresses the whole cycle of a product, from the design level to the recycling stage, and getting rid of its waste, meaning that we are closing the circle of the life cycle of a product. The regulation states that producers should be responsible not only for the battery but also its waste, making them responsible for the whole life cycle. Similar discussions on waste responsibility are being had in other sectors, for example in the textiles and fashion industry, as well as packaging and packaging waste, with the PPWR (Packaging and Packaging Waste Regulation) on its way to being adopted.

    We see that similar legal tools are used in different sectors to obtain the same goal: the circular economy. Getting to grips with this can be complex, but it’s worth understanding what is happening in the market as this gives you the advantage against other lawyers, which can help win clients.


    As a lecturer at Lazarski University, the Warsaw Bar Association, and most recently at Warsaw University of Technology lecturing on New Mobility studies, why is the transmission of knowledge to younger generations in the legal field important to you and what pushes you to work in academia alongside your role at Osborne Clarke?

    It is important to me because I started in academia before my legal career - I wasn't granted entrance to the Bar training at first so I decided to go to university to start my PhD. Whilst I was doing this, I was appointed to the Bar as a trainee. So, I was pursuing my PhD while working at a big international law firm. It wasn't easy to take on both tasks, but it was rewarding at the end, as it enables you to understand legal problems better because you're discussing them during your lectures. You know how to speak about complex issues because you face your clients who have problems, but you also talk to young lawyers.

    I think the transfer of knowledge is quite crucial. I am a lecturer at three institutions because knowledge on issues pertaining to sustainability, infrastructure and so on is important in many different places - it's not like there is one innovative University that would like to teach this field to students, it's more that they all feel that this new wave of the circular economy and sustainability is something important. So, they look for experts to explain this legal field to their students, and there are only a few experts that can do that. That’s why I do weekend shifts trying to help students understand their place in the future of law and the impact they can have. I feel responsible towards the younger generation, towards my bar and towards my students, that I owe them the knowledge to be smarter, and better.

    That’s why I do weekend shifts trying to help students understand their place in the future of law and the impact they can have. I feel responsible towards the younger generation, towards my bar and towards my students, that I owe them the knowledge to be smarter, and better.


    You have been involved in an impressive variety of associations committed to mentorship and networking, especially amongst women, being a contributor to the International Association of Young Lawyers (AIJA), a mentor in the Network of Entrepreneurial Women in Warsaw (SPK), and most recently you joined the WIL network. Could you tell us about your view on the importance of female empowerment in the legal field?

    There are many female lawyers at entry level, but at the top of the pyramid, there are only a few. We are losing fantastic women somewhere in the middle of the path towards becoming managers or partners, in business or law firms. I am sure we can retain many more women by supporting them to think of paths and solutions, to believe in themselves, or to tackle the balance with their family life. Support given by a female lawyer to another female lawyer is not something standard, but I think it should be.

    It is also important to me to support younger women generally, not only lawyers but also entrepreneurs, in believing in their ideas, reaching milestones, and achieving their goals. I know this is not easy, there can be many problems on the way. But it’s not only about winning, sometimes it’s about losing, ten, twenty times, and building the resilience and strength to keep pushing forward.  It is certainly not an easy path, especially for women who have children, I have two, but with the right support, it is possible.

    It is also important to me to support younger women generally, not only lawyers but also entrepreneurs, in believing in their ideas, reaching milestones, and achieving their goals.


    Could you share with us something that you enjoy doing in your free time, whether that is an activity you have been pursuing for a long time, or perhaps a newly found passion?

    If you work as much as I do then your passion is your work, or the other way around! I do really enjoy sports, especially cycling and running. I
    also enjoy spending time with my family and traveling with them, it gives us some space and gives me new energy, as well as new ideas for my work. Tomorrow I'm going to the mountains for skiing, which is another one of my hobbies and helps me to reset.



    Video edited by Nicolle Fernandez



  • 23 Feb 2024 11:39 | Deleted user

    Meet Nida Januskis, Associate Dean of Advancement at INSEAD and a Board Member at WIL Europe and RefuSHE. In this interview, she sheds light on the positive social impact of the organisations she's involved in, navigating the intense Executive MBA programme alongside her Dean position, and offers valuable insights into balancing professional and personal commitments.

    Interviewed by Anastasiia Hresko


    Let’s start by getting a deeper insight into your current role as the Associate Dean of Advancement at the business school INSEAD. What is your approach to building relationships with key stakeholders, including alumni, corporations, and foundations?

    In my role at INSEAD, the essence of my work revolves around cultivating a network of trust and partnership with our 68,000 alumni across 170 countries. It's a journey of fostering deep connections, grounded in mutual respect and understanding. This requires a collaborative spirit (and perseverance!) and we rely on the alumni volunteers across our 60 National Alumni Associations and Global Clubs; these volunteers, who are our global ambassadors, amplify all of our engagement strategies.

    Furthermore, we have developed many digital tools that have expanded our toolkit, enabling us to strengthen our connections remotely and reach across borders that were previously difficult to access. Most recently we are working on launching an app to enrich our alumni and student experience. It's critical to stay relevant and agile, and for me, digital innovation is a reflection of any organisation’s commitment to innovation and impactful engagement.


    There was an interesting shift in your career trajectory: you started it in finance and then switched to work in the education field. Could you share the motivation behind this change?

    My career trajectory took a significant turn from finance into the realm of education and philanthropy, after a compelling encounter with an inspiring mentor. This shift was further motivated by my belief in education as a transformative force, capable of empowering individuals and shaping future leaders, with a particular focus on uplifting women. My journey through the international corridors of Harvard Business School to INSEAD has been underpinned by this belief, guiding my efforts to contribute to a world where education stands as a cornerstone of societal advancement and equity.


    Education is a transformative force capable to change the world, and we can use it to empower and shape future leaders, particularly women.


    Coming back to your current role at INSEAD, you have spent a substantial amount of time there, both as Associate Dean and most recently as an MBA student. How did you juggle one of the world’s most intense executive MBA programmes alongside your position as a Dean, and how did this experience as a student enrich your professional role?

    Embarking on INSEAD's Executive MBA program while serving as Associate Dean of Advancement definitely presented a unique set of challenges -- and opportunities. The 14-month journey is renowned for its rigor, combining intensive on-campus academic sessions with periods that allow for flexibility, a design that caters specifically to the needs of working professionals. However, it was more than just getting my MBA. My tenure at INSEAD, spanning over multiple years in a leadership role, had already introduced me to the unparalleled alumni network.  I always felt that INSEAD was my tribe, and I wanted to be a part of that as an alumna!

    The support system around me was pivotal. The encouragement from my family, friends, and the INSEAD leadership was instrumental in my ability to navigate the dual demands of my roles. It was rewarding to see my team rise to the occasion, demonstrating their capabilities and growth, and facilitating a (mostly) smooth journey through these commitments.

    For women contemplating something like an EMBA, the journey is undeniably complex yet profoundly rewarding. It comes down to your support network, both professional and personal. My advice? Surround yourself with individuals who uplift and motivate you. And then be as transparent about your commitments, and seek understanding (or forgiveness!) from those around you; there will be inevitable conflicts of time and energy. There will never be a "perfect" time to do something so intense – so buckle up and enjoy the ride!


    In light of the ongoing debate about climate change, what is your perspective on the role of business schools in addressing this global challenge? Could you provide an insight about how INSEAD aligns fundraising efforts with its social impact goals, given that it is a part of the United Nations Global Compact?

    As the the world's largest ranked MBA programme, with 1,000 students graduating each year, INSEAD is dedicated to being at the vanguard of integrating sustainability and climate change action into the heart of business education. This mission is embodied in our recent curriculum overhaul, where sustainability principles are woven into core courses, a large portion of electives, and a dedicated capstone course, emphasizing our commitment to preparing leaders equipped to champion sustainable business practices. The establishment of the Hoffmann Global Institute for Business and Society, further amplifies our dedication, aligning business strategies with global sustainability goals, a vision supported by the transformational contributions of alumnus André Hoffmann and his wife, Rosalie.

    Recognising the power of collective action in tackling environmental challenges, INSEAD initiated the "Business Schools for Climate Leadership" alliance, fostering collaboration among peer business schools to cultivate sustainability-minded leaders. In fulfilling our mandate as the "Business School for the World," we are committed to pioneering a future where business acts as a force for positive change, leveraging our global influence to foster a sustainable and equitable world.


    We believe in collective action – more business schools acting as forces for good, together amplifying our impact.


    Beyond your role as Associate Dean at INSEAD, you are also a board member at WIL Europe and RefuSHE. Could you describe the responsibilities that come with this role and how you contribute to the mission of these organisations?

    As an advocate for women's empowerment through education, my involvement with WIL Europe and RefuSHE is deeply rooted in this conviction. At INSEAD, serving as WIL's academic partner, we collaborate to offer webinars and generate insightful knowledge and content, further enriching the organisation and initiatives such as the Women Talent Pool program. My role extends to mentoring some of these remarkable women, a part of my work that brings me great satisfaction!

    In my capacity as a board member for RefuSHE, I am committed to supporting and advocating for one of the most vulnerable groups globally: refugee women, girls, and their children. The escalating global refugee crisis, with over 100 million people forcibly displaced, and a significant portion being women, underscores the urgency of RefuSHE's mission. The organization's holistic approach, encompassing education, mental health support, legal advocacy, and community integration, is pivotal in protecting these women from marginalisation and exploitation. My engagement with RefuSHE is not just a role but a passion, driven by the belief in creating a more equitable world through education and empowerment.


    What accomplishment, either within or beyond your career, do you consider to be your greatest achievement?

    Stepping away from my professional achievements, my most cherished accomplishment unfolded unexpectedly during the COVID-19 pandemic. With travel and events on pause, I embraced an unusual opportunity: joining Pandora's Box, an all-mom rock band (despite having no prior experience with musical instruments btw). This led me to learn the bass guitar, and I have since performed many concerts in Paris -- and totally rocked it! I think for me, it has been a profound reminder of the value of self-care, lifelong learning, and embracing new challenges.


    What is the best advice you've ever received?

    The best advice I've ever received came during a moment of vulnerability, right before my first-ever TV interview on France 24, representing INSEAD. The anticipation was overwhelming, my nerves a mess. Sensing my fear, the host offered a moment of unexpected solace. She firmly grasped my shoulders, met my gaze, and said a simple yet powerful reassurance: "You’ve got this…don't get in the way of yourself." This advice resonated deeply, teaching me the importance of conquering self-doubt. Sometimes the greatest obstacles we face are often the ones we place before ourselves. We cannot control every external circumstance, but we do have the power to control our mindset, and ultimately, our impact. So, to all WIL members: don't get in the way of yourself!


    Video edited by Claudia Heard


  • 31 Jan 2024 13:09 | Deleted user

    In this interview, we explore the dynamic career and perspectives of Marielle de Spa, Founder of TCKapital and Partner at AIKON Executive Search. Marielle shares valuable insights on career transitions, the impact of international experience and her commitment to promoting female leadership.

    Interviewed by Sarah Happ

     

    As the founder of TCKapital, could you share the inspiration behind establishing a strategic foresight advisory firm?

    TCKapital stands for Third Culture Capital. I became very interested in third-culture individuals –people who are exposed to a greater variety of cultural influences through being raised in a culture other than that of their parents or nationality- because of my own experience of making multiple transitions throughout my expat journey, but also because of my children who are third-culture kids. I wanted to understand the impacts of an international journey like ours. What were the competencies developed by cross-cultural executives throughout their careers? When I created the firm, my idea was to serve this community of third culture individuals navigating professional and personal transitions. I had shared this experience myself and therefore, understood their profile, but I also felt there was a genuine need and gap in the career advisory and executive search market for tending to the needs of cross-culture individuals.


    Throughout your 20+ years of global C-level executive search experience, how have you elevated global competence in leadership teams, especially when dealing with diverse cultural backgrounds?

    TCKapital provides leadership and career advisory, and I would say that 99% of my clients have international experience. I found that cross-cultural individuals have this international experience, but oftentimes they are unaware that it can be an asset for their professional lives. I help them strategise around those competencies that are very valuable in today's marketplace. I help them build a story so that the market, their companies, and potential recruiters can appreciate the value of their experience.

    At AIKON, I have Finnish, Danish, French and German colleagues among others, and while we all have a background working in large executive search firms and have our own individual areas of expertise and focus, mine being Southern Europe, Iberia and Latin America, there is a definite feeling of an alliance and a pan-European partnership. One of the distinctive services that we provide is cross-border searches that involve deep know-how of different markets and cultures. We are very skilled at conducting pan-European searches or even global searches to find candidates who bring that international experience that suit the needs of our clients. 


    With a diverse career background, including gemology and talent acquisition strategy, what advice do you have for individuals experiencing career transitions, seeking to reinvent themselves?

    The circumstances of my life have led me to reinvent myself quite a few times. Fortunately, these days, those are qualities that companies and markets are looking for. In life, you are always confronted with choices you have to make. I came to a crossroads at some point where I left my firm because they didn't have an office where we moved to in the US. Instead of seeing it as an obstacle, I tried to see it as an opportunity to do things that I never had the chance to do before, that I was passionate about, and gemology was one of them. Earlier in my career, I had worked in the luxury space, at Chanel, and I thought to myself that this was the perfect opportunity to go deeper into the jewellery business.


    The circumstances of my life have led me to reinvent myself quite a few times. Fortunately, these days, those are qualities that companies and markets are looking for.


    Career transitioning is not always easy and it has many levels. You can do an easy transition by just changing companies but doing the same thing that you're doing, or you can completely reinvent yourself and do something completely different. It's scary and you feel like it's impossible, but you can do it, and I did! What my experience has taught me is that any obstacles are mostly in your head and you can do anything you put your mind to once you overcome this.

    I always talk about the toolbox; you're just adding more and more to your toolbox. I advise my clients to make sure that they keep learning. As women, this can be difficult to embrace because when we embark on any new opportunity, we tend to want to do it perfectly. We think we're not going to be good enough, so we need to be extra skilled in comparison to men. But you just have to be confident and think that you can start whatever you want. Give yourself the space to do something crazy, to do something different; to do something you always dreamt of doing -  then one day you will suddenly wake up and you're in the place you dreamt of.


    Give yourself the space to do something crazy, to do something different; to do something you always dreamt of doing -  then one day you will suddenly wake up and you're in the place you dreamt of.


    Managing various roles can be demanding. How do you strike a balance between your commitments at TCKapital, AIKON Partners, and other advisory boards?

    Everything is connected. My roles and commitments are not competing, one area feeds the other. For example, I've always put an emphasis on women's advancement, and I would say 80% of my clients are women, so I work a lot with women. I also am part of advisory boards in women's associations. So, it's all connected.

    I always ask my clients; ‘what is your spinal cord?’ My spinal cord is consulting and strategising. I can do it in many areas, many different fields, but I never leave the consulting space. Even when I went into the jewellery business, I was a jewellery consultant. Therefore, my advice is that you can be a generalist like me, but there are two rules that you have to follow: the first rule is to be careful not to dilute yourself; try not to do too many things and not finish any of them or not have the opportunity to go deeper in each of those. The second rule is to make sure that if you are going to embark on different types of projects instead of just one, they need to feed each other.


    Given your belief in the importance of future-proof skills, how do you think young people could be better prepared for the evolving job market?

    I think most young people have future-proof skills, they just need to know how to leverage them and how to use them their advantage. My advice would be to stay updated. To give an example, I'm not saying that you need to become a specialist in AI, but you have to be knowledgeable about the different things that are happening and how this could impact your field.

    I would also say future-proof skills have a lot to do with soft skills, with being resilient, agile and adaptable. If you have the opportunity for transitioning and having an international career, that already gives you most of those skills, right? That's why I always encourage people to work in different countries and fields. Don't try to focus too much from the beginning. Give yourself the opportunity to discover.


    I always encourage people to work in different countries and fields. Don't try to focus too much from the beginning. Give yourself the opportunity to discover.


    You are an Executive Board Member of Mujeres Avenir and recently joined the WIL network. Why do you believe it is so important to promote female leadership, and what initiatives do you believe are most effective in supporting women in the workplace?

    We have achieved a certain level of advancement for women, but there is still so much more to do. I just organised an event for Mujeres Avenir. I wanted to bring in a few women who had been successful in their own fields, but more than to talk about their success, I wanted them to talk about the biggest obstacles in their careers, to understand the challenges they face. That is why I'm part of these associations because I want to use my work, what I have learned, and I want to pass it on. As women, we need to support each other as much as we can.

    There are two things that I emphasise in terms of supporting women's leadership or helping new generations toward that goal. The first one is to make sure that you get a sponsor. A sponsor is someone that not only mentors you but is going to help open their network to you, it's someone who's really going to advocate for you, who's going to basically pull you up and open doors to you. The second one is cross-generational sharing. There's so much that the younger generations can take from the older and vice versa.


    Building global networks has been a cornerstone of your career. Can you share how your network significantly impacted your work or opened unexpected opportunities?

    There isn’t an individual figure who stands out to me or changed my career. It’s the cross-sharing that has been the most impactful for me. It's the little conversations, sharing the good, the bad, and the ugly with them. It's hearing about how one or two made it to where they are. That’s what is most important to me in these networks.

    And for younger generations, it's an opportunity to find these sponsors I'm talking about. I think the hardest thing in life is to get in, to get access to the people that you want to have access to. A network like this gives younger professionals access to connections that you otherwise may not come across. So, leverage this network, because it is an opportunity, it is a privilege, and it will make a difference in your career.

    Leverage this network, because it is an opportunity, it is a privilege, and it will make a difference in your career.


    Video edited by Claudia Heard


  • 07 Dec 2023 11:50 | Deleted user

    Meet Elisabetta Spontoni, Executive Vice President, Group Offer Leader for Digital Core, Global Head of Packaged Solutions Portfolio, Communities and Enablement at Capgemini. In this interview, she discusses her multifaceted career, sharing insights on achievements, learning experiences and the importance of fostering diversity in the tech industry.

    Interviewed by Sarah Happ


    Can you describe your current role as Executive Vice President and Group Offer Leader for Digital Core and Global Head of Packaged Solutions Portfolio, Communities, and Enablement at Capgemini?

    I have two roles; the first is Group Offer Leader for Digital Core. This means packaging the service offering around enterprise transformation as well as defining in which way we position in the market. So, it's all about business transformation and what value Capgemini brings to its clients. The other role is Global Practice, which concerns the services we offer around the Packaged Solutions Portfolio. I also take care of Enablement, Learning Certifications and Communications from the Global Packaged Based Solutions Practice.


    What has been a challenge you have overcome or an achievement you are proud of whilst you have been in this position?

    There are challenges every day, that's what makes the job exciting, right? I am proud of a few achievements. I received recognition for both the delivery aspect of my role and the portfolio side. My career has two main chapters - for the first 16 years, I was really focused on delivery, leading large transformation programs, both local and international. The second part was based on Portfolio and Solutioning as Group Offer Leader. I received awards in both jobs, one delivery excellence award and three different portfolio awards, which I am very proud of.


    Can you tell me more about the ‘Flying Squad’ team you are part of at Capgemini? How do you approach missions for critical projects?

    Flying squads are unique concepts at Capgemini. It's a team of two senior-level candidates who talk to project teams and clients to identify risks and provide recommendations on how to mitigate or fix problems. After the missions, there is a detailed report with a list of recommendations provided to the team to help them face the situation and anticipate potential risks in the future. I really enjoy doing these missions because I find them to be very good learning opportunities, since you keep discovering what can go wrong.  This is helpful in allowing me to develop my risk management skills.


    Your impressive career at Capgemini spans over two decades. From your perspective, what advantages and personal growth opportunities arise from maintaining a long-term association with a single organisation?

    Our group can offer a lot in terms of professional growth. We have processes to take care of people individually, but I believe it's important that every person is looking at what they want to do in their career and be proactive in creating opportunities for things to happen. With large groups, there are plenty of opportunities and you just need to find the ones that are good for you, create your network, and of course do a good job to achieve what you want.


    With large groups, there are plenty of opportunities and you just need to find the ones that are good for you.


    Gender stereotypes can affect the perception of leadership capabilities. How have you perceived and managed gender-related challenges in your career?

    Our industry has a prevalence of males in general. Also, I graduated in engineering which was also a very male-dominated domain, so I'm used to being in situations where I'm the only woman.

    I'm a strong believer in the value of diversity and in the quality that it brings. I have a team that I design to be as diverse as possible. I really pay attention to getting enough points of view from different genders, regions and practices, and this is what really brings quality to our decisions and the work we do. So, whenever you find yourself in a discussion where you are not necessarily in the majority, it is important that you express your point of view because the fact that you are a minority is in itself valuable for the discussion.


    Whenever you find yourself in a discussion where you are not necessarily in the majority, it is important that you express your point of view because the fact that you are a minority is in itself valuable for the discussion


    As the mother of two children, how do you manage to sustain a healthy work-life balance while holding a senior leadership position?

    First, you need a great organisation. As you design your time for work, you need to design your time for life. People laugh when I say this, but in my calendar, as well as noting down all my meetings, I also have a blocker for Zumba. It's something that I enjoy doing, it keeps me fit and my mind healthy. You need to really give time to your life, otherwise, you quickly become sick, which isn't good for you or the company you work for.


    You recently joined the WIL Network as a Member this year. What does it mean to you to be part of a network where you can build alliances with other female leaders?

    I think it's a good opportunity to exchange points of view and experiences. I recently attended the Annual Gathering in Rome and found it to be really inspiring. The other thing I like about WIL is the possibility to coach young women and provide good advice on things I experienced myself throughout my career.


    What advice do you hope to leave for the next generation of women leaders at Capgemini and in the STEM sector?

    That a career in consulting is for everybody and there really is no reason not to go for it as a woman. Also, it's important to raise your voice. I learned that whenever I didn't express my point of view, it was a mistake. So that's what I really encourage everybody to do. You have to follow your passions, that's the most important thing. I have stayed at Capgemini for 25 years because I keep having fun, I do what I like, and I keep learning.


    It's important to raise your voice. I learned that whenever I didn't express my point of view, it was a mistake.


    Video edited by Claudia Heard

  • 30 Nov 2023 16:03 | Deleted user

    Meet WIL Board Member Inga Karten, a Political Consultant with a passion for diversity. In her interview, she shares insights from her role in the political consulting which has taken her all over the world, what lessons women in all sectors can learn from a lobbyist’s skillset, and why gender representation and diversity are so important in politics and consulting.

    Interviewed by Claudia Heard


    Since 2008, you have been working in various leadership roles at Miller & Meier Consulting and are now a Senior Special Advisor. Could you tell us what a typical day in this role looks like for you?

    I've been working as a political consultant for a long time now, and my role has always been to advise companies, sometimes also associations and other organisations on their political strategy. I start with a political analysis, then give advice on how to best represent their political interests, which involves a lot of strategy development – my favourite part of the role. I also do a lot of ad-hoc work, as you have to react to recent changes in legislation or fast-moving political developments. A typical day of mine would be spent in meetings with clients, who I regularly update on changes in the political landscape, and we discuss how to react to them. If a specific response to a development is needed, this requires a lot of co-ordination to put the strategy in motion and involves messaging analysis to ensure our reaction is appropriate and effective.


    You currently advise UK and German clients from the transport, energy and recycling industries on political positioning strategies and how they can develop and grow. To focus on one of these sectors, how do you envision the future of sustainable transport in Europe? 

    Transport is one of the main industries responsible for CO2 emissions, so there is a lot of potential for change in the sector. Currently, much of my work is focused on electro-mobility charging infrastructure, so I think one way to make modes of transport more sustainable is to switch from combustion engines to electric vehicles, for example. However, we should ask ourselves whether changing the motor of a car is enough, or whether we should be switching to different forms of transportation altogether; be it car sharing, improved public transportation or bikes, especially in big cities.


    We should ask ourselves whether changing the motor of a car is enough, or whether we should be switching to different forms of transportation altogether; be it car sharing, improved public transportation or bikes, especially in big cities.


    You established Miller & Meier’s presence in the US as the Vice President of Transatlantic Public Affairs between 2013 and 2017, a time of significant shifts in the US political landscape. What was it like to work in this political climate as a public affairs expert?

    It was a fascinating time to be a political consultant in Washington, the global capital of lobbyists. I noticed there is a greater emphasis on money, networks and connections, compared to what I was used to in Berlin and in Brussels. Lobbying in the US is much more centred around campaign finances, with a focus on hosting fundraisers and donating to political action committees. You can also see the ‘revolving doors’ mechanism in action, where people switch from the corporate sector to a public role in Congress, the Senate, a Ministry or in administration, much moreso than in Europe. My American colleagues were surprised to find out that in Germany we have a much more old-fashioned way of working, founded simply on arguments rather than connections or finances. Of course, it helps to have a strong network and good contacts, but I believe the most important point to remember as a lobbyist is to know when to speak, with whom, and using the right argument. If your arguments are convincing enough, I find that who you have donated money to or how close you are to your colleagues is not as important.


    However, this mindset was not prevalent in the US, particularly in the run-up to the 2016 election. The political climate was extremely divided, with a two-party system, which differs to the German multi-party system of proportional representation, which often results in coalition governments. The way the parties collaborate is completely different, as they are always mindful that they may have to enter a government with another party again, so the ideological differences and attacking tone during election campaigns are not as marked as they are in the US, so it was very insightful for me to work within this different system.


    It helps to have a strong network and good contacts, but I believe the most important point to remember as a lobbyist is to know when to speak, with whom, and using the right argument


    You were also the German spokesperson for the billion-Euro project of the Fehmarnbelt tunnel between Denmark and Germany. As a professional lobbyist and communicator, what advice do you have for managing high stake negotiations with different stakeholders involved?                                                             

    During my involvement in the Fehrmanbelt tunnel project, which is currently being built, I worked for the Danish state-owned company that is responsible for planning, building, financing, maintaining and operating the tunnel. It is a Danish project based on a state treaty between Denmark and Germany. It was a cross-border initiative, but mainly planned in Denmark.

    I quickly learnt that there was noticeable cultural differences between the two countries. The Danish working style when it comes to planning is based on open communication at every stage of the project, whereas in Germany, the tendency is to only communicate the final result. In Denmark they were much more open to changing their minds depending on what the best solution for the project was and clearly communicating any changes. This was difficult for the German side to understand as they usually only publish something when it is 100% certain, especially when the authorities are involved, as they think that if you openly choose an alternative option, it will publicly seem that a mistake was made and that the project is not under control.

    Public perceptions differed too – whereas in Denmark, the public seemed to trust that the process would be communicated and improved over time, perceiving changes of opinion as a sign of flexibility, this was not the case in Germany. When it comes to high-stakes projects such as this, I would always recommend getting as many people on board and informed as early as possible, keep open lines of discussion and never tire of re-explaining the process to them if necessary. Listen to the concerns of different stakeholders and try to take them seriously, addressing these within the strategy and design of a project as far as possible.


    You are a WIL Board Member, a Mentor at MentorMe, a mentoring platform for women, and also the founder of de’ge’pol W, a platform to promote the participation and representation of women in political consulting. How do you think having role models, networks and mentors can help women, particularly in the political sector?

    I think for women it is incredibly important to have to have role models. There's this famous saying; ‘If you can see it, you can be it,’ and with my children, I now see how important this is when it comes to gender diversity and other forms of representation in books and toys, for example. Role models are also particularly impactful in the field of politics. I recently came across a fascinating study, in which a group of women who were participating in a speaking contest were split into two groups, with half of them asked to look at a picture of Bill Clinton before their speech, while the other half were shown a picture of Hillary Clinton. In the end, the women who had seen the picture of Hillary, a female role model, performed significantly better than those who had seen a male politician’s picture. This goes to show the tangible positive impact even the sight of a role model can have on women and young girls as they progress through their career. Networks like WIL, and sector-specific ones such as de’ge’pol’W, a network I co-founded in Germany for women in political consulting, are crucial, because they give you a safe space, expertise, a visibility platform, and they help you find a group of women that will support you throughout your career.

    I also believe in the value of mentors sharing their expertise and knowledge, but especially when it comes to finding people who can guide you in your own sector, I think it is so important to have sponsors. This goes somewhat beyond the role of a mentor, because as well as giving advice and supporting you in the background, a sponsor actively speaks out for you and promotes you to others. I think a lot of women, despite having mentors, are lacking this figure in their career who could really help them become more visible in their field.


    With your lobbying expertise, do you have any advice for women on how to advocate for themselves in their careers, and are there any skills from your job that you think other women could learn from?

    As a lobbyist, there are always specific questions I ask myself when approaching a strategical situation. I always begin by analysing the status quo, asking: How much money is there? How much project support and resources are available? Who is competing for these for these resources, who are the stakeholders? Who has similar interests to me and desired outcomes, and whose are opposed to mine? Who makes the final decision, and when?

    Although in political terms this is called a policy audit or stakeholder analysis, these same questions can be used by women in a variety of different contexts to help them in their careers. Based on your answers to these questions, you can come up with a strategy on how to get what you want, based on building alliances with people, and considering the arguments you need to get them on board. You also need to consider who is going to support you, and who is going to oppose you, and how you could convince them to actively support you, or at least to not oppose you publicly. I would strategically choose alliances that perhaps have a closer connection to your opponents than you do and think about when the right tile is to address them. These are all techniques and questions used by lobbyists, which are at their core just a strategic process that can be used in many different situations and sectors.


    Now based in London, what are the differences you see in the style of working compared to Germany and the US? Are there any lessons you have learnt from this experience?

    In the UK as a German, I find it much harder to read between the lines as the British communication style seems much less direct. Especially in the beginning, I found it hard to gage what I could take seriously, especially after working in America where I found that people are very enthusiastic but don’t always maintain their commitment. British people are generally not as enthusiastic, but they are extremely polite, and will avoid directly criticising your ideas even if they don’t approve of it internally. However, I have started to tell my British colleagues to be very blunt with me, in the hopes that my German directness does not come across as rudeness!


    This year you have returned to academia, completing courses in Business Sustainability Management and Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Strategies for Business at the University of Cambridge. What were the challenges of this experience and what did you learn from it?

    One of the biggest challenges of going back to University was having to reference scientific studies and literature to justify my points, rather than giving advice based on my personal experience, which is what I have become accustomed to as a consultant. I chose to study these two topics because I believe they represent the most important challenges facing my industry. Sustainability is at the centre of intention for a lot companies, for good reason, so it is expected that people working in politics have the necessary knowledge. I’m also very passionate about the social aspect of sustainability, which links directly to diversity and inclusion. It’s very important to me that everyone gets an equal chance to have the career they want and feel they can contribute, not only because it is morally the right thing but because it has been proven that diverse teams have a better business output ,as you don’t keep repeating the same opinions put forward by the same people, who may be biased or mistaken without anyone to correct them. It is particularly important to have a diversity of standpoints in the political consulting field because of the impact of policy and business on the wider population and marginalised groups within them, who may otherwise get left behind. 

    It’s very important to me that everyone gets an equal chance to have the career they want and feel they can contribute, not only because it is morally the right thing but because it has been proven that diverse teams have a better business output


  • 26 Oct 2023 12:34 | Deleted user

    Interviewed by Hanna Muller

    In this interview, we delve into the world of IT and female leadership with Malgorzata Gryz. Malgorzata shares her journey from a radio journalist to impactful management or leadership roles in global IT giants like Microsoft and HP. She brings a wealth of experience and wisdom to the table, including scaling Lingaro Group from 300 to 1.4K employees and being named the Global Data Power Woman.

    To kick things off, could you give us a brief introduction to your background as the Founder of Inspire and Vice President for Strong Women in IT?

    I am 54, which is important because I feel both young enough to have the energy to change the world and mature enough to know what I do not want in life and in business. I have been a proud mother to a 27-year-old and a partner and friend to my husband.

    I have worked for over two decades in various industries. Initially, I started my career with my first education as a radio journalist, and then my educational journey extended to business and technology. For the last 22 years, I have been closely connected to the IT sector, working with international brands such as HP for almost 11 years and Microsoft for six years. I also led one of the Polish data and analytics companies, Lingaro, which is globally expanding. Since the beginning of this year, I have had the honour and privilege of co-leading Strong Women in IT, a global IC Women Network, along with Anita Kijanka, who initiated and founded it. Additionally, for the past 11 years, I have been involved with the European Network for Women in Leadership – that has been my career in a nutshell, so far.


    I feel both young enough to have the energy to change the world and mature enough to know what I do not want in life and in business.


    Your career has spanned multiple industries, including IT, FMCG, and education. How have your diverse experiences influenced your approach to leadership and mentorship, particularly in your role as the Founder of Inspire and Vice President for Strong Women in IT?

    Many years ago, I held the belief that venturing into the IT sector was an unattainable goal for me, primarily due to my lack of a technical background. However, this belief was a fallacy. About 22 years ago, a headhunter encouraged me to participate in a recruitment process and underscored my knack for translating technical terminology into more comprehensible language, highlighting the substantial value of this skill. Initially, I harbored reservations because I lacked technical expertise. Nonetheless, I came to realize the pivotal importance of trusting your intuition. This industry is marked by high dynamism, and it is imperative to maintain an open mind towards learning, nurturing curiosity, and exhibiting emotional intelligence. Success in the IT sector is contingent not solely on technical knowledge but on a sincere thirst for knowledge, inquisitiveness, respect for others, and a genuine ardor for the business. These are the primary lessons I have assimilated over the course of the last 22 years.

    As an advocate for women's empowerment in the IT industry, what do you see as the most pressing challenges facing women in technology today, and how can organisations and individuals address these challenges to foster greater inclusivity and diversity?

    I would like to mention the organisation I currently co-lead, Strong Women in IT, where we have collected stories and insights from 250 women from around the world, representing Europe, Asia, America, and Africa. They have shared their challenges as leaders working in the IT and tech sectors, and these challenges are quite universal.

    The first significant challenge they face is the rapid pace of technology change. While they love technology and are adept at using the latest tools, keeping up with the constant changes can be overwhelming. The second challenge is security risks, including data and network security, as well as ethical data usage. The skills gap also remains a persistent issue, particularly with the acceleration of digital transformation. There's a high demand for IT talents, and the skills gap is growing. Furthermore, market challenges are ever-present, adding to the complexity of the industry.

    With a focus on the emotional intelligence that women in IT value, the challenge of managing remote teams and keeping them motivated is another concern. Only 3% of the organisations represented by our network plan to stay in the office, with most adopting hybrid or fully remote work models. This brings challenges in keeping teams inspired and connected. Lastly, the high expectations placed on women in leadership roles add another layer of pressure. Time management becomes a critical concern. These challenges are not confined to a specific geography; women around the world face similar issues.


    While we love technology and are adept at using the latest tools,
    keeping up with the constant changes can be overwhelming.

     

    You are evidently dedicated to mentorship and leadership development for women, not least in your role as a Career Development Leader for our Talents in the Women's Talent Pool Programme. Could you provide some insights into your mentorship philosophy and some advice you frequently offer to women aspiring to leadership roles in IT and other industries?

    My mentorship philosophy is built on three fundamental principles. First, trust your intuition and honour your needs. If you aspire to make a career change, don't suppress your passion for learning and personal growth. Seek mentors who inspire you, explore various learning methods, and draw inspiration from the experiences of both women and men in the IT industry. If you desire a transition, consider internships and take a proactive approach. Trust your intuition and make your needs a priority.

    Second, remain a perpetual learner. Don't wait for miracles to happen; take control of your life and career. Cultivate your curiosity, ask questions, and build valuable networks. Embrace a proactive learning mindset, which is relevant to both younger women and those with more experience.

    Lastly, never give up. Don't allow anyone to deter you from pursuing your goals. I'd like to share a story of a talented woman who was told it was too late for her to shift into the IT industry due to her age. She persisted and achieved success, demonstrating that age should never be a barrier. Look for individuals who are open-hearted and open-minded, willing to listen to your story and support your journey. 


    Don't wait for miracles to happen; take control of your life and career. Cultivate your curiosity, ask questions, and build valuable networks


    To finish, we like to ask a question from the Proust questionnaire. Is there someone you would consider a real-life hero, someone who you greatly admire?

    I have several role models whom I greatly admire, but I'll mention three in particular. The first is Madeleine Albright, former US Secretary of State, who was a staunch advocate for women's rights and played a significant role in my home country, Poland's path to joining NATO. She holds the distinction of being the first woman, Secretary of State in United States history, earned worldwide respect, and I hold her legacy in high regard. Her quote, "There is a special place in hell for women who don't help other women," deeply resonates with me.

    Secondly, Michelle Obama's dedication to fostering hope and change, as well as her ability to inspire both women and men, is truly remarkable. Her book, "Becoming," has become a guiding light for independence and self-respect for many.

    Lastly, I'd like to mention Vahe Torossian, former Global Vice President at Microsoft, who served as my leader during my tenure at Microsoft. He demonstrated an immense passion for both people and business. His inclusive approach and support for women in the IT sector, coupled with his ability to create a thriving work environment, were genuinely inspiring. His example as a global leader serves as a role model to many, including myself. Of course, over the past 15 years, numerous young women and individuals have also inspired me on my journey.

    Video edited by Claudia Heard

  • 20 Sep 2023 11:51 | Deleted user


    Interviewed by Montana Cantagalli

    Meet Maria Grazia Medici; a Partner and Head of Life Sciences and Healthcare at Osborne Clarke in Italy. In this interview, she talks about how and why she decided to go into law, her hopes for the next generation of lawyers and the transformations she has observed in the field.


    You are Head of the Life Science and Health sector at Osborne Clarke in Italy. What motivated you to take on this leadership position and what drew you to specialise in the regulatory aspects of Pharmaceutical and Real Estate law in the first place?

    Taking this leadership position was a natural step for me. Having previously worked in a small boutique firm, I found myself at this fantastic organisation, Osborne Clarke, which is very well structured and gives people the possibility to do what they want. I was excited about the idea of being in an international law firm with a brilliant network of people. So, I thought why not? Let’s do it.

    And why pharmaceutical law? That was a bit of a “it just happened.” When I started working as a lawyer, I was given the possibility to work for clients in the pharmaceutical business and I really enjoyed it. It is law but it is also science, and I like the combination of the two. As a lawyer, having the possibility to understand scientific, technical, chemical, and biological aspects is a real privilege, particularly as this sector is developing so fast. In the fast-paced world in which we live today, it is so important to stimulate your intellect. If you don’t, you’re done for. You need to keep an open mind that allows you to look forward.


    In the fast-paced world in which we are living today, it is so important to stimulate your intellect. If you don’t, you’re done for. You need to keep an open mind that allows you to look forward.


    Have you always been comfortable with taking leadership roles and, if not, how did you find comfort in it? What do you think shapes a good female leader?

    I never really thought about it: I just focused on doing my work and having fun in the process. I am pleased with the results I have achieved and the relationships I have built with clients and colleagues.  This has given me comfort. If you are of service to other people and help them to grow and achieve their results, then they look at you as a leader. At the beginning, it can be a bit scary, but then you start gaining confidence. Historically women have had a duty of care towards their families, and this has made them adept at listening to people and their needs. It means that sometimes you are taking on a leadership role without knowing that you are doing so. Women are also well trained in taking care of many things at once, and this makes us more flexible and better able to look at and solve problems.


    If you are of service to other people and help them to grow and achieve their results, then they look at you as a leader.


    What excites you about the new generation of lawyers and how do we encourage younger generations of girls to take an interest in law? What are some important words that every upcoming woman in law should hear?

    The new generation is smart, ambitious, and not scared of being ambitious, and I greatly admire that. They are also driven by a desire for success and to make a difference, and this is important. Younger colleagues tend to do things differently from my generation and are more technological, which is part of their strength. Being technical helps you to be creative, for instance finding solutions that do not expose clients to risk.

    To be a successful lawyer, you need to have solid technical knowledge and a good understanding of the law. Lawyers are pathfinders. We are here to help our clients, to listen, understand and share our experience with them. Once again, empathy is essential to guide your client to the right legal solution.

    If I had to give advice to a young woman starting out in law, I would say: listen to your client, listen to people, be empathic, never put yourself on a throne because you are not a professor. Your priority should be doing everything you can to help your clients find the right path for them.

    I am proud to be at Osborne Clarke because we pay a lot of attention to the personal growth of our associate female associates and try to support them in different ways. Helping people find the right path is essential for their success.


    Lawyers are pathfinders. We are here to help our clients, to listen, understand and share our experience with them.


    Could you tell us about some influential figures in your life from whom you took inspiration on your own career journey?

    My mother had a big influence on me. She was a professor of women’s history and women’s studies in the Middle Ages, and she always told me that women should work and pursue a career. She was a big support to me during my own career.

    Later, I met many influential figures for different reasons and from different backgrounds. At 14, I got to know a fantastic American lawyer who took me to court in the US and this really opened my mind. It was thanks to her that I decided to become a lawyer.


    Law is known to be a very demanding sector to be in. How do you perverse your mental wellbeing when faced with significant work demands?

    At the beginning it was all work, work, work. I didn’t have much time for my personal life. My husband and I were very busy with our jobs, and having lots of fun with it, until one day, when I was a bit older, we decided to step out of our comfort zone and have two children. It was at that point that I realised that we could do and have everything we really wanted; it was just a matter of organisation. It was then that I also saw how incredibly important it is to preserve your mental wellbeing. This can involve anything, from going to the gym to going shopping: doing whatever it is that makes you feel good. It is beneficial for your work, because if you have a good mindset and reduce stress, you work better and produce better results. Personally, I don’t need to be stressed to work well.


    It is incredibly important to preserve your mental wellbeing. This can involve anything, from going to the gym to going shopping: doing whatever it is that makes you feel good. It is beneficial for your work, because if you have a good mindset and reduce stress, you work better and produce better results.


    Did your career feel different post-motherhood?

    It did: it made me stronger, for instance it gave me the strength to change course and to go to a different firm. Having children forces you to distance yourself from work and focus on other things that are important.


    Can you think of one or two significant obstacles you have faced in your career journey that you learned the most from?

    Oh yes. When I had my first child I was working at another firm and was told that I would not receive a bonus because, since the bar association had coverage for women during their maternity leave, I had already been given my dues. It was not intended as an act of aggression, but simply what they thought was normal and right for the firm. I was shocked and for the first time in my life stood up very strongly for my rights. The outcome was that, after listening to what I had to say, they recognised that they were in the wrong. With this incident, I understood that while there are certain battles that it is best to let go of, there are others you need to fight strongly. Younger female lawyers should always have in mind. You have to stand up for yourself because no one will give you anything if you do not raise your hand. This is not because people are bad: I’m optimistic about that. It is simply that everyone is trying to get the best for themselves. If you think you deserve something, raise your hand and ask, otherwise you are never going to get anything and someone else will. Raising your hand forces you to explain yourself, to analyse your strengths and weaknesses, and this helps you to get better results and go further.


    If you think you deserve something, raise your hand and ask.


    What pivotal shifts has you witnessed in the legal sector? What impact would you like to have on the legal sector during your time as a practicing lawyer?

    The first shift that comes to mind is technology. When I started twenty years ago, the firm I was at had only one email for the whole company. Technology has dramatically changed the law field in terms of timing of reply, the tools you can use, and the kind of attention you need to give to a matter to avoid a quick answer that ends up being the wrong answer. Another change has been the increase in the globalisation of the services offered by legal firms. When I started there were already some international law firms in Italy. The legal profession is not only domestic: you are not just an Italian lawyer or a French lawyer practicing Italian or French law, but you are also part of an international organisation.

    In terms of impact, I think it is the responsibility of senior lawyers to inspire younger generations to get to where they want. Aspiring female leaders should not think that having a family should mean sacrificing their career. Women have the right to have a career and a family, and we can show them that they do not need to choose. There are many senior female leaders with children around the world, in politics and beyond, who also serve as living proof that women can have both. In recruitment I see how smart and hard-working women are, and how far they can go.


    It is the responsibility of senior lawyers to inspire younger generations to get to where they want.


    You talked about the impact of technology. Have you ever felt worried about the role of tech in your sector?

    There are risks, especially for the younger generations. The fact that technology could lead to the elimination of some jobs, for instance. Technology also risks undermining person-to-person contact and a more human approach to business, which is something in which I believe strongly. At the same time, technology creates infinite possibilities. What I hope is that the moment that tech is no longer useful for helping people, it will be forced to take a different direction.


    Finally, how has being a lawyer impacted you as a person?

    It has taught me not to look at things from one direction. As a lawyer, when you have a problem, you must look at it from all perspectives to be able to take the best decision. If I have a problem or I am litigating, I will often play the devil’s advocate and try and think about what the other party would say. Seeing issues and problems from different perspectives and putting myself in other people’s shoes is a skill that I am now also applying in my personal life.  

    Video edited by Claudia Heard

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