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Connecting, inspiring and empowering women to lead the way



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  • 13 Feb 2024 13:33 | Anonymous

    Ceyla Simeu is Lead Data Scientist at Rexel. In this interview, she tells us about how she grew the confidence to take on public speaking engagements, the challenges she has overcome throughout her career as a black woman in  Data Science, and how increased diversity in the field is essential to make Artificial Intelligence (AI) a force for good.

    Interviewed by Anna Marin


    Since 2018 you have been working at Rexel, where you started as an intern and are now the Lead Data Scientist. Can you describe what initially sparked your interest in Data Science and tell us about your career journey to your current position?

    My interest in data science first started with mathematics. I was born into a family of mathematicians – my parents are both PhD in Computer Science and Automation, so it was very present in my everyday life. When I was a child, my father would often ask me mathematical questions when I was just 5 years old. My parents have really inspired me on my career path, and in many ways, I follow their path.

    I went to the University of Grenoble Alpes, where I studied Applied Mathematics and later a Master’s in Data Science. I joined Rexel, my first company, as an intern five years ago. When I started, I had a lot of fresh ideas, as well as good organisation and communication skills, and I think that is why I succeeded in climbing up within the company. I am really grateful that the management team trusted me and believed in me, as I am now the Lead Data Scientist. These communication skills are still integral to my approach to work – as data scientists, we often think we must stay behind our screens but that is not my way of thinking. For me, a data scientist also needs to be a good communicator and be visible.


    How have your experiences as a young black woman in STEM shaped your career and personal journey, what challenges have you encountered along the way and how have you overcome them?

    It was a long journey to become a lead data scientist. During my Masters, when I was looking for an internship, I came to the difficult realisation that if I removed my picture from my CV, I received more positive responses from different companies. This was tough for me, but I eventually found my internship and got to where I wanted to be, at Rexel.  

    I am really integrated at my company, and I think that now, being who I am is a strength. I have a mantra and it is: “Everyone knows me, but no one knows my name”. Because it’s true that when you are black at a big company and in a leadership position - people remember you easily. But I also want people to know my name, and that is what I am working towards.

    There is still a long, long way to go for us to be recognised as we are and for the industry to look at skills, rather than looking at skin colour. Of course, there are also stereotypes connected to being a woman, but I think that the tide is thankfully starting to turn in this regard. The battle lies now in bringing about this positive change for black people, particularly black women.


    AI is described as the heart of Rexel’s data-driven strategy. Could you give us an insight how you work with AI in your role as a Lead Data Scientist?

    Rexel has a data-driven strategy, which means that we have a strategy oriented on data. We have a lot of different types of data on the products we sell, such as transactional data, environmental data and so on, which makes the AI team an integral part of Rexel.

    I work with a multi-profile team; we are around 20 people with different types of knowledge. We have data scientists that will build the algorithm and construct the code, but we also have people like software and data engineers because it is important that we can industrialise the code, and business-oriented colleagues who show how our projects bring value to the company and the final user. Thanks to this team our solutions at Rexel are fully automatised, which means that we can use them over and over, saving ourselves work and time in the future. I coordinate the technical implementation of the algorithm and manage the evolution possibilities, and AI is at the centre of this, at the base of the model we use.


    As a professional in AI, you're likely aware of the varying public opinions on its use and future applications. Why do you think feelings of fear towards it exist and how do you think it can be mobilised in a positive way?  

    AI has been around for a long time, but many people think it is a new trend. We have always used this kind of tool, the difference is that AI is easier for everyone to consume now than it was before. As people, we are often scared about the unknown and I think scepticism is normal. I have been confronted with this within my work, some might be worried that our tool will replace their jobs, and therefore adoption is very important. Adoption enables us to show the user that the tool will be useful to them. That is also why we need people on the team with different profiles, who can explain the tool to diverse business users to reassure them that AI can actually help them become more efficient in their job rather than replace it.

    We have also seen an incredible expansion in the use of generative AI in everyday life. I think it will lead to increased productivity, and we need to see this as a tool that will improve the way we work and as an opportunity to develop our jobs. However, we should keep in mind the environmental impact of Generative AI and seek to minimise this – it needs a lot of data, and the number of computations is enormous, which is bad for the environment. Another thing we need to keep in mind is that AI is often biased. Because AI is often based on historical data, it fits the stereotypes of that data. An example of this is the word “nurse” in English. In French the word “nurse” is translated to the word “infirmière” by AI, making the word automatically feminine in French. When AI translates the word “Prime Minister” to French it translates to “premier ministre”, a masculine translation, therefore reinforcing gender stereotypes when it comes to job roles. All of this shows that we will always need humans to validate AI and ensure it is developing in the right direction.  


    Continuing with the topic of AI, you recently spoke on the ‘AI for Logistics’ panel at the AI for Industry panel 2023. Can you share insights into the importance of diversity of voices in discussions on AI and technology?

    It is true that AI is biased, and sometimes, these kinds of events can be biased too. We often see more men around those round table discussions. So it was great for me to participate in the ‘AI for Logistics’ panel to add my perspective.

    I think we need to act early to improve representation; we need to go out to schools and show kids what we do in AI and that we need women in this industry. If we can demystify tech to young girls then this will pave the way for them to become interested in it as a career, and eventually contribute to more representative datasets.


    I think we need to act early to improve representation; we need to go out to schools and show kids what we do in AI and that we need women in this industry.


    This taps into what you talked about before – the importance of being visible as a data scientist. So, could you share a little bit about what you have learned from these public speaking engagements? How has your experience on the Women Talent Pool Programme contributed to enhancing your confidence in taking on these opportunities?

    It has always been my dream to talk about tech in public settings, and the WTP programme has helped me achieve this. In my Career Development sessions, my mentor, Viktorija Smatko-Abaza really encouraged to take on public speaking engagements and because of her and the programme, I accepted to be on the ‘AI for Logistics’ panel and it only made me hungry for more. It made me feel comfortable in my role, in myself and that I deserve to do this. The workshops also helped me to learn about the importance of body language, the importance of networking and effective communication.


    It has always been my dream to talk about tech in public settings, and the WTP programme has helped me achieve this.


    Finally, do you have any advice for others in data science, just starting their career?

    Don’t be afraid to gain visibility within your company. As a data scientist, you don’t always have to be behind your screen. But it is important to know how to structure your code and comment your code. Be aware of the next person who will read your code and help them understand. You also need to learn how to build an algorithm.

    Finally, I recommend being full of ideas and try to boost your communication skills. I think this is what will really make the difference on your journey.

    Don’t be afraid to gain visibility within your company. As a data scientist, you don’t always have to be behind your screen

    Video edited by Claudia Heard


  • 24 Jan 2024 14:01 | Anonymous

    Meet Federica Fischetti, Senior Associate at Osborne Clarke. In this interview, Federica delves into the world of public law, how she tackles sustainability topics in her work, and how inspiring women and a PhD helped her along the way.

    Interviewed by Meike Schneiders


    To get started, could you please give us a little background on how you came to your current position as Senior Associate at Osborne Clarke?

    It’s a story of daring and courage; the start of my experience at Osborne Clarke was dictated by the desire and curiosity to embark on a new adventure in terms of professional experience. Until then I had been working with a national law firm, which are traditionally the types of firms exercising Public Law in Italy. However, I had always looked at the work of non-corporate lawyers in international law firms from a distance. In 2019 I was offered the opportunity to create a Public Law team within an international firm: Osborne Clarke. Back then, we started with just two people, the Partner and I, but were shortly joined by another colleague, and within a few years, we became a team of nine people. It’s a role that continues to spark my curiosity and challenge me on a daily basis.


    It’s a story of daring and courage; the start of my experience at Osborne Clarke was dictated by the desire and curiosity to embark on a new adventure in terms of professional experience.


    You specialise in Public Law, with a particular focus on Public Procurement and Public Services Law, both judicial and non-judicial. What excites you most about your work in this area?

    I know so many people find this field uninteresting, and it is not a very well-known one. However, I love my work because it allows me to come into contact with various categories of people: CEOs, managers, and technicians, from public and private companies. Therefore, I have to deal with an endless variety of legal and technical issues. In my field, when you advise a client in a court case you need to deal not only with legal and procedural issues, but you also need to be able to understand the issues from a technical point of view. Cases on tariff matters in the water sector, or issues about the business plan in public-private partnerships need very deep background knowledge.


    At Osborne Clarke you are also a member of the Infrastructure Services & Public Law Team Italy. What are the most pressing issues in this area at the moment and how important is the consideration of sustainability factors in this work?

    Cases regarding sustainability issues are the ones that have recently engaged the entire team. A big part of this has been working on the National Recovery and Resilience Plan which is part of the Next Generation EU program that the European Union negotiated in response to the pandemic. My team was involved both in the establishing as well as the realisation process. Sustainability has certainly been a common thread in our recent work, ranging from legally accompanying reform packages and working on strategic access to digitalisation and innovation, as well as promoting ecological transition and social inclusion.

    In addition, sustainability is also the heart of several projects and operations we have supervised from a legal standpoint on behalf of utility clients. For example, we are advising on the realisation of a green platform with zero fossil emissions. This is an innovative project focused on the recovery of waste rather than disposal in landfills.


    Do you have any female role models or female figures that have stood out to you throughout your career?

    It’s difficult to answer this question as the field of public law has traditionally been very male-dominated. Although in recent years the situation has changed to some degree, my day-to-day work environment is still predominantly composed of male figures. That being said, I think I was profoundly shaped by the challenging period I spent in Rome before joining Osborne Clarke. I worked for a national firm composed almost exclusively of women and while I do not think I can consider any of them a role model, I am still convinced that working with them has benefited me greatly. They were leading by example, they showed me that unity is a strength, and that we women can succeed through mutual support. These issues re-emerged in recent years on the Women Talent Pool leadership programme and other events organised by Osborne Clarke.


    The women I worked with were leading by example, they showed me that unity is a strength, and that we women can succeed through mutual support.


    A few years ago, you completed your doctorate in European Union law. Doctoral studies can be quite an exhausting and lonely time. Were there any particular challenges you faced and do you have any tips for others who are thinking of following a similar path?

    The three years of the doctorate were certainly challenging both because of the context, the University of Bologna is prestigious and professors understandably demanding, and the fact that alongside to my Ph.D, I was also gaining my first experience as a lawyer. I cannot deny that it was an exhausting and chaotic time, keeping multiple balls rolling. But it helped me face the bar exam, and the challenges of the legal profession, more calmly and with greater confidence. Therefore, it is a path I recommend. It opens your mind and teaches you not to stop at the surface but to examine the issues in more depth.


    The PhD is a path I recommend. It opens your mind and teaches you not to stop at the surface but to examine the issues in more depth.


    You are part of the 8th edition of the Women Talent Pool Leadership Programme. Almost a year in, could you share with us one of your most memorable moments from the programme?

    So far, the most memorable moment of the programme has been the Annual Gathering in Rome. I really enjoyed the topics covered as well as the beauty of the chosen location. Finally having the chance to finally be able to meet other programme participants was extremely enriching. I think that the opportunity to follow the programme online is essential but the beauty of the in-person events is irreplaceable. Hence, I look forward to the upcoming gathering in London which I predict to be equally memorable.


    And last but not least, do you ever find time to read, and if so, what are your favourite books?

    In the past, I was a compulsive reader and always travelled with at least two books in my bag. At the moment, unfortunately time is scarce and between work and family, there is little time left to devote to reading. In any case, there is always a small stack of books on my bedside table that I open as soon as I find a quiet moment. Possibly my favourite book is “The Name of the Rose” by Umberto Eco. It is set in 1327 at an Italian Franciscan monastery where a series of strange deaths occurs. I like it because it is not only a narrative of a murder investigation but a Chronicle of the Middle Ages. However, the book I read most recently, I must confess, was Cinderella as I have two small children!


    Video edited by Claudia Heard


  • 16 Jan 2024 12:35 | Anonymous

    Meet Maria Birath, Senior Legal Counsel at Capgemini, an international business lawyer with 14 years of experience in Information Technology and Commercial law. In this interview Maria shares insights into the rewarding aspects of multinational companies, how technology can enhance the legal function and the importance of self-care.

    Interviewed by Anastasiia Hresko


    Let’s start by talking about your position. You are currently a Senior Legal Counsel at Capgemini. Can you share some of the challenges and rewards of this position?

    For me, the biggest reward of being a Senior Legal Counsel at Capgemini is the ability to influence and advise our Senior Management and help the company win sustainable business. I can see my work having a direct positive impact on the core business and strategic long-term decision making so I get to be involved in everything that makes Capgemini a great company.

    It does come with some challenges. The environment is stressful with a very fast pace and the workload is usually high with multiple projects running simultaneously.


    I get to be involved in everything that makes Capgemini a great company.


    You have often chosen an international environment to work in. What aspect of working in multinational companies attracts you the most?

    I would have to say: the people. When people from ten to twenty different countries and cultures work together, great things happen. There are obviously challenges with cultural aspects but you have so much fun together, learn a lot from one another and get different angles on various topics, so it is a great experience.

    But I’d also say: the clients. One of the benefits of working in a multinational company is that you get to work with some of the world’s largest companies. The professionalism that you get from both sides is truly impressive.


    You are working in the IT sector. Could you share some examples of how you deploy technology to improve the legal function?  What are your thoughts on the future of Legal Tech, and how do you see it changing the legal profession in the years to come?

    That’s something I feel very strongly about! Technology can improve our work so much.

    Lawyers are generally very expensive “resources”. Despite being highly qualified, we still spend so much time on routine tasks with low value to the company. By using Legal Tech and AI, however, we can remove the low value work and free up time for our competencies to really shine through. This leads to an improved business game as well as more insightful and strategic advice. For the lawyers it also means workload that is more manageable, more challenging and a lot more fun. Thus, it’s basically a win-win for everyone.

    In our legal department we are already seeing how automation is simplifying repetitive tasks and digitalisation is helping us to leverage data and discover inefficiencies in our internal processes. There is so much more room for growth in this area; Legal Tech has been on top of everyone’s mind recently but I believe that it will explode in the coming years.


    Legal Tech can remove low value work and free up time for our competencies to really shine through.

     

    Let’s talk about leadership. You are currently participating in the 8th edition of WIL’s Women Talent Pool Programme. What were your biggest takeaways from it and how did it help you develop as a leader?

    The programme is amazing and I am so happy to be a part of it! The network is definitely something I’ll take with me. Knowing that I can reach out to women in similar situations as myself all over Europe and in different sectors is priceless.

    I had great mentoring sessions about my career development and what I need to get where I want to be. And I think as a leader I am taking with me the importance of leading with my heart, with compassion and of course, clear communication. I also gained interesting perspectives about leadership in the context of culture: in the Nordics we have a democratic style of leadership but sometimes more directness is needed – a valuable learning opportunity for me!


    As a leader I am taking with me the importance of leading with my heart, with compassion and of course, clear communication.


    As a woman in leadership in the legal sector and a mother of two children, how do you maintain a work-life balance?

    Well, that is difficult, and I have struggled a lot with it, especially when I was younger. But I have learned how important it is to remember that no one will thank you if you do not take care of yourself and burn out: neither your family, nor the company. So the best thing to do for everyone is to take care of yourself and set boundaries.

    People are generally very understanding when you say “no” – it is just your fear of saying “no” that hinders you from experiencing that understanding. I try to treat my time as something valuable, say “no” to meetings where my participation is not actually necessary and to block out my calendar ensuring that I have uninterrupted time to get the work done.


    People are generally very understanding when you say “no” – it is just your fear of saying “no” that hinders you from experiencing that understanding.


    In your role as Senior Legal Counsel you are often responsible for advising clients and internal stakeholders. However, is there any advice you have received from someone else in your career that you would like to share, and what advice would you give to young women starting out in the legal sector?

    I have been fortunate to have extremely talented and supportive female leaders close to me throughout my entire career. They’ve been my role models showing that women can succeed. One advice I took with me is not to rush everything – to take your time.

    Working life is long and is getting longer with the increasing retirement age - you don’t need to do everything right away. You don’t want to get stuck of course, but it’s important to take time to savour the success and not immediately chase new accomplishments.  For women starting their career it is so easy to put a lot of pressure on themselves: you want to prove that you are good, that you belong…

    My advice would be to remember that you can only do a good job if you feel good. You cannot expect to give your clients the best advice if you do not sleep or eat or if you spend all your time just working.

    It is like they say on an airplane flight: you must put your oxygen mask on before you can help others. You really need to prioritise yourself and your work-life balance.


    It is so easy to put pressure on yourself in your early career: you want to prove that you are good, that you belong… But you can only do a good job if you feel good.

    Video edited by Claudia Heard


  • 09 Jan 2024 14:23 | Anonymous

    Agustina Venturin is a Start-Up Manager at Axens. In this interview, Agustina discusses her international background, the importance of adaptability throughout her career in chemical engineering, and how practicing ballet has impacted her personally and professionally.

    Interviewed by Juliette Travaillé


    You were born in Argentina and moved to France in your teenage years. How has this international background played a role in your career?

    Indeed, I have a multi-international background. At 12, I received a grant to come and study in France as I was practising ballet at a high level. It was difficult to leave my parents and my whole family behind at such an early age but being this young actually helped me. It was easier for me to adapt to France and its culture then than it would be now, as an adult.

    I think that it played, and still plays, an important role in my career because it gave me the crucial skill of adaptation. This is important in the work that I do today, where I meet and exchange with lots of different people. Depending on the person in front of me, I always adapt my speech, behaviour and actions to make sure they feel heard and understood.


    Depending on the person in front of me, I always adapt my speech, behaviour and actions to make sure they feel heard and understood.


    As of right now, I wish to stay in France. When I arrived here, France adopted me, gave me a chance to pursue the career of my dreams even though I was not French myself. Staying in France is a way for me to give back. But my work gives me the opportunity to travel and explore other countries, while keeping a foot in France, my home.


    You've done a PhD in chemical engineering and recycling processes of nuclear fuels. Why did you choose to pursue your studies and focus on R&D (Research and Development) ?

    After my master’s degree, I had to make a difficult choice between the R&D and the supply chain worlds. I decided to continue with a PhD mainly because I felt that it would enable me to grow further both professionally and personally. During this time, I learnt a strict methodology that shaped me as a chemical engineer, letting me embrace my real personality and teaching me to be my best self.


    After your PhD you decided to keep working in Research and Development (R&D) and switched to Axens in 2018. How did that transition go and what motivated you to take this step?

    After my PhD, choosing a position as a R&D engineer was the logical way to go. I had the chance to get a position at IFPEN (IFP Energies Nouvelles). I stayed there for three years and put into action everything I had learnt during my PhD. After those three years, I felt the need to get closer to the practical reality of what I had been researching, and to the final product, so I decided to move to Axens, which is part of the same group as IFPEN.

    I quickly realised that I would like to pursue my whole career in this direction. R&D was the best way for me to get started but I believe that shifting my focus to working on the final product and industrial units was the best way to go at this stage.


    In 2022, you took the role as Manager in Axens’ Start-Up department. Could you talk about this position and what it entails?

    Before becoming a manager, I spent more than four years as a start-up engineer. What I love about the start-up sector is that there’s no typical day. Every day is full of surprises. We mainly travel to our clients’ sites around the world and help them put in service the industrial units and products we sell to them. Thus, there isn’t a ‘typical’ project, which forces me to adapt.

    Now, as a manager, I support my team on their projects and missions around the world. I juggle between technical and administrative issues and topics, in France and abroad. This is both challenging and fun as I have to go out of my comfort zone a little bit every day.


    I am juggling between technical and administrative issues and topics, in France and abroad. It’s both challenging and fun as I have to go out of my comfort zone a little bit every day.


    How do you deal with working in chemical engineering, a male-dominated field? What advice would you give women who wish to be a manager but are weary of this?

    We can fairly say that it is a male dominated sector. To give you an idea, at Axens there are approximately 40 start up engineers and only 10% are women. There are other companies with even less % of women in this sector.

    What I would advise is to never see yourself differently. I never feel different from my male colleagues or clients. I see all my co-workers as sources of inspiration, growth and knowledge, whether they be a man or a woman. As I have said before, it is crucial to learn to adapt in every situation. If you know how to adapt, you will avoid confrontation and conflict. Always be patient and adapt. Prove that you deserve to be there so you can gain people’s confidence.


    I see all my coworkers as sources of inspiration, growth and knowledge, whether they be a man or a woman.


    Since March you have been part of the Women Talent Pool (WTP) Programme. What are your main takeaways from the programme thus far?

    My main takeaway is that even if we are very different women, working in distinct sectors, we have so much in common. We all have similar ways of thinking and issues to overcome. Hearing from these women and learning from them has been very empowering for me, whether it be from the workshops or the mentoring sessions, which are especially inspiring.


    Before pursuing a career in chemical engineering you practiced ballet to a high level. How has this sport impacted your life?

    I practiced ballet for a long time and there are lessons I learnt from it that I carry with me and will continue to do so. Ballet taught me two important things; to be rigorous and passionate in everything I do. These are two virtues that I believe to be the key to a balanced personal and professional life. I am not necessarily looking to achieve a perfect work-life balance, but to approach both my job, and my hobbies in the same way; with passion and rigour. My job as a manager has enabled me to work in the field that I wanted and to do it with passion. But this opportunity didn’t present itself, and my rigour was a key player in achieving my career goals.


    Ballet taught me two important things; to be rigorous and passionate in everything I do. These are the two virtues that I believe to be the key to a balanced personal and professional life.


    Ballet also taught me to make decisions. Indeed, at the end of high school I had to choose between pursuing a career as a professional dancer or studying chemical engineering. I decided to go for the latter and would still do so today if I had to make the choice again. I decided to fully close the ballet door and this chapter of my life and I don’t regret it because it led me to where I am today.


    Finally, as a reader, what is your favourite book of all time?

    This is such a hard question to answer, and I thought I would never be able to pick just one book. But I decided to pick The Einstein Enigma by Portuguese journalist José Rodrigues dos Santos. It’s the perfect mix of science, history and mystery. It tries to scientifically prove the existence of God based on a formula developed by Albert Einstein. It takes place in various settings and presents a totally different view about the origins of the universe. I really recommend this book, even if you are not a big scientist yourself!


    Video edited by Claudia Heard


  • 19 Dec 2023 13:38 | Anonymous

    Meet Fatimazahra Imami, Senior Data Scientist at Rexel. In her interview, she tells us about how she worked her way up in data science, the importance of self-confidence and speaking up for yourself, inspiring books and more.

    Interviewed by Josefine Häussling Löwgren


    You studied data science at the INTP In Morocco, as well as the IMT Atlantique in France. What made you go on this path and what made you get into data science?

    Data science is not a field that I initially chose. In high school, I had a background in computer science, and always loved problem solving. I studied for at an engineering school in Morocco for two years, before applying for a double degree here in France. Seeing that the field of study of data science was an option within the engineering school, I started to research it and learned that it's a cross-section between multiple different sectors - it's business, statistics, visualisation, and computer science. I realised that data science is the bridge between business and technology, providing the answer to business problems and enabling them to make better decisions. For example, it can help make sense of customers record and website traffic data. Data science is the key to unlocking valuable information that can drive better decision-making for your business as well as for your life, and for society. This makes it a field that is becoming increasingly important in recent years, especially with the development of generative AI.


    Data science is the key to unlocking valuable information that can drive better decision-making.


    You're currently Senior Data Scientist at Rexel. Could you tell us a bit more about what your day-to-day kind of routine is like? What are you most passionate about within the field of data science and in your role?

    My job involves finding hidden patterns in data and unlocking valuable information, to help the business to make better decisions. I've learned a lot during my three years, building complex AI problems and handling complex data. I use this knowledge in collaboration with my team, to understand what the business needs and try to create AI solutions that will answer these needs.

    What I am most passionate about is that I get to work with people from different backgrounds, as I work with people from the business side who do not necessarily have a background in data science or technical fields. This means that you need to actively listen and try to understand the issue that they are facing in order to translate it into a data problem. This involves building an AI algorithm or solution, finding the right metrics and KPIs that you will share with the business and striving to simplify it for them so that everyone is aligned on the solution you propose. It's a team effort where you create something from raw data, which would have been impossible even 20 years ago.


    You recently got promoted to Senior Data Scientist after having worked at Rexel for three years. What challenges did you have to overcome in your career to get to this point? Is there any advice that you would give to young women pursuing a similar trajectory?

    I am lucky enough to be part of a company that really supports its employees and gives them opportunities to evolve, so I have not faced any external challenges or barriers from them. I believe for women, sometimes the barriers come from within. When impostor syndrome kicks in, we do not raise our voices and speak up for ourselves. I would say that the biggest lesson that I have learned on my career journey is that we need to advocate for ourselves and be self-aware. This does not necessarily mean speaking for the sake of speaking, it means finding your moment, and grabbing the opportunities that align with your values. Even if you do the most amazing work, if no one knows about it, no one is going to stand up for you. I think it’s important to have people supporting you, because it is often said that the biggest decisions about your career are made when you are not in the room, which is why it’s important for people to hear about what you’ve done and advocate for you. I also believe that the importance of being prepared is not spoken about enough. Even the most confident person or the bravest public speaker will faulter if they have not prepared for a presentation in front of an audience, as it will be seen.

    The final piece of advice that has helped me over the years is that a situation is never as bad as we imagine in our heads.  It’s easy to think about negative perceptions people may have of us but these are almost always false. Just stay focused on your mission and purpose, be prepared, and realise that the learning process never stops. As women we rarely praise ourselves, so I think it’s important to take the time to say, “I'm good at what I do, and I deserve what I have now.”


    Take the time to say, “I'm good at what I do, and I deserve what I have now.”


    What do you consider your greatest achievement?

    I am proud of the way I handle my everyday work. In comparison to three years ago, I am now a person who can enjoy the small things in life, like having a great conversation with my colleague, or having a cup of coffee on a sunny day. I think that life, including professional life, happens in the small moments. If you are just waiting for the breakthrough moments to celebrate, you will be missing out on a lot. Enjoy the process, enjoy the journey. I don't dread waking up every morning and coming to work, I enjoy my work and I enjoy the challenges I face. So, I would say that the way I live my professional life now is much better than three years ago, which is something I'm really proud of.


    I think that life, as well as professional life, happens in the small moments.


    You are currently a Talent in the 8th edition of the Women’s Talent Pool Programme. How do you feel the programme is helping you to achieve your leadership objectives?

    One of the great things about the WTP Programme is that it's a safe space where you can ask questions. The fact that I can relate to my fellow Talents who have had similar experiences and hear from inspiring role models has really helped me. It helps me in speaking up for myself and overcoming my worries and insecurities. Networking opportunities like the Annual Gathering have been the most impactful experiences from the programme because you get to meet people from different professional backgrounds, giving you diverse perspectives.


    This year, you shared on LinkedIn that you read the book “Invisible Women” By Caroline Criado Perez and how it deeply resonated with you as a data scientist. Could you elaborate on what this book teaches regarding data science and what you learnt from it? Are there any other books that you would recommend?

    The book was amazing because it was full of case studies and statistics. It had a solid foundation that no one can argue with. Sometimes my male colleagues will say there is no problem regarding gender equality because we are getting the same salary. But if we look at the bigger picture, we can see that there are less women than men in leadership positions. The author argues that when workplaces were designed, women were not involved in that process, which does not mean that men locked themselves in a meeting room, trying to make women's lives miserable; it just means that they couldn’t assess the consequences of what they were building.

    Women need to be included in all the decision-making processes as they will be impacted by them. That's why the book resonated with me, because in AI and data science, we need to keep in mind that AI solutions reflect the data on which they were trained. This means that if I train the model on bias data, it's going to produce bias results and impact people using this solution. Therefore, whatever we create based on AI needs to be inclusive, which is why we need more female scientists and more scientists coming from minority communities.


    Whatever we create based on AI needs to be inclusive, which is why we need more female scientists and more scientists coming from minority communities.


    Regarding the topic of gender, I also read the book “Lean in” by Sheryl Sandberg, It really resonated with me when she said that women are constantly asked about when the right time is to have children. I have noticed this same question came up at events I have been to with senior women and found it frustrating. Sheryl said that women start looking for the exit, even before entering. For example, I am 28 years old, and maybe I'm not planning on having children for the next five years. But still, it's something that is burdening me because I think this is going to block my career. She said that you don't need to think that much about it. Don't look for the exits, because maybe it's going to impact your choice of company and your career growth, even if it's not something happening in the near future.

    I also love the writing style of Malcolm Gladwell. Maybe you don’t agree with the way he puts things or his ideas. But I think he’s a gifted storyteller, you get really absorbed when you read his books. For “The Making of a Manager ” is a great book. It doesn’t give you academic tips on how to be a manager, but uses the example of a woman working at Facebook, who got into a leadership position when she was very young and she describes how her colleagues, or former colleagues now reporting to her, were treating her. It shares an inspiring message for women who are looking to pursue leadership positions, especially at the beginning of their careers.


    Video edited by Claudia Heard



  • 24 Nov 2023 11:58 | Anonymous

    Meet Maria Paz Esnaola, Regional Sales Maanger: Europe at Axens. In her interview, she tells us about what energises her in her client-facing role, overcoming challenges in the energy sector, and how the WTP programme has impacted her professional and personal development.

    Interviewed by Claudia Heard


    You have a background in engineering, having studied Chemical Engineering at University and worked in the energy sector throughout your career. What inspired you to take this path?

    In high school I liked Chemistry and Maths but knew that I wanted to work in something related to the industry rather than in a laboratory. It was then that I discovered engineering. All the engineers I met at that moment inspired me and made me interested in following their path. I finally decided on Chemical Engineering and chose to go into the energy sector. It was a natural choice for me because the degree I did in Chemical Engineering at the University of Buenos Aires was very much related to the processes and technologies of that industry. When I finished my studies, my main goal was to see in practice the theory I had studied in the books. For my first job, I was looking to work in the field to see the valves, the pumps, the things that I was designing at university, to see how they worked in reality. Afterwards, I discovered that the energy sector had a direct link to what I had studied and had a tangible impact on the people and economy of a country, and vice versa. By choosing to work in this sector, I knew I could have a meaningful effect on human beings and the environment.


    You have been a Regional Sales Manager for Europe at Axens since 2020. Can you tell us what a typical day in this role is like?

    As Regional Sales Manager at Axens, I am at the intersection of the interactions between the company and the customer. I discuss their needs and try to find the best solution possible to support them with our products and services. A typical day involves understanding these needs and communicating them to the technical experts within Axens. Meeting a variety of internal and external stakeholders is a substantial part of the role, which means I get to travel a lot to build relations with clients.

    There is another very specific aspect of the role, which is to respond to customer bids. When we receive a bid, whether it is from the public or private sector, we mobilise different Axens teams to come up with a strategy and coordinate the technical and commercial aspects to beat the competition and get the bid. This requires a strong competitive spirit but you also need to collaborate with the different departments in Axens such as the technical and legal departments, as well as local and regional representatives in order to secure the bid successfully. It is really exciting to get to work with people with a range of different backgrounds and expertise towards the same goal.


    It is exciting to get to work with  people with a range of different backgrounds and expertise towards the same goal.


    Prior to becoming a Regional Sales Manager, you were an engineer and technologist focusing on the design of hydrogenation technologies. What motivated you to take on a more client–facing role and how did you adapt to the demands of this different position? Are their skills and lessons you have been able to transfer from your previous role?

    When I took on my current position, I was seeking closer contact with the customer, because I was convinced that building long-term, trusting relationships with them would facilitate doing business and would allow me to communicate effectively to provide them with more tailored solutions. In my previous role as a technologist, I was lucky to be able to meet customers all over the world and explain the technical aspects of what they needed, but long-term relationships were limited. When I first transferred to sales, it was difficult – I had to approach the company itself from a completely different angle and adapt in order to learn negotiation skills and many legal terms.

    I also started the position at the worst possible time for customer interaction – March 2020! Over time, the situation improved, and I was able to use the engineering expertise I had built up over the course of my career to better understand the customer’s technical needs.

     

    Axens is a key player in the energy transition, with a focus on solutions for the conversion of oil and biomass to cleaner fuel, and the purification of petrochemical intermediates. While at Axens, what has been your proudest contribution to this mission?

    I have two proudest moments, both of which happened recently. The first was my contribution to achieve the firstindustrial design of plastic recycling technology in the world. By developing a new customised business model and working with the customer at all levels of their organisation to show the benefits of this approach and technology, we were able to create solutions tailored to their needs. My close contact with the customer facilitated this.

    The second instance was when I supported one of my clients when they faced a very difficult moment. An accident occurred in their refinery and part of it had to be rebuilt as quickly as possible. Axens was able to provide a solution for them and I quickly took the lead to coordinate everyone in order to support them. Generally, after an accident happens it is very difficult to make critical decisions as you need to consider peoples’ differing emotions and desired outcomes. I believe that by offering an outsider’s perspective, we can help clients move forward. Their gratitude for our involvement makes my day.


    I believe that by offering an outsider’s perspective, we can help clients move forward. Their gratitude for our involvement makes my day.


    You have been in a leadership position as Regional Sales Manager for the last three years. What has helped you get to this point and what advice would you have for young women in looking to work their way up in STEM careers?

    What helped me is to believe in myself and to think that everything is possible, even when it doesn’t seem that way. If I look at my career as an example, it seemed an impossible task to come from Argentina, which is so far away, and to still be able to achieve my dreams. But I knew that I wanted to work in another country, to learn from other cultures and other ways of working. It was daunting, but once I believed that I could achieve this goal I found Axens, and the IFP were offering a scholarship to study in France. I could not believe when I got admitted and needed to put all my life in 23 kilos of luggage and move, but it happened!

    In the engineering and energy sector, there is not enough female representation, but this is slowly improving. I have been surprised many times when finding myself to be the only woman in the refinery, or at a customer’s site. However, I would say that what really counts is if you have a purpose and you work as a team.


    You have been a Member of the Women Talent Programme since March 2023. Can you share with us any important lessons you have taken away from it so far?

    Listening to the different pathways other Talents and Workshop Facilitators have taken has been very empowering for me. I always wanted to work in a role that would directly impact society and during the WTP Programme, I can see how others have done this, which inspires me to take my next steps. I especially appreciate the Career Development sessions. I have just become a mother and it is never easy to think about your professional future when you are building your personal one at the same time. However, the mentoring sessions allow me to discuss maternity alongside career evolution, to take some distance, and think about what I really want. I have been shown that it is possible to balance the personal and the professional, and to succeed in both.


    I have been shown that it is possible to balance the personal and the professional, and to succeed in both.


    You grew up in Argentina before moving to France on an Axens Scholarship. So to end, I’d like to ask – Argentine or French food?

    I can’t decide between the two! An ideal meal for me would be Argentine steak paired with French cheese and wine – the best of both worlds.


  • 14 Nov 2023 12:29 | Anonymous


    Meet Florence Marcel-Cellière, Group Senior Manager of Supplier Digital Partnerships at Rexel. In this interview, she explains her role in the Digital Marketing field, the need for digital tranformation, and how her international background has impacted her personally and professionally.

    Interviewed by Irene Reyes Suero


    You have a degree in European management and a Masters in international marketing, as well as a digital marketing certificate. What inspired you to go into the marketing field?

    To be more accurate, I did a master’s degree in International Marketing at the Grenoble Ecole de Management, which is a business school. Then, I decided to spend a year in Germany studying European Management. After a few years, I decided to expand my knowledge in marketing, so I went back to school to study Digital Marketing, and got a certificate in this field from ESCP, Paris Business School.

    I believe that Marketing is one of the most exciting sectors because there are so many opportunities, from marketing strategy to marketing study, data, operational marketing, and more. Also, you can work in a very collaborative environment and thrive in an international atmosphere, which I love. Therefore, I think marketing allows you to develop numerous skills, both soft and hard. From creative thinking, commercial awareness and critical thinking to communication, marketing gives you the chance to develop interpersonal skills. To this day, I am still excited to be flourishing in the marketing sector, and the foundation of this is that I am passionate about understanding the customers' behaviour and providing the best customer experience for them.


    To this day, I am still excited to be flourishing in the marketing sector. The foundation of all this is that I am passionate about understanding the customers' behaviour and providing the best customer experience for them.


    Currently you are Group Senior Manager for Supplier Digital Partnerships at Rexel. Could you tell us more about what your daily job looks like and what aspect you enjoy most?

    I would say it's a unique role that can't be found in every organisation. Rexel is one of the top worldwide leaders and distributors of energy solutions for professionals. Something people are unaware of is that the top two leaders in this field are European and French, which we are very proud of. My role within Rexel is to promote the brands, services, and products of our preferred partners. These are our suppliers, such as Schneider, ABB, LEDVANCE, and Hager, to name a few. With them, my key goal is to build digital roadmaps and activate digital marketing tools to promote the brand and our products in the countries Rexel serves, with the aim of improving customer experience. To give you some examples, we can create banners, email campaigns, configurators or simplified carts to help customers buy more easily the products they need. These are some of the many digital marketing tools we develop with suppliers to grow digital sales. Also, I have created a co-marketing community with category managers, marketing individuals, and digital people to share best practices, success stories, and guidelines on how to improve and become the partner of choice of our preferred suppliers. It is a fascinating job that requires a lot of skills and interaction working with people from different backgrounds and cultures.


    As part of your role, you work with suppliers to support Rexel’s aim to reach 50% of digital sales by the end of 2027. Why this 50% target and do you see as the main advantages for companies like Rexel in embedding technologies across their business?

    At Rexel, most of us share this goal of 50% of digital sales by 2027. The fact that it's digital is not a choice. Digital transformation is happening in all sectors, especially the energy world; we need to provide more efficient and sustainable solutions to our customers. This totally resonates with Rexel’s purpose: “Electrifying solutions that make a sustainable future possible”. Digital covers many different topics, but it is not being digital for the sake of being digital. First, it increases customer experience, and it helps them be more efficient and sustainable. For instance, small contractors and electricians look to place orders quickly. We developed a simplified process to support them in ensuring they have the complete order and everything they need for their projects. We also provide them with some solutions for cross-sale product recommendations. At the end of the day, we are helping them to complete the order with better offers. On a larger scale, if you look at industrial customers, manufacturers, for example, they are looking more for complete product data because they need very technical products, so this is where our product detail page comes in. We focus on providing best in class product data to give the customer all the information they need.

    Another example would be a commercial customer, so they would need more EDI (Electronic Data Interchange) solutions, which are procurement solutions. It is vital to develop digital solutions to meet customers' needs. For example, we have developed AI solutions to better understand customer behaviour so we can offer them solutions and products that totally fit their needs.


    At Rexel, most of us share this goal of 50% of digital sales by 2027. The fact that it's digital is not a choice. Digital transformation is happening in all sectors, especially the energy world; we need to provide more efficient and sustainable solutions to our customers.


    You have a very international background having studied your Bachelors in Germany and worked in the United States. How do you think these experiences have impacted you as a person, and perhaps even your leadership style?

    I have continuously evolved in a very international environment.  It makes you understand differences and accept that they can create a more innovative and exciting environment. I read an article from Hubert Joly, a professor at Harvard Business School and the former CEO of Best Buy. He says leaders should be more caring.  He mentions in the article the different values that a leader, or a carer, should have: authenticity, vulnerability, humility, empathy, and humanity. They are the values that matter most to me that I try to apply most in my ‘careship.’


    Authenticity, vulnerability, humility, empathy, and humanity. They are the values that matter most to me that I try to apply most in my careship.


    While in the US you worked for Rexel for four years, first as a Business Development Director and then as a Marketing Director. Could you tell us more about your experience working in the US? What differences did you notice with working in Europe?

    I had the amazing opportunity to experience working in the US with Rexel for five years. I noticed they have a different approach to working, compared to France. The big difference is that American people are generally very goal-oriented. They are very positive, and energetic. I don't want to generalise, but this is what I noticed and experienced with Rexel. They are also risk-takers. You learn by experience. It is fantastic if you succeed, but it is also great if you fail - you will learn a lot from that. Another difference is that meetings are very structured, towards achieving these goals; they leave more place for execution. I learnt a lot from the US style of working, and I now try to mix this with French methods - it is fantastic to take the best from the US and the best from Europe and France.

    I had some difficulties readjusting when I came back to Europe. In our culture, we like to argue and discuss a lot. The topics of the meeting and the goals are constantly changing. There is a lot of discussion before a decision is made because we want to analyse everything and ensure we don't take too many risks. On the contrary, in the US it is less talk, more action.  I am trying to continue to apply the enthusiasm, energy, and the "it is okay to fail" mindset to my work now. All in all, it is one of the most exciting experiences I've had outside of France. I learnt a lot, professionally and personally.


    You joined WIL’s Talent Pool Programme in March 2023. What do you expect to get out of this experience at the end of the 12 months?

    I am very grateful to have joined this programme. At first, I was not sure if it was really for me. I was looking at all the young women; I am closer to my fifties than my thirties so I thought I would feel out of place. However, I am expecting to get inspired by these strong leaders and share with my peers how to grow self-confidence and clarify goals, both professionally and personally. When I came back from the US, I I had to readjust, and I was confused about my future and about what my next big step would be. Now, this programme is helping me gain self-confidence and grow my leadership.


    To finish, what advice would you give to young girls who want to hold leadership positions in the future?

    What is most important is to believe in yourself. I think it is okay to have ups and downs; just ask for help, dare, and be yourself. Do not try to be someone else. If you want to join a company that offers many opportunities for women who wish to thrive, join Rexel. It is a company where, as a woman, I feel good, energised, and where people trust me.

    What is most important is to believe in yourself. I think it is okay to have ups and downs; just ask for help, dare, and be yourself. Do not try to be someone else.

    Video edited by Claudia Heard

  • 07 Nov 2023 12:14 | Anonymous

    Meet our WTP8 Talent Maria Lucia Portocarrero, Global Climate & Circular Economy Programme Manager at Tarkett. She speaks to us about what motivates her, the challenges of sustainable growth, and the importance of being in touch with your core values.

    Interviewed by Meike Schneiders

    To get started and to get to know you, could you please give us a little background on how you came to your current position at Tarkett?

    I was born and raised in Nicaragua and went to university there to study industrial engineering. From there I worked in a brewery as a project planner for five years, which was a super exciting environment as it was very fast paced. During my time there, however, I started to ask myself what I really wanted to do and wanted to find more purpose in my career. So, I decided to go back to university while I was still working, and I chose a hybrid programme with a focus on public policy, renewable energy and the environment. This really motivated me to change my career and I decided to do a full-time Masters in Management of Eco-Innovation in France. It was a very intuitive decision and 4 months later I was living and studying in France. While I was there, I met a woman who had come to speak at an event about sustainability and cradle to cradle. I approached her and told her that what she said really inspired and resonated with me and that I would love to learn more. This conversation led to an internship opportunity with her. Although not planned, this was the beginning of my stay in Europe, and I have not returned to Nicaragua to this day.


    Tarkett is a world leader in innovative and sustainable flooring, and you are helping to shape the company as Programme Manager for the Global Climate & Circular Economy Programme. What excites you most about your work at Tarkett and your current position?

    For me it is about two things. One is impact. Tarkett is a very large company. It produces about 1.3 million square metres of flooring a day, so that's a lot of surface area. With that in mind, I can actually improve the sustainability of the flooring in all those instances. When you put that into perspective, it becomes really rewarding. It is pretty cool to take a step back from my day-to-day work and see how impactful it is.

    Secondly, it is the changes that have taken place over the 10 years that I have been working at Tarkett. My colleagues are becoming more and more aware of sustainability issues and their commitment to it is becoming much more than just a job. Their sincere belief in it is now really becoming an internal driving force within the company. To see this change and motivation all around me is really rewarding and inspiring.


    It is pretty cool to take a step back from my day-to-day work and see how impactful it is.


    What did you learn from working abroad in Brussels? And what qualities or attitudes did you bring with you from Nicaragua that help you in your daily work?

    I really feel at home in Europe now and I have integrated into the culture of Europe and Brussels. In my first years here, however, the fact that I was from Nicaragua was more present. Nevertheless, what has always stayed with me is my optimism, enthusiasm, and thirst for learning. When I started working here, I really wanted to learn, and for about 4 years I was in a very intense ‘study-mode.’ Also, I think my background helped me to integrate and understand cultural differences. It really encouraged me to work and learn with different people from different cultures. As I work with partners from all over the world, this regularly comes in handy and is a useful asset.


    What has always stayed with me is my optimism, enthusiasm, and thirst for learning


    You have a very holistic understanding of sustainability, including the well-being and health of people and the environment. What aspect of sustainability do you think more people need to be aware of?

    This is a difficult question, but I will be very direct and address something that is not very popular in mainstream sustainability - the fact that we can't talk about sustainability if we don't question growth. But challenging that paradigm is a super important step, as is critically analysing current measures of human well-being and prosperity. For me, this is something that is at the heart of sustainability and needs so much more attention.

    The cradle-to-cradle framework mentioned earlier can be a good way to challenge current structures and beliefs and try to move towards a circular economy. However, for me there is a blind spot in these theories: the positive impact we can have. Moving towards a more sustainable system is not just about reducing harm, it is about recognising that the small actions we take can actually shape the future of this planet and its people in the most positive way.


    Have you had role models and what was the most valuable piece of advice you received from another woman?

    I never really had role models, but I have met some very inspiring women and what I have learned from them is to live my own truth, to be transparent about your core values and to speak and act in accordance with them.  

    If I could recommend one inspiring woman, I would say listen to Vandana Shiva. She seems to me to be completely in line with her core values and she expresses them through her body language, her speech, and her actions. She has really made me believe that we as women need to speak from our own truth and be coherent about it.


    I have met some very inspiring women and what I have learned from them is to live my own truth, to be transparent about your core values and to speak and act in accordance with them


    You have been a talent in the Women in Talent Pool programme since March 2023. It's probably been a whirlwind since then, but would you be so kind as to share with us one of your most memorable moments from the programme?

    Yes, I think there is definitely one specific moment when I felt extremely inspired and even emotional, and that was at the Annual Gathering in Rome during a meeting with Cristiana Falcone. A scheduled guest speaker could not arrive in time, so instead we, about eight WIL Talents, spent about two hours with her. It was a completely informal exchange about our deepest wishes and dreams, without any restrictions. It was amazing to see all these different dream worlds and rich things that came out of this discussion. Somehow, there was a very intense energy among all these women sharing this safe space and I am so glad that I was one of them.


    Somehow, there was a very intense energy among all these women sharing this safe space and I am so glad that I was one of them.


    And last but not least, if you do have a bit of free time: Which book would you recommend to everyone, or who is your favourite writer?

    Oh, it is so hard to choose just one!  A book that really changed me was "Women Who Run with the Wolves" by Clarissa Pinkola. It was one of those books that really broadened my thinking, but also opened my heart in so many ways. It just reaffirmed my need to live my own truth and be in alignment with myself and my deepest values. Otherwise, you just burn out over time and start to die little by little. But it also taught me that it is okay if that happens. The important thing is to pick yourself up and bring yourself back home and recharge.

    I would also like to mention the book I am currently reading, which so far is really incredible. It is called "The Myth of Normal" and it is written by Gabor Mate. It has just blown me away. It really made me think a lot about what we as a society think is normal, and what is not. Reading this book is really challenging but also so enriching. Finally, I also have to mention "The Power of Now" by Eckhart Tolle. It was just incredible!

    Video edited by Claudia Heard

  • 12 Oct 2023 10:45 | Anonymous

    Meet Fida Jounaidi, Service Data and Integration Delivery Manager at Rexel. In this interview, she talks about her path towards her current management role, her experience leading a team in the STEM field and tips on how to apply your professional skills to other fields like volunteering and event organisation.

    Interviewed by Irene Reyes Suero

    You have a background in telecommunications engineering. What inspired you to pursue a career in STEM?

    I have a Bachelor's in computer and telecommunication engineering and studying in this area always felt like a natural path for me because I am surrounded by family members who studied science, engineering, and mathematics.

    What also influenced me was that, since childhood, I have been curious about things and have done experiments where I could on elements, nature, and animals (without hurting them, of course!) I like observing; I like finding answers and solving problems. When I chose to study STEM, I thought it would give me the freedom to constantly learn new things and break up the repetitive workdays. I can get bored quite quickly, so I like to be challenged, to learn new things and to improve myself.


    In 2016 you took a step towards your first management position. What motivated you to take this jump?

    My first management experience goes back a little further, to 2008, but at that time I was technically managing projects and teams on a smaller scale. Since the beginning of my professional career, I have taken up leadership positions naturally, and I always like doing it in a collaborative way: working with a team and within a team, supporting others, training and coaching them, and helping them understand different concepts. As I mentioned before, I like solving problems and love to bring ideas to life, and for me, this is one of the purposes of being a project manager: to bring ideas to life, not leave them only as a theory. For that, I also need to be challenged; I need to be surrounded by a team. In 2016 I had my first opportunity to manage my own team and started leading more extensive programmes, such as resourcing, communications and steering committees. It was an evolution from an experience in the technical management of projects to more business management of programming, projects and teams. It was a growth in my career and a natural path for me.

    I like solving problems and love to bring ideas to life, and for me, this is one of the purposes of being a project manager: to bring ideas to life, not leave them only as a theory.


    You are an Integration Delivery Manager at Rexel. What does your day-to-day work look like?

    I was promoted two months ago to the position of Service Data and Integration Delivery Manager. I am still the Integration Delivery Manager; this new role is an extension. Now in my current role, I take on different responsibilities, including supporting strategic transformation projects across Rexel countries. I am part of Rexel Development, where my role is to help and support countries in their digital transformation projects by overseeing their integration development roadmap. We onboard and support the countries from design to production, developing document standards and methodologies around integration. To achieve my goals, I rely on a team of about fifteen teammates who support me in my work.

    My day-to-day is mainly collaborating and supporting my team in their daily tasks. I work closely with the country's IT and business teams, and I oversee team coordination. I also provide a lot of technical guidance, mainly in project management. I do risk management, working with the architects, the infrastructure team, and the cybersecurity team to ensure the quality of what we are delivering, to ensure it fits with the right standards, and to be careful that we do not provide anything that breaches security. In addition to supporting my team, I also manage the budget and human resources, and I provide service support to my manager. For me, it is essential to celebrate small achievements and successes. Each day we have a win to celebrate, and I like that about my job.


    For me, it is essential to celebrate small achievements or small successes. Each day we have a win to celebrate, and I like that about my job.


    What has your experience been of holding a management position in a male-dominated industry? Is there any advice you would give to young girls entering this field?

    I was not a manager during my first five years of experience, so I did not notice it was a male-dominated world. I discovered this when I arrived in Paris. I did my engineering studies in Tunisia where there were few gender differences in this domain and as many young women as men joining engineering studies. However, if I think about my current experience as a manager, it is another story. Being a manager in a male-dominated domain is challenging. It was not so easy to tell yourself this truth and admit there might be a gender gap in this field.  Nowadays, when I arrive at a new position, domain, or company, I feel that I need more time to establish and prove myself. There have been times when managers forgot to include me in design or technical decisions, so I had to remind them that I am not only executing instructions: I need to be a part of decision-making. I am sure that this reflects the experience of many women working in this field.

    My advice for young women would be to set aside all prejudices and gender biases and convince yourself that there are no differences in competencies. That way you will discover that there is no specific domain for men or women. If you like to be continuously challenged, learn science and technology, and are curious, STEM is an excellent domain to be in.


    If you like to be continuously challenged, learn science and technology, and are curious, STEM is an excellent domain to be in.


    What influenced you to join WIL's Talent Pool Programme? What are you hoping to get out of this experience?

    Last year I had the opportunity to be invited to the 10th anniversary of WIL in Paris. It was a click moment: I saw that I wanted to join this initiative and network; I wanted to meet and exchange with these impressive women. What I hope from this programme is to learn and get inspired by senior women, gain tools, self-confidence, be more efficient, become less afraid of trying things, have the courage to make mistakes and go outside my comfort zone. I also hope to get some tips for finding a good balance between personal and professional life. Even if I joined for only a few months again, I feel I have already started to spread my wings. I am already learning tips and getting tools.


    I see that, apart from your professional life, you are also involved in volunteering activities, notably being a member of the organising committee of Festival Ciné-Palestine. What moved you to get involved in the world of cinema?

    I grew up in a family that attaches great importance to the arts, particularly Palestinian culture. I am Palestinian, Tunisian, and French and my father is Palestinian. I was immersed in the love  of arts, dance and films, particularly Palestinian film because my father liked cinema. I had a lot of opportunities to go and watch Palestinian movies while growing up in Tunisia. When I moved to Paris, I hoped to find the same. After learning about the creation of Festival Ciné-Palestine, I joined the initiative in 2015. It is an initiative created by a group of cinema lovers to enable Parisian and French festival goers discover the richness of Palestinian cinema. It has been a way to meet and discover my Palestinian identity, which, for me, is found more through the art path, which has no borders.

    A group of volunteers, usually multinational, multilingual women, organise the festival. Since  I have always liked working collectively in a group, I wanted to give the festival the benefit of my experience as a project manager. I love this initiative because, in addition to getting exposure to culture and arts, I am learning a lot at an organisational level since I oversee fundraising. I have taken on different responsibilities during my nine years of volunteering at the festival. Previously I was a coordinator, where I learned to communicate, broker media partnerships, and more. I am also part of the film selections. Now I have less time to take part in this initiative, but I am still learning a lot and having the time to discover films. We are now showing photograph exhibitions, doing round tables with artists, not only with film directors but also painters, photographers, and so on. This extension to other fields continues to impress me.


    What advice would you give to someone who wants to combine their work life with their passions?

    When we love something, we will always enjoy finding time to do it. I advise being curious, passionate, and true to yourself. Take time to breathe. Take time to focus on yourself. From my side, I meditate by doing yoga or practicing Sufi dance, which is a form of meditation. It is essential to take this time to take a step back and think: am I pursuing something I want to do, not only in my professional life but also in my personal life? We need to take care of our health; for that, we need to do whatever we love, but also to take some time and rest.


    When we love something, we will always enjoy finding time to do it. I advise being curious, passionate, and true. Take time to breathe. Take time to focus on yourself.



    Video edited by Claudia Heard

  • 26 Sep 2023 12:01 | Anonymous


    Interviewed by Chaminiee Ilangakoon

    Meet our WTP Talent, Fatima-Zahra Samaoui, IC Country Partner at Orange Morocco. She speaks about how her view of growth and career has changed over the years, what motivates her to keep working to become the best version of herself, and why women must strive for a seat at the table.

     

    You have been at Orange since 2011 in various roles. What is it about the company that has kept you engaged for over 10 years?

    I've been with Orange for over a decade now. I joined the company when I was very young and the journey that I’ve been on has been, personally and professionally, very rewarding. What has kept me engaged at Orange has been, firstly, the company's commitment to innovation. Ours is a company that continually seeks to push boundaries in the telecommunications industry. For me, it is important to be a part of an organisation that allows me to contribute to challenging, cutting edge projects, and to really feel that I am a part of the digital transformation in my market.

    Secondly, the multicultural and varied work environment that Orange offers has been a strong motivation. Orange has allowed me to work in different markets - B2B markets, B2C markets, wholesale markets – and in different geographies. I've worked across Europe, in the UK and France, and in Morocco with Western African countries. This has been a great opportunity to discover different ways of working and of understanding business.

    The third and final factor is Orange’s commitment to inclusion and diversity. As a woman who grew up in Morocco and studied in France, Orange has offered me an environment where I have felt in my place and with all opportunities open to me. This has certainly made me stay loyal and engaged within the company.

     

    To what extent has your journey been in line with what you expected when you started on Orange’s Graduate Programme?

    When I started the graduate programme, I was just coming out from school and my expectations were high. Now I can confidently say that my journey at Orange has exceeded these expectations. Why? I have participated in many trainings, development programmes and mentoring, and I have received a strong foundation and support throughout my career. I have had the opportunity to grow both vertically and horizontally by exploring different functions and markets, and this remains the case today. All in all, I'm very happy with my experience so far!


    What has been one of the greatest lessons for you during your professional life so far? Is there anything that you would do differently if you had the chance?

    One of the greatest lessons I have learned is, in Sheryl Sandberg’s words, the importance of having and taking a seat at the table as a woman. This concept really focuses on how important it is for women to be present and to have an active role in decision making processes, and to truly take a seat. Even if this seat is not offered to you, just take it. If you think that your voice brings value to the company and to the business, realise the power of being present as a woman and voicing your ideas, of actively contributing to discussions, and of always seeking a place at the table.


    It is important for women to be present and to have an active participation in decision making processes and to truly to take a seat. Even if this seat is not offered to you, just take it.


    This didn’t come naturally to me. I was not raised that way. Even during my studies, I didn’t tend to speak out because I was afraid of being seen as bossy. But what I realise now is that this approach doesn't work. You need to make your perspective heard and to influence outcomes if you really think that it will drive positive change for the business and the working environment.

    To answer the second part of your question, if I had the chance to do things differently, I would focus more on building stronger networks and alliances with like-minded individuals, both women men. I would also seek more to be more connected with people who share the goal of promoting gender equality and inclusivity and are willing to drive this change. And it's not too late for that, I think.


    You are currently the IC Country Partner for Morocco. Can you share a bit about what your role entails?

    My role is split between two activities, with two main roles. The first role is focused on sales development. I manage business and strategic commercial relations with other telecom operators in my region of North Africa. My second role is that of local team leader, which involves attracting and retaining talent in our local team and fostering a positive and inclusive work culture. It is important for me to ensure alignment with our company's vision and values and make people feel great in their jobs!

     

    What energises you most about your work?

    Helping people to feel really connected to their jobs and themselves. This is so crucial today. My team and colleagues are relatively young, and it's very important for them to have this alignment: to feel that they are useful, that they are bringing something and having impact. What really energises me is to help others and support team members to realise their full potential. Doing so is incredibly rewarding.


    What really energises me is to help others and support help team members to realise their full potential. Doing so is incredibly rewarding.


    Another thing that brings me energy is travelling to other African countries to see my customers. It gives me the opportunity to be immersed in different cultures and different ways of doing business. I get to see digital transformation in a variety of countries and cultures and how it can impact communities and people's lives. It is a side of my job that I really enjoy.


    What is your experience as a working woman? Do you see barriers for women in the workplace?

    The answer is yes. As a working woman, I experience both opportunities and challenges.

    Today we still have barriers like the underrepresentation of women in leadership roles. Although our CEO, Christel Heydemann, is the first woman CEO for Orange Group and for such a big telco company, there remains a stubbornly low rate of female representation at the top level of organisations, and as such women still have a lack of role models and mentors. If you ask students coming out of business or engineering school, “Who is your role model?”, they will answer Elon Musk or Bill Gates, and you never hear them mention a female role model. It would be great to have students coming out from school saying, “My role model is Sheryl Sandberg or Christine Lagarde.” That's the first real barrier for females in the workplace.

    The second one is work-life balance. I'm a mother of two sons. I know what it is to go on maternity leave and to have to live up to certain expectations. Here in Morocco, people expect that your main role is at home and with your kids, that your career is not a priority. It is a vision of the world where women are supposed to make choices between family and career. But for me it is not about making choices. I can do my best in every area of my life and try to be aligned to my wishes and values. At the same time, I'm not a superwoman and I cannot excel everywhere. I try to be me and to give energy to my work, to build projects and overcome challenges, but still being a mum and a woman, having friends and going out.


    I try to be me and to give energy to my work, build projects and overcome challenges, but still being a mum and a woman, having friends and going out.


    And there is a third one for me. Today, we're still having debates about difference in salaries between men and women. I don't understand why anyone would find it natural for a man who is in a leadership position to have a higher salary, and yet inequalities persist. In my discussions with mentors, with other women who have had remarkable career journeys, I see that the financial part is still a challenge for us.


    How have you built confidence and resilience over the course of your career?

    I have built confidence and resilience by going outside of my comfort zone: by seeking new challenges and exploring news areas, even if I don't feel comfortable and am not confident. That would be the first factor. The second one is that I come from a family of boys. I only have brothers and I think that has played a significant role in shaping my growth throughout my career.

    Growing up, I was the nice, good student who was always asking for permission to talk, to have a seat at the table, and always apologising for having an opinion. I quickly understood in the different positions and job roles that I held that this wasn’t helping me, nor my company. So, one day I decided to stop trying to be the ‘première de la classe’. This idea has been popularised by Sheryl Sandberg with what she calls the ‘Tiara syndrome’, where you expect other people to tell you: “Wow, you're doing a great job. You're a good girl”. I stopped expecting other people to tell me that I've done a good job and stared telling myself: I'm going to do a great job and I'm going to highlight this with facts and figures. I'm not expecting rewards; what I'm expecting is to develop myself and challenge myself on my journey. That's it.


    I'm not expecting rewards, what I'm expecting from myself is to develop myself and challenge myself in my journey. That's it.


    What are your passions, occupations, and motivations outside of your work?  

    When I'm not working at Orange, my family is my passion. I'm a mother of two sons, a five-year-old and 10-month-old and I love watching them grow up. Each day is a new experience, a new learning for them: how to walk, how to talk, how to ask for things; asking philosophical questions about the universe that are difficult to answer. I really enjoy it. Another passion of mine is boxing. It allows me to stay active, to relieve stress and push myself physically and mentally. 

    Video Edited by Claudia Heard

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