Connecting, inspiring and empowering women to lead the way
Interviewed by Juliette Gill
Meet our WTP8 Talent Larissa Cenan, Head of Legal, Ethics and Compliance at Capgemini Romania. In this interview, she tells us about her career within the legal field, how important values are for her at work and in her personal life, where these values stem from, and much more.
You have had quite a varied and remarkable legal career, from starting out as a Paralegal, to making court appearances in your work in real estate, to becoming Head of Legal, Ethics and Compliance at Capgemini Romania. Could you walk us through what inspired you to pursue a career in this field, and what led you to where you are today?
It might sound cliché, but I wanted to pursue a career in the legal field because, since my childhood, I have always loved helping people. So, the first and main reason why I chose to enter this profession was because I wanted to interact with people. The second reason was that reading has always been one of my biggest passions and, to become a good legal practitioner, it is essential to read a great deal and to read widely. Besides this, I am quite an analytical person who loves analysing and writing, and I have also always been competitive, even though I do not have siblings. Therefore, I think I have a very diverse profile which fits well with the career that I have pursued.
I am very grateful for how my career has turned out: beginning as a paralegal gave me the opportunity to start at a very early stage working with clients, assisting lawyers in court appearances, and so on. I have had an interesting career, which has brought me to be the role of Head of Legal at Capgemini today.
You mentioned having practised sports for an impressive 14 years growing up and have highlighted its importance for you in terms of the values it instils. In your view, what are the values and skills that one gains from practising sports over a lifetime?
My parents made a very smart decision when they decided to enrol me in swimming classes when I was just seven years old. From swimming I learned motivation and endurance. As a swimmer, you really need to have a strong drive and motivation, for instance when you start a competition, or when you want to reach the finish line first. This really shaped my personality. Another important element instilled in me through swimming was endurance.
Later I dropped swimming classes because I wanted to pursue another sport and so I became passionate about handball. The practice of handball is all about being a team player and being strategic, so my experience as a professional athlete in this sport also taught me these two crucial skills.
Besides that, on a personal level, sports gave me a strong mindset and a strong body. Whenever I find myself in need of releasing stress, I go for a run, and I try to run daily. This really helps me to make progress, and not stay stuck in just one place.
I try to run daily. This really helps me to make progress, and not stay stuck in just one place.
There are a lot of positive skills that can be gained from sports. I try to encourage my family to join me while I am running; I have two wonderful children who are full of energy, and having sports in their lives really helps them to release positive and combat negative energy.
You previously mentioned that participating in WIL Europe’s Women Talent Pool (WTP) programme was an opportunity for you to continually educate yourself. Could you share a moment during your time in this programme which was a particularly eye-opening experience?
I can think about several eye-opening experiences so far on the Women Talent Pool programme The WTP is a great programme that I believe will shape both my knowledge and professional development and will boost my career.
To start from the beginning, with our first internal meeting within Capgemini where it was announced that I would be part of the programme: this was huge news for me. I was on a skiing holiday with my family, and suddenly I saw the meeting in my agenda with all our leaders from the Legal department. I said to myself, “I cannot miss this call because it is definitely something big”. I took the call from my phone, in the mountains, wearing all my skiing gear! When our leaders presented what the WIL, what the WTP programme is about, and the opportunities it provides, I felt special to be a part of it. I knew that it would be a huge opportunity for my career.
In the months that followed, we started to receive the invitations for several different WIL gatherings. What I like a lot about the WTP is its structure: it is so well-planned, and it always keeps you eager to attend the next session, workshop, or meeting with a senior leader in the network.
An eye-opening experience for me has been meeting the various WIL Members, all women with strong careers in different fields, and having the opportunity to talk with them. Then there are my fellow members of the 8th edition of the Women Talent Pool programme, who come from a mixture of cultures, have a variety of experiences, and this constitutes a real inspiration for me. It has only been a few months since the beginning, and I already feel the benefits in terms of interactions, boosting of my knowledge, and of my career.
In 2022 you led a D&I (Diversity & Inclusion) project within Capgemini Romania, where you were in charge of hosting conversations to facilitate discussion on subjects such as unconscious biases, and the impact of diversity on competitiveness. Could you tell us a bit more about what you took away from leading this project?
Indeed, I chose to coordinate this Diversity & Inclusion project in Romania in 2022. It was the first time that I had had the chance to choose a project to coordinate. Normally, given my position in the company, the projects chase me and not the other way around!
In 2022, D&I was at the core of our priorities, and it was part of our Employer Branding strategy. The focus was to get feedback and impressions from our employees regarding how D&I impacts their work. It was a great opportunity to take a break, to see what our employees think of how diversity is handled by our leaders within the company. I also had the chance to work with people with whom I do not get to interact on a regular basis. We had discussions in small circles of people, and we tried to have a mix of different genders, cultures, and religions amongst participants. The idea was to gather them all in one place and create a safe environment in which they could say how they were feeling within our company, what recommendations they might have, what could we improve on, and so on.
During this project I saw that I was missing in-depth knowledge when it came to LGBT+ issues, and this was an opportunity to learn more. I also learnt about what biases we may have, and how we can live with bias in our lives.
Recently we also had a small project within our company to commemorate International Women’s Day, called “Embrace Equity”. Alongside my talented colleagues, I was one of the ambassadors for this project. Hence the 2022 D&I project was not the end of the road for me regarding D&I projects within my company.
I like to be proactive, and going out of my comfort zone gives me plenty of opportunities to do this. I chase projects that I believe in, projects which match my mindset, and D&I is something that has a big impact on my life and that of others.
I like to be proactive, and going out of my comfort zone gives me plenty of opportunities to do this.
At Capgemini, as you say, an important element is to “embrace equity”. You have mentioned in the past that we all still have a lot to learn in the field of gender equality and equity. Could you tell us what you have learned in that respect at Capgemini, and how you integrate this into your role?
Thank you for this question. I love it, both because it can offer so many dimensions in terms of answers, and because it is very related to what I am doing within Capgemini.
To start with a simple answer, when we talk about embracing equity, it is important that we differentiate between equality and equity. Both are important, but they are different in many ways. To explain this difference simply: equality is about giving everyone a shoe, while equity is about giving everyone a shoe that fits.
Equality is about giving everyone a shoe, while equity is about giving everyone a shoe that fits.
My role within Capgemini as Head of Legal, Ethics and Compliance is one that must be filled by someone with very strong ethics, values, and standards that are deeply rooted in their life and DNA. Filling this role has helped me to be a role model in terms of values, principles, and professional standards, and it has also given me the opportunity to be part of Capgemini’s ethical culture and the seven values (Capgemini’s seven Values (Honesty, Boldness, Trust, Freedom, Fun, Modesty, Team Spirit) that we have at the core of our business. Having this position means that people really look to you as a person full of values, and therefore you need to embody this with everything that you say and do in the company.
Since the beginning of my life, values have always been important to me. I try to live and take decisions guided by certain standards and values, to follow my identity and what I believe in. It is a lifetime journey! I am still learning and changing every day, not least because there is so much to take in. Our business is very dynamic, as is the industry. The economy in Romania is changing, like it is all around the world. You must be open to change and be flexible. Maybe it will be over when I retire, and maybe not even then!
You are very passionate about reading, whether that is personal development books or other genres. Could you tell us about a book you recently read that strongly impacted you, and how?
Yes, I am completely in love with reading, and books. I try to influence my children to love reading too, and so far, I think the future looks bright from this perspective!
To be honest, I am not the type of person who reads whatever I can get my hands on: I choose my books very wisely. That’s why if I read a book, it is certain that it will impact me strongly, be it in terms of mindset, career, or in another way. I don’t chase books with my eyes closed, I chase books depending on my mood. If I am in a bad space, for instance, I seek out something to read that will boost my energy or help me look beyond my problems.
There is one book that had a particularly big impact on my mindset: Thinking in Bets by Annie Duke. It was eye-opening, both on a professional and personal level. Thinking in Bets really teaches you how to improve your decision-making skills in your day-to-day life. The main takeaway of this book is that, according to the author, there are two things that determine how our lives will turn out: the quality of our decisions, and luck. This is obviously debatable, but if you have the chance to read this book, please do. At the end of this book, I had learnt to make peace with myself. I learnt that it is okay to not be sure of something. That it is fine not knowing everything, or saying “I cannot do that, I need to improve a skill. That it is okay to not always be okay, and to not always be right.
I read firstly to educate myself, as I still have a lot to learn. I also, read to be relaxed and to feel good, to get the positive energy necessary to finish a hard day.
Video edited by Juliette Travaillé
Interview by Meike Schneiders
Meet WTP8 Talent Aroussia Maadi, Automation for Network department Director at Orange. In this interview, she talks about her passion for computer science, what it takes to be a good leader, and why she is committed to developing others.
You have been at Orange since 2008. Last year, you became the department director of the Automation for Network. What excites you most about this new position, which skills have you had to learn, and what has surprised you the most?
What excites me most at Orange are the challenges we are facing to have more connectivity, better quality of service, and network capabilities on demand. The Covid pandemic showed us just how important a good network is. It quickly became visible in many fields such as medical care, education, and in our everyday social interactions. I also enjoy being at Orange because is a very international company and working in such a diverse environment is incredibly stimulating and enriching. I learn new words every day from my Polish and Romanian colleagues!
Today I am managing a department of 70 people, including many experts on network and automation who have amazing profiles. Over the years I have learned how to speak to, motivate and understand them. I really enjoy my job as it involves translating their expertise when needed to our international partners, Orange’s other country offices, and management. My current position requires using negotiation skills and I also get to constantly learn about how artificial intelligence is going to enhance the quality of services and make our operational life at Orange easier.
You are passionate about computer science, a field you studied and to which you have stayed close ever since, and state in your WIL biography that "data is the 21st century's oil". Can you tell us more about what you mean by this and what you think the future of data could look like?
I am Tunisian and French and grew up in Tunisia. When I was a little girl, I loved playing with CD players and all types of machines we had at home because I wanted to understand them and how the technology behind them worked. That is why I chose to pursue a degree in engineering and to work as an engineer. To this day I am passionate about computer science and how machines can improve people’s life and companies’ business. At Orange we generate huge amounts of data every day. Once stored, this data is anonymised for clients’ privacy and to respect EU regulations and is analysed to improve connectivity, quality of service, and user experience. This is why I said that data can be assimilated to oil. It generates big value for our partners, our customers, and to all our lives.
To this day I am passionate about computer science and how machines can improve people’s life and companies’ business.
As a woman in a leadership position, what pressures do you feel the need to live up to and what tips would you give to other women on their way, or just starting out on their leadership journey?
To be honest, as a woman in a leadership position I do not feel specific pressure in my work environment from my colleagues. However, I can put a lot of pressure on myself and dream of being a superwoman who can tackle any problem! This is still something I want to improve on. Nevertheless, there are three small tips that I would give to women starting out in leadership positions. The first one is self-confidence, which is key to leading as a woman or a man. The second one is being authentic. It helps to establish connections with people and teams and tackle problems together. The third one is taking time to network and connect with people in the workplace. Help people grow and you will grow yourself.
Help people grow and you will grow yourself.
As a follow-up question, do you think that women bring certain qualities to leadership and, if so, which are the ones that you most admire?
I am not sure that we can say that women always bring certain qualities to leadership, but diversity in general is certainly beneficial for a company. Diversity brings new ways of seeing things. Its positive impact becomes visible when we see that companies with a higher percentage of women in leadership positions also have better financial results.
You have expressed your interest in feminism and women's empowerment not only at WIL but also through your involvement with ATUGE au Féminin. Can you tell us more about the initiative and your commitment to it?
As I mentioned, I do believe that diversity is key to the success of any organisation. That is why I am interested in advancing gender-balanced leadership and, since 2017, am engaged in an association called ATUGE au Féminin. This is an association bringing together Tunisian engineers in France, whose mission is to promote women's empowerment by organising mentoring sessions and networking events as well as to provide tools to help these women in their professional life. I am mainly engaged in the association's mentorship programme through which women are matched with experienced mentors to help them in their career development. This is a very exciting experience. I am committed to it because it makes a difference, and we have great feedback from the mentees every year on what being mentored has brought to them in their personal life and professional life. My role is to organise the mentorship sessions: analysing all the candidates and then trying to match the mentees and mentors, which is a very complicated but enriching task!
Meet our WTP7 Talent Alessandra Corigliano, Associate at Osborne Clarke. In this interview, she shares with us her journey into the field of law, how she combines this with her personal passions, and an important trait she believes anyone aspiring to work in the field should have.
You have been a part of Osborne Clarke Italy since 2015 and in the last year you became an Associate. How has your role changed since you became as Associate and how is your working life at Osborne Clarke now different from how it was in your previous positions?
Being part of an international law firm like Osborne Clarke gives you the opportunity to see the many international legal facets of a topic, like the different governing laws from foreign countries. This really encourages growth, as it opens a new way of approaching legal issues, especially in the world of business. Since I joined Osborne Clarke in 2015, my role has changed significantly. Initially, I started as a junior lawyer, researching a lot, studying different topics, and writing articles for the firm’s newsletters. Later, as a senior lawyer, I started to handle matters more autonomously and became the main point of contact for a client. Last year I moved to becoming an Associate and now I act even more autonomously. Managing junior lawyers, I must take decisions about the timing and priorities of our work. Being able to develop so much in my work keeps me motivated and challenged every day!
You have a very international academic experience. You did your Academic Degree in Law at the University of Milan, you hold a Master’s degree from the University of Washington School of Law, and you also studied Conflict Resolution and Mediation techniques at Berkeley. How do the European and American approaches to Law, and learning, differ and how did getting to know both perspectives of you help you in your career?
The opportunity to get to know these different countries and legal systems opened my mind and gave me a unique way of approaching legal studies, the law, and how I give legal advice. I was able to learn about civil law countries like Italy and others in Europe, about countries where codified law is dominant like China and Japan, and about common law countries like the United States of America and India. The latter are shaped by a very specific application of law and the practice of it, as the predominant case law is based much more on jurisprudence and judging each case individually. Civil law countries on the other hand are shaped by codes, and practicing law is more an investigative type of work where one is looking for a rule that applies in the specific case. This requires an interpretation of the law, and each case needs to be interpreted in view of the code applied. Therefore, my way of approaching law also differs whether I am dealing with American or European clients. Knowing both systems in depth really help me in being a reliable resource for foreign clients.
The mediation techniques I learned also help me a lot, especially in negotiating contracts between two parties from very different backgrounds and mindsets. Often, their needs, priorities, and what they want to get out of the negotiations differ a lot and conflict resolution and mediation techniques are now such valuable assets to navigate stressful situations. It made me very good at filtering out the essential aspects of a discussion and finding common ground.
The mediation techniques I learned help me a lot, especially in negotiating contracts between two parties from very different backgrounds and mindsets.
Over your years of practice, you have become especially proficient in the general commercial and Intellectual Property field. You are now working for major brands, both Italian and foreign and you focus on the copyright, media, and entertainment sector. What is the special appeal of this area to you?
I used to do Performing Arts when I was in high school, and I loved it so much. I did acting for more than seven years and I have always had a passion for classical arts and theatre. When the time came for me to decide what to do with my life and which area of law to study in-depth, I decided that copyright and the entertainment sector would allow me not to stray too far from my passions. Now, practicing law in the field of music and arts, I have the feeling that I am still connected to these interests, and it makes my work very rewarding. I really enjoy practicing in these areas of law every day.
When advising on IP rights in the Tech, Media and Comms, Retail and Consumers sectors, you are working in a very fast-paced and ever-changing field. Tell us about the growth of Web3 and NFTs for those who are unfamiliar, how it affects your work, and what the biggest challenges are that you predict in the coming period.
At the end of October 2022, Google Cloud announced that it was launching the blockchain node engine, a massive step for the development of web3 and its widespread accessibility. Web3 relies on blockchains, cryptocurrencies, and NFTs to give control back to the users in the form of ownership. For example, NFTs store a record of who owns what, all expressed in the form of blockchains. Each piece of the blockchain contains information and can be understood as a form of smart contract that can be applied to songs, artwork and so much more. The use of NFTs in the world of art and performing art is becoming more and more popular. Therefore, knowledge about a token-based economy and how blockchain works is a plus nowadays and it becomes more important to understand such things as an advising consultant. One of the biggest challenges clients face regarding NFTs and web3 is to truly understand the licenses behind them. Just recently a client from the music industry needed my help with selling their music on the web3 and keeping it safe. Since many people still lack knowledge about web3, it is important to know how it works and what its strengths are to be able to lead a negotiation confidently. It is my task as their advisor to shed some light on this unknown bubble that holds so many opportunities, but also connected risks.
To be able to be such an advisor it is critical to be informed about the newest trends affecting your area of law and to be driven by curiosity. I constantly read newspapers, articles, and press releases with my clients and their cases in the back of my mind. I personally look a lot into all topics concerned with technology and IT as those mainly affect my practice area. For that, it is also important for me to regularly check out big tech companies like Google, Meta, and Amazon and be up to date about their strategies and developments. The logical next step for me is to reflect on these new paths and think about their effect on the law and the challenges they pose.
Having gained quite some experience in the field what would be your piece of advice for current law students and future legal consultants to be?
My biggest advice would be to always stay curious and eager to learn. Look for new information and strands of thought everywhere and try to be as open-minded as possible. Even though you want to succeed in law, it is important to not only be stuck in your own realm and to branch out. Getting background information in your practice area is a very important part of becoming a good advisor. For me personally, it was also extremely valuable to learn in different places and to go around the world, visiting foreign countries and cultures.
My biggest advice is to always stay curious and eager to learn. Look for new information and strands of thought everywhere and try to be as open-minded as possible.
Juggling your Job at Osborne Clarke and being a mum, it must be hard to make time for yourself. What is an unnegotiable act of self-care you do for yourself?
What really helps me is to spend some quality time with my kids where I fully focus on their needs, even if it is just a few hours a week. I also make time for me as an individual, for instance by going for a run or reading a book. It is important for me to have quality time, for myself, with my kids, or with my partner and friends. This helps me to balance out my day-to-day life and do a great job in my private and professional life.
Having kids and seeing them being so curious about everything new that they encounter has really helped me to find motivation to constantly want to learn something new as well. It has had a great influence on my work at Osborne Clarke.
Video edited by Marella Ricketts
In this interview, meet our WTP7 Talent Roseline Azambou, Software Manager at Rexel France. She shares her perspective on working in a male dominated environment, how she broke into her field, and the various initiatives in which she is involved to support communities in-need.
Interview by Juliette Gill
Initially you started your education in biochemistry but then you did a Master’s in marketing and management, and never turned back. Your track record and achievements show that this was a very successful switch. How and why did you make the choice to go down this road?
I started my studies in Cameroon, where I spent the first 15 years of my life, after which I moved in France where I obtained my International Baccalaureate with a focus on sciences. I then decided to pursue my studies in the sciences and obtained my master’s degree in biochemistry. After my bachelor’s and master’s, I decided to carry out various internships, initially with the intention of becoming a researcher. However, I quickly realised that, even if my path corresponded to my aspiration to become a researcher, it was not the area in which I would be able to fully blossom, and so I decided to change.
I did some babysitting during my student days and during this time I met a woman who had held high positions in large companies in France. She told me one day that she saw a marketing side in me, rather than a scientific side. She mentioned that some big schools were recruiting high-level students with master’s degrees from different backgrounds to give them additional business training to get into senior positions in the field of sales, marketing, and accounting. After researching and having several interviews, I joined a master’s cycle and, at the same time, worked as a Product Manager Assistant at Hewlett Packard: it was an apprenticeship combined with studies, and a unique opportunity.
The idea for me was to get a job that combined technical and marketing skills, where I could fully blossom. It was a good idea because I later became a Product Manager and today, I am very happy to be in the marketing field.
STEM isn’t an easy field for women to get into today, so it’s hard to imagine how it was over 20 years ago when you were doing it. Your perseverance is quite remarkable: were there ever any moments when you considered stopping? What kind of obstacles have you faced in your journey?
I’m in a male dominated environment, and it hasn’t always been easy. I’ve always gravitated towards technical environments, whether it was when I started at SCC with IT products, at Ricoh with office automation equipment, or the company where I am today, Rexel, with high tech connected products. I have therefore done a lot of marketing linked to technical ecosystems.
Sometimes, I find myself in meetings where I am the only woman. I’ve met people who asked me, “Why did you choose this job?” Or “Why are you in this meeting?” I simply answer, “Why not?” Or “I’m here because I’m worth it”.
The trap is to question yourself and wonder if you deserve to be where you are. If this happens, the most important thing to remember is that you are there because you belong; it is the right job, at the right moment. If you don’t, you risk going home in the evening and losing the strength to go back to work the next day. It can be difficult sometimes but when you say these things to yourself, things become easier, and you continue moving forward.
The trap is to question yourself and wonder if you deserve to be where you are. If this happens, the most important thing to remember is that you are there because you belong; it is the right job, at the right moment.
There is no denying that you are a woman of ambition: you have reached some very impressive roles in the companies for which you have worked for in the past few years. What is the next step for Roseline Azambou?
Thank you! Before my current role as a Software Manager at Rexel, I was a Product Manager at Ricoh, before being promoted as Software Product Manager to manage a wonderful team.
By accepting Rexel’s offer for the Software Manager position, I stepped out of my comfort zone, as I was completely unfamiliar with the world of building and energy. I had to learn who Rexel is all about, its market, its positioning in the market, its customers, and its offer. I really started from scratch. At the same time, my life has been made much easier since joining the company, thanks to a personalised integration process with, for example, different meetings with executive team members who took the time to explain their activities to me. What I like about Rexel is that when we talk about corporate action, it is not just words on a PowerPoint. I see concrete action in terms of training, employee well-being, inclusion, diversity, and female leadership. It is thanks to Rexel that I am part of WIL Europe’s Women Talent Pool (WTP) leadership programme, which I feel very proud and privileged to be a part of.
I want to grow with this company and take our offer strategy even further. This means adapting and enriching our offer and ensuring that it evolves according to the needs of our customers by basing it on client experiences and requirements, since we all know that users are the first source of innovation.
My path has been influenced by the people whom I have met along the way. There was my previous manager at Ricoh, Thomas Collins, who taught me everything about the role and duty of a manager in a company. Another person who played a key role in my journey was Valerie Desjardins, now Executive Director of Spark Archives, who taught me a great deal about the importance of soft skills in business. Another big influence on me is my current manager Julien Neuschwander, who, through his impartiality, accuracy, and welcoming approach has made my integration into Rexel effortless and enjoyable. I do not know what Rexel has in store for me in the future, but I really like the position I currently hold and am excited about what awaits me in the coming years.
What I like about Rexel is that when we talk about corporate action, it is not just words on a PowerPoint. I see concrete action in terms of training, in terms of employee well-being, inclusion, diversity, and female leadership.
As well as a successful and impressive career, you have been active in driving several personal projects. Could you tell us a bit more about your involvement in ARMF, helping Cameroonian people here in France, but also ensuring their access to water, back in your home country?
I have always been interested in associative work. As you mentioned, I was a member of ARMF, an association for people from Menoua in the west of Cameroon, my native country. The aim of the organisation is to gather people coming from the area and provide support for students, such as textbooks. When I was a student, I was also part of an association whose goal was to provide help with homework for children whose parents did not speak French well.
For this reason, I did not hesitate when I had the opportunity to carry out a personal humanitarian project. A few years ago, when I was building my home in Cameroon, I had to drill a hole to supply my building with water. During the execution of this project, I decided to ensure that there would be water distributed to the entire population of my native district, twice a month. It was my personal initiative, and I used my own funds to drive it forward. In my view everyone can contribute at their own level to the development of a district, a city, or a country.
What do you do for a healthy work-life balance? Tell us a bit about your passion for music, for dance, and how this helps you in finding balance. Have you found that it is a way for you to destress from your high responsibility roles?
Yes of course, I need to destress! Sometimes the days are very long. I remember that during the lunch at the WIL event in Belgium in March, WTP patron Pervenche Berès advised taking two hours to take care of ourselves and our children when returning home, even if that means returning to our work in the evening. During the WIL Europe 10th anniversary event in Paris last October, WIL President Thaima Samman spoke about doing yoga to achieve a balance between work and our private lives. Even senior leaders understand the need to take time out for self-care!
To reach a healthy work-life balance, I do fitness-related activities and dance. It really helps me to destress on the days when the pressure is high. I particularly like African and blues music. To calm down before or after work, I like listening to artists such as Ray Charles and Lionel Richie. I also like to go out dancing on the weekends with my husband and friends. I travel to countries where I can listen and dance to salsa, like Cuba and the Dominican Republic. All of this helps me to establish a balance between my private and professional life. To me this is fundamental: you cannot succeed in your work if you do not destress from time to time.
As someone who is part of the 7th cohort of the WTP Programme, what have you found to be the most beneficial part for you, both personally and professionally? What has been the most eye-opening experience that you had, being around so many women in leadership?
It is an honour and a great opportunity for me to be part of this programme which allows emerging leaders to meet truly inspiring and exceptional women with incredible backgrounds. I really like the mentoring part, where we can address professional and personal aspects with an experienced career development leader. We benefit from advice on managing meetings and presentations, managing conflict, and other things that fall under “leadership”.
The WTP is an amazing programme and what I’ve learned from it is how to dare: how to dare when you’re the only woman in a meeting, how to dare and keep talking so you can finish your sentence, how to dare and manage a project from beginning to end.
What is so unique about this programme is the opportunity to network with the senior-level women. If you have any questions, you can just reach out to women working in your field and receive advice. To be part of WTP7 is a great opportunity, so I thank the women in Rexel who created the partnership with WIL Europe: Constance Grisoni and Nathalie Wright, but also the HR collaborators Charlotte Douay and Carine Penigault. I would also like to thank all the women who ask for diversity, inclusion, and women’s wellbeing here at Rexel, for enabling me to be part of WTP, and be the only woman from Rexel France on the programme. When I talk about the WTP to my friends, they are very impressed and want to be part of the programme as well. What I tell them is this: talk to your company’s HR department and maybe they can establish a partnership with WIL Europe!
Introducing Ajita Abraham, General Counsel, Capgemini Financial Services NA. In this interview, she talks about the importance of mentorship and having support groups, and the challenges and joys of pursuing law as a woman.
Interview by Chaminiee Gombault
Before we get into speaking about your career, I would like to understand more about your roots and foundations that have possibly contributed to your successes. Growing up, what were your hobbies and dreams? What would the 15-year-old you think of you today?
My father came to the United States from India in 1960, so he was one of the first Indians to arrive. He came on a Spanish ship with $200 in his pocket to pursue his graduate studies. He then went back to India and met my mom. They had an arranged marriage, after which they came to the United States to start a new life in a new culture. So that is the background to the environment in which I was raised. It is really a story of being brave, being bold and pursuing the American dream.
I grew up in Delaware where I went to a private school and where my sister and I were the only Indian-Americans. I became very used to morphing between American culture and the Indian culture at home and in our community. We took classical Indian dance and spoke our native tongue at home. Keep in mind that these were the days when Bollywood was not heard of, and saris were considered quite foreign.
Growing up in this very bi-cultural environment really helped me to adapt to new situations and to be curious about different cultures. I think that really drove me and was a main focal point when setting my future goals.
The 15-year-old me would probably be very surprised to see me living in New York City and in the role that I am in now. When I was 15, I became interested in pursuing a career as a diplomat, and although my career has gone in a different direction, I am quite sure the 15-year-old me would be pleasantly surprised to see where I have landed.
Growing up in this very bi-cultural environment really helped me to adapt to new situations and to be curious about different cultures, and I think that really drove me and was a main focal point when setting my future goals.
You studied international relations at university before going on to law. Did you always know what you wanted to study? What or who influenced your decisions?
What is funny is that that I grew up initially wanting to become a paediatrician. Then, when I was 15, I went to Spain for a summer and lived with a family in the south of Spain, after which I went to visit my sister who was studying in London. That is really when I became excited about travelling and learning about different cultures and immersing myself into new situations.
I became very interested in International Relations and took several courses at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. I ended up going into law because it seemed like the safer career. When I was working at JP Morgan, I took the foreign service exam, which I passed, and almost became a foreign service officer. But I decided to stick with law, since I really enjoyed it and wasn’t ready to give it up. During my career, I lived and worked in Madrid for a year, and travelled extensively. I also lead a global team, so in my career path I have been able to combine both my legal background and my interest in diplomacy.
Careers always look so linear and straightforward on LinkedIn, and in your case, incredibly impressive as well. I would like to go past these titles and know more about what it was like as a woman pursuing law. Have you had any mentors or support in your career?
Just touching on what you mentioned about being a woman in law school, I would say that it is split 50-50 between women and men. Certainly, in company legal departments, women are not necessarily a minority.
To go back to mentorship and working with other women, I do think that a bigger challenge has actually been working with the generation of women above mine. This generation of women lawyers struggled and worked very hard and were not able to achieve the same work-life balance as subsequent generations. Many had to sacrifice having children to take on very long working hours and move up the corporate ladder. It may seem surprising, but I had a female boss who was not very supportive when I said that I wanted to go on maternity leave and wanted me to return to work after one month. For me, this is an indication of how much women in the prior generation had to sacrifice to get to where they are.
A lot has changed. There is more understanding thanks to the Covid push for more hybrid work. There is greater understanding about both men and women needing to raise children and balance work and raising a family. I do think that the upcoming generations are being more assertive about what they want and need, and I commend them for that. There are many studies which show that offering the chance to work from home creates more productive workers and relieves a lot of stress, so it is no surprise that a lot has changed, even since the time that I had my first child 17 years ago.
Back to mentoring, I did have a mentor when I was working at McKinsey who really supported me to take an opportunity abroad, and that is when I worked in Madrid. She knew I was really interested in expanding the breadth and scope of my work to handling European and Middle Eastern deals and assisted me in making this move. It was life-changing to be able to work in another jurisdiction as a lawyer.
There is greater understanding about both men and women needing to raise children and balance work and raising a family. I do think that the upcoming generations are being more assertive about what they want and need, and I commend them for that.
Was there ever a time when you faced gender bias?
I do not want to chalk it up to gender; things are always very nuanced. I think the days where it was obvious that there was clear discrimination are thankfully behind us. It may still exist, but fortunately I haven't experienced it lately.
Today there is a lot more use of buzz words like ‘’executive presence’’ to describe modern-day leadership — I find this to be a very elusive term and it tends to be used mostly against women, sometimes to the point of excluding them from the seat at the table for important discussions. Often it is subtle and unintentional. I think that there is still room for recognising that sometimes we just need to give women a seat at the table and let them prove their worth.
I see it across many companies, and it comes up often in conversations with friends. There is a lot of talk about diversity but at the end of the day, when it comes to promoting women to the higher-level positions, there seems to be a little bit of hesitation, even though there are women who are ready to be promoted.
There is a lot of talk about diversity but at the end of the day, when it comes to promoting women to the higher-level positions there seems to be a little bit of hesitation, even though there are women who are ready to be promoted.
How have you faced challenges in your career and how do you use lessons learned from such challenges as a manager?
Every role presents new challenges, but I see these hurdles as good growth opportunities!
It takes a village to progress in your career and a lot of support from family, mentors and other leaders in the industry. In my case, they were many role models in the legal industry and in the business teams. I have been given good advice as I have moved from one company to another which has been invaluable. I also lean on family, friends and co-workers for support.
In my own team, I have had a few women who have had children during their tenure with me, and I am always very supportive of them taking time off if they need, knowing that they can make up for the hours later. I do not micromanage; I believe there should be a level of trust. The notion of the 9 to 5 job in the office with zero flexibility is a concept of the past. I really think that we need to provide that type of flexibility to everyone. There is no point in having people stressed in the workplace. As I mentioned earlier, people work harder and are more dedicated when offered some flexibility.
You have been a Deputy General Counsel at Capgemini for two years and were recently promoted to a General Counsel role. Can you share a bit about your day to day? What do you love and what do you find more challenging?
I have been a Deputy General Counsel for a global business unit, which involves about seven employees in the United States and 21 globally. As Deputy General Counsel, and in my new role as General Counsel, my goal is to support the business teams who are focused on global capital markets, banking and insurance accounts and assist them with any legal issues. The day to day really involves negotiating contracts, responding to emergency issues with employee relations or cybersecurity and establishing appropriate compliance and legal policies. Of course, managing the team and making sure that there is consistency from a jurisdictional perspective throughout the various countries on certain terms is part of the job as well. I think what I really enjoy the most is interacting with the business teams, providing strategic advice, and determining how to make a deal work despite potential risks.
Beyond your role at Capgemini, you are many other things to family, friends, and your community. What are your priorities right now and how do you balance these to find time for yourself?
The London marathon was my sixth marathon and I think it might be my last. It took a lot of time out of my weekends, but I was happy I did it and got back into shape post-Covid. I have three children—a 17-year-old, a 15-year-old, and an 11-year-old. Having teenagers and a tween at home, it is important to understand what they are doing and make sure that things are going well from an academic and social perspective.
On top of that, I am always interested in enhancing my skills. I still take Spanish classes to perfect my conversational Spanish. I would love to take French classes so I can come and live in Paris one day! I enjoy skiing, swimming and biking and would love to take on a new sport in the future. It is important to have a balance between work, staying active, social life and personal interests – and, to keep challenging yourself!
Introducing Krystelle Lochard, Head of Partnerships at Save the Children Germany. She talks about the important skills to have to manage relationships with partners and to lead a team towards a common vision, what working abroad has taught her, and what personally drives her in her career.
Interview by Tessa Robinson
You’ve been with Save the Children for approximately 7 years, the last 5 years as a Team Lead. Could you describe a little more about your current role as Head of Partnerships at Save the Children Germany and how you ended up in the non-profit sector?
I started with Save The Children about seven years ago, and I'm now heading the partnerships team. We focus mainly on fund acquisition. In the non-profit sector, an organisation like Save the Children looking at human rights and children's rights worldwide needs funding to be able to fulfil its mission, and we get our funding from private and public entities. The work I am doing is about looking for the right partners to support us to achieve change and a better situation for children in need.
I started my career in Brussels as a policy analyst, working on EU policy. After this, I took up a role in Berlin with a small NGO where I worked on development through sports, which included working with children and looking at how sports can empower them. This was a very enriching experience because it was building the organization from scratch, getting partners to understand development through sports, which was not well known at that time. I then joined Save the Children in 2015, which is a bigger entity with a larger capacity to scale up and have a greater reach, with about 100 offices worldwide.
As Head of Partnerships, you are responsible for relationship management between donors and partners. Could you describe the skills and personal qualities you feel are important, both in managing a team and in managing external partnerships successfully?
I think that, to manage partnerships well, you need to be an analyst first and foremost, observing the trends within your sector and the strategies of your partners and potential partners, always keeping the big picture in mind for your organisation. At Save the Children, this means focusing on the needs of children around the world. My role involves looking at different policies and governmental priorities and bringing those different strategies and objectives together. For this, you need good knowledge of the sector in which you are working. Last year, for example, Germany put in place a Supply Chain Act, which has had a large impact on the private sector since companies had to comply with human rights norms across their whole supply chain. We had to ask ourselves some important questions, like how could we work with this given the impact for our private sector partners? How could we support our partners, coordinate between them and this policy, and what could we contribute? In our work we also pay great attention to what a new policy means for the children in the sourcing countries. For this, good analysis is needed, as well as an understanding of partners, to harmonise different objectives and needs. These are important qualities in my role. As a team leader, it is also necessary to set clear priorities for the team, to help people understand the vision and where the decisions are coming from. This is key to be able to bring the team on the same journey and empower people to join in.
To manage partnerships well, you need to be an analyst first and foremost, observing the trends within your sector and the strategies of your partners and potential partners, always keeping the big picture in mind for your organisation.
You have studied and worked in several countries including Germany, Japan and France. What attracted you to do so and what would you say has been the impact for your career?
My first motivation was curiosity; to see how people live and work in other parts of the world. My stay in Japan at the very beginning of my studies was a very intensive, enriching experience, because things there are so different, including the language. When you work in an international organisation, you need the capacity to understand other people’s perspectives, and working in different countries in Europe and elsewhere can help with that; it can help you understand different positions. When I coordinate on issues, working with colleagues from Tanzania, Guatemala and Myanmar, for example, I need to account for different ways of working, thinking and problem-solving. The fact of having spent time in other parts of the world has, for me, been key in being able to bring different people together on an issue, through a common strategy or vision, but seen from varying perspectives. Experiences abroad can set you up as a leader and be influential in your career, on top of being an opportunity for personal growth. Even if it is not immediately obvious in your everyday work, you always grow through being immersed in different cultures through this change of perspective. Living in a foreign country is just such a unique experience and if you have not done it before, you must!
The fact of having spent time in other parts of the world has, for me, been key in being able to bring different people together on an issue, through a common strategy or vision, but seen from varying perspectives.
Save The Children aims to improve the lives of children across the world through better education, healthcare, and economic opportunities, as well as offering emergency aid in natural disasters, war and other conflicts. What aspect of the non-profit sector are you most driven by? What other issues are you most passionate about, either professionally or personally?
The personal and professional are connected and, as a result, I believe that more equality in the world is possible. I know that the work I am doing is contributing to protecting vulnerable children, families, and people across the world. We face a lot of challenges in the world right now, but it is important not to lose hope that things can get better and that improvements can be made. A more positive outlook can help us to look differently at crises, for example the current situation in Afghanistan, where girls cannot go to school after grade seven. My job is very rewarding when I see cases where access to healthcare becomes possible for families and children where it was not before. We see progress being made on the issue of climate change, which is disproportionally affecting children, and trying to support them with targeted projects and work is a way to improve their situation in the future. This is something I believe in and which I want to contribute to.
You are a Talent of the current WIL Women’s Talent Pool (WTP) leadership programme. Could you explain a little bit about what being part of a network means to you and what value networking represents?
I am very proud to have been selected for the Women’s Talent Pool programme. For me, it has been a wonderful experience to be in close contact with peers and mentors and some new role models. What I find also interesting is how you have different sectors coming together: there are women from the non-profit area, the private sector, academia and the public sector. It is always interesting to see the common challenges in leadership and to look at how to really get a team behind the vision you have. There are also plenty of issues to discuss around the balance between work and family, which are particularly relevant for women. Because some of these issues are cross-sectoral, you can talk about them with women from all industries. At the same time, it is fascinating to see that certain challenges are sector-specific and to have the opportunity to exchange on them with women who are a few years ahead in their career. The WTP programme also allows you to build up a network of experienced contacts to whom you can refer to if you want to discuss a specific challenge or if you want to develop new ideas for your future career. I am convinced that these exchanges with other women are helpful in overcoming challenges and progressing in our careers.
I am convinced that these exchanges with other women are helpful in overcoming challenges and progressing in our careers.
Finally, which living person do you most admire and why?
I can think of two people whom I admire. First is Amani Ballour, who is a Syrian-born doctor. During the Syrian civil war, she ran an underground hospital, saving many people. When she was elected hospital director, she was 29 years old, so very young. People like her bring me hope, particularly looking at the crisis and conflicts and forgotten conflicts the world is currently facing, such as in Yemen and Syria. Amani Ballour has enacted real change and she has faced challenges in doing so. As a woman elected as director of the hospital, there were male patients and even male colleagues who did not want her to have this position. She worked tirelessly under conditions of war and save people, but she also had strong conviction. Amani Ballour is the kind of woman who inspires on my way to work every day and gives me hope when new crises emerge in the sector in which I work.
The second person I would like to mention is Sanna Marin, who has been the Prime Minister of Finland since 2019 and is a working mum. When she became Prime Minister, she had a one-year-old daughter and was 34, so also very young. She has several ministers in her cabinet who are women as well. She posted pictures of herself before becoming Prime Minister, when she was already a politician, where she was breastfeeding her daughter. She highlights challenges women often face in combining a career and a family. In her case, she has not only had a career, but a very successful one. She is very ambitious and at the same time is a mother and takes care of her child. For me, she is someone who tries to set standards for women to be free both to pursue a career and take care of their families, which is possible now and even the standard, I hope, for the next generation.
Interviewed by Abby Ghercea
Meet our WTP7 Talent, Eve Huchon, M&A and Corporate Counsel at Osborne Clarke. In this interview, Eve talks about why she embarked on an international career, the importance of great teams, and how she measures success.
You joined Osborne Clarke in 2014 and were promoted to Mergers and Acquisitions (M&A) and Corporate Counsel last year. Congratulations! Can you elaborate on how you have reached your current position? What initially drew you to pursue a career in law?
I deserve to be where I am. I got to where I am because I'm very committed, available, and adaptable. It’s also thanks to my parents to some extent, because they set high standards. They didn’t put pressure on us to go in a particular direction but told us that with hard work we could achieve anything we wanted to. This explains why I'm so committed to working hard and getting to where I want. I believe that the sky is the limit!
I am also very lucky to work for an organisation, Osborne Clarke, that in France at least is very different from other law firms, particularly when it comes to gender equality at all levels. Close to 50% of our Partners are women. When I was promoted to counsel, three out of four people promoted were women. The strong team spirit at Osborne Clarke is also important to me. My colleagues and I are aware that it takes a village to succeed: we cannot do it alone. It's about committing to the team, committing to the clients, and showing that you care.
I originally wanted to study law because, when I was younger, I was a bit of an idealist. I wanted to save the world. My initial idea was to become a children's judge, but very quickly I realised that was not for me because I knew that I would get too emotionally involved. During my time studying law I saw how varied and interesting it is, and I discovered my passion for an area that I wanted to keep up with. The mergers and acquisition world was a perfect fit for me because it combined everything that I loved about law. What we do is very pragmatic, and you can have an impact, no matter how small. It has been humbling to know when I have worked on certain files that, if I manage to close deals, people’s jobs will be saved. Little grains of sand make a desert. It is a small contribution, but it matters.
It has been humbling to know when I have worked on certain files that, if I manage to close deals, people’s jobs will be saved. Little grains of sand make a desert. It is a small contribution, but it matters.
You currently advise French and international clients on many different investment-related operations. What do you enjoy most about your job, and are there any aspects that you find particularly interesting to work on?
Working for international clients is like intellectual gymnastics because their needs vary depending on where they are from and the kind of organisation they represent. It is not only their legal culture but also their work culture, where they have been and what they are used to. I constantly need to adapt and present solutions that are going to work for them in their jurisdiction and based on their experience. Finding solutions for them is challenging, interesting, and rewarding. My job demands precision; it requires going into detail and identifying how solutions can be found.
I enjoy brainstorming with teammates, even from other fields of law, because what I practice cannot be done alone. This means people who are in my organisation, but also the team built to find a solution for the client. We get in there and find solutions together and then pick what will work for them. In our line of work, we engage with so many different profiles that we always need to adapt, and this is a very interesting aspect of my job.
In your position, you intervene in both counseling and litigation. What does this involve exactly? According to you, what different skill sets allow you to be successful in each form of intervention, and how do these skill sets overlap?
Counseling is mostly about giving advice, and that includes negotiating contracts or settlement agreements for clients. We do a lot of structuring work and work with the firm and client teams, but also commercial teams, IT teams, and whatever is needed. As a team, we work to find solutions to save costs, facilitate an acquisition, or facilitate an integration or separation. Everything must be completed within a short time frame. There is a lot of pressure and learning to cope with this pressure is a big part of the job, as well as relying on your teammates and helping them. It is important to trust people, to delegate, and to check in.
In litigation, these same skills are necessary. However, the approach needs to be quite different because in this case you are not talking to a client, you are talking to a judge, so you don’t build your arguments the same way. You can convince the judge with five or seven arguments in your brief, which you would not do with a client because you must provide the best one. You cannot adapt to the judge because you don’t know them. Litigation is also more demanding in terms of organisation because cases can be spread out over long periods of time. It can take months to be able to file briefs and sometimes years to get a decision, which can then be appealed. It is important to have a very good memory because you need to be able to pick up a case that you haven't touched in months, sometimes years.
The ability to work in a team is also key. Your teammates are there for you and support you during the difficult moments. We also have fun together; this is one of the reasons we do what we do, to enjoy it. Teams work best where they bring together people from different backgrounds, because that way you can make sure to bring in different perspectives.
You have studied in the United States and France and were admitted to practice in the state of New York in the US and France. How has this international experience shaped both your career and you personally? Where did this interest in gaining international experience come from?
I was interested in working on international matters because of the way I was brought up. I was also very curious. I had cousins who lived in the United States, and I travelled a lot with my family when I was younger. My parents spoke a bit of English and Spanish and my grandpa spoke 13 languages and dialects. I had good grades in English at school which allowed me to do a double degree in law and to study in the US. I have worked for companies and firms of various sizes in various sectors, but I have always picked ones where I knew I could use English because it was important to me.
Working in an international field is eye-opening because you meet people from all over. You learn about lifestyles, cultures, working practices, the need to adapt, and the need to put yourself in other people's shoes, and to see things from different perspectives. You learn that adapting is a skill that you must have when working on international files with international clients. The ability to see things from other people’s point of view is so important for successfully managing international files.
This experience shaped my professional life, but also shaped my personal life because I met my husband in the US, and I'm now raising my son as bilingual!
Working in an international field is eye-opening because you meet people from all over. You learn about lifestyles, cultures, working practices, the need to adapt, and the need to put yourself in other people's shoes, and to see things from different perspectives.
We are delighted that you are a participant in the 7th edition of the Women Talent Pool (WTP) leadership programme. Why did this feel like the right time to participate? What takeaways do you have from the programme?
I contributed to WIL’s work at the very early stages on some corporate matters. Over the years I followed the organisation from afar and when Osborne Clarke offered me the opportunity to join the WTP, I was thrilled because I knew it would be an amazing experience, and it was the right timing because I had just been promoted to counsel.
Being part of WIL is a very good way to learn how to cooperate, build teams, and make sure that people will follow you for the right reasons. It strengthened my will and my commitment to become the best manager and leader I can be. Having someone by your side to support you brings a great deal. It can be helpful to reach out and say, “Nobody taught me this, so maybe I need some help.” It is certainly not a weakness to do so.
We like to end the interview with a question from the Proust Questionnaire. The question we have selected for you is this: What is your greatest achievement, either personally or professionally (or both)?
I don't rank my achievements. I know what's good and what's not and I have never had this mindset. I'm competitive with myself and I like being the best at what I do, but not necessarily as compared to others. It's very difficult to rank professional or personal experience because there's so many things that I’d consider success even if others would not see it as such. For me, it's really a matter of how you measure your own success and not how others see it. Something that is huge for me is when a key client of the firm reaches out to me directly, instead of going through the usual channel, meaning, though a Partner, to ask for help. It means that I have done the job well and that I have earned their trust.
It's really a matter of how you measure your own success and not how others see it.
Interviewed by Anna Marin
Introducing Nina Foss, Senior Manager EMEA for Channel Enablement at Lenovo. In this interview Nina shares her personal story about starting in tech, her thoughts on how the industry is developing, and why sustainable leadership matters.
You are currently the Senior Manager EMEA (Europe, the Middle East and Africa) Channel Enablement at Lenovo. Can you tell us a little but about that role and what it is like working for one of the largest tech companies in the world?
I am responsible for deploying tools and initiatives that enable our customer-facing teams to execute the core-aspects of their job more effectively. This means that I am a part of developing framework and systematic approaches for our channel sellers in EMEA, to engage our partners. We try to gather insights and collaborate with teams to execute initiatives that improve upon existing sales processes. In EMEA we have 16 markets, more than 150 countries and are supporting about nine languages, so it is important to have intuitive and easy-to-use tools for our partners. We are there to support and enable our local teams, partners and distributors.
For me personally, it is nice to see that the work I do is influencing our business throughout EMEA. I know that I make a difference and that I am a part of making everyday life for our sellers and partners a little bit easier. Being allowed to contribute to the strategy for our sales transformation is both exciting and very challenging, and I feel lucky to work and collaborate with incredibly talented and dedicated colleagues all over the world.
Working in one of the largest companies in the world is such a privilege and there is never a boring day! I must say that I love working with people all over EMEA, with so many different teams. Everything from marketing, sales, and IT. But I have missed travelling, because of Covid, so I am very happy to be able to travel again, meeting colleagues face-to-face.
Working in one of the largest companies in the world is such a privilege and there is never a boring day!
It sounds incredibly exciting working in that environment. You have been in the tech industry for many years, during which time you have built extensive experience in marketing, sales, and business. What led you to a career in IT and to Lenovo, and what are some of the challenges you have faced along the way?
I’ve worked in the tech industry for what feels like my entire life: over 27 years now! I started out in the sector by coincidence. I had just come back to Norway after a year in the US, and I got a job at an IT company. There I discovered my passion for sales and started in sales and IT-solutions, after which I worked my way up to different roles in sales, marketing, and distribution. When you work in the tech industry you get to know many people, so I knew some employees at Lenovo before I stared there and got to know quite a bit about the company.
Lenovo has a great culture, good products and loyal customers. Lenovo is also a very large and global company, and I was sure that there would be opportunities for me to develop, get exciting roles and grow within the company. So, when the chance presented itself and I was offered a position at Lenovo, I couldn't say no. And I have never looked back!
In terms of challenges that I have faced along the way: I discovered that you need to believe in yourself. You need to be tough and not afraid to raise your voice.
I discovered that you need to believe in yourself. You need to be tough and not afraid to raise your voice.
In what kind of situations have you felt the need for that, the need to raise your voice?
There have been situations where I have felt the need to speak up, though I am not shy and am comfortable doing so. When I started almost 27 years ago there were very few women working in tech. Back then, you had to work to make your voice heard: there were so many men in the industry who had been there longer than I had. However, as time went on, I gained confidence in my job and started to see things in a different way. I started to make suggestions on how we could do things differently and by doing that I noticed that you are heard when you make suggestions.
Two important pillars of Lenovo’s vision are innovation and collaboration. What do these values mean to you and how do you integrate them into your work daily?
I am proud to be working at a company with this much innovation, where it is so important. It excites me to be involved in how we shape our projects and initiatives around our channel platforms and tools to ensure we deliver the smartest, most convenient, and comprehensive resources to help our partners win with Lenovo. But innovation is so much more than a product, it is also innovation of approach and how we work with each other. The trust and freedom of remote working is one example of that.
When it comes to collaboration, that is key to me. Especially in my work, where I depend on colleagues from all over the world and from different teams and business areas to succeed, to be able to collaborate and work closely is important. I also believe that with collaboration, knowledge is shared. And increased knowledge means we all grow, learn, and become better. In many ways, I guess you can say that collaboration and innovation are linked. I feel really privileged to work with the best people, irrespective of location, seniority, gender, or background.
In terms of how this works on a day-to-day basis: since we are this global company, many initiatives start at a worldwide level. At the start, my team and I sit down with the worldwide team and talk about new projects and if they can work in EMEA. We have lots of conversations on how to structure projects and how we can deliver the message to our partners in EMEA. We also ask ourselves how we can train our sellers to work with the new projects; if and how the new projects resonate with our local teams and sellers: is it what they want? how can they communicate about it? The message needs to fit the needs of the different markets.
I believe that with collaboration, knowledge is shared. And increased knowledge means we all grow, learn, and become better
You talked a little bit about Lenovo being a company that is both collaborative and connected. As the world is getting more and more connected, what do you see for the future of tech and how do you think the everyday people will be affected by it?
As the world has become more connected, technology has become more ingrained in our daily lives, in many ways positively, but also with some harmful consequences. Technology has improved our human connectedness, productivity, accessibility, ease of everyday tasks and many others. But it has also resulted in harmful online behavior, a digital divide, mounting e-waste and many other issues. For the future of tech, I see a gradual convergence between these challenges and opportunities. More and more tech companies are aware of the challenges and opportunities and are actively working towards the sustainability of products and services. Ensuring that ordinary people, no matter where in the world they are, can access technological advances and derive benefits from their use.
Speaking of sustainability, you recently completed an EARTH 51 certification on driving sustainability leadership. Why does sustainable leadership matter and what were your key takeaways from this course?
The business world is facing a turning point where corporates, and especially tech companies, have a responsibility to change the world for the better, and they are being held accountable for this. I recently became the EMEA Focal for Lenovo ESG (environmental, social, and governance) and I am now working closely with the Global ESG teams to help implement our sustainability strategy and ESG framework for the channel here in EMEA. Our goal is to help organisations accelerate their business model transformation around sustainability and enhance their positive impact to solve important challenges. So, hopefully I am playing my own small part in making the world a more sustainable place.
In terms of takeaways, the course really drew attention to the seriousness of the challenges we face. I think most of us have not fully understood or taken in what these challenges mean and the impact for our planet, not the importance of us all stepping up. This is not just about companies’ behaviour, but also what we can do every day, as humans. At Lenovo, it is not just us managers who are getting trained up in these questions: we are planning to have a sustainability experience week in Lenovo for all employees in EMEA. During this week we will demonstrate what ESG means, what Lenovo is doing to become a more sustainable business and how each person’s actions impact on the world and on communities. I am happy and excited to be a part of this.
Is there anything you wished you knew before pursuing a career in this industry and is there anything you would like to say to someone who is thinking about this career path?
As I said earlier, I was very young when I entered the tech industry, and back then it was a very male-dominated industry. I really had to believe in myself and stay strong. But the industry is constantly changing, it keeps you on your toes, and to anyone who wants to pursue a career in tech I would say go for it! It is an amazing and interesting industry, with endless possibilities and so many different positions to choose from. You don’t have to be a “techie” to work in the tech industry! Working in the tech is an exciting challenge.
You don’t have to be a “techie” to work in the tech industry!
Meet our WTP7 Talent, Helen Hart, Head of Bid Management at Rexel UK. In this interview, Helen discusses carving her own career path, how she innovates solutions and leads her team, and the importance of networking with and empowering other women.
You are currently the Head of Bid Management at Rexel UK, having over 15 years of experience in Business Development and Bid Management. Could you explain what first interested you in this career and elaborate on how you got to your position today?
I was working as an Executive Assistant for a charity that impacted the lives of individuals around the world. During my time there, I was asked to research applicable funding and complete the application process to support our work. Venturing into this new world made me realise that this was something that I was good at and had a passion for. I decided to pursue it as a career and joined a consultancy that specialised in EU funding research projects. This work elevated my knowledge from charity funding applications to the commercial and technical side of things. From here, I moved into the construction industry, working for material suppliers and contractors, where I honed my craft in the full bid and business development lifecycle. I achieved specific qualifications within bid management and was relentless in my pursuit of striving to achieve more and be as successful as I could be to win contracts. Then, nearly four years ago I joined Rexel as their Head of Bid Management!
Could you tell us more about the projects you are involved in at Rexel and describe a typical work day for you? What types of projects are you most passionate about?
Rexel is a leading wholesale electrical distributor, connecting electricians, contractors, and industrial organisations with electrical products, site supplies, and solutions. For Rexel to win work, we help select the right opportunities and develop a winning commercial offer. In the procurement sector, the most common projects in which we are involved are invitations to tender, which involve pricing the job at hand and answering technical questions about our ability to do the work in accordance with the detailed specification or the project scope. A typical day for me will involve curating a response to high-value tenders, strategic planning and performance management of my team, mentoring and coaching, and solution and value proposition development.
I enjoy working on complex bids. In my personal life, people always joke about how organised I am. One of the things that I love about my job, and one of the reasons why I am so good at it, is that I am able to manage several projects at the same time.
Something that has really spoken to me in recent years is the importance of social values, and sustainability. Our pursuit of net zero plays such an important part in the world. In our work we think about not just what happens today, but what will happen in the years to come. We think about the materials that we supply : what are they made of? Could you actually recycle that product again? Addressing the environment and providing social value to the local communities has been a great avenue for me to explore.
At Rexel, you have redesigned their bid lifecycle and developed an integrated way of working. How do you approach developing solutions for the business?
When you are joining a new business, you need to talk to people; you need to know what challenges they face, what gaps there are, and identify what is required to provide the optimum bid lifecycle. Stakeholder management is key to achieving the desired buy-in, so that they understand not just what we are doing, but why. As part of the redesign process, I took the bid lifecycle at Rexel online, using a combination of Office 365 applications such as SharePoint lists and Teams. I am a huge advocate for working smarter and not harder and these tools provide the platforms to be able to do that. It was actually this method of working that allowed for a seamless transition to homeworking at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
When I joined the business and spoke with the team, I found that there were projects on whiteboards in the local office and documents were being saved on local machines, then on servers where people would have to connect. I knew that as a business they had invested in Office 365. I was aware of the capabilities of all the different solutions working together. So, first, I created a private SharePoint. Next, I educated the team on how to use it. As part of that SharePoint site, we created trackers, where we use Microsoft lists to automate event reminders, such as clarification and submission dates. When each person is managing seven or eight bids at the same time, it is useful to have that backup and the knowledge that you are automatically going to be reminded of those events. In parallel to the tracker, we also have a documentation library. Everything is set up in exactly the same way, which means in the future when we are tendering for a bid, we can reference very quickly to what we did before. When the time came to homework, it was easy because people were familiar and comfortable with using Teams.
I am a huge advocate of working smarter and not harder.
You have recently been awarded the Chief Executive Award at Rexel in recognition of your leadership. What do you think are the most important qualities of a leader and how do you implement these qualities, both professionally and personally?
I believe that the most important qualities of a leader are integrity, communication, and empathy. Something that I learned very early on was not to be a “yes” person or a people pleaser. As well as providing direction, inspiration, and guidance, I also believe good leaders need to exhibit courage, passion, confidence, conviction, commitment, and ambition. They nurture the strengths and talents of their people and build teams committed to achieving common goals. They share their vision and they lead by example. They demonstrate integrity, communicate effectively, make hard decisions, and recognise success. They empower, motivate and inspire others.
I recognise that to be a good leader, I must keep learning. I have equipped myself with a group of trusted colleagues and friends with whom I have check-ins at least once a month to talk about the challenges we are facing at work and in our personal lives. Rexel also does in-house courses on leadership. You get out of it what you put in. If you invest in yourself and take full advantage of all the opportunities that are available, then you get the most out of it.
I recognise that to be a good leader, I must keep learning.
You are participating in the seventh edition of the Women Talent Pool (WTP) Leadership Programme. What motivated you to join the programme and what impact has being a participant had on you?
In recent years, Rexel launched an initiative: Women in Rexel. I was honoured to be part of the steering group in the UK. My HR director had heard great things about the WTP Programme from colleagues and nominated me to participate in the seventh edition. I was grateful and thankful for the investment from both of our Rexel UK and Rexel groups.
Engaging with the other women on the programme has really shone a light on the similar challenges that women face, regardless of the industry in which they work. It has been a great experience to be amongst people who have experienced and gone through what I have, and who can laugh about it. When you are going through something difficult, it can be quite upsetting. Sometimes you do not know how to handle it. So to be able to have a laugh with those other women and look back on it has been quite liberating. The programme has provided an opportunity to find tangible and practical solutions to those challenges, but also allowed me to acknowledge these challenges so I can highlight them when engaging with other women, professionally or personally. I can say, “You are absolutely not alone.”
The Talent Pool has also been a great opportunity to connect with people who are not ashamed to be ambitious, to encourage each other and celebrate success. The mentoring sessions especially have served as a great tool to challenge my way of thinking, receive feedback from my peers, and provide a space to dream bigger. It is important to network with people not just within your sphere of influence, but more widely. You easily find common ground. Through those connections, you are better able to think of what you want to do in the future and bridge any opportunity gaps.
Engaging with the other women on the programme has really shone a light on the similar challenges that women face, regardless of the industry in which they work.
We end the interview with a question from the Proust Questionnaire; who are your heroes in real life and why?
I prefer to think of this in terms of the qualities that I admire in people. I admire women who are unapologetic in wanting to be successful; women who have achieved and are relentless in the pursuit of their dreams ; and also women who want to empower others.
Being part of a network of women who have these qualities is important to me now more than ever, because the opportunity to think about what I want to do in my life was not there years ago when I was growing up.
In my career, too, I have had to carve my own way and my own path. In this I have very much been surrounded by men who have been the breadwinners, and men who have achieved.
So, when I see women around me who are successful, I think that it is fantastic. Thankfully it is being recognised more and more that we are all equal, that we need to bring different perspectives into the workplace and that we are all able to achieve.
Video edited by Juliette Gill
Interviewed by Tessa Robinson
Meet our WTP7 Talent, Anna Jassem*, International Coordinator at the European Commission. In this interview, Anna discusses the personal and professional benefits of mindfulness, why we need compassionate and courageous leaders and shares her thoughts on the situation of women in Japanese culture
Having worked briefly in the NGO sector, you have now also held several positions at the European Commission. Could you explain a little more to us about your current role?
I'm responsible for cooperation with our key international partners in the unit in charge of consumer product safety. I also coordinate the international activities of the whole Directorate for Consumers. The idea is to ensure that when dealing with our international counterparts, we speak as one voice. Because, of course, in today's ultra-connected world, where you can buy things from all around the world with one click, there are a lot of dangerous products and fraudulent business practices and basically no borders, so no one country can tackle challenges to consumer protection on its own: we need to join our efforts to make an impact.
I have also been leading work on the EU Product Safety Award, an initiative that we launched back in 2019. The aim of it is to shine the light on businesses which, as we say, “go the extra mile” on product safety. By showcasing best practices, we want to inspire all companies to put consumer protection at the heart of what they do. We also aim to raise consumer awareness around product safety and what to look out for when making shopping decisions.
Last but not least, I'm a trained Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) teacher, and I've been guiding regular mindfulness and compassion sessions across our Directorate-General and beyond. I really think that the COVID pandemic and all the turbulence that it's caused has highlighted even more the importance of mental health and this is certainly an area where mindfulness can make a change. We know from rigorous randomised controlled studies that mindfulness training is effective in reducing stress levels, preventing burnout, and increasing overall mental and even physical health!
You mentioned your training in mindfulness-based stress reduction. What motivated you to become a mindfulness teacher and how has it helped you in your own life?
What drew me to mindfulness in the first place was actually my own talent for stress and distraction. I remember that in my pre-mindfulness times, I would constantly feel guilty about doing long hours at the office and then getting home and instead of enjoying family time, still thinking about work. I once read a whole book to my son at bedtime; and when he asked me a question, I couldn’t even tell what the book was about. Mindfulness has allowed me to be more present in whatever I'm doing. This has made me much more productive, resilient and simply happier.
Another benefit of practicing mindfulness is that you're better able to catch your inner critic: the little voice that we all have in our head which tries to convince us that we’re not good enough, something with which women in particular struggle. Being more mindful of this inner monologue has allowed me to become less hard towards myself and consequently, also kinder towards others. You realise that after all, we're all just doing our best to be happy. It's like a virtuous circle!
The final benefit I would mention is that with mindfulness you become more aware of what your body and mind need in a very concrete sense. For me, these are often simple things, like getting enough sleep, physical activity and meaningful human connection. I've also realised that I absolutely need some me-time when I can recuperate from being with people. Again, I think that many women have this notion that self-care is a luxury that they cannot afford when all these other things need to be done. To me, it's about preventative maintenance even if it means getting up 20 minutes earlier to start the day more mindfully. “You can't pour from an empty cup”, as the saying goes.
To me, mindfulness is about preventative maintenance. You can't pour from an empty cup.
You have a background in political science, sociology and European studies. What would you say is the commonality between these subjects and how have they shaped your career path to-date?
I would say that these three disciplines are indeed complementary. Sociology has certainly the widest scope studying human society as a whole, whereas Political Science and European Studies focus specifically on systems of governance at national or international level. All three certainly enhance your critical thinking and analytical skills and give you a broad focus so you can see the underlying relationships between phenomena. I think that my academic background did nudge me towards jobs that involve translating scientific evidence into concrete policy measures. And it also drew me to policy areas where I felt that I might make people's lives a little bit better, be it by improving their health, their safety or economic welfare.
During your maternity leave in Japan, you published a book and a series of articles on Japanese cuisine and culture. What did you observe about the situation for women in Japanese society and how does it differ from Europe, if at all?
Overall, our stay in Japan was an amazing adventure. I was really fascinated by Japanese culture and how different it is from Europe. For the book, I started by inviting myself to Japanese women’s kitchens, and of course, it's at the kitchen table where you have the most important conversations. We shifted very quickly from talking about food to talking about culture and much more.
There were things that I absolutely fell in love with; for instance, the ability to savour the present moment, to sit down and contemplate your bowl of tea with a little ‘wagashi’ sweet. Even in a metropolis like Tokyo, people still very much live according to the rhythm of the seasons, celebrating seasonal ingredients and dishes and harvesting bamboo shoots in the spring. Then there's the whole search for harmony and the importance of family ties, as in many collectivist cultures.
On the other hand, there were things that I didn't appreciate at all. For instance, the rigid conformity, epitomised in the saying that the nail that sticks up needs to get hammered down. But indeed, probably the thing that shocked and saddened me the most is how male dominated Japanese society is. A woman’s social status is defined first by her father and then by her husband. If you're single and childless over 30, you're called ‘makainu’ (literally ‘loser dog’), which indicates your social status. Japan is also apparently the only country in the world where married couples are legally obliged to share the same surname, which of course, in virtually always is the man's surname. You also rarely see both genders mixing. You’ll see groups of men in black suits heading to company drinking parties. Then you’ll have groups of elegantly dressed women playing with their children in the park, but there's no interaction between the two: men belong to the public sphere and women belong to the domestic sphere. Those women who decide to work outside the household typically have part-time or temporary jobs. There’s also a kind of dual track employment system in Japanese companies: a career track and a routine clerical track. Virtually all men are chosen for the career track, whereas women, even those with university degrees, primarily get clerical jobs, photocopying, formatting tables, or answering the phone.
The European Commission aims to have at least 50% female managers by 2024. What do you think are the most important qualities of a good team leader and why?
I would say that in this ‘VUCA’ world of high vulnerability, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity, as Marina Niforos taught us, what we most need in leaders are two things: courage and compassion.
Leaders need to be courageous to effect change, to shift and respond to constantly evolving circumstances, to step out of their comfort zone rather than stick to the tried and tested ways of doing things. So it's really about having this growth mindset, or what Brené Brown calls ‘daring greatly’- knowing that you can fail but also that you can learn from failure.
But equally essential is compassion, empathy, kindness, the ability to listen and to see human beings behind job titles. All these qualities that for some reason are called ‘soft skills’, as if they were somehow easier or less important than hard technical skills and KPIs. Yet, they are indispensable for a team to flourish and to become more than just a sum of its members. I truly believe that when people feel valued, empowered and simply happy at work, they are also more engaged, innovative and productive.
I truly believe that when people feel valued, empowered and simply happy at work, they are also more engaged, innovative and productive.
Finally, is there a particular motto that is important to you regarding work or life that you would share with others?
There's this one quote that I like, which I believe is a paraphrase of Marcel Proust’s words from ‘The Prisoner’: "The real voyage of discovery consists, not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes." It's this idea that how we interpret things and how we react to them that makes all the difference, and that's also where our freedom lies.
*The information and views set out in this interview are those of the interviewee and do not necessarily reflect the official opinion of the European Commission.
Video edited by Tessa Robinson
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