Connecting, inspiring and empowering women to lead the way
Interviewed by Chaminiee Ilangakoon
Meet our WTP Talent, Fatima-Zahra Samaoui, IC Country Partner at Orange Morocco. She speaks about how her view of growth and career has changed over the years, what motivates her to keep working to become the best version of herself, and why women must strive for a seat at the table.
You have been at Orange since 2011 in various roles. What is it about the company that has kept you engaged for over 10 years?
I've been with Orange for over a decade now. I joined the company when I was very young and the journey that I’ve been on has been, personally and professionally, very rewarding. What has kept me engaged at Orange has been, firstly, the company's commitment to innovation. Ours is a company that continually seeks to push boundaries in the telecommunications industry. For me, it is important to be a part of an organisation that allows me to contribute to challenging, cutting edge projects, and to really feel that I am a part of the digital transformation in my market.
Secondly, the multicultural and varied work environment that Orange offers has been a strong motivation. Orange has allowed me to work in different markets - B2B markets, B2C markets, wholesale markets – and in different geographies. I've worked across Europe, in the UK and France, and in Morocco with Western African countries. This has been a great opportunity to discover different ways of working and of understanding business.
The third and final factor is Orange’s commitment to inclusion and diversity. As a woman who grew up in Morocco and studied in France, Orange has offered me an environment where I have felt in my place and with all opportunities open to me. This has certainly made me stay loyal and engaged within the company.
To what extent has your journey been in line with what you expected when you started on Orange’s Graduate Programme?
When I started the graduate programme, I was just coming out from school and my expectations were high. Now I can confidently say that my journey at Orange has exceeded these expectations. Why? I have participated in many trainings, development programmes and mentoring, and I have received a strong foundation and support throughout my career. I have had the opportunity to grow both vertically and horizontally by exploring different functions and markets, and this remains the case today. All in all, I'm very happy with my experience so far!
What has been one of the greatest lessons for you during your professional life so far? Is there anything that you would do differently if you had the chance?
One of the greatest lessons I have learned is, in Sheryl Sandberg’s words, the importance of having and taking a seat at the table as a woman. This concept really focuses on how important it is for women to be present and to have an active role in decision making processes, and to truly take a seat. Even if this seat is not offered to you, just take it. If you think that your voice brings value to the company and to the business, realise the power of being present as a woman and voicing your ideas, of actively contributing to discussions, and of always seeking a place at the table.
It is important for women to be present and to have an active participation in decision making processes and to truly to take a seat. Even if this seat is not offered to you, just take it.
This didn’t come naturally to me. I was not raised that way. Even during my studies, I didn’t tend to speak out because I was afraid of being seen as bossy. But what I realise now is that this approach doesn't work. You need to make your perspective heard and to influence outcomes if you really think that it will drive positive change for the business and the working environment.
To answer the second part of your question, if I had the chance to do things differently, I would focus more on building stronger networks and alliances with like-minded individuals, both women men. I would also seek more to be more connected with people who share the goal of promoting gender equality and inclusivity and are willing to drive this change. And it's not too late for that, I think.
You are currently the IC Country Partner for Morocco. Can you share a bit about what your role entails?
My role is split between two activities, with two main roles. The first role is focused on sales development. I manage business and strategic commercial relations with other telecom operators in my region of North Africa. My second role is that of local team leader, which involves attracting and retaining talent in our local team and fostering a positive and inclusive work culture. It is important for me to ensure alignment with our company's vision and values and make people feel great in their jobs!
What energises you most about your work?
Helping people to feel really connected to their jobs and themselves. This is so crucial today. My team and colleagues are relatively young, and it's very important for them to have this alignment: to feel that they are useful, that they are bringing something and having impact. What really energises me is to help others and support team members to realise their full potential. Doing so is incredibly rewarding.
What really energises me is to help others and support help team members to realise their full potential. Doing so is incredibly rewarding.
Another thing that brings me energy is travelling to other African countries to see my customers. It gives me the opportunity to be immersed in different cultures and different ways of doing business. I get to see digital transformation in a variety of countries and cultures and how it can impact communities and people's lives. It is a side of my job that I really enjoy.
What is your experience as a working woman? Do you see barriers for women in the workplace?
The answer is yes. As a working woman, I experience both opportunities and challenges.
Today we still have barriers like the underrepresentation of women in leadership roles. Although our CEO, Christel Heydemann, is the first woman CEO for Orange Group and for such a big telco company, there remains a stubbornly low rate of female representation at the top level of organisations, and as such women still have a lack of role models and mentors. If you ask students coming out of business or engineering school, “Who is your role model?”, they will answer Elon Musk or Bill Gates, and you never hear them mention a female role model. It would be great to have students coming out from school saying, “My role model is Sheryl Sandberg or Christine Lagarde.” That's the first real barrier for females in the workplace.
The second one is work-life balance. I'm a mother of two sons. I know what it is to go on maternity leave and to have to live up to certain expectations. Here in Morocco, people expect that your main role is at home and with your kids, that your career is not a priority. It is a vision of the world where women are supposed to make choices between family and career. But for me it is not about making choices. I can do my best in every area of my life and try to be aligned to my wishes and values. At the same time, I'm not a superwoman and I cannot excel everywhere. I try to be me and to give energy to my work, to build projects and overcome challenges, but still being a mum and a woman, having friends and going out.
I try to be me and to give energy to my work, build projects and overcome challenges, but still being a mum and a woman, having friends and going out.
And there is a third one for me. Today, we're still having debates about difference in salaries between men and women. I don't understand why anyone would find it natural for a man who is in a leadership position to have a higher salary, and yet inequalities persist. In my discussions with mentors, with other women who have had remarkable career journeys, I see that the financial part is still a challenge for us.
How have you built confidence and resilience over the course of your career?
I have built confidence and resilience by going outside of my comfort zone: by seeking new challenges and exploring news areas, even if I don't feel comfortable and am not confident. That would be the first factor. The second one is that I come from a family of boys. I only have brothers and I think that has played a significant role in shaping my growth throughout my career.
Growing up, I was the nice, good student who was always asking for permission to talk, to have a seat at the table, and always apologising for having an opinion. I quickly understood in the different positions and job roles that I held that this wasn’t helping me, nor my company. So, one day I decided to stop trying to be the ‘première de la classe’. This idea has been popularised by Sheryl Sandberg with what she calls the ‘Tiara syndrome’, where you expect other people to tell you: “Wow, you're doing a great job. You're a good girl”. I stopped expecting other people to tell me that I've done a good job and stared telling myself: I'm going to do a great job and I'm going to highlight this with facts and figures. I'm not expecting rewards; what I'm expecting is to develop myself and challenge myself on my journey. That's it.
I'm not expecting rewards, what I'm expecting from myself is to develop myself and challenge myself in my journey. That's it.
What are your passions, occupations, and motivations outside of your work?
When I'm not working at Orange, my family is my passion. I'm a mother of two sons, a five-year-old and 10-month-old and I love watching them grow up. Each day is a new experience, a new learning for them: how to walk, how to talk, how to ask for things; asking philosophical questions about the universe that are difficult to answer. I really enjoy it. Another passion of mine is boxing. It allows me to stay active, to relieve stress and push myself physically and mentally.
Video Edited by Claudia Heard
Interviewed by Meike Schneiders
Now a director at Flint Global, you have had an impressive career in European policymaking. Can you tell us how you got into the field and what your first steps were?
I got into this field by chance. I was studying political science at the University of Pavia in Italy where I took a course on EU policymaking. I really enjoyed it and wrote my thesis on the role of interest groups in the EU decision-making process. In addition to doing research at home, my supervisors told me to go to Brussels and spend a few months there to see first-hand how European policymaking works. So, I applied for and secured an internship in Brussels, which is how and where it all started.
After a few years in Brussels, I decided to move to London to improve my English. The idea was always to move back to Brussels after a year, but life got in the way, and I started working as a junior consultant at Flint in 2017. I have really enjoyed my growth there and the chance to move through the different career stages. I've now been a director for over two years, and my main role is to advise clients on digital policy and platform regulation. There is no day like any other! A big part of my role involves managing and organising a team so that together we can serve the client to the best of our ability. Our main tasks include regulatory and policy analysis, as well as helping clients with opportunities to engage with policymakers in Brussels. Overall, we help them refine their massage and communicate their business and political objectives.
After growing up in Italy, much of your working life has taken place abroad. Was this a conscious decision and what have been the main challenges and takeaways of working outside of your home country?
For me, it was a very conscious decision. I always imagined myself living and working abroad and have done so in France, the UK and Belgium. In terms of challenges, I think it really depends on the country you move to and the job you do. My biggest challenge in London, where I am currently based, has been adapting to a style of communication that is very much linked to British culture. For example, I quickly learnt that when someone says "interesting" to you, it is usually not an invitation to hear more from you on the subject, but a very polite way of saying that they want to move on. While working and living abroad is very exciting, it can also be very daunting at times. You are in a foreign place, and you must adapt to a different way of speaking and behaving. But it's important to accept that you are who you are and that there will always be some cultural differences. Ultimately, you will learn, and you will adapt to the environment in which you work, but your colleagues will also learn from you and your approach, so in that way you also contribute to a more dynamic workplace.
What are some mistakes or obstacles in your career that you feel you have grown from?
Everyone will make mistakes and face obstacles in their career, and that's normal; it's part of growing and learning. Early on in my career, my biggest challenge was establishing myself. I was young and trying to find my way in public affairs. I often found myself in meetings with very senior colleagues and clients and felt the imposter syndrome and fear of not being heard creeping in. But your confidence grows over time as you develop your expertise, and that helps. Two things that have been particularly useful for me have been preparation - before I go into a meeting, I always like to write down a few points that I can make in a very confident way in the discussion - and the support of seniors. I have been lucky enough to work with colleagues who were inclusive and wanted everyone to be involved in the discussions.
Everyone will make mistakes and face obstacles in their career, and that's normal; it's part of growing and learning.
As you mentioned, your main focus is supporting clients on policy and regulation in the digital, telecoms, and media sectors. What do you see as the broad trends in digital policy in 2023?
In the last few years in Europe there have been many ambitious digital and platform-related regulations, so a lot has already changed already. I think that in the rest of 2023 and going forwards, we will continue to see developments in several areas, most prominently with the increased scrutiny around AI and especially generative AI; a focus on network deployment to achieve the EU's digital connectivity goals; more attention on data flows, handling and data protection; further assessment of the impact that technology can have on carbon emissions; and, lastly, an interest in virtual worlds such as the metaverse. I don’t think that any of these big topics are likely to go away anytime soon.
You are now part of the 8th edition of WIL Europe's Women Talent Pool (WTP) leadershp programme, which aims to train and promote a new generation of female leaders in Europe. What would you say has been your most defining moment on the programme to date?
I joined the WTP programme in March and it is already very difficult to pick one defining moment. Over the past few months, we have been lucky to have been trained and mentored by some incredible women who have shared their knowledge and experiences from their professional careers in a very open and honest way. One moment that really stood out was WIL's annual event in Rome in June, an event with an incredible line-up of speakers in an outstanding location and the first time that our cohort had all met in person. It was useful to build on each other's experiences and advice and a great opportunity to connect and become part of a network of women who share similar career aspirations. It was an invaluable experience for my professional growth, but also for my personal growth and well-being.
What change or movement would you like to see on gender equality in your sector?
I have been fortunate in my career to work with and be inspired by brilliant women. But when it comes to gender equality in public affairs, I think more needs to be done. A 2022 survey of women in public affairs found that more than 50 per cent of women don't feel that their company is transparent about career progression and pay, and women working in public affairs still don't see that they are paid the same as their male colleagues. According to the survey, only half of public affairs employers in both the public and private sectors publish their maternity policies and only a third of them publish their gender pay gap. This lack of transparency certainly exacerbates existing gender gaps. However, in my view gender equality shouldn't be a box-ticking exercise for businesses to thrive. Instead, employers need to create a workplace that actively promotes diversity and equality because it benefits everyone. It's not just about getting the right people in the room. You need to include them in discussions, you need to take their advice and perspective on board, and you really need to create a truly inclusive environment.
Gender equality shouldn't be a box-ticking exercise for businesses to thrive. Instead, employers need to create a workplace that actively promotes diversity and equality because it benefits everyone.
And finally, the ultimate question (at least if you ask people abroad about Italian food): Pizza or pasta, and which is your favourite?
I'm Italian so these are obviously a staple for me! It’s really a difficult choice to make, but I would go for pasta. My ultimate favourite is homemade gnocchi and, as I am from Calabria, I also like to add a little bit of chilly.
Video edited by Claudia Heard
Interviewed by Abigail Ghercea
Meet our WTP8 Talent, Irina Verioti, Talent Acquisition Manager at Orange Romania. In this interview, Irina discusses remaining authentically true to herself, why we don’t have to make sacrifices to succeed professionally, and what we can all learn from children.
You have now been at Orange Romania for over fifteen years. Throughout your career, you have had many different roles, all within the HR field, and you are now Talent Acquisition Manager. Could you explain the evolution of your career and the path you took that led you to where you are now?
I applied to Orange Romania fora regional sales training role when I was still in university. For the first two years, I spent 90-95% of my time in training rooms, meeting our salespeople and discussing with them aspects related to sales interactions. These early years were tough, because I had to harmonise a full-time job, involving lots of business trips, with the last two years of university. But I survived and I fell in love with HR and with the telecommunications industry!
After a few years, I decided to apply internally for an HR business partner role. It wasn't a success on the first try. This negative answer was the first negative response that I had received and it was an important moment in my career. As you can imagine, as a trainer, you have to show that hold yourself in high esteem because there are always a lot of people looking at you and seeking to learn from you. You tend, at a certain point, especially when you're in your 20s, to lose contact with reality and with the things that you can do in other domains. Fortunately, one year later I got a business partner role, and, in fact, it was the most difficult career change I have ever experienced. Suddenly I was making unpopular decisions and even delivering bad news, when up until that point my only experience had been in the positive domain of learning and development. It also coincided with another important moment in my life – the moment when I learnt that I was going to become a mother. After three challenging months, I discovered that I could do the job and I even enjoyed being my authentic self and being transparent with colleagues around me.
After five years, I felt the need to explore the external market a little further, because as an HR VP, you are stuck a lot of time in internal procedures, and this can sometimes be a disadvantage. I knew that I could bring further value to my organisation if I could leverage the things that other companies on the market were doing. Overseeing recruitment and employer branding seemed like the logical next step for my career. Now, three years later, I can say that it was the best move that I could have made because it exposed me to the entire market. I am able to propose lots of ideas that we can implement ourselves or make even better because I have a lot of contact with the external market. Today I coordinate a team of 26 people, recruiters, employer branding specialists, and it's both exciting and challenging to do this every day.
Looking back on your career, is there anything that you wish you had known when you were just starting out?
When I was in my 20s, I used to think that having a successful career and being in senior management positions involved sacrificing other aspects of your life. I put a lot of pressure on myself. Most probably, Irina in her 20s would have said that having a career was the most important thing to strive for, above and beyond having a thriving personal life. But now, I know that you can have both.
Another important thing that I wish I had known back then is that being successful is not about status or job titles. For me now, being successful in your career is about having a role in an organisation where you see your values represented and where your skills are best used. If you bring added value, then the organisation you work for should not ask you to make sacrifices. If it does, then it is probably not the place for you. What is important is to find a place where you can be yourself, and where you can integrate and harmonise all the other roles that we as women have. It shouldn’t feel like a sacrifice.
Being successful in your career is having a role in an organisation where see your values represented and where your skills are best used.
Could you elaborate on the projects you are currently working on and what your daily work life looks like?
It depends on the day! Our organisation is currently undergoing a huge M&A process, integrating another company that Orange Romania has acquired, and I'm heavily involved in this process. There are a lot of cultural challenges to overcome, which is normal when you're trying to harmonise two huge companies and build a new culture around two different organisations. Aside from that, my day-to-day life and my main professional activity revolves around recruitment and employer branding. What I love the most about it is the fact that I often feel, during the same workday, that I work in three or four different domains. I get to find out many things about different industries, companies and organisations.
Of course, a lot of time in my daily work is dedicated to my team. I try to be there for them authentically, in any way that they need. They are all amazing, dedicated professionals and the time that we spend together is not only about KPIs, closed processes and things like that. We are trying to be there for each other as human beings and to be aware of the struggles that each of us is having. They do the same thing for me; I also need their support.
You have described training as your “first HR love.” What is it about training that you enjoy so much and why is it important for companies to provide quality training for their staff?
When I first delivered a training session, I knew that this was what I wanted to do. Talking to people made me extremely nervous and, despite having delivered hundreds of hours of training, I'm still nervous when talking to other people. But, for me, emotions and being nervous before important moments is positive because it signals that what I am doing is important.
With training, what I love so much is the fact that it is a continuous learning process, even for the trainer. This learning process creates such a strong bond that, once the learning process is stirred, it is impossible for the trainer or educator not to want to learn. The interaction between learner and trainer is a powerful one that is difficult to replicate in any other context. Every day that I spent as a trainer brought new insights and learning experiences for me, because I would meet many different people and have lots of deep and authentic exchanges with them.
For me emotions and being nervous before important moments is positive because it signals that what I am doing is important.
Your career trajectory has been about discovering people. What kind of people are you looking to discover?
When you love people as much as I do, there are simply no boundaries. The more different a person is from me, the more relevant and insightful it is to learn from them. I just love to discover people as they are without ever judging. I'm extremely sociable, and I like to discover stories of all the people around me. There is something to be learned from anyone who you meet, in any context.
In the last years, I must admit that I have become particularly keen on discovering children. They are innocent, pure and intrinsically intelligent. They don't have any stereotypes, any preconceptions, any ideas that we, as adults, tend to impose with our rational side. We could learn a lot from children about connecting to each other, emotionally from human to human, from heart to heart, without any social barriers.
The more different a person is from me, the more relevant and insightful it is to learn from them.
As a participant in the 8th cohort of the WTP Programme, have you gained any insights that you find to be particularly valuable?
I'm truly honoured to be part of this amazing group. One of the most important things that I've discovered so far is that I am not the only one dealing with the challenges that stem from the complexity and multiplicity of roles fulfilled by women, and this has been extremely comforting. We are also facing the same hurdles, the same difficulties, and whenever you are faced with a challenge you can gain a great deal by talking about it and leveraging the conclusions that you come to with others.
What I love about this programme is the fact that it combines theoretical knowledge through training sessions that you can use at your office and really apply, with more insightful interventions and exchanges that make you deep dive into your feelings, your behaviors, and the way you position yourself in different situations.
We are also facing the same hurdles, the same difficulties, and whenever you are faced with a challenge you can gain a great deal by talking about it and leveraging the conclusions that you come to with others.
Ending with a question from the Proust Questionnaire: what do you consider your greatest achievement? This achievement can be professional, personal, or both.
That's a tough one, because there are a lot of things that I'm particularly proud of from my career and my personal life. What I would underline is the fact that there is not one single thing that I'm proud of that was done 100% thanks to myself alone. It's always about being part of a great team and, fortunately, I'm part of multiple great teams, which include my manager, my peers, and my amazing talent acquisition team. In my personal life, too, I have the greatest teammate that any woman could wish for in my husband.
The thing that gives me the most comfort is the fact that I have managed to stay true to myself and to resist the temptation to put on masks, even though in some contexts it may seem like the easiest choice is to put on a mask and deliver to the audience the exact image they wish to see. In all the roles I have had I have been myself and stuck to my values. I couldn't even imagine how much energy I would have wasted by putting on a different mask every time and trying to think, “Okay, who am I interacting with now? What should I say, what should I do?” I would have wasted probably 90% of my energy and nothing else would have been left!
I have managed to stay true to myself and to resist the temptation to put on masks, even though in some contexts it may seem like the easiest choice is to put on a mask and deliver to the audience the exact image they wish to see.
Video edited by Juliette Travaillé
Interviewed by Marella Ricketts
Meet WTP8 Talent Gitanjali Roche, Digital Communications Manager for Advancement at INSEAD. Gitanjali opens our eyes to the beauty of storytelling, sharing with us what she loves about working in communications, how she overcame career pivots and challenges, and why it is important to hold on to your passions.
Your LinkedIn profile states that you studied social and culinary anthropology, and prior to working at INSEAD you spent several years building your business as a communications consultant in food and wine. Can you tell us more about how this interest of yours started when you were younger? How did this turn into a job working in communications at INSEAD?
To explain this to you, I’ll have to share a bit of my background. My father is from India and my mother is Syrian-Armenian. I was born in the United States and when I was eight, we moved to Greece. Having this mixed background definitely contributed to my passion for food. I always wanted to help my mother or father in the kitchen, and I always had a lot of questions about what they were cooking.
It never occurred to me that I could actually study food until I did my bachelor’s degree in anthropology and sociology. In our first year at the University of Utrecht, we had to take classes across all sectors first to find out on which areas we really wanted to focus. It was interesting, but I remember afterwards telling my advisor, who was an anthropology professor, that I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. She told me to go home, look at all the books I had on my shelf, and to come back to her with their common subject. I had a lot of cookbooks and novels about food. When I told her this, she suggested that I study culinary anthropology. I didn’t even know before that it existed!
I remember telling my advisor, an anthropology professor, that I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. She told me to go home, look at all the books I had on my shelf, and to come back with her with their common subject.
So that’s exactly what I did: I studied sociology and anthropology but through a culinary lens, which is exploring what, how, and why we eat certain things. After my bachelor’s, I moved to Paris and did a master’s in the same topic at EHESS then went to a cooking school called FERRANDI Paris. Currently, I am doing my wine training, studying for the WSET 3 certification. I think that it’s important to complement the theoretical with the practical.
To answer your question about how it turned into working at INSEAD: after graduating I embarked on a couple of projects, including doing freelance work as a communications consultant for food and wine brands, and I also started my own company. I was the COO of a startup called OpenKitchen, where we organised culinary immersions in restaurants with chefs. Anyone passionate about food could go into the kitchen and see how they do the mise en place before the dishes are served in the dining room. Things were going well until COVID-19 hit. My clients, who were mainly restaurants, had to close for a year and a half. I tried to keep my company going, but we had no idea about how the coronavirus would evolve, so I ended up closing it. Just as I was trying to come to terms with this, I saw my current position at INSEAD advertised and I saw that it was everything I had been doing for my clients: social media, content creation, writing articles, event coverage, but for higher education. The great thing about doing digital communication is that you can pivot from one sector to another, as I have managed to do.
As the current Digital Communications Manager for Advancement at INSEAD, what is a day in the life for you like? How do you balance this with other things that you are working on such as preparing for your WSET 3 wine exam?
I am part of the Advancement Communications team, which is involved with alumni and fundraising for INSEAD. My day to day, which can be very varied, involves working on a lot of event comms, whether it be for an alumni reunion, the alumni forum that we host around the world, or Global INSEAD day. I also create a great deal of content. There is the day-to-day social media management where we promote articles about different topics, such as about the school and about what our alumni are up to. Since our target audience is INSEAD alumni, the objective is to keep them engaged and connected to their time at the school. I also work with digital ambassadors to amplify events, webinars and other initiatives.
As you mentioned, in my free time, I am studying for the WSET 3, which is the exam for an internationally renowned qualification in wine training. I admit that it is a bit challenging preparing for this when working full time! I am a year and a half in and have made good progress at balancing my passion project with day-to-day work. I’m preparing remotely now for the exam, which involves a lot of memorising and a lot of tasting. It’s a good excuse at night to open a bottle of wine at the end of the working day!
What was a career challenge that you had encountered and how did you overcome this? Was it difficult to shift from the culinary industry to education?
I encountered two difficult career challenges over the last few years. The first would be, as I mentioned earlier, closing my own company and letting go of being my own boss. What was hard for me when we decided to close OpenKitchen was that we had a lot of amazing chefs who wanted to continue, asking us to figure out a way to host people in their kitchens and share their love for food. It was a difficult decision because in a way, it was my dream job.
The second challenge was transitioning to a different sector; or, more specifically, making the decision to no longer be self-employed and go into a full-time job in a different sector. The academic sector is very different, and I felt clueless in the beginning. But I am also very curious, and I read a lot. I tried to apply the skills that I had acquired earlier to this challenge. During my career transition, I kept telling myself: You just have to do it. What I learned is that you have to go with the flow, especially during a period like the COVID-19 pandemic. In the end, I was happy that I made this decision as it would have been more difficult to push and try to make my company survive. I jumped into my role at INSEAD headfirst, hoping that things would turn out okay, and it has!
The sector change has indeed been a big learning curve. But what I insisted on from the start was continuing to develop my hobbies on the side. Learning and developing new skills is what keeps me going. During times when there is drastic change, it is important to hold on to things that are important to you, things that remind you who you are. It gives you the energy to keep moving in the right direction. In the end, you learn things about yourself and surprise yourself with things that you didn’t know you could do.
During times when there is drastic change, it is important to hold on to things that are important to you, things that remind you who you are. It gives you the energy to keep going in the right direction.
As someone with many passions, and who has had experience across several industries, how do you tie these things together? Looking at your career from a larger perspective, what drives you the most?
I think communication or “storytelling”, is really my thing, and I discovered this thanks to my interest in food. At school, I studied the stories that food tells us: from how we eat, what food says about us and our backgrounds. It’s the story behind it that I find so interesting and this is what made me realise that communication is the place for me. I have also been immersed in different cultures and languages growing up and this has made me communicative in nature. Communication is about seeing the story behind things and figuring out how you can share it in a way that will resonate with people.
What motivated you to apply for WIL’s WTP Programme? I know you’ve only been in the programme for a few months, but are there any take aways that have already made an impact on you?
What motivated me was the emphasis on women supporting other women. I was freelance for a few years and so I lacked a strong personal-professional network, and this aspect really drew me to the programme. From the sessions and discussions so far, I can already see the sincerity that the women here have when it comes to helping each other, and the idea of a more caring, helpful, supportive approach really appealed to me. It has been interesting to meet people from different backgrounds. We all come from different sectors but many of the questions and the problems seem to be the same. It is refreshing to see that despite having different ages, backgrounds, cultures, and sectors, women are really looking for the same type of connection and support with each other.
It has been interesting to meet people from different backgrounds. We come from different sectors but many of the questions and the problems seem to be the same. It’s refreshing to see that despite having different ages, backgrounds, cultures, and sectors, women are really looking for the same type of connection and support with each other.
Your work certainly requires you to be creative. Where do you find your inspiration?
Social media! It’s my job to consume a lot of it, but I try to do it in moderation, of course. There is just so much inspiring content online, offering different formats and different ways to engage with people to tell a story. I am constantly inspired. Whether it be Instagram or TikTok or LinkedIn, it is very cool to see how people use different mediums creatively.
As an avid food blogger, if you could eat one thing for the rest of your life, what would it be?
Anything spicy! I’m one of those people who always has chili pepper in their purse. It is difficult to name a dish in particular, but I wouldn’t be able to live without spice.
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.
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.
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