Connecting, inspiring and empowering women to lead the way

Christelle Cuenin, Associate Director, Development, INSEAD

29 Oct 2018 12:34 | Deleted user

Christelle Cuenin, Associate Director at INSEAD, has dedicated her career to helping others grow, reach their full potential, and achieve impact. In this interview, she talked to us about her recent TED talk in Grenoble on redefining our perception of obstacles, her work at INSEAD, and shared her views on the skills of the future. Read the interview to find out more!

Earlier this month, you participated at TEDxGEM in Grenoble. What inspired you to give a TED talk and what message did you want to send across?

Public speaking has been a passion of mine for a long time. I joined Toastmasters 12 years ago, and I have enjoyed developing my skills through speech contests and improvisational theatre and learning to create speeches and to deliver them with impact. The popular TEDx format is appealing to me because as a speaker it forces you to think about what important message you want to share with your audience, and to do it in the most compelling way.

I was thrilled to be selected to participate in this TEDx event at my Alma Mater Grenoble Ecole de Management. The overall theme was “Beyond Boundaries” and the purpose of my talk was to redefine our perception of obstacles. I wanted to show the audience that roadblocks we face in our lives and careers, can help us progress. To bring my message across, I drew the parallel with motorcycle-riding and added a few funny anecdotes from when I was getting my driving license. Over the last few years, I have been helping and coaching many speakers for TEDx events and conferences, so this time I experienced it from the ‘other side’! Delivering a TEDx talk was an amazing experience!

The popular TEDx format forces you to think
about what important message you want to share with your audience,
and to do it in the most compelling way.

You have been working at INSEAD since 2011. Your work has been focusing on transferring your skills and helping others achieve professional fulfilment and impact. What do you think will be the most important skills for business leaders to possess in the 4th industrial revolution?

INSEAD is an amazing place for business leaders to develop new skills. I have had the privilege of seeing individuals transformed by their experience here when I was working in the Career Centre with MBA students and helping them advance their career. Nowadays, I interact with successful alumni who wish to create impact through philanthropy and I help them doing so through INSEAD.

From what I have observed working here and interacting with many of our alumni who are leading global organisations, successful leaders need to master the following:

Soft skills: in fact, during my TEDx talk I mentioned the recent results of the Skills Gap survey led and published by the Financial Times (“What top employers want from MBA graduates”). Drive and resilience are among most difficult skills to find. Hence, it seems key to develop these skills as a competitive advantage.

Lifelong learning: eagerness to develop and continuously challenge oneself. At INSEAD, we are continuously expanding our alumni programme to ensure they have access to resources that help them stay on top of trends.

Public speaking: perhaps the most important for me. I think every business leader needs to be ready to address an audience and make a difference. It takes work and this is something you need to dedicate time to. The ability to communicate with impact and authenticity is a game changer for one’s career.  

Successful leaders need to master soft skills, 

lifelong learning, and public speaking. 

The ability to communicate with impact and authenticity 

is a game changer for one’s career. 

You have also been actively involved in the field of Corporate Philanthropy. Why is it important for companies to engage in philanthropic projects? How can companies align their social, environmental, and business goals?

One of my past roles at INSEAD involved creating impactful partnerships with corporations looking to support Higher Education through philanthropy. Many companies have been involved in these programmes at our school. Our common vision is the will to educate business leaders to conduct business responsibly. We see that values and norms are changing and that business and social goals need to be more aligned. This is why we have recently launched our Force for Good campaign. One of our key initiatives was the creation of the Hoffmann Global Institute for Business and Society, an institute dedicated to conducting research, teaching how companies can align these goals, and raising awareness about these changing norms and values. I now work with individuals who wish to create impact and change the world through philanthropy in Business Education and INSEAD is a powerful catalyst for that. With more than 57,000 INSEAD alumni in 175 countries around the globe, INSEAD has a role to play in transforming the world for the better.

With more than 57,000 INSEAD alumni
in 175 countries around the globe,
INSEAD has a role to play
in transforming the world for the better.

INSEAD, our Associate Partner, was one of the first business schools in the world to admit women to its MBA programme and has been actively championing gender equality in the past years. What are the main challenges female students are facing in business schools and how are your programmes addressing these issues?

Diversity is one of the key values at INSEAD, and promoting Gender Diversity in and beyond our programmes has been a key area for us for a long time. This past academic year, we held many events focusing on IW50, the celebration of the 50th anniversary of female participants’ presence in the MBA programme. This initiative celebrated the past, present, and future of women at INSEAD and was led along with increased research and awareness activities on Gender Equality. We equip students with a strong support network: for example, we have a very active Women in Business club on campus and our UK Alumni Association has set up a fantastic mentoring programme. However, we also want to make it inclusive and we are offering Executive Education opportunities for everyone who wishes to drive the gender diversity agenda in their organization. We have recently opened an online INSEAD Gender Diversity Programme providing the understanding, concepts, and tools that enable participants to develop a strategic and practical plan to reach gender balance in an organization.

You are currently participating in our Women Talent Pool (WTP) programme. Why do you think it is important to constantly improve your skills?

Being part of the WIL’s WTP programme has been an amazing opportunity. It has helped me develop creativity, skills, and expand my network. I think the programme is relevant to continuous adapting and learning. I have come back from our conferences and interactions with a new way of looking at things: hearing perspectives from other participants in different industries has helped me think more creatively about my role. It also gave me the ability to dare and experiment more. Finally, being part of the WTP has allowed me to connect with peers and we have enjoyed sharing each other’s experiences. Creativity, skills, and connections are helping us manage our careers and eventually become better leaders.

At WIL, we have the tradition of concluding the interview with a question from Proust’s questionnaire. We have picked the following question for you: What do you consider your greatest achievement?


I was fortunate to meet very inspiring people at the time when I was looking for a career change and transition to the Higher Education sector, after having spent several years in the Telecom & Tech sectors. Changing industries and taking on a very different role felt a bit like a leap of faith at the time. However, looking back, I am extremely happy to have taken that brave and bold step to find a job I am passionate about and an amazing institution to work for.

Thank you!

Looking back, I am extremely happy to have taken
that brave and bold step to find a job I am passionate about
and an amazing institution to work for.

To read more about Christelle, have a look at her biography

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