A great read for all language lovers and rising women leaders! This month, we interviewed Sabine Abello, International Development Manager at BPI group, an HR consultancy and sponsor of our Women Talent Pool (WTP) Program. Sabine talked to us about her international experiences and the importance of learning foreign languages, shared an example of an intercultural misunderstanding and how she managed to resolve it, described some of BPI group’s best practices, and much more!
Could you tell us more about your current position and what do you like best about your job?
I joined BPI group 3 years ago and I am currently working as International Development Manager. BPI group is a French consultancy, delivering services in human resources (HR) and management. Most of our clients are big multinational companies, wanting us to deliver high-quality services all over the world. My responsibilities include managing our network in subsidiaries and partners in more than 30 countries as well as our international projects.
I really like the diversity of the projects I am working on. Each client is different and faces unique challenges. This makes my work very dynamic and intellectually challenging. I also enjoy working with my colleagues, who are all experts in HR. Combining our knowledge and experience allows us to come up with truly innovative solutions.
You are fluent in four languages (French, English, Spanish, and Portuguese). Why does it remain relevant to learn foreign languages when more and more people speak English? What would be your advice to young language learners?
The first foreign language I learnt was Spanish. When I was younger, I did not like English at all. I started learning it because I had to. However, I am grateful for this. Nowadays, speaking English is not an advantage, it is a requirement.
Nevertheless, it is useful to learn other languages. It is a sign of open-mindedness and the best introduction to a new culture! People are always more comfortable speaking in their native language. Not everyone can speak English! I had better experiences travelling in the countries where I could speak the local language than where I could not. I remember my recent trip to Indonesia, where the language barrier was particularly strong. I felt like I did not understand anything about this place, even after having spent two months in Indonesia.
The best way to learn a language is to spend time abroad! I would highly recommend to everyone to spend some time abroad. I spent a year in Peru and 6 months in Brazil. This is probably why I can speak Spanish and Portuguese better than English. Yet, my recommendation would be to learn English first. It is more important to speak one language fluently than to have limited proficiency in several languages.
Professionals who work in international business development must acquire intercultural skills. Can you give us an example of adapting your business practices and attitudes to effectively communicate and build relationships with foreign professionals?
I recently had a client in China. At the end of our project, I sent him an invoice. My client then tried to renegotiate the final price. Luckily, I managed to talk to my colleague who had lived in China. He said that using my usual arguments was not a good way of negotiating with the Chinese. In Chinese culture, it is important to maintain good and long-lasting relationships! Therefore, I wrote an email saying that I needed to maintain the price in order to help me maintain a good relationship with my subcontractors and that I was sure they would understand my point of view. My colleague’s advice was priceless, and everything turned out fine in the end.
In Chinese culture, it is important to maintain good and long-lasting relationships!
You have been working at BPI group for over three years now. What are some of the best practices in terms of gender equality that you have observed at BPI group?
Interestingly, there are many women in the HR industry. However, the more you climb up the corporate ladder, the fewer women you have.
At BPI group, women represent 80% of the employees. I am pleased to say that great progress has been made! We have recently reorganized our company. Our management is now divided in 13 territories, of which 12 are led by women. All regional managers are assigned a senior coach who supports and guides them throughout their journey.
Finally, we can work from home up to two days per week, which allows the employees to optimize their work-life balance. Both men and women benefit from this. Our management is now divided in 13 territories, of which 12 are led by women.
Through our partnership with BPI group, you are currently participating in our Women Talent Pool (WTP) Program. Why did you decide to join the program? Would you recommend it to other female leaders and why?
I first heard of this program when I read a proposal for one of our clients. A few days after, BPI group proposed me to join the program and I did not have to think twice. I felt honored to join the program!
I would recommend it to women of all ages. Before enrolling in this program, I had never reflected on my position as a woman in the professional world. The Women Talent Pool Program opened my eyes and allowed me to become more aware of the existing situation and actively try to improve it as a result.
My favorite part was the workshop on stereotypes, organised in Paris last year. I have learned a lot about the benefits of having diverse teams. We looked at various scientific studies and facts that show that diverse teams perform better. Once you understand this, you can say to your manager: “Do not promote women to feel good about yourself, promote them to improve your company’s performance!”.
Do not promote women to feel good about yourself, promote them to improve your company’s performance!
At WIL, we have the tradition of concluding the interview with a question from Proust’s questionnaire. Which living person do you most admire and why?
I would pick Mike Horn, a South African-born Swiss professional explorer and adventurer. I admire him for passionately following his dreams, never being afraid of stepping out of his comfort zone and being relatively detached from material possessions. He has given away all his material wealth in exchange for exceptional experiences. Whenever he achieves a certain level of material success, he leaves everything behind and restarts again. He is constantly adapting to new challenges and rebuilding his life. For him, success means making every day count. Similarly, I believe that success is making each day your masterpiece.
Success is making each day your masterpiece.