Connecting, inspiring and empowering women to lead the way

Céline Wehrle, Senior Manager, Global Employer Services, Deloitte

28 Jun 2019 11:52 | Deleted user

Interested in knowing what lessons a successful female leader is passing on to her children? Want to know about the biggest changes Deloitte has undergone, particularly in facilitating female leadership? Eager to know what mobility programs are and the importance of having them, how work experiences can shape your future, and how being proficient in different languages can help shape your professional and personal life? To find out more, read our interview with Céline Wehrle, Senior Manager for Global Employer Services at Deloitte Switzerland and participant in our Women Talent Pool program.

You have been at Deloitte for over 10 years. How has your career developed and what are the biggest changes you have seen in the firm in that time?

After passing the bar exam in France, I started my career at Deloitte in Zurich as a consultant in the Tax department. This was a great opportunity as it allowed me to use my legal expertise and my knowledge of different languages. The international work setting was what drew me in and still excites me today! Being able to take on different roles and collaborate with clients and colleagues from across the world has been very rewarding and a real boost for my career.

Deloitte is meritocratic in its approach and rewards those who are willing to work hard and are open to new things, with many opportunities for professional development. Throughout my time with the firm, I had the chance to support many clients and was always supported by my leaders and recognized for my performance. This led to several promotions and eventually my current position at Senior Manager level.

The biggest changes I have seen at Deloitte relate to our expansion in size and the services we offer. When I started, we had 400-450 employees in Switzerland. Today we have almost 2,000 professionals! In addition, not only do we have a much more diverse client base, but we also work in a much more interconnected way with other Deloitte offices around the world, particularly in Europe.

In Global Employer Services, the team I currently work in at Deloitte, we see fewer employees re-locating as expats together with their families. Cost pressures have pushed international companies to focus on local hiring and contracting. At the same time, we deal with an increasing number of weekly commuters and employees on temporary assignments abroad or with regional travel requirements. The workforce in general is also becoming more flexible, and we see a growing number of set-ups where the traditional employment model is replaced or complemented by freelancers or other flexible arrangements.  

The international work setting was what drew me in and still excites me today!

You are supporting multinational firms with their global mobility programs, policies and strategy. What are mobility programs, and why are they important in our professional life today?

A mobility program enables companies to have the right people working in the right location at the right time. It implements a company’s strategy and HR policies for providing a structure and flexibility to send employees to different locations according to skills and career development needs. In practice, this means deciding the right type of assignment (short-term, long-term, permanent move etc.), choosing the employees best fitted for the challenge and giving them the support they need.  From an employer perspective, it also means meeting regulatory requirements, such as ensuring that employees and their families have the correct visa and social security information and comply with tax rules. In today’s increasingly globalized world, the number of people working outside their home country or office location is greater than ever. However, the implications are often underestimated and insufficiently factored in – that is where we come in!

Global mobility programs can also further support graduate scheme programs. Multinational companies want to attract and retain the best individuals. For graduates, one of the most effective ways of doing this is through schemes that allow individuals to rotate jobs within the company to see which area is best suited to their expertise and what they want. This may require them to work and move abroad.

A mobility program enables companies to have the right people work in the right location at the right time

Your work experiences have varied, from working for the Director of Mobile Networking Planning, Assistant to a Member of the European Parliament (MEP), supporting the Department fighting tax evasion and working for a number of law firms. These jobs were in Frankfurt, Strasbourg, Lausanne and now Zurich. Did the work styles differ between countries? And how did these different experiences help shape your career path?

Working practices and working hours did not differ much, as I stayed within a Germanic environment. In Germany, organizations are more hierarchical and the working environment is more formal, whereas in Switzerland this is less so, making it easier to engage with people in managerial positions and learn from them.

These different experiences helped me decide what I wanted to avoid as a job and which type of organization I wanted to work in. It encouraged me to think broadly about what type of career I wanted to pursue, with regard to both long-term and short-term prospects. It also gave me an insight into intercultural differences at work. For example, I learned that it’s best to avoid calling colleagues in southern countries very early in the morning. That actually made me think I should be working there because I am not an early bird at all!

You speak five languages: French, German, English, Spanish and Italian. How has this benefited your career and in life in general?

As I grew up in France with a Chilean father, I was brought up speaking both French and Spanish. I studied German, English and Italian at school, and I married a German, so I have been exposed to different languages throughout my life.

Individuals may be experts in their field, but if they don’t speak English, it is hard for them to communicate in an international setting. An ability to speak languages lets you communicate with people globally, which can improve your career prospects and help you form relationships which you wouldn’t otherwise be able to. Some of my best professional relationships are based on the fact that we can have discussions in the other person’s mother tongue– it creates a strong connection with people.

Speaking numerous languages has been extremely useful for me in both professionally and personally, and I strongly recommend the learning of languages!

Deloitte Switzerland is committed to increasing senior female leadership so that it reaches 30% by 2020.  Could you explain what Deloitte is doing to accomplish this?

This goal has been supported in practice by a variety of measures, but for me and many of my female colleagues, the important thing is knowing that we work in an environment where reward and recognition are about performance, not gender.

There is a program called Thrive which has been developed for future female leaders to help them improve their visibility, how to be vocal within an organization and how to support their ambition.

New policies have been put in place that allow mothers to stay a bit longer on maternity leave (6 months instead of the 4 months provided by Swiss law) and to smooth the comeback to work. Employees can participate in pre- and post-birth workshops and coaching sessions on the topic of working parents. Parents of young children are allowed to reduce their contract to 80% FTE and they can buy additional holidays based on the number of children they have.

Personally, the extended maternity leave has been of huge benefit for me as I recently had my second child. I was able to take a career break and am now ready to go back to work and perform at the expected level to further advance in my career.

In terms of statistics, senior female leadership stood at 20 % in 2017 when the commitment to the 30% target was made, and we are currently at almost 28% with some time still to go before 2020.

Being a mother of two daughters, what are the most valuable lessons you are passing on?  

I try to teach them that being a good person means to do the right thing even when no-one is looking!

I keep reminding them that we are very privileged, living in Western Europe where we take everything for granted – from health support to housing, infrastructure and a strong education system. We recently spent two months in Chile with my daughters, and it was a good lesson for them about what daily reality can be elsewhere.

I also encourage my older daughter to speak out about what she wants, needs, thinks and feels. Most people expect girls to be in the space of feelings only so it takes a strong character to challenge this on a daily basis. And yes, playing soccer and going to a stadium to watch games as a four-year old is OK!

Finally, we always end our interviews with the question: What do you value most in your colleagues?

I appreciate that my colleagues have diverse values and stick to them. When they remain true to what they believe in, they are more clear about what they want. This clarity allows for more constructive dialogue, collaboration, and ultimately stronger outcomes.

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