Interviewed by Hanna Müller
13 years ago, Rebeca De Sancho Mayoral moved to Brussels to pursue the European dream: a continent of peace, solidarity, tolerance, and economic prosperity. Today she is a Business Advisor at EASME European Agency for Small and Medium Enterprises adhered to the European Commission. An interview about women without bank accounts and economic independence for female entrepreneurs!
For the past 13 years you have been working in Brussels on international projects at the European Commission. Why have you chosen a career in European policies?
I moved to Brussels 13 years ago to work for the European Commission. Coming from Spain, I looked up to Europe as the place where I wanted to live. I was passionate about the idea of one united Europe: a continent of peace, solidarity, tolerance, and economic prosperity. As a Spaniard, I was grateful when we joined the European Union in 1986 as one of the first countries. Joining Europe has had a positive impact on Spain, even in such areas as gender equality. In Spain, 30 years ago, women were not even allowed to open a bank account without their husband's permission!
Obviously, this personal perspective motivated me to support the European project so that not only Europeans, but also citizens in other nations partnering with the European Union, could benefit from it. Today, I am proud of being a European ambassador wherever I go.
Joining Europe has had a positive impact on Spain,
even in such areas as gender equality.
You have also worked with multiple neighbouring countries on an array of topics, ranging from internal markets and home affairs, to innovation and digital policy. How did your career develop to encompass policies and initiatives with these focuses?
When I was a child, my mom had a newspaper shop where I had access to many magazines and books. It was like a public library back in a time when we could not just google. I remember always reading the international section on the first pages of the newspapers. From a young age, I also longed to travel and explore the world.
Later, my first work experience was in Chile at the Spanish Commercial Office. That was the moment when I became more intrigued by the diplomatic European world. It felt like a dream that had come true when I finally came to Brussels to join the Enlargement project of the European Commission.
From there on, I understood diplomacy in a new and different way. For me, it means building up relations with other countries, long-term collaboration, and implementing meaningful projects together.
You are a current participant in the 5th Edition of the WIL Europe Talent Pool Program (WTP). How has leadership and personal development been important to you?
In preparation for this interview, I checked when I last paid for a coaching session. It was in 2014 with a private coach who seemed quite expensive to me compared to the salary that I earned at that time. However, I considered it a long-term investment. Sometimes we realize that we cannot grow the way we want, and we need help to overcome our inner barriers.
The journey of personal development starts in yourself. You need to find out who you are, accept yourself, set goals and follow them. Everyone you will meet in your career contributes to this inner journey, either in a positive or a negative way. Throughout my career, I was lucky to have unofficial mentors at my side. Today, I mentor younger women in Brussels at “Women in International Security”, and I am also part of the female leadership programme at the University of California.
The most important part of all these programmes and networks is the community that I created around myself, and the support of other women. We check up on each other and share where we are going in our professional and personal lives. Connecting with others is a way to build and expand your career network.
The journey of personal development starts in yourself.
You need to find out who you are, accept yourself,
set goals and follow them.
Do you have any inspiration and motivation for other women?
We all have inner doubts that hold us back in our careers; even Michelle Obama discussed this. It also happens to men, although they talk less about it. I believe whatever happens in your professional or personal life, it will teach you something. Stay true to yourself and believe in yourself.
Life is not linear, and your career path will have ups and downs with bumps, but if you trust the process and believe in yourself, you will make it to the finish line with integrity, courage, and passion.
You are a relentless advocate for gender equality, and even wrote your master’s thesis on the topic. You are also a founding member of "Women in International Security Brussels". Where does this passion come from?
Ever since I was a child, I noticed the differences between girls and boys. At that time, I just could not name or frame it because the awareness of gender issues did not exist. There are many rules for being a woman and society set a standard of rules, and, dos and don’ts. Even though all women in my family were working outside the home, they were still doing most of the housework and, carrying more of the burden than men.
There has always been an internal battle in me, trying to understand why women do not live the same way as men. The definitive eye-opener was the economic aspect: financial inequalities between men and women manifest themselves as not only unequal pay, but women are also promoted less often than men and fear asking to be paid what they are worth. When we look at single parents in Europe, we see that 80% of them are female. Consequently, the risk of poverty is much more dramatic for women. These gender injustices triggered me to support women and fight for equality. If we want to close gender gaps, it requires policy interventions that enhance women's economic opportunities and outcomes.
If we want to close gender gaps, it requires policy interventions
that enhance women's economic opportunities and outcomes.
What has the European Commission done for women’s independence, and women in finance and entrepreneurship?
We have a clear-cut objective: economic independence for female entrepreneurs. There are a lot of factors, such as reconciling business and family that make entrepreneurship a less attractive option for women than for men. The European Commission is working with EU countries to overcome these barriers and encourage more women to start their own companies.
Concretely, we are trying to build a community of female entrepreneurs around Europe, connect organizations, and raise awareness on this topic. There is funding available and we host events, workshops, and webinars. We deliver training and provide mentoring sessions to promote success stories.
Additionally, we created several tools such as networks and the e-platform called WEgate to help women become entrepreneurs and run successful businesses. Every year we award the EU Prize for Women Innovators and, obviously, we work to maintain gender parity on the European Innovation Council Board as well as the funding granted.
Reconciling business and family makes entrepreneurship
a less attractive option for women than for men.
Which talent would you like to have and why?
I admire tennis players because of their capacity to focus and keep concentration during important moments of their performances. Although some of them are extroverted and very active, they know how to maintain control under high pressure.
In his book “The Inner Game of Tennis,” Gallwey discusses personal development and inner blockages. He describes the constant conflict of the two players we have in ourselves: the conscious one who knows all the techniques and the unconscious mind. To truly play at your best, you need to quiet your conscious mind by letting go of judgment. Then trust your unconscious mind to do what it does best.
Tennis teaches invaluable life lessons that will apply to just about anything you pursue for the rest of your life.
To truly play at your best,
you need to quiet your conscious mind by letting go of judgment.