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Connecting, inspiring and empowering women to lead the way



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  • 24 Jun 2024 15:03 | Anonymous

    Meet Esther Villa, Counsel (Tax) at Osborne Clarke Spain. In this interview, she shares insights on the rewarding intellectual challenges of tax law, the importance of continuous learning, balancing professional development with family life, and the challenges faced by young women entering the workforce. Esther also reflects on overcoming career breaks and emphasises the importance of boldness, humility, and recognising one's worth in the professional arena.

    Interviewed by Irene Reyes Suero

    You have an impressive 20-year trajectory in tax law. Can you share some of the key milestones in your career that led you to your current role at Osborne Clarke?

    That's a great question, though not an easy one to answer because so many things come to mind. There are professional milestones that stand out, as well as inspirational moments that have had a more personal impact.

    From a professional standpoint, one significant milestone was working on a major litigation case concerning a big pharma group’s establishment issues in Spain. The audit and assessment were significant, and the litigation was both time-consuming and technically challenging. Another standout moment was when a French company exited its Spanish investments, which raised complex issues. Additionally, I remember the spin-off of a banking private client business and, more recently, debt structuring deals and a major tax audit with international components and a competent authority procedure resulting from the audit. These procedures between two countries seek to alleviate the double taxation resulting from the tax audit. These professional milestones were very formative, requiring extensive hours, teamwork, and leadership to bring out the best in everyone. Such complex cases often necessitate collaboration with lawyers from other jurisdictions to understand their perspectives and approaches.

    On a more personal level, having a supportive family. Especially as a woman, if you don't have a partner who understands the demands of your career, it can be very challenging. Having that support is crucial.

    Another important personal milestone was when I first got hired by a big law firm. It was a moment of pride and determination – I had got my feet in the door and was determined to stay. The people I met along the way became role models. One partner from my second law firm, who recently retired, had an amazing mind. His reasoning and humanity inspired me to always bring my best.. More recently, some of the partners I currently work with are also towering figures and also working with juniors has been incredibly rewarding. They challenge me and push me to be better, both professionally and personally.

     No one is invisible, but as a woman, it's easy to feel overlooked. When you're young and inexperienced, it feels like everyone is doing the same thing. But as you gain experience and evolve, you realise you need to assert yourself more. For men, this seems to come naturally, but as a woman, you have to actively occupy the space and not be afraid to raise your voice. It's important to show younger people, especially women, that it's okay to take up space and that their contributions are valued. You learn so much from everyone, and working with juniors can be both challenging and rewarding. They often bring fresh perspectives that make you think differently.

    When you're young and inexperienced, it feels like everyone is doing the same thing. But as you gain experience and evolve, you realise you need to assert yourself more. For men, this seems to come naturally, but as a woman, you have to actively occupy the space and not be afraid to raise your voice.


    What are your primary responsibilities and focus areas in your position today?

    I am currently a Counsel in the Osborne Clarke tax team. While our team is relatively small compared to other Spanish firms, we have a significant reputation and are known for our strong tax expertise.

    In my role, I specialise in international taxation and work extensively with international clients. This involves structuring investments into and out of Spain, liaising with other jurisdictions, and ensuring tax efficiency. Additionally, I handle specific tax litigation and international tax audits, which constitute a significant portion of my work. For example, we recently completed a major tax audit and filed a competent authority procedure, where we request two countries to agree on which one should tax a specific pool of profits after an audit. Initiating these procedures is quite challenging and requires a lot of work.

    On the client side, my focus is primarily on international taxation and tax litigation. Regarding team responsibilities, I am heavily involved in training and knowledge management for our tax team. I ensure that we have knowledge management days and training sessions at least three times a year. We gather the team, including new members, to discuss recent court rulings or other relevant topics. These sessions are often led by both experienced lawyers and juniors, providing a comprehensive learning experience for everyone involved.

    Your educational journey spans some of the most prestigious institutions, including Oxford University and IE Business School. How has your diverse educational background shaped your approach to tax law and influenced your professional path?

    I believe it provides significant opportunities. When you have a diverse background and can leverage it in the workplace, it’s a win for both you and your organisation. Having moved between countries like Switzerland, the UK, Spain, and Belgium, I've learned there's no such thing as a comfort zone. You need to be genuine, do your best, and approach situations with honesty, even when you lack prior knowledge. It's important to understand that the focus isn't always on you but on others.

    Curiosity and the willingness to admit when you don’t know something are crucial. Asking questions, seeking help, and being open to learning from others is enriching. It's essential to be humble, keep your ego in check, and also own your space. Sometimes, you need to speak with authority and assert your expertise. For younger women, I’d say don’t wait for permission – go for it. Men often have no problem doing this. Making mistakes is part of the learning process.

    It’s important to make yourself seen and heard. Ask questions and don’t wait for opportunities to come to you because others are busy trying to occupy their own space. Be kind to yourself and don’t overthink. People often say absurd things without a second thought, and you are allowed to do the same. Trust your instincts; even if they’re wrong, they will help you learn and grow.

    Trust your instincts; even if they’re wrong, they will help you learn and grow.

    Having worked in multiple countries and dealt with international transactions, how has your global perspective influenced your approach to tax law?

    It has been a significant learning experience, allowing me to see perspectives from different jurisdictions. While we often think that legal systems are unique to each country, there's actually a certain consistency and continuity across them. This is particularly true in the field of taxation, where the economics create a global consistency. Understanding the flow of profits and the objectives behind tax rules helps you approach how other jurisdictions handle these issues, even if the specific regulations differ.

    Being in contact with lawyers and clients from various countries is particularly interesting and highly motivating for me. Living abroad has given me insight into different cultural perspectives. It has taught me that my viewpoint is not the only one, and that elements like language and tone can vary widely. This awareness is incredibly enriching and motivates me greatly. Engaging in discussions that incorporate these diverse perspectives is something I find truly inspiring.

    Can you share an example of a particularly impactful cross-border project you have worked on?

    Choosing just one is difficult, but I can think of two particularly challenging and formative recent experiences.

    First, the competent authority proceedings I mentioned earlier were quite complex. We had a tax audit involving a Spanish group with an international structure, and the audit raised significant questions about the group’s organisation in the US and Ireland. This led to a substantial assessment. We had to involve other tax authorities and initiate competent authority proceedings. This involved submitting detailed explanations in both Spanish and English, arguing why we believed the Spanish tax authorities' approach was incorrect. While these proceedings were mainly written, we had the opportunity to present our case directly to the Irish tax authorities, addressing their questions and concerns and discussing how they would negotiate with the Spanish authorities. This case was incredibly interesting and challenging, requiring close collaboration with lawyers from other jurisdictions, each contributing to the pleadings.

    Another formative experience has been dealing with the new international global minimum tax. The OECD has introduced initiatives to ensure all jurisdictions impose a minimum 15% tax on companies operating within them. The EU has incorporated these rules into a directive that member countries must enact. These rules are highly technical and attempt to adapt different systems to a common template, which doesn’t always fit perfectly. This requires extensive study, staying in touch with tax practitioners in other jurisdictions, and ongoing technical discussions. While it's currently more theoretical, as we need to see how these rules will impact our clients, the primary focus is on compliance. Ensuring that companies can demonstrate adherence to the global minimum tax in all jurisdictions they operate in is both challenging and fascinating.

    These two experiences have been (and are being) particularly significant in my career.

    Tax law can be a complex and challenging field. What are some of the most rewarding aspects of your work, and what challenges have you faced and overcome throughout your career?

    The most rewarding aspect is definitely the intellectual challenge. It’s imperative to improve every single day, which means constantly studying and training on the job. When I started my career, I thought my studying days were over, but I quickly realised that continuous learning is essential. Tax law is constantly changing, with significant updates from one year to the next. Initially, I found this quite tough, but now I’m grateful for it because it keeps my brain active and engaged. The intellectual challenge remains a fulfilling part of my job every day.

    One significant challenge I had to overcome was taking a career break when I became a mother. I had my two kids close together, and my husband was offered a position abroad, so we expatriated. With a young family in a new country, I took a five-year break from my career. When we returned from Belgium, my husband changed his field of work, and I had to restart my career as a lawyer. It was very challenging, almost like being a junior again, despite having years of experience.

    The first five years back were particularly tough, but the intellectual challenge and putting in the necessary hours made it worthwhile. You need to want to put in those hours, not just because it’s expected, but because they help you grow. It’s not just about working for your employer; it’s about earning and learning. If you only see it as an obligation to your employer, it won’t work. You need to feel that those hours are contributing to your personal and professional growth.

    You need to want to put in those hours, not just because it’s expected, but because they help you grow. It’s not just about working for your employer; it’s about earning and learning.

    In addition to your role at Osborne Clarke, you are active as a lecturer, a jury member, and a contributor to various publications. How do you manage to balance these multiple roles, and what drives you to maintain such an active presence in both professional and educational spheres?

    I don’t engage in as much professional development as I think I should. While I do conduct internal training sessions and contribute to publications, I’m not as active as many others in my field. To be honest, you can set tasks for yourself like writing more articles or being more active on social media, but I’ve found it necessary to strike a balance with family life. Spending time with my kids is a priority for me.

    That being said, I have spent numerous hours, including weekends, early mornings, and late nights, working in the office, so finding this balance is what motivates me. There are certain professional goals I aim to achieve and actively pursue, and I will try to focus on those. This is advice I would give to younger lawyers as well – invest the time in your career development but choose your battles wisely. Being strategic and bold in your choices can make a significant difference.

    Invest the time in your career development but choose your battles wisely.

    You have recently joined WIL’s Talent Pool Programme. What are your expectations and goals for this initiative?

    I'm eager to learn and develop more tools, to supplement my "functional expertise" with those additional skills which are usually referred to as "soft skills". What I especially value from WIL is that it puts me in contact with people from "outside": outside of my "tax group", outside of my company, outside of my industry, and can allow to build bridges from which I hope I can grow and those around me, my organisation, can also grow. It's a great opportunity because there's such a diverse pool of people to connect with.

     Currently, I don’t have much time or a clear strategy for these activities. I realise that I have been working very hard at becoming an "expert" in my field, and that is undoubtedly necessary: you have to earn your credibility and you can only do that through competence and experience. But there are additional aspects or skills you also need to concentrate on if you want to make an impact in your organization and if you want to show "leadership". Leading through expertise is not, I believe, where you can make the most impact. You need horizontal knowledge and bridge-building which will allow you to connect with others, within and outside, and grow your business.

    I also want to move more beyond the "tactical" to be able to concentrate on the "strategical". So that it comes more naturally. It's important not to allow oneself to be "bogged down" by the daily flow of immediate activities (making those decisions, pushing projects forward etc.) and to focus on the bigger picture.

    I believe participating in the WTP programme will really help me in this respect by providing those strategies and those bridges.

    Own your space and make your voice heard without letting ego get in the way. Approach questions honestly and genuinely; if you have doubts, articulate them openly instead of waiting for permission to speak up.

    With your extensive experience and success in the field, what advice would you offer to young women aspiring to enter the law profession, particularly in the area of tax law?

    Be strategic and invest in yourself through continuous learning and training. Dare to be bold and proactive—don’t wait for permission and don’t fear mistakes. Own your space and make your voice heard without letting ego get in the way. Approach questions honestly and genuinely; if you have doubts, articulate them openly instead of waiting for permission to speak up.

    There’s a saying often attributed to Margot Fonteyn, the ballet dancer, which goes something like this (paraphrased): "I've learned the difference between taking my work seriously and taking myself seriously. Taking my work seriously is crucial, but taking myself seriously is catastrophic." Approach your work with dedication and professionalism, but approach yourself with humor and humility, acknowledging your human imperfections. Don’t allow yourself to fade into the background; recognise your inherent worth and place at the table. You don’t need external validation to prove your value: you're already there because you deserve to be. Embrace it and seize every opportunity with confidence.







  • 06 Jun 2024 12:24 | Anonymous



    Meet Natasza Frąckowiak, Senior Contract Manager at Capgemini Financial Services with experience in strategic vendor and legal contract management. In this interview, she talks about new professional acquisitions and her cultural adaptations throughout global transitions.

    Interviewed by Alexia Lecerf


    Can you describe your current role as Senior Contract Manager at Capgemini?

    As a Senior Contract Manager at Capgemini, I am responsible for  contract management activities related to contracts with Capgemini clients. Those activities can be divided into two phases: everything that is happening before the contract is signed, and activities related to the phase after the contract signature. During the pre-signature phase, I'm working very closely with internal stakeholders to shape and sign the deal that is manageable during delivery and  meets  the approved parameters. I am also responsible for identifying risks and working with the various risk owners to create mitigation plans.  Once the contract is signed, there are certain contract management processes that need to be performed during the post signature phase. One of them is change management, where any changes to the contract need to be drafted or reviewed by me. I am    also responsible for raising contract awareness within the delivery teams to ensure contractual compliance. The scope of activities heavily depends on the complexity of the contract.

    You have pursued a Master in Law and maintained a career in various forms of contract management with AIB, Hewlett-Packard, Credit Suisse and now Capgemini. Why did you then decide to pursue additional training in psychological education and integral development at a school of professional coaching?

    I've always been interested in Psychology and had been thinking about doing coaching for a very long time. In one of the previous companies I worked for, I was part of a coaching programme and I thought it was  a very effective way of identifying and achieving goals. Although I knew I wanted to do it, I was waiting for the right moment to commit because it requires a lot of time and dedication. When my eldest son turned 14, the way we communicated changed and I felt that I was missing certain tools to communicate with him more effectively. At that point, I thought coaching would help. With regards to my personal development, I noticed that I was not always achieving my goals and something prevented me from succeeding. In theory, I was motivated, but somehow I still procrastinated, and didn’t always end up where I wanted to be. All   of these factors contributed to the final decision to do Coaching School.  I think that was one of the best decisions I have made!

    Having recently completed a coaching programme at the Professional School of Coaching, what is your view on coaching, how has this influenced your professional relationships and leadership style?

    I think I could talk for hours about how coaching influenced every aspect of my life, but I will focus on elements that have had the biggest impact on my professional relationships and leadership style.

    When I think about coaching,  I often use this analogy:  if you look at the lake from a distance, you see its flat surface, but you don't know what is underneath the lake. Coaching is a lot about bringing what is underneath the surface and looking at it and then deciding what you're going to do about it.

    In my view, the biggest benefit of coaching is increased self-awareness which is also a key factor of an effective leadership. Self-awareness is better realising what you feel, and understanding how to regulate  these emotions. It's also about understanding which beliefs are supporting me and which ones are actually limiting me to achieve my goals. Understanding how I can better manage my emotions, thoughts and beliefs has a direct impact on building and maintaining relationships, because it helps me to be more empathic, open and  non-judgmental towards others.

    The second key element of coaching is effective communication. Active listening is a fundament of effective communication and something I was not aware before I started coaching to the extent I am now. I can observe the power of right questions every day:  as part of my role, I often need to ask questions and depending on how I ask questions, I will find out what I need from the other persons or I may  miss  something.

    I use what I learned while coaching, training and mentoring more junior colleagues and I see the difference in my approach. It is easier for me to recognise strengths and talents in others, which helps me to provide the required support for their  growth.

    The fact that we're having this conversation today is the outcome of my own personal coaching process where I have identified goals that I want to achieve while certain beliefs were blocking me from achieving them. I think it is the testament to how strongly coaching influenced me.

    Self-awareness is better realising what you feel, and understanding how to regulate  these emotions. It's also about understanding which beliefs are supporting me and which ones are actually limiting me to achieve my goals.


    You are a fluent speaker in Polish, English, and occasionally use French and German in the workplace. Additionally, you have transitioned from working in Ireland to Poland. How was this transition? How have you used these cross-cultural experiences in your work?

    I left Poland shortly after my graduation. It was my first work, my first adult experience, and my first time being completely on my own in a different cultural environment. When I started to work in Ireland, for a while, I was the only foreigner in the office. I met fantastic people there who thought me a lot about different values, priorities, approach to life. It was invaluable experience which shaped and influenced me a lot. I observed that the way of communicating was an important cultural difference. I perceived it as more  ‘reading between the lines’ type of communication rather than going straight to the point -I was a very direct person at the time.  I remember a curious situation when someone asked me, “Would you mind doing ..something?”. I remember thinking, “Oh, that’s so nice, they asked me if I would mind”, because this question translated in Polish meant that I was given an option :I can, but  I don't have to do it.  This was the polite way of saying, “Okay, please do it” which I understood later. There were plenty of situations like this and this was all part of the learning process. When I decided to go back to Poland, I had to transition from something that became part of me back into a culture where we communicate in a more direct way. This transition was not as easy as I thought it would be. However, because I was working for a global corporation the process went better at work than in my personal life! I think working abroad and experiencing different cultures definitely helped me to be more open, adjustable and sensitive to cultural differences.

    Culture is always somewhere, it's an element that influences us and the way we behave, we communicate and we collaborate.

    Culture is always somewhere, it's an element that kind of influences us and the way we behave, we communicate and we collaborate.

    In your professional journey, how have you navigated and overcome gender-related challenges to foster an inclusive and empowering environment for leadership?

    I don’t think , at least I'm not aware of, that I experienced any gender related challenges, understood as an objectively  different treatment due to the fact that I am a women. My management has always been very supportive and access to opportunities was the same for men and women. I don’t differentiate between men and women in my interactions, what matters to me is the person (as a human being), his/her personality.  However, when I look at the gender related challenges from a more subjective perspective, I feel that having children impedes my work/life balance. There was a time when I was part of a very interesting project and I loved what I was doing.  I was trying to give 100% at work, and 100% as a mother as well, but forgot about myself in the process. This experience thought me a few important lessons: it is impossible to be 100% at everything at the same time; understanding priorities in life is key as they help to live in peace with the choices, priorities change and that’s ok. In this specific situation, I am not sure I overcame this challenge, but I did find a solution that was the best for me at the time, allowing me  to meet my professional development and private life needs:  less demanding role, but still with opportunities to grow, and more time for my family.

    How do you value being part of a network where you can cultivate partnerships and collaborations with other female leaders, as done in WIL?

    I haven't been part of an women’s network earlier in my career. I see a huge benefit of being part of this network. If I think about the gender related challenge example above, being part of a  women network at that time would have allowed me to discuss my challenges with other women who had gone through similar experiences and get advice and support  from them.

    For me, the women's network is a great space to meet other women to get inspired, to learn from each other and be in a space where we can express ourselves without really being judged.

    For me, the women's network is a great space to meet other women to get the inspiration to, learn from each other and be in a space where we can express ourselves without really being judged.


  • 23 May 2024 11:24 | Anonymous


    Sarah Dulyere is a Legal Counsel at Rexel, she discusses her journey into law, influenced by childhood curiosity and admiration for singer. She highlights the diverse challenges of her role, emphasizes resilience and well-being, and advises aspiring professionals to embrace learning and self-belief.

    Interviewed by Juliette Travaillé


    Have you always wanted to work in a law-related field? If yes, what specific experiences or inspirations influenced this career of choice?

    As a kid, I had a strong sense of justice and fairness; this was always very important to me. I often found myself asking questions and challenging certain rules or orders to understand not only their significance but also their relevance. The adults I met usually said that I was going to be a perfect lawyer because I was a born challenger. I was a huge fan of an artist at that time, singer and lawyer, Axelle Red. I must admit that I quickly knew that I was more likely to become a lawyer than a singer! That was my first inspiration towards law. When I began my law-degree, I realised that I really appreciated the fact of defending people and challenging the rules that are in place. But then I did one experience at Alcogroup, and it was amazing being there as a trainee with a corporate lawyer. With her, I was able to really immerse myself in the company. I saw all different levels and jobs and everything where you as a lawyer could help your colleagues. It was quite a challenging internship, and I really loved it. That's why I am now a corporate legal counsel and not a lawyer.

    As a kid, I had a strong sense of justice and fairness; this was always very important to me. I often found myself asking questions and challenging certain rules or orders to understand not only their significance but also their relevance.


    What does a typical day as a legal counsel at Rexel entail? Can you provide some insights about the specific responsibilities and challenges you are facing?

    My days are never the same at Rexel, which is why I love this job! I always have new surprises, new questions that are emerging. As a legal counsel, I have various tasks, it's very cross-functional. I'm working with various colleagues and departments. I have questions regarding sales or direct or indirect procurement, IT questions but also about privacy, like personal data. I handle litigation that can be with partners or clients, but also with the procurement teams. And then at another level, I am also working a lot with a group because Rexel Belgium is a subsidiary of Rexel Development in France. So, we also have a lot of interaction with Rexel Development and the other companies of the group, of course. I also have a lot of corporate housekeeping related questions like General Assembly. As we speak, we are doing the approval of the annual accounts. It's always different. And the challenge, I would say, is the fact of staying focused and organised, even if we don't really know what the day will look like when I arrive here.


    You've worked in Singapore. What motivated you to move there? And how did this experience impact you both, personally and professionally? And do you have a vision of working abroad again in the future?

    My main motivation was the challenge and stepping out of my comfort zone. I was 25 when I left Belgium. It was easier than we might believe. At the end of the day, you're just bringing your car back and announcing to your parents that you're leaving, and then you’re gone! Unfortunately, it was COVID time, so it changed quite a lot  the experience that I was supposed to live there. But it was interesting to see how different cultures, different political and economic cultures, were facing those difficult times. Living in Singapore, during COVID and living in Belgium during COVID was very different. I was sharing the experience with friends and family in Belgium while I was there. And it helped me to be more open and to have more resilience because it’s harder to challenge rules in Singapore than in Belgium. It was a great lesson to be there as a European.

    I would love to have another experience abroad. But now I must admit that I'm very happy with my job at Rexel Belgium.


    As you’ve recently started the Women Talent Pool Programme, what specific goals or outcomes do you hope to achieve through this initiative?

    Most importantly, sharing and learning. There is nothing more important than being surrounded by the right people at the right time. Honestly, I truly think I wouldn't be here if I hadn't met the right person at the right time. I've been lucky enough to be surrounded by fantastic women in my personal life and in my career. The best way of evolving in your professional and personal lives is by listening to people. That’s one of my biggest motivations for joining this programme. Moreover, I really want to be able to be that kind of person for other people one day.

    I’m convinced that I’m going to learn a lot, not only from the mentors, but also from the members and our peers.

    On the way back from our first WTP Event in London, I realised how much all the inspiring women I had met were also just humans. I recently understood that it’s okay for me to be tired, sad, angry after a long day. And everybody has those days. It’s important to be able to identify these moments and seize them right.

    I realised how much all the inspiring women I had met were also just humans.


    What advice would you offer to young girls and women interested in pursuing a career in your field or working abroad but may feel uncertain about their capabilities?

    The first thing to do is to surround yourself with knowledgeable people. You don’t know everything and it’s okay, so learn from others. For instance, I'm a lawyer but I'm bad with numbers, so I ask people who are good with them to help me. Likewise, if you're good with numbers, but you don't know anything about law, surround yourself with people that know the law. And just learn from each other. Very much linked, but secondly, know your strengths and weaknesses. Thirdly, believe in yourself. It’s easier said than done but always remember that if there is a worst-case scenario, there’s also a best-case scenario. Just try, the worst that can happen is for you to fail and learn. I failed a lot myself. I didn’t know at the time what those failures meant but now I know that each one of these mistakes led me to where I am today.

    Just try, the worst that can happen is for you to fail and learn. I failed a lot myself. I didn’t know at the time what those failures meant but now I know that each one of these mistakes led me to where I am today.


    Apart from your professional pursuits, what are your passions outside of work, and how do they contribute to your personal and professional growth?

    It's always activities that help me disconnect from my work and my usual day. When you're working a lot in a very challenging environment and have many responsibilities, you need to learn to take breaks and escape from time to time. Personally, I find this disconnection in sports. Just going out for a walk after a long day really helps me take my mind off things. I also enjoy cooking because it helps me focus on simple tasks and forget about the rest. The most important thing is to find things that you enjoy doing and that help you feel better about yourself and your life!



  • 30 Apr 2024 16:08 | Anonymous

    In this interview Yvonne shares her insightful journey into the world of development finance, a sector where the pursuit of sustainability and social impact is as important as economic gain. Furthermore, she also shares advice for those looking to pursuit a career within financial development, as well as how she finds balance between an intense job and a private life.

    Interviewed by Anna Marin

    Please note that the views expressed in this interview are those of Yvonne Viktoria Mitschka and do not necessarily reflect the views of her employer, German Investment Corporation (DEG).


    Your current role is, from what I understand, focused on promoting sustainable and inclusive financial systems in several countries in Africa by issuing loans to local financial institutions. Can you tell us how you became interested in finance that helps both people and the planet? And could you point out the big steps or turning points that got you to this point in your work?

    I think I am characterized by two things: firstly, I am very mission driven. Whatever I am doing, there must be a mission. On the other hand, I am very pragmatic, and I am a doer. So, by reflecting on my passion of undertaking missions and executing tasks, I came to the conclusion that development finance could be something I could really thrive in. I got this mission I can run after, and I can achieve results.

    However, given that development finance is a very “niche” thing, I bumped into a particular steppingstone that made me aware of this industry and that was a fellowship. After my studies in finance and economics I was granted a fellowship, founded by two foundations and supported by the German foreign ministry, which enabled me to work with sustainable cities in transition countries. Through this fellowship I got the opportunity to work with different international organisations, and one of these organisations was the European Bank for Reconstruction Development (EBRD). Via this organisation and fellowship, I found out about the world of development finance and ever since I have been working in this world.

    By reflecting on my passion of undertaking missions and executing tasks, I came to the conclusion that development finance could be something I could really thrive in. I got this mission I can run after, and I can achieve results.


    When looking at a new investments, you're involved from the start to the end. Can you describe in simple steps what you do from initiation to completion?

    Every project has different steps, but in summary there are two milestones we are always working towards. First, we need to seek internal approval at DEG. This means that we need to assess the risks and convince several people that an investment into a particular financial institution is worth it. Second, we need to make sure that we, as an investment institution giving out this loan, and our client, the financial institution we are investing in, agree on the terms of the loan.

    To make sure that the investment is a good investment, we always visit the client. Our clients are often banks and we usually visit them for several days, having intense discussions and conversations about everything the bank does and how our loan can help them. We need to understand their strategies, governance and different types of risks that the bank might encounter. I really like this part of my job a lot, I get to meet people and I learn so much more from talking to people compared to only reading about the bank in its financial statements.

    After visiting the client, we write a report, present that internally and in the end get an approval that allows us to do business with the client. So, this is the first milestone, the second milestone is to negotiate and sign a loan agreement with the bank we are investing in. After that, we are able to disburse, and this is when tangible impact happens.

    These two milestones might sound like they don’t take that long, but it usually takes between six months and one year from the first initial contact with a client to disburse the money to the client.

     I get to meet people and I learn so much more from talking to people compared to only reading about the bank in its financial statements.

    But if we just circle back to the actual client a little bit, what makes a good client? How do you know that a bank is a good client and in what way does the initial contact commonly take place?

    There are two ways that this often happens: the client might approach us, or we approach the client. With many clients we have longstanding relationships, and we help the client to expand their business over decades. This means that more often than not we have several deals with one client over time.

    What all of our clients have in common is that they are very professional. A client is usually a large bank in the country  and that is good because that often means that we can have a big impact and achieve scale.

    To have such long-lasting relationships with clients must be exciting, being able to follow them over a long period of time. Do you have any story about a client or an investment that has been particularly fulfilling?

    Absolutely! So last year in December we signed a loan agreement with a client in Togo. That loan was a so-called sustainability linked loan which is a hot product nowadays in the development finance world and which constituted the first sustainability-linked loan with a banking group in West Africa. In the loan agreement, the client committed to achieving some sustainability-related targets that we previously had agreed upon. The agreement covered a climate action plan, including targets related to establishing a climate strategy and climate reporting.

    In this specific project we also worked together with other development banks in Europe, and that is something we often do – working together. In this case, the French development bank was leading the deal, with the Dutch, Norwegian and German development banks participating in the loan among others. It is great that we do collaborate like this, not only to increase impact, but also for the team spirit and for learning how other development banks work. Therefore, this project with the bank in Togo was a successful project.

    As a woman working as an Investment Manager at one of the world's largest private-sector development financiers, could you tell us about your experiences and perspectives on working within the finance industry? How do you see diversity and inclusivity playing a role in the financial sector's evolution, particularly in the regions you focus on?

    As I said before, development finance is a niche within the finance world and what everyone in this business has in common is that we are all highly motivated and curious, and perhaps a bit adventurous. With this being said, diversity and inclusivity have been a part of the DNA for many development banks from the very beginning. But many development banks also promote diversity and inclusivity among their clients.

    More often than not, when I travel to visit my clients, I do see women in senior management positions. Sometimes even more in Western Africa than in the middle of Europe, which is very cool to see.

    Absolutely, and thinking about what you said before about your requirements when DEG invests in a new client – is diversity one of these requirements and something that a bank has to have some policy or similar around in order to become a client?

    We are definitely looking at this, and we ask every client about information such as how many male and female board directors there are. Sometimes, when it comes to how the loan we issue is going to be utilised, we do ask our clients to utilise the loan proceeds to grow their lending activities with small or medium business managed or owned by women. So, we do not only look at our client, but also and especially at their lending activities. 

    More often than not, when I travel to visit my clients, I do see women in senior management positions. Sometimes even more in West Africa than in the middle of Europe, which is very cool to see.


    For many being interested in sustainable development finance, the journey to becoming an investment manager can seem daunting. What advice would you offer those aspiring to make a significant impact in this sector?

    I think this is a very good question, because when I mention to people that I work in development finance, many people focus on the mission aspect of it. Indeed, it is important to look at what you do, but I think it is also important how you do it and with whom. For me it is important that my daily tasks also fit my strengths, I mean of course it is great to work with a mission that you believe in, but I think enjoying your daily tasks matters as much.

    I also believe that having a great team is important and, as a piece of advice, I would suggest networking. Be interested in the people around you and the people you are working with. I also suggest to everyone who is interested in development finance to explore the different players and jobs  within the industry. Look around and see what works for you.

    Also, two things that have helped me in the finance industry are the combination of radical curiosity and social fitness. The combination of these has helped me to gain and maintain respect. Radical curiosity means that I ask a lot, and I found that asking a lot of questions really helps you to lead. And when I talk about social fitness, I mean being interested in the people around you. Across all technical backgrounds and all hierarchies. I think it is important to listen to people and what they know, but also what drives them outside of work.

    Be interested in the people around you and the people you are working with. I think this is as important as having a clear mission and enjoying the daily tasks.


    Lastly, some say that life is a marathon and not a sprint. How do you keep up your energy level?

    Indeed, the job is quite intense at times, but I do really enjoy it. But of course, it is important to be able to maintain a good energy level and re-energize from time to time.

    What I do for my mind has to do with my interest in data visualisation. I am currently teaching myself a programming language on the side of my job and I do like it a lot. It requires a very different kind of thinking than my work does. So, my daily morning routine right now is a bit of coding as brain gymnastics, maybe similar to others’ yoga routine.

    But as I said in the beginning, I am also a very hands-on person and a doer. I like to do practical things in my free time, as well as exercise. As an example, I really enjoy cooking and I work in a soup kitchen. In the soup kitchen,  I can see results of what I do quickly and I work with a team of people whose composition might vary from time to time.

    Lastly, I am a Christian and I do practice my faith which is also a good opportunity to get in touch with people who have a different background from mine. This leads to some inspiration and when I get back to my job, I feel like I am better at thinking outside the box.

    So, my daily morning routine right now is a bit of coding as a brain gymnastics, maybe similar to others’ yoga routine.



  • 25 Apr 2024 11:57 | Anonymous

    Meet Paola Lo Bue Oddo, Legal Officer at the European Commission. In this interview, she sheds light on her current and previous roles within international organisations and offers valuable insights into the way they function and address complex global issues. Paola also talks about her voluntary engagement and research interests highlighting her positive contributions also beyond these organisations.

    Interviewed by Anastasiia Hresko

    Throughout your career, you have held positions related to international law. Despite your education in national law (Italy), what initially drew you to this focus on international law?

    My pathway is indeed a bit unusual. I spent around 10 years in my country's university systems, obtaining degrees in political science and jurisprudence. However, I was always oriented towards wider regional and cultural coverage, especially because of my passions related to foreign languages and new cultures.

    The international nature of my jobs has led me to step out of my comfort zone and learn about different legislative frameworks, especially due to the increasing influence of EU law on national laws. I always saw EU law as a bit of a wider type of puzzle and enjoy making connections between different legal frameworks.

    I always saw EU law as a wider type of puzzle and enjoy making connections between different legal frameworks.


    What do you think are the key differences in how international organisations you have been a part of like EU and NATO approach international legal issues? What are your experiences in these domains?

    Both organisations vary greatly in the setup and purpose. While the EU's legal machinery mostly relies on creating and implementing laws to solve common problems across EU Member States, NATO focuses more on rapidly responding to crises and strengthening members’ cooperation.

    In the EU, I have worked on legislations: assessing how old legislations are functioning and creating amendments, in order to solve problems that are common to most EU Member States. For instance, I have worked on cybercrime topics where an existing legislation was too old to respond adequately to the current challenges. I gathered extensive research work, case law and statistics for an analysis, known as an impact assessment in EU jargon, which would justify the proposed amendments. Afterwards, the impact assessment had to be approved by different departments at the European Commission and then the Commission moved forward with proposing the actual amendments to Parliament and Council. Once the full legislative proposal was negotiated and adopted, the new EU law became up to date, and the amendments had to be transposed at the national level by the EU Member States.

    Meanwhile, at NATO, I focused on coordination work and public diplomacy. Their work culture was quite different, with a stronger focus on immediately finding solutions and increasing members’ cooperation. This is also related to the nature of the NATO setup.

    I’m glad I experienced different work cultures and different ways of addressing international issues. In any case, both legislation and coordination activities complement each other very well and I believe that more staff exchanges between international organisations need to be promote­­­­d.


    Apart from your professional career, you are also very active when it comes to voluntary engagement. How do you choose the projects to work on in this regard?

    My objectives usually follow two main themes: supporting people affected by global crises and raising awareness about the EU.

    As a first example, when the COVID-19 pandemic struck Italy in 2020, I had been working at NATO and I decided to join NATO's Euro-Atlantic Disaster Response Coordination Centre after working hours, to ensure critical supplies and medicines were delivered on time.

    As a second example, I coordinated local deliveries of supplies to Ukrainian refugees when the conflict started in 2022. That experience wasn’t fully rationalised: I volunteered immediately because I felt a strong responsibility to do so.

    On a lighter note, concerning the EU, I frequently participate as a speaker on EU affairs for university students. I also welcome visiting student groups in Brussels at our European Commission's Visitor Centre.

    My objectives usually follow two main themes: supporting people affected by global crises and raising awareness about the EU.


    Let’s switch to another field you are passionate about: research. Do you follow a similar “selection process” when choosing topics to explore? For example, in the law book that you co-authored (Expériences juridiques sur les droits humains), what initially sparked your curiosity and led you to delve deeper into counter-terrorism? 

    I don’t have a fixed selection process and my research interests are diverse, including both professional and personal ones.

    Indeed, one notable work includes co-authoring a French law book, which is a collection of human rights analyses. My chapter is on violations of human rights law throughout the war on terror which is a sensitive topic that many colleagues didn’t want to explore. Yet, I was interested in finding out the intricacies of this domain, which included researching state secrets and intelligence services activities. I also interviewed lawyers who had participated in some of the international trials first-hand.

    Concerning non-work-related research topics, it may be a particular event that sparks my interest. As a recent example, I frequently travel back to Milan, and I'm always surprised by the advertisements in the airport or train stations depicting women in seductive poses with little clothing on, not even being related to fashion. This led me to explore the topic of sexist advertisements: I researched national laws regulating it, how countries define the topic of sexism and whether sexist billboards can be regulated at a higher level. I ended up writing the full research paper on this and many of my colleagues reading were shocked at how widespread and unsolved this issue is.


    You work at the European Commission as a legal officer in the Directorate General for Defence Industry and Space (DG DEFIS). Does your DG have any peculiarities? Can you explain the newfound attention to the defence sector?

    DG DEFIS was created in January 2021 and has four directorates. I work in the Defence Directorate, where half of the middle managers are women. One peculiarity are many seconded national experts working within the DG. These colleagues have usually worked in national defence ministries or armed forces and are seconded by their country to the European Commission to work temporarily at the EU. This ensures that national expertise is well-integrated at the EU level.

    Despite geopolitical and security challenges before 2022, there hadn’t been a high level of international attention to defence topics. Even after the Russian occupation of Crimea, there had been attempts to have working relationships with Russia.


    In your opinion, how can international legal frameworks be strengthened in administrations, to better address complex global issues?

    There is a complex tradeoff between addressing long-term issues and risking becoming too bureaucratic and focusing on short-term issues and risking producing one-off instruments which lack attention to detail, thus making it hard to make recommendations.

    What is crucial for administrations is to encourage innovation and a healthy turnover. I’ve personally been involved in situations where there was a collective reluctance to adjust an approach despite clear evidence to do so. These so-called echo chambers can be overcome by encouraging more staff exchanges within national and international administrations and more discussions between the public and private sectors. More simplicity when explaining laws to the public is another improvement point since legislations normally have a very delicate balance of needs and priorities and involve various actors, thus making it hard for non-experts to conduct their comprehensive assessment. I think that the way forward on this is for EU staff to push themselves more out there and become more approachable to the wider public. This is also something I intend to do thanks to this international leadership programme.

    The way forward is for EU staff to push themselves more out there and become more approachable to the wider public. This is also something I intend to do thanks to this international leadership programme.






  • 27 Feb 2024 11:10 | Deleted user

    Meet our Talent Lucile Collin, Economic Analyst (G7/20) at the European Commission. She unpacks how she is working at the Commission to tackle issues that trangress national borders, why female empowerment is still needed in the finance sector, and shares her experience of the Women Talent Pool programme. 

    Interviewed by Claudia Heard


    You are currently an Economic Analyst with a focus on the G7/20 at the European Commission and were previously a Press and Media Officer in the Financial Services Department. What inspired this transition from a PR-based role to a more analytical position? How has your experience and the skills you’ve acquired in different areas shaped your understanding of EU workings and your approach to your current role?

    My background is more analytical, as I studied public policy, including law and economics, with a focus on EU affairs. My work experience has also largely been in EU economic policymaking in different places – the French civil service, the French Senate, a brief stint in the private sector as an EU affairs consultant, and then in the Commission, focusing on economic, financial and competition issues. All these different experiences have helped me to understand the points of views of various stakeholders involved in EU policymaking, and to see the bigger picture, including how one policy area can impact another.

    My experience in communications was very valuable for my path because I had to translate complex technical issues on financial services regulation into key messages for journalists and build narratives, being aware of the wider political context, while reacting quickly to political developments and anticipating what could come next. These skills will be useful throughout my career.

    In my current role, I combine technical aspects (e.g. working on the international financial architecture) with political and communication aspects, preparing the participation of my Commissioner and the European Commission President in the G20. All this while being able to see first-hand the wider geopolitical context, which makes my job really interesting.


    Your work focuses on sovereign debt restructuring among other issues. Could you elaborate on the main challenges facing countries with sovereign debt and what informs the EU’s strategy on alleviating this debt?

    At the Commission, we’re concerned about raising debt vulnerabilities in developing countries, especially the poorest ones. These vulnerabilities were exacerbated during the COVID-19 pandemic, and as a result of Russia’s war against Ukraine and its impact on food and energy prices. The situation now is not as bad as it was in the 1990s, but we can still see that 60% of low-income countries are either in debt distress or at high risk of it. When that debt burden is no longer sustainable, this is when debt restructuring come in. For this to happen, you need all the creditors to agree on fair burden-sharing in providing that relief. This poses a problem because the creditor landscape is much more complex than it used to be – China is now a much more important creditor and private creditors are more prevalent too, so the coordination between all these stakeholders is much more difficult nowadays.

    In November, the G20 adopted a Common Framework for debt treatment. Now, the focus is on improving its implementation to reduce delays, make the process clearer and more transparent for borrowing countries. So, I’m part of the working group that collaborates with G20 partners, the IMF and the World Bank, to improve this process. The EU is a permanent member of the G20, so we have a significant voice at the table, and we need to make it count.


    How, in your view, can co-operative relationships be fostered between economies of the G7 and those of the Global South?

    I am expressing my own views here which may not necessarily reflect those of the Commission and I am not speaking in the name of the Commission. First, I think it's important to protect multilateralism. Internationally, there have been rising tensions, starting with Russia’s war in Ukraine, which has seen the violation of basic principles of the UN Charter. Therefore, it's more important than ever to defend these principles, which were put in place to protect smaller countries and economies from bigger ones. More generally, I think that if we want to address common challenges, there needs to be some common rules.

    The world order has seen big shifts since the end of World War II, with decolonisation for example. We see a lot of requests from different countries in the “Global South” to make global governance more representative, a lot of which I think are very legitimate. So, in the G20 we also work on reforming international financial institutions such as the IMF and World Bank. But with a bigger voice also come bigger responsibilities.

    A very important issue to consider in cooperation between the G7 countries and the “Global South” is climate; an area where there is a huge need for international cooperation. We all have common yet differentiated responsibilities to address climate change. The EU is responsible for less than 10% of global emissions, so we can’t do it alone, but we do have a responsibility to help poor countries, for example with climate finance, of which we are the largest provider worldwide.


    We all have common yet differentiated responsibilities to address climate change


    Having represented France at the 2016 Girls20 Summit at the margins of the G20 Summit in China, why is female empowerment important to you particularly in the finance sector?

    At G20 summits, you have a lot of mobilisations from civil society, youth organisations and businesses making recommendations. So, we gathered as young women aged 18-23 from different G20 countries to make recommendations to the G20 leaders on reducing the gender gap in labour force participation. This is important because when you increase female participation in the labour force, you improve outcomes for girls and women, relating to health and reduced domestic violence, for example, but you also see better outcomes for the economy and society as a whole.

    This is still a relevant issue today. A few months ago, the Nobel Prize in Economics was awarded to Claudia Goldin, an American historian and economist, who found that the progress in closing the gender gap has been slowing, and that the birth of a woman’s first child is still a major factor, explaining the gender pay gap within the same job. I firmly believe that a woman should not have to choose between her career or having a family. Men don’t ask themselves the question, so why should we?

    This matters especially in the finance sector, where you see there are still fewer women at the top. According to a recent EY survey, a third of financial firms still report below 40% female board representation, falling short of the quotas established by the EU which will become binding from 2026, so there’s still work to be done.


    I firmly believe that a woman should not have to choose between her career or having a family. Men don’t ask themselves the question, so why should we?


    While studying at UCL in London and SciencesPo in Paris you were an EU Careers Ambassador. What attracted you to a career in EU institutions and what advice would you give to young people trying to pursue a similar path by breaking into a competitive organisation?

    The main reason for wanting to work in the EU was to make a positive contribution in the world, but this desire arose from a personal story. My grandfather, now 97 years old, is from Alsace, a region in France which was at the centre of several wars between France and Germany. He lost his own relatives and friends from the region in the Second World War with Germany, and yet, he sent his own children, including my father, to learn German in Germany. I think it's incredible that in just one generation, we were able to establish long-lasting peace. So, to me, peace in Europe really means something. And now that many decisions are taken at the EU level, working for the EU means you can have an impact on 450 million Europeans. It allows us to tackle common issues like climate change, which can only be addressed beyond national borders.

    Working in the EU allows you to be in a multicultural environment, speaking several languages a day, as well as offering job mobility and the opportunity to work in different policy areas. My advice for young people interested in this path would be to start with a traineeship at the European Commission, which allows you to experience working for an EU institution for 5 months. From there, you can progress to the Junior Professionals programme. There are also external competitions to recruit permanent officials, if you are an EU citizen and have completed a degree, which is how I signed up. It’s important to master at least 2 EU official languages, and we look for all kinds of profiles, so I would encourage anyone to apply.


    Now that many decisions are taken at the EU level, working for the EU means you can have an impact on 450 million Europeans. It allows us to tackle common issues like climate change, which can only be addressed beyond national borders.


    With the Women Talent Pool 8th edition now ending, could you share an important lesson you have learnt or a skill you have developed as a participant?

    As women, we often don’t take the time to network, saying we have too much work and no time for such things. What I learnt on the programme is that networking is work, and that it is like an investment into your career. While I was on the programme, my network allowed me to be the first one to hear of a new vacancy, which is now my job, and I gathered intelligence from contacts which was directly useful for my role.

    Another lesson I’ve learnt is that there is a real need for solidarity between women at the office and to encourage other women around us, to speak up, be visible, and make our voices heard. That’s something I’ll keep with me for the rest of my career.

     


  • 13 Feb 2024 13:33 | Deleted user

    Ceyla Simeu is Lead Data Scientist at Rexel. In this interview, she tells us about how she grew the confidence to take on public speaking engagements, the challenges she has overcome throughout her career as a black woman in  Data Science, and how increased diversity in the field is essential to make Artificial Intelligence (AI) a force for good.

    Interviewed by Anna Marin


    Since 2018 you have been working at Rexel, where you started as an intern and are now the Lead Data Scientist. Can you describe what initially sparked your interest in Data Science and tell us about your career journey to your current position?

    My interest in data science first started with mathematics. I was born into a family of mathematicians – my parents are both PhD in Computer Science and Automation, so it was very present in my everyday life. When I was a child, my father would often ask me mathematical questions when I was just 5 years old. My parents have really inspired me on my career path, and in many ways, I follow their path.

    I went to the University of Grenoble Alpes, where I studied Applied Mathematics and later a Master’s in Data Science. I joined Rexel, my first company, as an intern five years ago. When I started, I had a lot of fresh ideas, as well as good organisation and communication skills, and I think that is why I succeeded in climbing up within the company. I am really grateful that the management team trusted me and believed in me, as I am now the Lead Data Scientist. These communication skills are still integral to my approach to work – as data scientists, we often think we must stay behind our screens but that is not my way of thinking. For me, a data scientist also needs to be a good communicator and be visible.


    How have your experiences as a young black woman in STEM shaped your career and personal journey, what challenges have you encountered along the way and how have you overcome them?

    It was a long journey to become a lead data scientist. During my Masters, when I was looking for an internship, I came to the difficult realisation that if I removed my picture from my CV, I received more positive responses from different companies. This was tough for me, but I eventually found my internship and got to where I wanted to be, at Rexel.  

    I am really integrated at my company, and I think that now, being who I am is a strength. I have a mantra and it is: “Everyone knows me, but no one knows my name”. Because it’s true that when you are black at a big company and in a leadership position - people remember you easily. But I also want people to know my name, and that is what I am working towards.

    There is still a long, long way to go for us to be recognised as we are and for the industry to look at skills, rather than looking at skin colour. Of course, there are also stereotypes connected to being a woman, but I think that the tide is thankfully starting to turn in this regard. The battle lies now in bringing about this positive change for black people, particularly black women.


    AI is described as the heart of Rexel’s data-driven strategy. Could you give us an insight how you work with AI in your role as a Lead Data Scientist?

    Rexel has a data-driven strategy, which means that we have a strategy oriented on data. We have a lot of different types of data on the products we sell, such as transactional data, environmental data and so on, which makes the AI team an integral part of Rexel.

    I work with a multi-profile team; we are around 20 people with different types of knowledge. We have data scientists that will build the algorithm and construct the code, but we also have people like software and data engineers because it is important that we can industrialise the code, and business-oriented colleagues who show how our projects bring value to the company and the final user. Thanks to this team our solutions at Rexel are fully automatised, which means that we can use them over and over, saving ourselves work and time in the future. I coordinate the technical implementation of the algorithm and manage the evolution possibilities, and AI is at the centre of this, at the base of the model we use.


    As a professional in AI, you're likely aware of the varying public opinions on its use and future applications. Why do you think feelings of fear towards it exist and how do you think it can be mobilised in a positive way?  

    AI has been around for a long time, but many people think it is a new trend. We have always used this kind of tool, the difference is that AI is easier for everyone to consume now than it was before. As people, we are often scared about the unknown and I think scepticism is normal. I have been confronted with this within my work, some might be worried that our tool will replace their jobs, and therefore adoption is very important. Adoption enables us to show the user that the tool will be useful to them. That is also why we need people on the team with different profiles, who can explain the tool to diverse business users to reassure them that AI can actually help them become more efficient in their job rather than replace it.

    We have also seen an incredible expansion in the use of generative AI in everyday life. I think it will lead to increased productivity, and we need to see this as a tool that will improve the way we work and as an opportunity to develop our jobs. However, we should keep in mind the environmental impact of Generative AI and seek to minimise this – it needs a lot of data, and the number of computations is enormous, which is bad for the environment. Another thing we need to keep in mind is that AI is often biased. Because AI is often based on historical data, it fits the stereotypes of that data. An example of this is the word “nurse” in English. In French the word “nurse” is translated to the word “infirmière” by AI, making the word automatically feminine in French. When AI translates the word “Prime Minister” to French it translates to “premier ministre”, a masculine translation, therefore reinforcing gender stereotypes when it comes to job roles. All of this shows that we will always need humans to validate AI and ensure it is developing in the right direction.  


    Continuing with the topic of AI, you recently spoke on the ‘AI for Logistics’ panel at the AI for Industry panel 2023. Can you share insights into the importance of diversity of voices in discussions on AI and technology?

    It is true that AI is biased, and sometimes, these kinds of events can be biased too. We often see more men around those round table discussions. So it was great for me to participate in the ‘AI for Logistics’ panel to add my perspective.

    I think we need to act early to improve representation; we need to go out to schools and show kids what we do in AI and that we need women in this industry. If we can demystify tech to young girls then this will pave the way for them to become interested in it as a career, and eventually contribute to more representative datasets.


    I think we need to act early to improve representation; we need to go out to schools and show kids what we do in AI and that we need women in this industry.


    This taps into what you talked about before – the importance of being visible as a data scientist. So, could you share a little bit about what you have learned from these public speaking engagements? How has your experience on the Women Talent Pool Programme contributed to enhancing your confidence in taking on these opportunities?

    It has always been my dream to talk about tech in public settings, and the WTP programme has helped me achieve this. In my Career Development sessions, my mentor, Viktorija Smatko-Abaza really encouraged to take on public speaking engagements and because of her and the programme, I accepted to be on the ‘AI for Logistics’ panel and it only made me hungry for more. It made me feel comfortable in my role, in myself and that I deserve to do this. The workshops also helped me to learn about the importance of body language, the importance of networking and effective communication.


    It has always been my dream to talk about tech in public settings, and the WTP programme has helped me achieve this.


    Finally, do you have any advice for others in data science, just starting their career?

    Don’t be afraid to gain visibility within your company. As a data scientist, you don’t always have to be behind your screen. But it is important to know how to structure your code and comment your code. Be aware of the next person who will read your code and help them understand. You also need to learn how to build an algorithm.

    Finally, I recommend being full of ideas and try to boost your communication skills. I think this is what will really make the difference on your journey.

    Don’t be afraid to gain visibility within your company. As a data scientist, you don’t always have to be behind your screen

    Video edited by Claudia Heard


  • 24 Jan 2024 14:01 | Deleted user

    Meet Federica Fischetti, Senior Associate at Osborne Clarke. In this interview, Federica delves into the world of public law, how she tackles sustainability topics in her work, and how inspiring women and a PhD helped her along the way.

    Interviewed by Meike Schneiders


    To get started, could you please give us a little background on how you came to your current position as Senior Associate at Osborne Clarke?

    It’s a story of daring and courage; the start of my experience at Osborne Clarke was dictated by the desire and curiosity to embark on a new adventure in terms of professional experience. Until then I had been working with a national law firm, which are traditionally the types of firms exercising Public Law in Italy. However, I had always looked at the work of non-corporate lawyers in international law firms from a distance. In 2019 I was offered the opportunity to create a Public Law team within an international firm: Osborne Clarke. Back then, we started with just two people, the Partner and I, but were shortly joined by another colleague, and within a few years, we became a team of nine people. It’s a role that continues to spark my curiosity and challenge me on a daily basis.


    It’s a story of daring and courage; the start of my experience at Osborne Clarke was dictated by the desire and curiosity to embark on a new adventure in terms of professional experience.


    You specialise in Public Law, with a particular focus on Public Procurement and Public Services Law, both judicial and non-judicial. What excites you most about your work in this area?

    I know so many people find this field uninteresting, and it is not a very well-known one. However, I love my work because it allows me to come into contact with various categories of people: CEOs, managers, and technicians, from public and private companies. Therefore, I have to deal with an endless variety of legal and technical issues. In my field, when you advise a client in a court case you need to deal not only with legal and procedural issues, but you also need to be able to understand the issues from a technical point of view. Cases on tariff matters in the water sector, or issues about the business plan in public-private partnerships need very deep background knowledge.


    At Osborne Clarke you are also a member of the Infrastructure Services & Public Law Team Italy. What are the most pressing issues in this area at the moment and how important is the consideration of sustainability factors in this work?

    Cases regarding sustainability issues are the ones that have recently engaged the entire team. A big part of this has been working on the National Recovery and Resilience Plan which is part of the Next Generation EU program that the European Union negotiated in response to the pandemic. My team was involved both in the establishing as well as the realisation process. Sustainability has certainly been a common thread in our recent work, ranging from legally accompanying reform packages and working on strategic access to digitalisation and innovation, as well as promoting ecological transition and social inclusion.

    In addition, sustainability is also the heart of several projects and operations we have supervised from a legal standpoint on behalf of utility clients. For example, we are advising on the realisation of a green platform with zero fossil emissions. This is an innovative project focused on the recovery of waste rather than disposal in landfills.


    Do you have any female role models or female figures that have stood out to you throughout your career?

    It’s difficult to answer this question as the field of public law has traditionally been very male-dominated. Although in recent years the situation has changed to some degree, my day-to-day work environment is still predominantly composed of male figures. That being said, I think I was profoundly shaped by the challenging period I spent in Rome before joining Osborne Clarke. I worked for a national firm composed almost exclusively of women and while I do not think I can consider any of them a role model, I am still convinced that working with them has benefited me greatly. They were leading by example, they showed me that unity is a strength, and that we women can succeed through mutual support. These issues re-emerged in recent years on the Women Talent Pool leadership programme and other events organised by Osborne Clarke.


    The women I worked with were leading by example, they showed me that unity is a strength, and that we women can succeed through mutual support.


    A few years ago, you completed your doctorate in European Union law. Doctoral studies can be quite an exhausting and lonely time. Were there any particular challenges you faced and do you have any tips for others who are thinking of following a similar path?

    The three years of the doctorate were certainly challenging both because of the context, the University of Bologna is prestigious and professors understandably demanding, and the fact that alongside to my Ph.D, I was also gaining my first experience as a lawyer. I cannot deny that it was an exhausting and chaotic time, keeping multiple balls rolling. But it helped me face the bar exam, and the challenges of the legal profession, more calmly and with greater confidence. Therefore, it is a path I recommend. It opens your mind and teaches you not to stop at the surface but to examine the issues in more depth.


    The PhD is a path I recommend. It opens your mind and teaches you not to stop at the surface but to examine the issues in more depth.


    You are part of the 8th edition of the Women Talent Pool Leadership Programme. Almost a year in, could you share with us one of your most memorable moments from the programme?

    So far, the most memorable moment of the programme has been the Annual Gathering in Rome. I really enjoyed the topics covered as well as the beauty of the chosen location. Finally having the chance to finally be able to meet other programme participants was extremely enriching. I think that the opportunity to follow the programme online is essential but the beauty of the in-person events is irreplaceable. Hence, I look forward to the upcoming gathering in London which I predict to be equally memorable.


    And last but not least, do you ever find time to read, and if so, what are your favourite books?

    In the past, I was a compulsive reader and always travelled with at least two books in my bag. At the moment, unfortunately time is scarce and between work and family, there is little time left to devote to reading. In any case, there is always a small stack of books on my bedside table that I open as soon as I find a quiet moment. Possibly my favourite book is “The Name of the Rose” by Umberto Eco. It is set in 1327 at an Italian Franciscan monastery where a series of strange deaths occurs. I like it because it is not only a narrative of a murder investigation but a Chronicle of the Middle Ages. However, the book I read most recently, I must confess, was Cinderella as I have two small children!


    Video edited by Claudia Heard


  • 16 Jan 2024 12:35 | Deleted user

    Meet Maria Birath, Senior Legal Counsel at Capgemini, an international business lawyer with 14 years of experience in Information Technology and Commercial law. In this interview Maria shares insights into the rewarding aspects of multinational companies, how technology can enhance the legal function and the importance of self-care.

    Interviewed by Anastasiia Hresko


    Let’s start by talking about your position. You are currently a Senior Legal Counsel at Capgemini. Can you share some of the challenges and rewards of this position?

    For me, the biggest reward of being a Senior Legal Counsel at Capgemini is the ability to influence and advise our Senior Management and help the company win sustainable business. I can see my work having a direct positive impact on the core business and strategic long-term decision making so I get to be involved in everything that makes Capgemini a great company.

    It does come with some challenges. The environment is stressful with a very fast pace and the workload is usually high with multiple projects running simultaneously.


    I get to be involved in everything that makes Capgemini a great company.


    You have often chosen an international environment to work in. What aspect of working in multinational companies attracts you the most?

    I would have to say: the people. When people from ten to twenty different countries and cultures work together, great things happen. There are obviously challenges with cultural aspects but you have so much fun together, learn a lot from one another and get different angles on various topics, so it is a great experience.

    But I’d also say: the clients. One of the benefits of working in a multinational company is that you get to work with some of the world’s largest companies. The professionalism that you get from both sides is truly impressive.


    You are working in the IT sector. Could you share some examples of how you deploy technology to improve the legal function?  What are your thoughts on the future of Legal Tech, and how do you see it changing the legal profession in the years to come?

    That’s something I feel very strongly about! Technology can improve our work so much.

    Lawyers are generally very expensive “resources”. Despite being highly qualified, we still spend so much time on routine tasks with low value to the company. By using Legal Tech and AI, however, we can remove the low value work and free up time for our competencies to really shine through. This leads to an improved business game as well as more insightful and strategic advice. For the lawyers it also means workload that is more manageable, more challenging and a lot more fun. Thus, it’s basically a win-win for everyone.

    In our legal department we are already seeing how automation is simplifying repetitive tasks and digitalisation is helping us to leverage data and discover inefficiencies in our internal processes. There is so much more room for growth in this area; Legal Tech has been on top of everyone’s mind recently but I believe that it will explode in the coming years.


    Legal Tech can remove low value work and free up time for our competencies to really shine through.

     

    Let’s talk about leadership. You are currently participating in the 8th edition of WIL’s Women Talent Pool Programme. What were your biggest takeaways from it and how did it help you develop as a leader?

    The programme is amazing and I am so happy to be a part of it! The network is definitely something I’ll take with me. Knowing that I can reach out to women in similar situations as myself all over Europe and in different sectors is priceless.

    I had great mentoring sessions about my career development and what I need to get where I want to be. And I think as a leader I am taking with me the importance of leading with my heart, with compassion and of course, clear communication. I also gained interesting perspectives about leadership in the context of culture: in the Nordics we have a democratic style of leadership but sometimes more directness is needed – a valuable learning opportunity for me!


    As a leader I am taking with me the importance of leading with my heart, with compassion and of course, clear communication.


    As a woman in leadership in the legal sector and a mother of two children, how do you maintain a work-life balance?

    Well, that is difficult, and I have struggled a lot with it, especially when I was younger. But I have learned how important it is to remember that no one will thank you if you do not take care of yourself and burn out: neither your family, nor the company. So the best thing to do for everyone is to take care of yourself and set boundaries.

    People are generally very understanding when you say “no” – it is just your fear of saying “no” that hinders you from experiencing that understanding. I try to treat my time as something valuable, say “no” to meetings where my participation is not actually necessary and to block out my calendar ensuring that I have uninterrupted time to get the work done.


    People are generally very understanding when you say “no” – it is just your fear of saying “no” that hinders you from experiencing that understanding.


    In your role as Senior Legal Counsel you are often responsible for advising clients and internal stakeholders. However, is there any advice you have received from someone else in your career that you would like to share, and what advice would you give to young women starting out in the legal sector?

    I have been fortunate to have extremely talented and supportive female leaders close to me throughout my entire career. They’ve been my role models showing that women can succeed. One advice I took with me is not to rush everything – to take your time.

    Working life is long and is getting longer with the increasing retirement age - you don’t need to do everything right away. You don’t want to get stuck of course, but it’s important to take time to savour the success and not immediately chase new accomplishments.  For women starting their career it is so easy to put a lot of pressure on themselves: you want to prove that you are good, that you belong…

    My advice would be to remember that you can only do a good job if you feel good. You cannot expect to give your clients the best advice if you do not sleep or eat or if you spend all your time just working.

    It is like they say on an airplane flight: you must put your oxygen mask on before you can help others. You really need to prioritise yourself and your work-life balance.


    It is so easy to put pressure on yourself in your early career: you want to prove that you are good, that you belong… But you can only do a good job if you feel good.

    Video edited by Claudia Heard


  • 09 Jan 2024 14:23 | Deleted user

    Agustina Venturin is a Start-Up Manager at Axens. In this interview, Agustina discusses her international background, the importance of adaptability throughout her career in chemical engineering, and how practicing ballet has impacted her personally and professionally.

    Interviewed by Juliette Travaillé


    You were born in Argentina and moved to France in your teenage years. How has this international background played a role in your career?

    Indeed, I have a multi-international background. At 12, I received a grant to come and study in France as I was practising ballet at a high level. It was difficult to leave my parents and my whole family behind at such an early age but being this young actually helped me. It was easier for me to adapt to France and its culture then than it would be now, as an adult.

    I think that it played, and still plays, an important role in my career because it gave me the crucial skill of adaptation. This is important in the work that I do today, where I meet and exchange with lots of different people. Depending on the person in front of me, I always adapt my speech, behaviour and actions to make sure they feel heard and understood.


    Depending on the person in front of me, I always adapt my speech, behaviour and actions to make sure they feel heard and understood.


    As of right now, I wish to stay in France. When I arrived here, France adopted me, gave me a chance to pursue the career of my dreams even though I was not French myself. Staying in France is a way for me to give back. But my work gives me the opportunity to travel and explore other countries, while keeping a foot in France, my home.


    You've done a PhD in chemical engineering and recycling processes of nuclear fuels. Why did you choose to pursue your studies and focus on R&D (Research and Development) ?

    After my master’s degree, I had to make a difficult choice between the R&D and the supply chain worlds. I decided to continue with a PhD mainly because I felt that it would enable me to grow further both professionally and personally. During this time, I learnt a strict methodology that shaped me as a chemical engineer, letting me embrace my real personality and teaching me to be my best self.


    After your PhD you decided to keep working in Research and Development (R&D) and switched to Axens in 2018. How did that transition go and what motivated you to take this step?

    After my PhD, choosing a position as a R&D engineer was the logical way to go. I had the chance to get a position at IFPEN (IFP Energies Nouvelles). I stayed there for three years and put into action everything I had learnt during my PhD. After those three years, I felt the need to get closer to the practical reality of what I had been researching, and to the final product, so I decided to move to Axens, which is part of the same group as IFPEN.

    I quickly realised that I would like to pursue my whole career in this direction. R&D was the best way for me to get started but I believe that shifting my focus to working on the final product and industrial units was the best way to go at this stage.


    In 2022, you took the role as Manager in Axens’ Start-Up department. Could you talk about this position and what it entails?

    Before becoming a manager, I spent more than four years as a start-up engineer. What I love about the start-up sector is that there’s no typical day. Every day is full of surprises. We mainly travel to our clients’ sites around the world and help them put in service the industrial units and products we sell to them. Thus, there isn’t a ‘typical’ project, which forces me to adapt.

    Now, as a manager, I support my team on their projects and missions around the world. I juggle between technical and administrative issues and topics, in France and abroad. This is both challenging and fun as I have to go out of my comfort zone a little bit every day.


    I am juggling between technical and administrative issues and topics, in France and abroad. It’s both challenging and fun as I have to go out of my comfort zone a little bit every day.


    How do you deal with working in chemical engineering, a male-dominated field? What advice would you give women who wish to be a manager but are weary of this?

    We can fairly say that it is a male dominated sector. To give you an idea, at Axens there are approximately 40 start up engineers and only 10% are women. There are other companies with even less % of women in this sector.

    What I would advise is to never see yourself differently. I never feel different from my male colleagues or clients. I see all my co-workers as sources of inspiration, growth and knowledge, whether they be a man or a woman. As I have said before, it is crucial to learn to adapt in every situation. If you know how to adapt, you will avoid confrontation and conflict. Always be patient and adapt. Prove that you deserve to be there so you can gain people’s confidence.


    I see all my coworkers as sources of inspiration, growth and knowledge, whether they be a man or a woman.


    Since March you have been part of the Women Talent Pool (WTP) Programme. What are your main takeaways from the programme thus far?

    My main takeaway is that even if we are very different women, working in distinct sectors, we have so much in common. We all have similar ways of thinking and issues to overcome. Hearing from these women and learning from them has been very empowering for me, whether it be from the workshops or the mentoring sessions, which are especially inspiring.


    Before pursuing a career in chemical engineering you practiced ballet to a high level. How has this sport impacted your life?

    I practiced ballet for a long time and there are lessons I learnt from it that I carry with me and will continue to do so. Ballet taught me two important things; to be rigorous and passionate in everything I do. These are two virtues that I believe to be the key to a balanced personal and professional life. I am not necessarily looking to achieve a perfect work-life balance, but to approach both my job, and my hobbies in the same way; with passion and rigour. My job as a manager has enabled me to work in the field that I wanted and to do it with passion. But this opportunity didn’t present itself, and my rigour was a key player in achieving my career goals.


    Ballet taught me two important things; to be rigorous and passionate in everything I do. These are the two virtues that I believe to be the key to a balanced personal and professional life.


    Ballet also taught me to make decisions. Indeed, at the end of high school I had to choose between pursuing a career as a professional dancer or studying chemical engineering. I decided to go for the latter and would still do so today if I had to make the choice again. I decided to fully close the ballet door and this chapter of my life and I don’t regret it because it led me to where I am today.


    Finally, as a reader, what is your favourite book of all time?

    This is such a hard question to answer, and I thought I would never be able to pick just one book. But I decided to pick The Einstein Enigma by Portuguese journalist José Rodrigues dos Santos. It’s the perfect mix of science, history and mystery. It tries to scientifically prove the existence of God based on a formula developed by Albert Einstein. It takes place in various settings and presents a totally different view about the origins of the universe. I really recommend this book, even if you are not a big scientist yourself!


    Video edited by Claudia Heard


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