Nermeen Abou Gazia, CEO, Al Alfi Foundation for Humanitarian Development offers insights into Egypt’s reformed educational polices, specifically so its greater emphasis on a “self-learning” approach. Nermeen explains how Al Alfi Foundation for Humanitarian Development is adopting a three-pillar approach by identifying young talent, investing heavily in youth and women empowerment initiatives and working closely with the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Higher Education, whilst also discussing what entrepreneurship entails and successful management. Read the interview below to find out more!
You are currently the CEO of Al Alfi Foundation for Humanitarian Development. How does a normal working day look like for you?
Having been working for more than 25 years and being a mother of two children, my main priority is finding a work-life balance. I really have two work shifts: one where I am meeting with clients and going to meetings, and the other where I am being a mother taking care of my children.
My work is not a typical 9-5 job and I am not following the micro-management, as I strongly believe in my team and in the importance of ownership. We are a team that is not big in numbers, yet each employee has their own project or initiative which I allow them to execute accordingly. As far as work engagement are concerned, I am available 24/7. Personally, I find this convenient, as the flexibility allows me to multitask and provides me with a balance in life.
I am not following the micro-management, as I strongly believe in my team and in the importance of ownership.
You are currently managing several educational entities and initiatives with regional and international partners. Could you elaborate and explain what these initiatives are?
Essentially, we are working on three central pillars. Firstly, to identify the talents of different students and empower them through enrichment programs, so that we facilitate both the students and teachers. Currently, we are serving more than 150 students in the top international university, which is a considerably large number when comparing it to other NGOs in the Middle East.
Secondly, we strive to have a more horizontal approach because we consider scholarships to have a more vertical approach. The horizontal approach consists of investing heavily in youth and women empowerment initiatives, which we started last year. Additionally, we have gotten involved with both the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Higher Education, in order to conduct and provide a global forum to over 8,000 youth from across Egypt over the course of three days. It is comparable to “Ted Talks”, as we bring in executives who deliver inspiring presentations during this forum to the youth of Egypt.
Lastly, we are working closely with the government, in particular with the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Higher Education in order reach our objectives. For four years now, Egypt has been experiencing complete transformation, so we are striving to support the executive execution of the plan from different perspectives.
You completed your bachelor’s degree in Egypt, master’s degree in Germany and have in-depth understanding of the MENA- Middle East and North African education system. How does their approach to education differ and what aspects of the differing system do you applaud?
Egypt has been going through a large transformation. The main component that German and other international institutions are applying is encouraging the independent “learning” approach and investing in “lifelong” learning. In Egypt, we are striving to adapt this “self-learning” approach whilst simultaneously empowering the youth to develop the competences required to have the ability to work.
In addition, we are trying to implement “lifelong” learning, so that even if one has already finished their degree, they feel empowered to continue learning throughout their life. When I set out to do my masters, I was forty years old, making me the oldest among the others. I wanted to study something that would refresh my knowledge and my learning. The different ways of studying and teaching has been beneficial throughout my career trajectory.
In Egypt, we are striving to adapt this “self-learning approach” seen in mainland Europe, whilst simultaneously empowering the youth to develop the competences required to have the ability to work”.
Could you tell us about the path that led you to become the Vice Board Member to the National Council of Education in Egypt, what the role entails and how Egypt’s educational policies have developed over time?
Although the government and the current president are committed to improving the education system in Egypt, implementation has remained problematic. The population consists of more than 100 million people, meaning that making large scale change requires efforts and inputs across all sectors, boards and industries.
The NGO and I, working closely with the Ministry, are facing a plethora of challenges the community’s acceptance of the change, specifically so in relation to new technologies. The driving force for change is the students themselves, as they are hungry for change and equally so, enthused by new technologies. We have been working from several perspectives in order for Egypt to experience these global changes that are happening and to have the country realize how much potential there is for growth.
The foundation is striving to engage and play a vital role in this transformation, by realizing what is happening globally and bringing it to the community here in Egypt. It is important to note that with education globally, each system is always looking to improve. For this reason, we are not trying to fully imitate another education system, but at the same time, we look to other countries, as we are all in the process of adapting to changes in technology and other factors.
The driving force of Egypt’s change in educational policies are the students, they are hungry for change and enthused by new technologies!
You were the first female Egyptian entrepreneur to be nominated in the women mentoring leadership program 2007 and you are now currently a participant of our Women Talent Pool Programme. From your experience, what is the significance of participating in such programs?
In 2007, I had a wonderful mentor that was a top businesswoman in Sweden who really inspired me during our one month together. On both a personal and professional level, we were very much aligned and therefore still keep in contact. In general, such programs really empower me and give me a network comprised of women from different nationalities and cultures.
These programs have provided me with role models and given me the opportunity to present my country. They have motivated me to want to play a role in empowering future generations later on in life, so that one day, I too can be a mentor.
Program such as WIL have provided me with role models and given me the opportunity to present my country.
How important do you feel it is to foster and facilitate entrepreneurship and do you consider it as a tool to ensure sustainable economic growth and job creation?
Having your own project does not necessarily mean that you are an entrepreneur. For example, I have always considered myself an entrepreneur, even though I am an employee in a job. Being an entrepreneur is having a certain mindset that has no limitations. An entrepreneur is innovative, passionate, adaptable to change as well as creative.
For the organisation, ideas that one may perceive as normal that we are implementing here in Egypt, are new for us! As entrepreneurs, we are striving to change the mindset of the youth and women. This does not mean that we experience success on the first steps, but by working with all of the values mentioned above, initiatives can be achieved.
An entrepreneur is innovative, passionate, adaptable to change as well as creative!
To finalise our interviews, we conclude with a question from Proust, as such: what is a virtue you value most?
Perseverance is the virtue that I value the most. In life, you have to “run it with passion”. For example, last month we had this global forum, and everyone told us that we did not have enough time, as we only had two weeks to prepare. But we made it happen. I look at it and I say, two weeks ago we thought it was impossible, but by believing in ourselves and having perseverance, we made it come to fruition. This is why perseverance is the value that continues to inspire me.
Perseverance is the virtue that I value the most. In life, you have to “run it with passion”.
You have 15 years of experience working in the computer hardware industry. What are the main challenges and changes you have seen the industry undergo?
We are in a fast-moving industry and therefore we never stand still at Lenovo. Each quarter in the PC business can be compared to a year in many other industries. It is necessary to micromanage every day and have clear plans and ambitions. You need to have the right high-quality products and the right price at any given time together with the right business model to be the best in our industry. Now more than ever, I think we see a more customer centric driven industry, as such we are learning something new every day!
We are in a fast-moving industry and we never stand still at Lenovo!
You were working on implementing Lenovo's ThinkPad ® strategy. What does this entail and on a more general note, what factors need to be taken into consideration when bringing new devices onto the market?
Although ThinkPad is an extremely strong brand and one would assume that it is easier to extend its portfolio, in my experience it always takes longer than expected. We need to give new products time to be explored both by our business partners and customers. ThinkPad is a high-quality brand and like with many new products, categories must be supportive, be well-tested and have the lowest fail-rate in the industry
You have been at Lenovo for 12 years, starting of as Brand Manager and later moving to your current position as PC Category Manager/4P. What made you switch positions and what do you feel are the key lessons and skills you have learnt throughout these differing managerial positions?
I started on the product side and was travelling a lot to customers and business partners in Norway. It was very interesting to get to know the people using and selling our products every day and gave me a lot of insights into our business. When the 4P role was established in Lenovo 10 years ago I moved to Denmark as I had the opportunity to combine both the product part and the strategy part of the business and have responsibility of the total business plan. I have always been a bit of a “business head”, eager to bring our business to a higher and better level, and that is exactly what I am able to do in my current role. We have worked hard and have climbed from 15% to 50% market share in Denmark: I am very proud of what our team has done. Hard work combined with an ambitious and stabile organization and with the right people, are key to success.
Lenovo has climbed from 15% to 50% market share in Denmark, I am very proud of what we have done as team.
Aside from work, what do you do in your free time to relax and unwind?
A recent global survey, which was taken by Lenovo employees, showed that more than 85% of its workers felt that the environment they worked in was inclusive, equal and respectful. What policies, initiatives and actions have been put in place to enable and facilitate such a setting?
Lenovo has changed a lot since I started, it has significantly grown in size! I have never been bored in Lenovo because we change the structure every year, new goals every quarter, big ambitions and new achievements. I personally feel the organization is open minded as we all run for the same goal, therefore, the organization listens to you as an individual and as a team. I think Lenovo is working hard to bring the best out in people and value what we do.
At Lenovo we change the structure every year, have new goals every quarter, big ambitions and new achievements!
You are currently participating in our Women Talent Pool Program. What do you enjoy most about the program and is there something which has surprised you whilst talking with the network and partaking in our events?
I am humble to have been selected for the talent program. It is a pleasure to meet so many talented and inspiring women across Europe. They really inspire me in the way they handle both tasks at work and at home and show me that everything is possible. Women really need to work on their confidence and understand that not delivering 100% is sometimes ok! In this talent program I have also had the pleasure to have our SVP President for EMEA who is my mentor and has given me good high level perspectives on our business, whilst simultaneously inspiring me to continue to grow as a person and as a professional.
We have tradition at WIL, in which we conclude our interviews with a question from Proust questionnaire. Therefore: which living person do you most admire?
It is not possible single out one person. There are so many individuals that I admire, who are at different levels and roles in life. My conclusion is: Be the change you want to see!
We had the pleasure of interviewing Lara de Miranda, a participant of our Women Talent Pool program (WTP) and Consumer and Commercial Marketing Lead for Middle East and Africa at Lenovo. Having worked as a marketing manager for the African sections of major companies such as SAP and Samsung, Lara elaborates on the different work cultures that countries bring with them to their target markets. She emphasizes the need to adapt marketing strategies both over time and for each country of operation, as well as the importance of having influences that support Women in Leadership in the workplace. Read the interview below to find out more!
Having completed your education in South Africa, do you think you were offered a different perspective than if you had studied in Europe?
Studying in South Africa certainly offered me a different perspective compared to Europe. There are some world-class educational institutions in South Africa, but at the same time South Africa is still considered an ‘emerging market’. Thus, the experience isn’t comparable to studying in a ‘developed market’.
Having worked at three companies, Samsung, SAP and Lenovo, with different geographic origins, do you find that the way of doing business differs among these companies, or do they follow a similar model? How well do you think they have adapted to the African markets?
All three differ slightly in their model but have adapted admirably to the African markets. Samsung has adapted well to the South African market even though there is still a strong Korean influence present. The SAP model runs with precision. Lenovo has adapted to the South African market due to a strong collaborative local team. The South African division has a strong leader who understands the market and cultural diversity and greatly supports women in leadership as exhibited with the active efforts made to ensure female inclusion in varying events and programs.
You recently became Lenovo’s Consumer and Commercial Marketing Lead for Middle East and Africa, marking your first foray into the Middle East market. How have you had to adapt your approach to markets in these countries, and has it been greatly different from your experience with African markets?
Every market is unique and each country has its own cultural and politico-economic particularities. Consumer buyer behaviors also differ across countries, and this holds true whether in Africa or in the Middle East. Thus, you do have to adapt your strategies depending on the countries targeted since it isn’t a one-size fits all approach, making it a challenging yet enjoyable process!
Fundamental cultural differences certainly exist and influence consumer buying patterns and behaviors. There are also differences in terms of seasonality. For example, in the South African market the education cycle starts in January, whereas in the Middle East it would start in September. Hence there are differences in the planning and execution of varying marketing strategies!
Every market is unique, and each country has its own cultural and politico-economic particularities
How has the field of marketing evolved since you first began studying it? Is there a need to rethink certain strategies?
Things within the marketing field have changed drastically in the last 20 years or so. There has been a big shift from traditional marketing strategies, which were minorly complemented by digital marketing when I first began studying. Now, you need to adapt marketing strategies to include digital and social media as integrated parts of marketing plans. I predict in the future that the scales are going to tip even further towards digital marketing, and the role will be reversed for traditional marketing.
What are some valuable lessons, ideas and thoughts you have taken away, whilst being a Women Talent Pool participant?
I am very grateful for the opportunity to be part of the WTP program! The exposure and the learnings have been invaluable, with the panel discussions and networking sessions being the highlights of the program. The topics that the panels discussed such as digitalization, diversity, sustainability, CSR, AI and startups were often those that you don’t have a chance to discuss daily, lending a different perspective. It is also quite inspiring to see women in high-profile positions, and to learn about their journey and the challenges they faced!
It is quite inspiring to see women in high-profile positions, and to learn about their journey and the challenges they faced!
We always end our interviews with a question from Proust’s questionnaire, therefore: What do you consider to be your greatest achievement?
So far, getting my MBA with a distinction for my thesis has been my greatest achievement! My move to Dubai and looking after the African and Middle East markets in my new role has also been quite an achievement for me. However, ‘Watch this space’ because I’m not finished yet! I am hopeful there will be bigger achievements to come!
“Watch this space’ because I’m not finished yet, I am hopeful there will be bigger achievements to come!
This month we had the pleasure of speaking to Elise Bruillon, a WTP participant who has years of experience in Business Management, Data Protection, Privacy and areas involved with Digital and IT. She talks about the practices put in place by Orange to try and combat gender divisions yet highlights the ongoing gender discrimination that perpetuates throughout Tech sector and society as a whole. She offers pragmatic remedies to try and overcome this. Interested to know more about the development of cyber-security, gender related issues, what the GDPR means and a motto that Elise lives by? Read the interview to find our more.
Could you tell us more about your current position, how you came to work for Formind, and what you enjoy most about your job?
After obtaining a law degree, I worked as legal counsel and then at Orange for numerous years, specialising in security and risk management. Last year, I was contacted by Formind, they were looking for a senior “Swiss army knife” capable to conduct and support very different yet specific projects on cyber-security and compliance. Now as Project Director at Formind, I support key accounts in implementing GDPR, whilst also undertaking IT security compliance projects.
As Formind is a relatively small company, I really enjoy being able to draw upon my multi-disciplinary background. The size also fosters an environment in which open and frank decisions are held in a participatory and egalitarian manner. This way of working is not only of benefit to my clients, but also for me personally, as my work remains diverse and varied and as such, extremely interesting! To give you an idea of how my day looks, I can be a commercial agent in the morning, whilst in the afternoon, a legal consultant in GDPR. The freedom and ability to explore different missions within the same position, whilst sharing my expertise with a mostly younger workforce, influenced my decision to make the jump and move to Formind.
I can be a commercial agent in the morning, whilst in the afternoon, a legal consultant in GDPR.
Formind was awarded for the second time, a “Happy at Work” label. This label testifies to the well-being of all employees within the company. You worked over 16 years for Orange, what good practices have been implemented, specifically so in terms of gender equality?
At Orange, a mentoring system for women was put in place. Drawing on my own experience, this initiative- alongside the support measures and excellent guidance from HR officers and managers-really helped me become more visible within the organisation. This visibility in turn, provided me with the possibility of forming new internal connection and as such, allowed me to grow and progress within the company by acquiring new positions.
Do you feel there is still gender discrimination in the workplace?
I would be lying if I said that women don’t face discrimination within the workplace, we definitely do! This is why I stand behind the belief that women must never doubt nor underestimate their own worth or capability, for in doing so, one will stump their own professional growth. Professional development can be tough, often I compare it to a marathon, it is just about repetitively running time and time again, till the goal has been met and your potential has been achieved.
Within my field of work, establishing gender balance remains a perquisite. Although formal policies and voluntary practices are often put in place to ensure gender balance, I question whether this is enough and whether it can really get to the root of the problem. Personally, I believe that education has the power to combat inherently gender divided work environments. Both boys and girls must be taught from a young age that there is no question of gender, therefore not to align to either pink or blue, aspire to be a ballerina or footballer, or believe that house work remains within the domain of a woman’s and paid work, that of a man’s.
Although there is still a lot that needs to be done, France has adopted the policy of a shared parental responsibility and custody. This grants fathers the opportunity to spend more time with their children. This has definitely instigated a shift in French society, rocking the foundations upon which gender roles are born! Thanks to this policy, I have observed a greater link between male and female colleagues regarding childcare and hope to see more developments like these in the future!
Education has the power to combat inherently gender divided work environments.
After years of negotiations, a new European regulation regarding data protection for EU citizens has been adopted last summer. The GDPR has often been criticized as being ineffective, especially so when it comes to financial sanctions against big cooperations such as Google. What is your opinion of the new GDPR regulation and how effective do think it is?
There are two mains reasons to explain the adoption of the GDPR:
The first one is for the personal protection of EU citizens. The data market is not owned by European companies but by Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon and Microsoft (hereinafter GAFAM), thus the only way to keep all the European citizens data inside Europe, was to regulate it at the European level. The second reason concerns GAFAM’s new business model. These companies often extracted data from their own users and used it to their own advantage. This was often done without the knowledge or consent of their users.
Consequently, a regulation was needed to prevent GAFAM abusing their power and therefore, offer back control of personal data to data subjects themselves. Therefore, it aimed at improving the ethics of a business model which relies on the free aspects of your legal identity. We often say that if a service is free, it’s because you’re the product!
The negotiations were the result of effective lobbying by consultancy firms. As an IT security professional, it’s intriguing to see the life cycle of a legal instrument. GDPR offers a better compliance system as it is not just a text which describes obligations and liability regarding personal data processing, but also ensures companies standards- concerning the handling of personal data- is binding. Companies are now required to think twice before collecting and processing customer’s personal data and, must be transparent in their handling of data.
Having focused on internet security throughout most of your professional career, what changes have you seen with regards to cybersecurity and how do you feel we can build a safer cyber world?
When I started, the cyber-attacks were mainly focused on systems and hardware, but over time they have started to target the individual’s legal identity, including sextortion and harassment-type attacks. We have transitioned from an internet domination form of hacking to a terror-based form of hacking. The risk is not the technology itself but its use. There are three main ways to ensure that new technologies will only be beneficial to its users.
Firstly, national governments should adopt specific rules in order to protect by professional secrecy bug bounty experts. Secondly, I think that we should stop creating an overload of legal texts to govern specific cases, as over regulating can prevent innovation. This is exemplary with artificial intelligence, where extensive legal texts can really hinder great inventions. Third and foremost, there must be greater efforts done to raise awareness and provide training on cyber-attacks such as phishing, ransomware. These forms of attacks often stem from human’s vulnerabilities.
Therefore, I am once again emphasising the power and importance of educating people, this time about technology! I use my smart phone on a daily basis, for professional emails, to call my daughter’s teacher, to buy tickets for Milan where the next WIL event will take place- we are in an age of digital transformation and we must ensure people don’t get left behind, not only for the prevention of attacks, but also because of the economic, social and political transformations that are occurring because of these new innovations!
You are currently participating in our Women Talent Pool (WTP) Programme. What have you enjoyed the most and learnt so far?
The networking element is something which I truly value. At the Telecom ParisTech engineering institution, I teach the course “Legal and Risk management”. I often reiterate the importance of networking to the few female students I have. Building relations within fields which are largely male dominated is essential if we are to see an increase of female visibility and recognition.
When the possibility arises, I will attend digital networking events such as LinkedIn conferences, ones organized by French curiosity and WIL. I like being part of the WIL Women Talent Pool Programme find it interesting to be able to meet and discuss with a range of women from different sectors and across numerous European continents. In addition, the program really allowed me to put my career in perspective; it made me realise what I did and didn’t want in professional life.
Building relations within fields which are largely male dominated is essential if we are to see an increase of female visibility and recognition.
At WIL, we have the tradition of concluding the interview with a question from Proust’s questionnaire. What motto do you live by?
My moto in life is: “The only cure for vanity is laughter, and the only fault that is laughable is vanity”. It was written by one of my favorite philosopher’s, Henri Bergson. He has worked the relationship between “intelligence” and “intuition”. Generally, one attributed intelligence to men and intuition to women. It shows that the progress made in mathematics are via an intuitive intelligence.
Moreover, he believed very much in the link between mathematics and philosophy, and he promoted a new way of living, focusing mainly on happiness, sincerity and love. Not only do I apply this way of living into my personal life, I also try to incorporate it into my professional life, because at the end of the day, we must not take our jobs too seriously as really, “It is only work”.
This month we had the pleasure of interviewing our Women Talent Pool Participant Alessia Gasponi. She presently works at Softlab as Market Innovation Consultant and has extensive experience in the field of Communications. Alessia sheds light on the effects of digital transformation and pinpoints the fundamental factors that businesses must consider when taking steps into this futuristic era! Further discussions around the recent changes Softlab has undergone, both in terms of the newly available services and the internal restructuring which has seen an increase in employee satisfaction, are included! Lastly, Alessia shares a life changing moment which allowed her to reflect and put into perspective, the important elements in life. Eager to know more? Read the interview below to find out!
Having extensive experience in the field of Communications, how has corporate communication, digital marketing and social media communication evolved, specifically so with the rise of Social Media Marketing?
The spread of digital has changed consumption, perception, usability and the use of goods and services, with the corporate communication sector having also been affected. Until about 15 years ago, corporate communication meant just a good company profile and product leaflets presented by a good sales manager in a face to face interaction, delegating to the institutional sites and having a good formal presence. Today, companies must not only be present with a graphic connotation that makes them recognizable but must take actions to consciously produce fresh content on their channels.
Social networks are a showcase of company’s reputation: it opens up the opportunity of increased visibility that, if properly exploited, allows small entrepreneurial realities to emerge. Reputation is an important form of competitive advantage as it is an intangible value rooted in the experiences of consumers and audience. In this way, it is not something that can be replicated or imitated by competitors, but it is a distinctive quality of each company. For this reason, companies must be very careful about what they publish, as users will only interact with interesting and unique contents.
Social networks are a showcase of company’s reputation: it opens up the opportunity of increased visibility that, if properly exploited, allows small entrepreneurial realities to emerge.
Softlab was recently awarded the “Best Job Italia 2019” title. The award was given to Softlab for its “formidable corporate welfare policies and superb working environment”. What measures has Softlab put in place to ensure this award and how do you think Softlab differs to other companies with regards to its welfare policies and working environment?
Our new CEO, Giovanni Casto, introduced a new business style that has shaped the structure of the company to how it is today. One of his first actions was to reserve a special venue for the company, therefore Softlab is situated at the heart of the city in Rome, in a historic building. The richness and elegance of the internal and external architectural details, together with the importance of the decorative details, makes the structure one of the most expressive works of Mediterranean architecture and an exclusive venue for our company.
Regarding the market, Softlab made vast investments in Cyber Security and IoT, and introduced new research laboratories for studying new technologies. Internally, a Job System pattern was introduced in which objectives for each individual resource and training plan were challenged and evaluated. A rewarding scheme was also put in place to ensure every employee was fairly recognized for their achievements, not just individuals in senior positions.
One of the distinctive elements of our company is the strong sensitivity of our board members on social issues, with an active commitment to support female victims of violence and with the aim of fostering females into strategical roles within the company. From Client Operations Management to Internal Operations Management, and from Compliance, Strategic Planning, Resource Planning and, last but not least, Market Innovation, women are increasingly visible in all these areas.
Personally, after several years of corporate communication, I was provided with the opportunity to convey my marketing and analysis knowledge through highly innovative and strategic projects for the company. Softlab’s distinctive element is certainly the strong sensitivity of our board members on social issues, with an active commitment to support female victims of violence.
Softlab’s distinctive element is certainly the strong sensitivity of our board members on social issues, with an active commitment to support female victims of violence.
For nearly 20 years you have worked in the Tech Sector. How best would you define digital transformation?
Digital transformation is the integration of technology and models coming from digitization in all business areas. It is a real change of leadership, with the introduction of new business models and a greater use of technology to improve the experience of all the stakeholders.People are at the heart of digital transformation, because without the right talents and strong leadership that leads the changing process, companies will not be able to offer a high level of services and customer satisfaction. Digital transformation is the integration of technology and models coming from digitization in all business areas.
Digital transformation is the integration of technology and models coming from digitization in all business areas.
You are currently participating in our Women Talent Pool Program. What does the program mean to you and what is the most valuable lesson you have learnt?
I lacked an international experience in my career and thanks to WIL Board Member Emanuela Palazzani I discovered the WTP. The programme is offering me the opportunity to learn from a range of different professionals who come from varying sectors. Thanks to the meetings in Paris, London and Brussels, I had the opportunity to listen to the valuable advice of WIL members, and thanks to the many webinars, I was able to learn about the benefits of meditation and learn that it is a key element in the decision-making process. Finally, finding out that women like Ariane Gorin, President of Expedia Partner Solutions, was a former WTP participant like me, fills me with pride.
Lastly, I cannot forget the exhortation of WIL member Anne Houtman, during my first debate on the inauguration day in Paris last year: “Be proud Alessia! Try, try, and if you fail, try again!”
The Women Talent Pool programme is offering me the opportunity to learn from a range of different professionals who come from varying sectors.
What do you like to do in your free time and why is it important for you to maintain a good work life balance?
In my free time, I like to relax with my family, go out with friends and cook for them, but I also love taking time to read a book or watch movies. I don’t have children, and this element allows me to manage my time and relax by doing a lot of sports. I swim almost every morning before going to work, and the daily commitment is stimulating for me and provides discipline in my life.
Have you ever had a life changing moment that has changed the way you perceive situations?
In 2004 I had a bad car accident that forced me to be in hospital for around one year, and I still carry the aftermath of the event. I consider myself a privileged person because life has given me the opportunity to stop and consider what is really important in life, starting with the loved ones we take for granted. With the help of my parents and faith, I managed to live with some daily difficulties and find new goals. After the event, I came back to university for graduation and got my current job.
I strongly believe that every supposedly negative event- either in private or in professional life-can help one grow.
At WIL, we have the tradition of concluding the interview with a question from Proust’s questionnaire. We have picked the following question for you: What is the quality you most like in female leader?
I am fully convinced that leadership is an innate virtue that reaches its completeness when it meets confirmation in a professional position.
Determination and integrity are surely qualities that I mostly appreciate in a female leader, because if it is true that we must be firm and resolute in our professional life. We can never lose sight of our integrity. As Emanuela Palazzani often says: “My integrity cannot be traded”.
We had the pleasure of interviewing Claire O’ Brien, a current participant of our Women Talent Pool (WTP) and an experienced Tech insider, having worked for IBM and presently at Lenovo as Senior Project Manager. Not only did Claire provide a personal account about her time working within the Tech industry, she also offered an insight into the current changes that are occurring within the field, both in terms of the importance of Customer Experience and the progressive developments taken to incorporate further inclusion and equality at Lenovo. Alongside getting to know how the Women Talent Pool program (WTP) has been for her, Claire talked about a historical figure she admires. Read the interview below to find out more!
You hold a degree in Marketing and have extensive experiences in the tech sector. You joined IBM at the age of only 21 and then Lenovo a few years later. How did you end up in tech and what is your favorite part about working in this sector?
From a young age, I knew that I wanted to go into the tech sector. My father worked for IBM, which therefore meant that I was lucky enough to participate in many family open days. I loved being able to view the production lines and watch the manufacturing process of computers. I was very fortunate to start working in IBM as soon as I finished university.
The favorite part of working in Tech and working for Lenovo is that it is a fast-moving industry which touches practically everyone in the world! When I started in Lenovo, we sold laptop and desktop computers. Today, we are well established in the data center and mobile markets, having set our sights high on emerging technologies such as Artificial Intelligence.
Being part of a company where innovation is shaping our future for the better – is invigorating!
The favorite part of working in Tech and working for Lenovo is that it’s a fast-moving industry which touches practically everyone in the world!
You have experience in Customer Experience and fulfillment. What will the future of Customer Experience look like, according to you and what steps have Lenovo taken?
Customer Experience is going to transform in the future. Now more then ever, it is easier for customers to take their business elsewhere, switching brands to acquire the experience they want. Buying is no longer just about the product, it is about the overall experience and ease of doing business. Gartner has predicted that within the next two years, customer experience will outweigh price and product as the key brand differentiator.
Customer experience will therefore continue to mature from being just a buzzword to something that becomes ingrained in everyone across all lines of business. Companies will need to listen to the voice of the customer and empower all employees to make decisions that best serve their customers needs.
Lenovo is presently on this journey and has made big strides in the last year or so. We can clearly feel the cultural transformation taking place in our daily business. Customer experience is central to Lenovo’s business strategy and it is a core KPI in every employee’s business objectives. In the end, loyal customers grow your business!
You are currently working as Senior Project Manager at Lenovo, our Women Talent Pool (WTP) Program sponsor. Lenovo has been named among Fortune Magazine’s World’s Most Admired Companies. What is it like to work for Lenovo? How is Lenovo promoting gender diversity and equality?
I love working for Lenovo. Its fast-paced, everyone is very empowered to drive changes and the leadership team listens, and acts on the views of the employees. We are encouraged to be innovative and identify new and better ways of doing things. What I like the most is the array of opportunities Lenovo has given me. Working in transformation means we are responsible for the delivery of projects that support the Europe, Middle East and Africa business’ in bringing their strategic objectives. Many of these projects look at improving efficiency or customer experience across end to end processes, meaning that we are always working across multiple organisations and countries! On a daily basis, I am involved in a diverse range of projects, so it is always interesting, and I am always learning.
Lenovo is doing a lot to promote gender diversity and equality, for example, through a combination of global initiatives and collaboration with external organisation (such as WIL), they are working to strengthen the pipeline of female talent. Examples of diversity and equality include reviewing practices at every stage of the hiring process, from graduates to executives; strengthening and growing women in leadership programs; and expanding access to development and mentoring opportunities for female employees. On an ongoing basis, they are measuring our progress on gender equality to identify barriers and challenges, and act accordingly when potential hurdles are acknowledged, to ensure they are overcome.
Through a combination of global initiatives and collaboration with external organisations (such as WIL), Lenovo is working to strengthen the pipeline of female talent.
Have you ever faced negative/positive gender discrimination working for the tech sector?
Generally, I have never felt that I have faced any discrimination during my career. I have been given many opportunities over the last twenty years which in my view has been based on merit and capability. I have three children and have always been able to work part-time, allowing me to balance work and home life well. This has not impacted the roles or opportunities I have been given and hasn’t affected my career progression.
You are currently participating in the 4th Edition of our WTP Program. How would you describe your experience so far?
The experience has been great! I have always worked in the same industry so the greatest benefit for me has been the opportunity to network with women across a multitude of business types. Being able to share experiences, learn new ideas and take inspiration from female leaders is very worthwhile for me. As a working mum of three, it is crucial to get advice from other members on how they achieve the right balance between family life and achieving career ambition.
Overall, the program offers a good mix of online education webinars, inspirational speakers, panel debates and networking events all of which have been very valuable for my career and have also made me consider how best to motivate my 12-year-old daughter to grasp and make the most of opportunities.
The WTP programme offers a good mix of online education webinars, inspirational speakers, panel debates and networking events all of which have been very valuable for my career!
At WIL, we have the tradition of concluding the interview with a question from Proust’s questionnaire. With which historical figure do you most identify with?
I wouldn’t say I identify with as such but a historical figure I admire is Maya Angelou since studying her first book ‘Why does the Caged Bird Sing’ at school. She faced racial discrimination from a young age and yet was incredibly resilient. She devoted her life to be a tireless voice for women and black people. What stands out to me is that she taught people to never lose hope, to keep working hard and never give up on achieving our ambitions.
A great read for all language lovers and rising women leaders! This month, we interviewed Sabine Abello, International Development Manager at BPI group, an HR consultancy and sponsor of our Women Talent Pool (WTP) Program. Sabine talked to us about her international experiences and the importance of learning foreign languages, shared an example of an intercultural misunderstanding and how she managed to resolve it, described some of BPI group’s best practices, and much more!
Could you tell us more about your current position and what do you like best about your job?
I joined BPI group 3 years ago and I am currently working as International Development Manager. BPI group is a French consultancy, delivering services in human resources (HR) and management. Most of our clients are big multinational companies, wanting us to deliver high-quality services all over the world. My responsibilities include managing our network in subsidiaries and partners in more than 30 countries as well as our international projects.
I really like the diversity of the projects I am working on. Each client is different and faces unique challenges. This makes my work very dynamic and intellectually challenging. I also enjoy working with my colleagues, who are all experts in HR. Combining our knowledge and experience allows us to come up with truly innovative solutions.
You are fluent in four languages (French, English, Spanish, and Portuguese). Why does it remain relevant to learn foreign languages when more and more people speak English? What would be your advice to young language learners?
The first foreign language I learnt was Spanish. When I was younger, I did not like English at all. I started learning it because I had to. However, I am grateful for this. Nowadays, speaking English is not an advantage, it is a requirement.
Nevertheless, it is useful to learn other languages. It is a sign of open-mindedness and the best introduction to a new culture! People are always more comfortable speaking in their native language. Not everyone can speak English! I had better experiences travelling in the countries where I could speak the local language than where I could not. I remember my recent trip to Indonesia, where the language barrier was particularly strong. I felt like I did not understand anything about this place, even after having spent two months in Indonesia.
The best way to learn a language is to spend time abroad! I would highly recommend to everyone to spend some time abroad. I spent a year in Peru and 6 months in Brazil. This is probably why I can speak Spanish and Portuguese better than English. Yet, my recommendation would be to learn English first. It is more important to speak one language fluently than to have limited proficiency in several languages.
Professionals who work in international business development must acquire intercultural skills. Can you give us an example of adapting your business practices and attitudes to effectively communicate and build relationships with foreign professionals?
I recently had a client in China. At the end of our project, I sent him an invoice. My client then tried to renegotiate the final price. Luckily, I managed to talk to my colleague who had lived in China. He said that using my usual arguments was not a good way of negotiating with the Chinese. In Chinese culture, it is important to maintain good and long-lasting relationships! Therefore, I wrote an email saying that I needed to maintain the price in order to help me maintain a good relationship with my subcontractors and that I was sure they would understand my point of view. My colleague’s advice was priceless, and everything turned out fine in the end.
In Chinese culture, it is important to maintain good and long-lasting relationships!
You have been working at BPI group for over three years now. What are some of the best practices in terms of gender equality that you have observed at BPI group?
Interestingly, there are many women in the HR industry. However, the more you climb up the corporate ladder, the fewer women you have.
At BPI group, women represent 80% of the employees. I am pleased to say that great progress has been made! We have recently reorganized our company. Our management is now divided in 13 territories, of which 12 are led by women. All regional managers are assigned a senior coach who supports and guides them throughout their journey.
Finally, we can work from home up to two days per week, which allows the employees to optimize their work-life balance. Both men and women benefit from this. Our management is now divided in 13 territories, of which 12 are led by women.
Through our partnership with BPI group, you are currently participating in our Women Talent Pool (WTP) Program. Why did you decide to join the program? Would you recommend it to other female leaders and why?
I first heard of this program when I read a proposal for one of our clients. A few days after, BPI group proposed me to join the program and I did not have to think twice. I felt honored to join the program!
I would recommend it to women of all ages. Before enrolling in this program, I had never reflected on my position as a woman in the professional world. The Women Talent Pool Program opened my eyes and allowed me to become more aware of the existing situation and actively try to improve it as a result.
My favorite part was the workshop on stereotypes, organised in Paris last year. I have learned a lot about the benefits of having diverse teams. We looked at various scientific studies and facts that show that diverse teams perform better. Once you understand this, you can say to your manager: “Do not promote women to feel good about yourself, promote them to improve your company’s performance!”.
Do not promote women to feel good about yourself, promote them to improve your company’s performance!
At WIL, we have the tradition of concluding the interview with a question from Proust’s questionnaire. Which living person do you most admire and why?
I would pick Mike Horn, a South African-born Swiss professional explorer and adventurer. I admire him for passionately following his dreams, never being afraid of stepping out of his comfort zone and being relatively detached from material possessions. He has given away all his material wealth in exchange for exceptional experiences. Whenever he achieves a certain level of material success, he leaves everything behind and restarts again. He is constantly adapting to new challenges and rebuilding his life. For him, success means making every day count. Similarly, I believe that success is making each day your masterpiece.
Success is making each day your masterpiece.
Is creating an enabling environment for investment compatible with broader environmental and social goals? What is the European Union doing to ensure sustainable growth for the future? To know more, read our interview with this young and ambitious woman leader. This month, we interviewed Florentine Hopmeier, Member of Cabinet of Vice President Katainen at the European Commission and participant in our Women Talent Pool programme to learn more about her career and discuss some hot topics in finance, politics, and women leadership.
Having attended the French school in Vienna, I got used to studying in an international environment from a very young age. My parents are Austrian. However, they have always put a lot of emphasis on foreign languages. I am very grateful to them for this decision. I never had to learn French consciously. Instead, I learnt it in the kindergarten, in a very natural way.
By nature, I am a curious and adventurous person. I did not have to think twice about studying abroad and the Franco-German undergraduate programme offered by Sciences Po seemed like a perfect fit.
And once you experience living abroad… you want to see more! I have always dreamt of working for Europe in some way or another, and this is how I ended up working in Brussels for the European Commission.
Once you experience living abroad… you want to see more!
You have several years of experience in the fields of finance and investments, both in the private and public sectors. Environmental, social, and governance (ESG) issues have systematically been integrated in investment decision making. What changes have you observed over the years and how would you assess the emerging role of ESG in investing?
I have observed a positive change over the past few years. The integration of ESG issues into investment decision making is not niche anymore. Sustainable investment is growing fast.
The plan includes many more aspects, such as the creation of EU labels for green financial products and integrating sustainability in investors’ risk management systems. By setting standards, the goal is to create a European market for sustainable finance. This should hopefully also serve as a model for the rest of the world.
Before joining the Cabinet of Vice-President Katainen, you were Team Leader of one of the Commission's flagship initiatives, the Investment Plan for Europe. One of the objectives of this initiative is to improve the business environment in Europe by removing regulatory barriers. What are some of the key barriers to investment in Europe? How can we create an enabling environment for investment while ensuring high social and environmental standards?
Good regulations are a way of ensuring that investment stays in Europe in the long term. We need to cut red tape, encourage innovation, and create a predictable and transparent regulatory environment at both the national and European levels. It is important to be able to attract strategic investment that modernises our economy for instance in RDI, digitisation, sustainable infrastructure, circular economy, social investment and start-ups. This is an essential part of the Investment Plan, which the EU launched in 2014.
To attract strategic investment, we need to cut red tape, encourage innovation, and create a predictable and transparent regulatory environment at both the national and European levels.
Sometimes, it would be great to get a glimpse of the future. I am curious about what happens next!
To learn more about Florentine, click here.
A great read for all technology enthusiasts, lawyers, and young mothers!
You have been working at Osborne Clarke since 2016. Why did you decide to join Osborne Clarke and what is your favorite part about working at this law firm?
Before joining Osborne Clarke, I had worked for a well-known French Law firm for about seven years. I wanted to participate in a dynamic and growing international firm with the opportunity to develop a Litigation/Compliance practice.
In addition, I also enjoy the working culture of the law firm. We all work together as a team with one clear goal – providing the best solution for our clients. The company also provides a very intellectually stimulating environment, where you can learn every day. At every level, we often brainstorm and share our knowledge and expertise.
You are specialized in Litigation, Compliance and Business Criminal Law. You also advise clients on cyber-crime. What legal changes have you observed over the years? Is increased regulation a solution for cybersecurity?
The GDPR regulation has shaken the business world. It made companies more aware of the value of the data they possess and of the risk of cyber-crime.
Frauds are increasing very quickly, and scammers are using more and more sophisticated means.
Yet, I do not think that increased regulation will provide a solution. Instead, companies need to become more aware of this new risk, anticipate any breach, train their employees, and have in place appropriate internal processes and programs.
Companies need to become more aware of this new risk, anticipate any breach, train their employees, and have in place appropriate internal processes and programs.
What are the major trends in cyber insurance and what will the future of cyber insurance look like, according to you?
With the tremendous increase in data breaches, businesses are looking for insurance products to protect themselves. However, the market is far from being well adapted and mature. Cyber-risk assessment of businesses is not easy to conduct for insurers. Moreover, it remains difficult for customers to know which insurance product to choose.
Our core challenge is to make our clients aware of this risk. Prior to experiencing a cyber-attack, most companies do not realize the risk. Even the most sophisticated IT security systems can be breached! To be cyber resilient, companies must teach people how to handle information and emphasize the responsibility of each employee to protect company data.
Even the most sophisticated IT security systems
can be breached!
You are currently participating in the 4th edition of our Women Talent Pool (WTP) Programme. What are the main benefits of the programme?
The main benefit is the possibility to meet many successful senior women who occupy eminent positions in various sectors, share your doubts with them, and get advice on how to overcome your doubts.
For example, to be fully dedicated to your career, you need to believe that is possible to balance your personal and professional life. When I see a woman, being successful in her professional life and still managing to dedicate some free time to her family and hobbies, it makes me believe that it is possible!
When I see a woman, being successful in her professional life and still managing to dedicate some free time to
her family and hobbies, it makes me believe that it is possible!
You are a mother of three children. What would be your advice to young mothers for successfully balancing work and family life?
Good time management and organizational skills are crucial for successfully balancing work and family life. When you are working, you need to be focused and productive. Similarly, when you are at home, you want to be as available as possible for your children and partner. If you put some thought into the organization of your day to day activities, you can be productive at work and able to disconnect from work when at home.
At WIL, we have the tradition of concluding the interview with a question from Proust’s questionnaire. We have picked the following question for you: What do you most value in your colleagues?
Getting along with my colleagues represent a huge source of happiness for me. I put a lot of emphasis on team work and personally feel that I find the best solutions for my clients while brainstorming with other colleagues. Having colleagues who are willing to work this way and share their knowledge is both rewarding and motivating!
Having colleagues who are willing to
share their knowledge
is both rewarding and motivating!
Digital Transformation has not only transformed the way we do business but has also shaken the very foundations of traditional international diplomacy. This month, we talked to Dalila Rahmouni, Political Advisor (Digital & Internet Governance) at the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs and participant in our Women Talent Pool programme (WTP) to find out what digital diplomats do. She talked to us about her work at the Ministry, digital diplomacy, and data privacy challenges. Curious to know what the future of the internet might hold? Read the interview with Dalila to find our more!
You are currently working as Political Advisor in Digital & Internet Governance at the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs. What does your typical workday look like and what is your favourite part of your job?
I love the fact that I don’t have a typical workday. My workload is different every day! My role requires me to be in contact with all main actors in the digital sector – companies, civil society, and the internet community and have a good overview of the latest developments in the field. The next step involves transforming these observations into a concrete action plan. I am also in charge of developing strategies for tackling some of the challenges that arise in translating these strategies into action.
What impact has the digital transformation had on diplomacy?
The French Ministry of Foreign Affairs is a diplomatic organization and yet my job scope is very different from the usual work of diplomats. Digitalization has had a major impact on diplomacy, in terms of the ways diplomacy is undertaken and in terms of how stakeholders are involved. In other words, in the digital age, it is not enough to only interact with international organizations and national governments. In order to make our diplomatic efforts relevant, we need to interact and build relationships with very different actors in ways that are different than traditional diplomacy.
This encourages us to rethink our understanding of international relations and adapt our strategies accordingly. For example, during the Paris Digital Week, the Paris Call for Cybersecurity was launched. This initiative not only targeted governments but also other digital actors, such as companies, NGOs, and technical Internet organizations.
We need to find new ways of conducting diplomacy in the digital era. We need to change our approach and find new ways of interacting with the international community. The question of digital is not only a business question. It is also an international relations question!
We need to find new ways of
conducting diplomacy in the digital era.
We need to change our approach and find
new ways of interacting
with the international community.
We need to find new ways of
conducting diplomacy in the digital era.
We need to change our approach and find
new ways of interacting
with the international community.
Your work also involves research and teaching. You are a lecturer at Sciences Po on Privacy Regulation & Data Protection Compliance. Moreover, you recently published an article in Revue Lamy Droit de l'Immatériel n°151 on GDPR as a soft law tool. What will be the next major data privacy challenges, according to you?
The main challenge for European countries is to remain sovereign in private data protection. In the coming years, individuals might lose their individual freedom and autonomy, which are the basis of the rule of law in Europe.
The GDPR represents the first big step towards designing a collective vision of data protection and spreading it all over the world. This is going to be challenging since we don’t share the same vision all over the world about what the future of data protection should look like.
However, at this stage, we have a good approach in place. Microsoft and other big companies already have their own private diplomatic bodies. Google and Microsoft have both announced that they would implement the GDPR all over the world before the GDPR would be legally implemented by state authorities. Many countries are now preparing data protection laws and regulations based on the GDPR model.
Finally, the GDPR needs to be successfully implemented in all companies. It is certainly more difficult to implement it in small structures than in big ones. Big companies have many tools and types of support that smaller structures don’t possess.
The GDPR represents the first big step
towards designing a collective vision of data protection
and spreading it all over the world.
The GDPR represents the first big step
towards designing a collective vision of data protection
and spreading it all over the world.
You are currently taking part in our Women Talent Pool Programme (WTP). What leadership skills are in your opinion crucial for successful career in the public sector and how has this program helped you develop your leadership skills?
Leaders in the public sector need to have good teamwork skills, be able to inspire others, and know how to coordinate a group. If you are capable of working in both small and big groups, listening to all members, and taking into account everyone’s opinion, you can tackle very complex challenges.
The WTP program has been very helpful. It allowed me to meet a lot of women whom I would not have met otherwise and expand my network and horizons. It also gave me the opportunity to share my experience and ask these women for advice. At any time in your career, it is crucial to surround yourself with people who can advise you and encourage you to grow.
You were one of the organizers of the Internet Governance Forum during the Paris Digital Week, a series of three high-level events that took place in November in Paris. What are the most pressing digital issues for Europe and what will it take to tackle them?
Europe is currently facing two big challenges. The first one is finding ways of protecting its vision and values in the digital world, in terms of sovereignty. How can Europe ensure the development of governing structures and tools that will allow it to be in control of its own future? Let me give you one example. European citizens have to be protected both in Europe and outside Europe. In other words, when a company is located on another continent and is dealing with the personal data of European citizens, it still needs to respect the rules of Europe.
We also need to think of ways of making Europe more attractive for digital innovation. Europe has the potential of being a very attractive place for entrepreneurs and companies thanks to its rule of law and good regulation.
Despite all these challenges, I believe that we can take the future into our own hands. All individuals can be agents of change! As Gandhi nicely put it, “Be the change you want to see in the world.”
All individuals can be agents of change!
As Gandhi nicely put it,
“Be the change you want to see in the world.
All individuals can be agents of change!
As Gandhi nicely put it,
“Be the change you want to see in the world.
At WIL, we have a tradition of concluding the interview with a question from Proust’s questionnaire. We have picked the following question for you: What do you consider to be your greatest achievement?
I am very proud of the fact that I am currently taking part in an equal opportunities programme that helps students develop their skills and find suitable job opportunities. Another great achievement is the collective book I have coordinated this year with 15 experts of digital issues entitled The Digital Challenges. Thinking and Practicing the Digital Transformation.
© European Network for Women in Leadership 2018