Meet our Members
Interviewed by Alison Oates
Meet our Member, Fiona O’Brien, EMEA Chief Channel Officer and Head of EMEA Operations at Lenovo. We hear from her about technology’s potential to enable inclusion and participation, how to develop and maintain successful working relationships remotely and her unique take on mentorship.
You have been working for tech multinational, Lenovo, for 16 years where you have held a number of different positions. Can you describe your current role at Lenovo, and explain what you most enjoy about it?
I’m the EMEA Chief Channel Officer for Lenovo and I’m responsible for our engagement with our Business Partner Community. Lenovo sells its products with and through partners and so my team is responsible for strategy and relationships throughout Europe, the Middle East and Africa. I also hold a number of other roles within the company: leading our mid-market sales organisation and managing our business transformation mission. In addition, I have the honour of chairing the Lenovo EMEA Diversity and Inclusion Board. Lenovo’s company strategy is “Smarter technology for all” and being the leader and enabler of Intelligent Transformation – that “for all” part means everyone. We can’t create products and solutions for a diverse global customer base if we’re not developing our workforce to reflect that diversity. We achieve that by adopting a robust D&I framework, with global and EMEA Diversity & Inclusion Boards and wide array of employee resource groups such as Women in Lenovo, Pride and People with Disabilities. We are particularly proud of our Product Diversity Office who help ensure accessibility, diversity, and inclusivity are reflected in our product development processes.
How has Lenovo operation evolved over the past decade and what are you most proud of?
I’m originally from Dublin, Ireland, and joined IBM’s Graduate Programme at the age of 19 straight after my studies. I held several positions up until 2005, when I ran IBM’s Personal Computing Division, and soon after we were acquired by Lenovo. I was given the option of joining Lenovo and setting up a new structure in Ireland. The company was relatively unknown but I saw the unique opportunity that moving could give me so I took the leap, joined Lenovo and haven’t looked back since! Lenovo has transformed into an industry leading technology provider and it has been a privilege to build this success with the extended team. Becoming the worldwide number 1 PC provider was a major milestone of us as a company. However, what I am most proud of is the Lenovo culture, where everyone feels empowered to be successful and where change is embraced. We value talent over location and today have created a community of employees who are best suited for their job, regardless of where they’re based.
I’m most proud of Lenovo’s culture...We value talent
over location & have created a community of
employees who are best suited for their job, regardless
of where they’re based.
COVID-19 has drastically affected the way that we work. As someone who works with a number of teams internationally, what methods do you use today to connect with people meaningfully at work?
Working with people you do not see — or who live in a different time zone, or think, talk, feel or act differently from you — can make even simple tasks difficult. I have been managing teams across countries for many years and have learnt the importance of building trust, understanding cultural nuances & unifying under a common direction. I’ve been quite lucky since, prior to Covid, I had been able to meet my teams in person and form close working relationships with them. As a result, this made moving into a remote world easier as we have been able to work similarly to the way we did before the pandemic. It is definitely more difficult to form new relationships remotely and therefore requires more effort on everybody’s part. In particular it is important to nourish human connections during remote working. Engaging with individuals, asking them what they, as individuals, need to be able to work remotely and supporting them is vital for remote working to succeed. Technology has been instrumental in enabling us to remain connected through this challenging time.
Engaging with individuals, asking them
what they need to be able to work remotely
and supporting them is vital for
remote working to succeed.
You are a strong advocate for mentorship amongst women. What have you learned from your different mentors and what do you try to pass on to women today?
Mentorship, both formal and informal, has been a key part of my career. My first manager taught me the importance of having a plan and ensuring that I was putting actions in place (making new connections, volunteering for a project) that would bring me closer to reaching my end goal. We all need help one way or another and in order to succeed, we need to get better at asking for it. There is no weakness in seeking support. Speak to as many successful people as you can and listen to and learn from them. We can all learn from our own experiences as well as others, no matter the level. In addition, try to lend a helping hand and be seen as an example to those coming up the ladder.
I am a true believer in the value of support systems and developing a trusted community of people, who you can turn to for advice, guidance and inspiration. I call this “situational mentorship”. When I’m faced with a problem or want feedback on an idea, I go to my network and simply ask someone. As a mentee, it is key to know what you wish to get out of mentorship, and we shouldn’t be afraid to aim high and ask people to help us get there.
As a mentee, it is key to know what you
wish to get out of mentorship, and we shouldn’t be
afraid to aim high and ask people to help us get there!
You recently participated as a guest speaker in WIL’s panel debate “Technology: Obstacle or Enabler for Inclusion and Participation?” Why was it important for you to participate in this debate and what were your main take aways from it?
Working for a global technology company, we have to develop our products with diversity and inclusion in mind. Technology is a tool. Its usefulness depends on human agency and political will. My firm belief is that technology is and can be a great enabler for inclusion and participation, but only if it is developed in a responsible manner. It was wonderful to see, during the WIL debate, so much passion and activity and a group of women campaigning to make a difference.
Technology can be a great enabler for inclusion
and participation, but only if it is developed
in a responsible manner.
We like to conclude our interviews with a question from the Proust questionnaire: Who are your favourite writers?
During Covid I’ve finally had the time to catch up on my reading list - I’m currently discovering Irish female authors such as Megan Nolan, Laura McKenna and Emma O’Donoghue. While I love reading fiction to unwind, I also enjoy dipping into history books. Tom Holland is a great historian, and his work is so accessible! I always try to educate myself on Diversity and Inclusion topics, and recently read the children’s book Breaking the Mould by Sinéad Burke with my young son, which taught us both so much about celebrating difference, in particular around disability.
Interviewed by Hanna Müller
Meet our Founding Board Member, Viviane Chaine-Ribeiro, President of the French Federation of Very Small Businesses (FTPE). In this interview, she talks about female entrepreneurship during the pandemic, the future of new technologies, and what advice she would have given herself when she was starting out in her career.
When we last interviewed you, in 2009, you were President of the Supervisory Board of Talentia Software, a provider of HR and Finance software, which you successfully managed for 12 years. Today you are also President of the French Federation of Very Small Businesses (FTPE) and Co-President of the European and International Commission of MEDEF, a network of entrepreneurs in France. How has pursuing diverse roles and interests benefitted your career, and what have been your career highlights so far?
I never thought in terms of a career. All throughout my professional life, I have been lucky. In fact, every time I felt certain about a job or mission, it was because I wanted it and because it was right for me. This meant that I was able to manage it successfully and accept the challenge. I am probably not a good example of how to build a career, because I never asked for a job with additional responsibilities: opportunities were often given to me before I even felt the need for change. The same is true when it comes to my non-profit responsibilities. These opportunities were proposed to me before I asked for them. Looking back, these diverse roles gave me a much broader view on many things: more ideas, open views, but also an incredible network and a limitless relationship with many different people, which is the greatest gift you can be given.
Your current organisation, FTPE, represents small companies in France. What has been the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on these small companies, particularly those led by women, and what are the prospects for them when we finally reach the end of this crisis?
The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has been tremendous for all companies and for some sectors the worst is yet to come. The cash crisis and levels of debt are big risk-factors; and I am not talking about state debt, but the debt of small and midsize businesses (SMBs). The rise of unemployment might well bring us to a social crisis. The future has never been more uncertain.
What is particular for women-led companies? Nothing. Women faced the same turmoil reinventing their businesses or trying to find a way to generate revenues. Thankfully, in France at least, the government has played its role and supported the economy quite efficiently. What is particular for women working from home? They spend more time on housework and childcare than men. Life during the pandemic has become more challenging for all but certainly much more for women. Equality was not such a key word until people’s personal situations entered the game and people found themselves in quite different environments.
Life during the pandemic has become
more challenging for all but
certainly much more for women.
As well as being a founding Board Member of WIL Europe, you are also actively engaged with Women Equity Partners (WEP), which invests in female-led companies. In your view, what can be done to encourage more women, particularly those with young families, to become entrepreneurs, and what happens when they do?
Let us start telling them to be confident in themselves, to not being shy, and stop thinking that they are unable to do things. They need to be sure that they can if they get support. That is why Women Equity Partners (WEP) exists. Women are as capable as men if they trust in their business plan and creative ideas. Once they do, their companies are more profitable and faster growing that those led by men, as revealed by different studies conducted by WEP. None of them should hesitate to create their own business. We need to help all women who want to start their entrepreneurship journey. It is never easy, but it is doable.
WIL recently launched the 6th edition of the Women Talent Pool leadership programme for promising female talents. Earlier in your career, when you were an aspiring leader, what piece of advice would you like to have received and why?
I always had someone to discuss with, someone to ask for advice when doubts came to mind, someone with more hindsight than me. That is my only advice: have someone around to push you to think differently than you can do on your own.
In April WIL will hold an event to analyse how technology can contribute to inclusivity, rather than promote discriminatory practices. As an expert in digital, what is your response to those who say that advanced artificial intelligence (AI) poses a danger to humanity? What can be done to ensure technology contributes to a more just world?
Every advanced technology or scientific discovery has presented a challenge to humanity. It has been a matter of “equilibrium of forces” for centuries. At the international level, when it came to nuclear weapons we went from the permanent research of “equilibrium of forces” to the deterrence theory. Deterrence also brings a kind of equilibrium. Why should it be different for advanced AI? Let us be confident that we will find a way to capture all the benefits of this wonderful invention and curb its use for negative purposes. I believe in our ethical values and have faith that advanced AI will not simply be used by the “bad guys”. What is a more just world? Isn’t it an old dream? Don’t be naïve: you must believe in your future to make it as you wish it to be. We are living in a more open world and thanks to technology, everyone has the chance to disrupt any business model. Let us be creative. We can change the world and we will.
Let us be confident, we will find a way
to capture all the benefits of the wonderful
invention AI and curb its use for negative purposes.
We like to close our interviews with a question from the Proust questionnaire. The one we have chosen for you is: What is your motto?
I don’t have only one, but this one is my favourite: Do not refuse to yourself all the possible ways you could be offered or could be taken. There is always an opportunity to come out of situations on top.
Interviewed by Anel Arapova
Meet our Member and Board Member, Maria Pernas Martinez, Group Executive Committee Member, Group General Counsel and Commercial and Contract Management at Capgemini. Following our first interview with Maria in 2015, we hear from her about her current role, about why having a diverse and inclusive workforce is so important for her company, and about what Capgemini is doing to promote gender parity at all levels.
You have vast experience working as a General Counsel in multinational firms. Currently, you serve as the Group Executive Committee Member, Group General Counsel and Commercial and Contract Management at Capgemini. Can you please tell us what motivated you to pursue a career in the Legal field and what your current position involves?
As you have noticed, I have built an international career as an in-house counsel. I studied Law and I quickly became attracted by figures, margin and growth. I enjoy working as a wholly integrated part of the business team, going beyond pure legal compliance and making the regulatory framework a strong growth and profit driver.
I am a Group Executive Committee Member and I am responsible for the Legal and Commercial Contract and Commercial Management functions with circa 700 professionals. This involves, on one side, working very closely with the Group’s senior management to advise on strategic matters (Business Operations, Corporate Affairs, Data, Cybersecurity, Regulatory, Intellectual Property or M&A, among others) and, on the other side, leading the CCM team to optimise contract performance.
I can therefore develop my two passions: business and technology. I work in an industry where challenges evolve at a very fast pace. We are required to contribute to the creation of the “soft law” and to develop innovative commercial behaviours.
The month of March saw the launch of WIL’s Women Talent Pool Leadership Programme, for which Capgemini has put forward five fantastic talents. We also commemorated International Women’s Day on 8th March. What are Capgemini’s commitments to gender diversity and representation? As a professional in a leadership role, and as a Board Member of WIL, what do you think are the next key steps to be taken?
As a Group, we believe in an inclusive culture and actively encourage more women to join our business and empower them with career paths and opportunities.
In the last few years, the number of women joining Capgemini has increased, reaching 34.9% of the headcount on a Capgemini legacy basis at the end of 2020. We are also committed to continuing to close the gender gap when it comes to accessing management and executive positions. We have put together a number of initiatives, including:
The proportion of women promoted internally to the highest grade of Vice-President (VP) reached a record high of 29.3% during the 2020 promotion campaign and the percentage of external hires exceeded the threshold of 30%.
We have the “Women@Capgemini” network and Capgemini’s commitment to Gender diversity has been recognised with different awards in multiple countries (eg. second runner up in India in the Gender-Inclusive workplace category from the United Nations Women 2020 Asia Pacific, 2020+ Top Companies for Executive Women by Working Mother Media in North America, Times Top 50 Best Employers for Women in the UK, or Best employer for Women (5 stars out 5) by Brigitte in Germany).
With regard to Capgemini Legal, we are proud to embrace and exemplify Capgemini’s diversity and inclusion values. In fact, around 57% of our VPs within the legal function are female. We continue focusing on talent, professional excellence and value to the teams, and we support everyone to reach their maximum potential, regardless of their gender, background or other personal considerations.
In terms of next steps, although major progress has been made during recent years, we need to continue to have female leaders acting as role models and we need the strong sponsorship from the business and public sector leaders. This sponsorship exists and is visible in Capgemini.
Being a leader in consulting, digital transformation, technology and engineering services, Capgemini has a global presence. With teams located across the world, what is the role of the multicultural workplace to you? What have been some challenges you have faced and lessons you learned from working with your international colleagues?
I have always been a strong believer in Diversity and Inclusion. Placing people of different nationalities and personal backgrounds around a table fosters innovation and increases our chances of achieving the best result. Capgemini is truly a melting pot of all cultures and nationalities, and I feel honoured to work for this amazing company. This brings so much value to my work: learning from others, discovering new ways of doing things and building out-of-the-box results.
One of the challenges of multicultural teams is communication: making sure everyone works from the same semantic baseline and background and that cultural implied messages do not lead to miscommunication. Lessons learned: I find it is important to define and explain our Capgemini legal common “codes” and behaviours and put in place practical tips. For instance, when I start a meeting, I set expectations and make sure that we finalise with a detailed take-away to make sure we are all on the same page.
With the field of technology advancing rapidly, there is no doubt that the legislation surrounding it is also evolving quickly. How do you keep up with such changes? Could you tell us about how the accelerated pace of digital transformation during the Covid-19 pandemic has impacted the Legal field?
The Information Technology industry has substantially evolved over the last years and it is becoming heavily regulated. This trend does not look like it will be slowing down any time soon. For the legal professionals this implies a new challenge; legislation changes go more slowly than technological evolution, and this means that we need to find appropriate legal solutions to complex technology problems, within legal frameworks that are not always fully adapted. In Capgemini Legal I have developed a strong regulatory practice with experienced lawyers in charge of digital, innovation and policy issues. Thanks to our digital Legal Academy, we keep up to date and continue developing and enhancing our knowledge and expertise.
With regard to COVID-19, the Capgemini Legal and CCM teams continued to work alongside operations with minimal disruption; many of our processes were already digital. However, new topics arose: contractual issues associated with remote working; impacts on the data and cybersecurity frameworks; changes in the employment domain, etc. This required extra efforts, but we managed to address the challenges by showing agility to adapt to the new framework and finding the best solutions in the interest of our clients.
In addition to altering our lifestyles, the year of lockdowns and working from home has blurred the lines between private and professional life. What is your approach to a sustainable work-life balance? Moreover, what do you think that work-life balance will look like after the pandemic, particularly for women?
Work-life balance is a key success factor for professional growth. One positive aspect is that the home office has allowed us to increase time with our families by reducing time in transport, however the pandemic has definitively blurred the lines between work and family time.
We need to help our teams get through these challenging times. I have launched well-being sessions with a strong focus on resilience. The Capgemini Legal ‘Department of Joy’ sets up informal virtual meetings twice a week to maintain social exchanges. In India, the legal department implemented a “not online-day” to disconnect from email, virtual meetings and such to focus on specific subjects without the buzz of all the electronic devices. We have also set up a monthly survey to employees to make sure we have feedback from the ground up and can adjust our strategy accordingly.
With regard to the future, nothing will be the same (partial remote working will become the rule, less travelling, enhanced digitalisation….). We are defining new principles for the “New Normal” post Covid19, but I don’t see any specific issues for the female population. Both men and women will embrace the New Normal.
We always ask a question from the Proust Questionnaire at the end of our interviews. You could pick the question you prefer more: which talent would you most like to have? or what is your motto?
Meet our Member, Elke Grooten, Head EU Relations at Novartis. In this interview, Elkeshares with us her insights on the impact the COVID-19 pandemic on healthcare systems, how the crisis has transformed the pharmaceutical industry and tells us why it is important to be optimistic about the future.
You are currently Head EU Relations for Novartis. What does your job entail and what do you enjoy most about it?
I currently work as the Head EU Relations at Novartis, a pharmaceutical company and a market leader in Europe for innovative medicines as well as generic and biosimilar medicines. We also have a huge footprint in Europe on Research and Development activities as well as manufacturing and supply. My job is to represent the company to EU institutions - the European Commission, Parliament and Council – as well as to define our strategy alongside different trade associations and stakeholders.
I really love my job! I always say that Novartis is full of smart people and that I’m able to learn every day in this company, even more so because I also work with great experts in Brussels.
Throughout your career you have had extensive experience within the pharmaceutical sector. How has this sector changed since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and what are your predictions for the future?
On a personal level, since I really enjoy working with people, I miss having more human interactions. When it comes to the pharmaceutical sector, COVID-19 has definitely been a stress-test on healthcare systems and companies like Novartis. We have had to find collaborative solutions in cooperation with the European Institutions to continue our operations. Supplying medicines at a time when borders were closing and conducting clinical trials during national lockdowns has been a challenge.
COVID-19 has forced us to be better and more efficient. We have also been able to reduce some of the administrative “red tape”, giving us more flexibility in regulatory processes within the pharmaceutical sector. For the future, I am optimistic. Never before have we seen such collaboration between different organisations: we have already approved several vaccines which is incredible!
COVID-19 has forced us to be better…
Never before have we seen such collaboration
between different organisations
Improving access to healthcare is a topic very close to your heart. What are your views on why health systems across the world have struggled to cope with COVID-19, and what more can be done going forwards?
The COVID-19 pandemic has been extremely stressful for healthcare systems. Firstly, we can see across Europe that countries with strong digital infrastructures have responded better to the health crisis, and at the same time, countries which did not previously develop their digital health infrastructure have found themselves less well-equipped to deal with the pandemic. In Europe we need to see a more coordinated approach to digitalising healthcare.
Secondly, healthcare professionals have had to prioritise COVID-19 patients when administering healthcare. I hope moving forward that we will create resilient systems that can deal with both pandemics and other illnesses.
Finally, I believe that we need to prioritise mental health in the future. Everybody has been impacted by this pandemic. Luckily, at Novartis, a great deal of attention is given to mental health, but we can all go further within our families, our friends and our communities.
I believe that we need to prioritise
mental health in the future.
Everyone has been impacted by this pandemic
I always knew, even as a child, that I wanted to go into the scientific field. I am also quite stubborn, and so I made sure throughout high school that I kept up my studies in Science and later, Pharmaceutical Sciences. Even though I was passionate about pharmaceuticals I could not see myself working in retail pharmacy, and so I decided to study Business Management in order to transfer my knowledge and skills to the private sector. A few years later, I joined Novartis.
Throughout my professional and private lives, I have always had two strong driving forces: global access to health and empowering individuals and communities. Because of this, I became very interested in geopolitics, international relations, cooperation and collaboration.
During the lockdown, I wanted to do more than I actually did! Having said that I did learn new digital skills, and also discovered a passion for Lego!
I have always had two strong driving forces:
global access to health and
empowering individuals and communities.
When going through such turbulent times, it always helps to know what you want. Once you know what you want, you have to pursue it yourself - nobody will do it for you! That being said, I often say “No-one has ever accomplished anything alone”. Finding mentors, coaches and broadening your network is crucial. Networking is more important than ever and unfortunately many women, especially compared to men, are not comfortable networking. Women are extremely capable of networking for their children, their companies, their friends, however unfortunately we seem to find networking for ourselves embarrassing. Like I said, no-one can do it alone!
When going through such turbulent times,
it always helps to know what you want.
Once you know what you want,
you have to pursue it yourself - nobody will do it for you!
COVID-19 has been difficult for everybody- let’s be honest, life was so much more fun before! I love music and dancing, and before COVID-19 I used to DJ in Brussels which I cannot do anymore. More than ever, I prioritise sleep. I make sure to get eight hours of sleep every night so that I can switch off and spend less time in front of a screen. Exercise is also very important, as well as, where possible, personal contact with friends and family.
Proust question: What do you consider your greatest achievement?
I love people, and while I’m very proud of my career, I’m most proud and passionate about how I’ve empowered people.
Meet our Member, Claire Paponneau, Deputy Chief Executive Officer at Mauritius Telecom. In this interview, Claire shares with us herlove for mentoring, her vision of an inclusive leadership and her message for the younger generation.
You have worked at Orange for numerous years throughout your career. Moreover you have been involved with Amnesty International, serving as their International Treasurer for six years. How would you characterise this experience? What were some successes and/or challenges you have encountered?
The common feature of these two experiences is multiculturalism. I was very lucky because I got to work with great teams in Orange and Amnesty International, and I met fabulous people from all around the world. I found myself working with people from different countries, cultures, and native languages, as well as different types of competencies. These experiences were about opening up my mind to different ways of doing work and being respectful of those differences. Although I have learned a lot, the greatest challenge for me during my time in Amnesty International was combining my professional duties, personal life and commitments to human rights.
You are now a Deputy Chief Executive Officer at Mauritius Telecom. Could you please describe what this job entails, as well as what is your favorite part of it?
I am the Deputy Chief Executive Officer, as well as Chief Operating Official. The finest part of my job is being in charge and managing customer experience, in addition to day-to-day operations and results. I appreciate the chances I get to be with the staff in understanding our customers and their pain points. Our goal is to make the solutions simple for the customer, even if their enforcement is not as simple for us. I am happy about being in Mauritius where the culture is a diverse mix of French, English, Chinese, and Indian traditions. For example, 12 February marks the celebration of Chinese New Year, which is a Bank Holiday here.
Our goal is to make the solutions
simple for the customer, even if their enforcement
is not as simple for us.
You are a Career Development leader/mentor for the WIL’s WTP Programme, what motivated you to take on this role? How do you approach mentorship and what have been your greatest takeaways from this role?
In my view, all of us should give back to others what we have been lucky to receive. I see mentorship as a transgenerational gift which we must pass on. I was lucky to receive help in the beginning of my career, so now it is my time to help the younger generation. On a personal level, meeting and learning from the young female talents is a wonderful experience. As for the takeaways, it is about remaining open and flexible enough to understand specific needs and coordinate effectively during sessions. The key to open sessions is that at the end of the day if the session didn’t exactly go as planned, specific needs that arose in the moment were answered.
I see mentorship as a
gift we must pass on.
It is obvious that the pandemic has not only changed the workplace, but also the nature and role of leadership in organisations. What is your vision for female leadership of the future and how do you think it will evolve going forward?
My vision is not about the division of female or male leadership, but something broader. It is about inclusivity and the ability to listen, as well as being mindful of stakeholders’ needs. Both now, and in the future, we need leadership that creates value. The question that needs to be asked is how could leaders embark on their usual activities whilst also showing interest in more global aspects of their work? The leadership of tomorrow should not only care about the customers and the staff, but also, for example, the environment and the impact they have on communities facing the consequences.
The leadership of tomorrow should not
only care about the customers and the staff,
but also, for example, the environment
and the impact they have on communities
experiencing the consequences.
Based on the professional experience and success you have had, what advice would you give your younger self?
To my younger self, I would recommend to stop working so much and trying to do everything perfectly.
In school, I suffered from the pressure to complete everything requested of me. Later, I learned that in a professional position, trying to complete all the actions given on a to-do list is not the key. What is truly important is keeping time to focus on strategy. You need time to up your world and keep time to read, learn, and experience new things out of your comfort zone. For example, even when being interested in Communications, taking some time to learn about the food industry could be interesting and helpful in learning new tricks and strategies. Very often, young people are focused on lists and achievements, like making the perfect presentation, when all they need to do is to stop, look outside and open their minds.
Very often, young people are focused
on lists and achievements,
like making the perfect presentation, when all they
need to do is to stop, look outside
and open their minds.
We always conclude our interviews with a question from the Proust questionnaire: Who are your favorite heroines in fiction?
I am an avid reader of fiction, mostly in French, but also in English, depending on what type of resources I can access. The characters I appreciate the most are not the heroes of the big battles associated with success, but rather those day-to-day heroes who are doing their best in the life they have. I like the characters who are managing how to love and be happy while facing the events of their lives. In particular, I am thinking about a book written in 2018 by Gaëlle Josse called Une longue impatience (the English translation is A long impatience). It follows a fabulous female character and I highly recommend it!
Interviewed by Lucy Lawson and Nadège Serrero
Meet our Member, Anne Houtman, Lecturer at Sciences Po Paris. In this interview with her, she talks to us about the challenges in the EU reaching climate neutrality by 2050, the difference between leadership and management, as well as the importance of having more women in visible positions.
The last time we interviewed you, in 2012, you were Head of the European Commission Representation in Paris, after which you became Principal Advisor in the Directorate General for Energy in the European Commission. Today, you are a lecturer at Sciences Po Paris and a Member of the Royal Academy of Belgium, specialised in European Energy policy. In which sector - pubic or academic - do you believe you have been able to make the greatest difference to advancing understanding of European policy goals, and where do you expect to go next?
I will start by answering the final part of this question, as it is easier. I believe that I have been very lucky, and now also in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic. I am very curious by nature: I love reading, sharing ideas, discussing, and exchanging opinions. I am very busy with these tasks and they make me feel content and fulfilled. I also have more time to dedicate myself to reflecting and communicating since I no longer have the administrative tasks to do which occupied much of my time in my roles at the European Commission. I feel very blessed, and privileged, to be in this position - it is because of this that I feel optimistic about the future.
The next part of the question is not as easy to respond to. We are talking about completely different audiences to which I am pitching my knowledge and ideas. In my role as Head of the European Commission Representation in Paris, I was the voice, eyes, and ears of Europe for the whole of France. In this role, the first major challenge was the breadth of subjects on which we had to communicate – from immigration, to fishing regulations. You cannot claim to be an expert on everything, so you must acknowledge this and remain humble and modest. The role also included communicating policy to the whole of France – which is a pretty big country! When fulfilling this goal, one of the biggest challenges was conveying the message from Brussels, formulated to be addressed to 27 - and later 28 - member states, in a way which speaks to each region and community in France. Occasionally when you communicate these messages, the message gets misunderstood. To give an example, the notion of public service changes from one member state to another. In some countries, public services do not function very well and thus have a bad reputation; in others, public services are cherished. In some countries, public services are centralised, like in France – whereas in Germany, they operate on a more localised level. Therefore, in this role, it is important to read and re-interpret the message based on your audience.
The second challenge relates to grabbing the attention of your audience. It is easy to appeal to those who are already interested in European Affairs and are convinced of the benefits of a European Union. The difficulty is reaching out to those who do not want to hear about Europe. In this role, you need to understand where people stand and accept that whilst people may hold a very different opinion to your own, you still need to work with them. You must separate this lack of agreement from a lack of understanding of the issue and deliver the information without lecturing people. The communication in this role requires striking a very fine balance.
My experience as Head of the European Commission Representation in Paris contrasts completely with that of being a member of the Royal Academy of Belgium since, in this position, I am amongst peers with a wide range of backgrounds. I am a member of this Academy as a mathematician; yet I find myself surrounded by lawyers, economists, architects, scientists, engineers, and experts from many other fields. This role comes with its own set of challenges. Everyone is a high-ranking specialist in their field, but we all come from different areas, which means we must try and communicate with people from very different backgrounds and professions.
This role also contrasts with my position at Sciences Po, where I teach a class of 25 students. These students all come from completely different backgrounds; Chinese, German, French, and more. Thus, the challenge in this role is being able to communicate in a way which resonates with all the different experiences of the students. I have students who come from backgrounds where EU institutions have always been present in their country, and others who have had no experience with the EU. Therefore, I really have to gauge how much they need to know in order to understand my class and how to communicate my syllabus in the most engaging and effective way.
Throughout the public and academic sector, one challenge remains constant: understanding who my audience is, what they want to learn, and creating my message in relation to this.
Since I was a child, my goal was to be a professor. When I was 12 years old, I would stand up on blackboards and explain concepts to the other children in my class. I made all my pocket money by tutoring younger students in Maths, Physics, even French. I have a real passion for educating; it is what I love doing. I also loved my time at the EU Commission. I feel incredibly lucky to have worked there, as it is a place where you can really change things, even when you are not at the top level. You can formulate ideas, push them, and see them take shape after a few years.
Throughout the public and academic sector, one challenge remains constant:
understanding who my audience is,what they want to learn, and creating
my message in relation to this.
The European Union (EU) has committed to becoming the first carbon-neutral continent by 2050, an objective which is at the heart of the European Green Deal, which we debated in a high-level WIL Europe event in October 2020. Is the EU’s objective a realistic one and what needs to happen to get us there?
I believe we shouldn’t be asking whether it is realistic: it is necessary to limit global warming to 1.5°C. It is of the upmost necessity to push this objective. We have already seen some effects of climate change, and scientific evidence tells us to do everything in our power to limit these changes and to be carbon neutral by mid-century at the latest to reach this objective. What we are looking at here is the question of the planet’s survival and thus our survival, so we must not ponder if it is realistic – we must just do it and act fast.
This objective is certainly attainable, but it will be incredibly difficult. It requires completely changing the way the economy is functioning, the way we as citizens behave and consume, the way enterprises conceive their products, and the way all of this can fit into a circular economy. We must reset our way of thinking and producing. It also requires the work of public authorities in implementing different policies and regulations on both an EU, national and local level.
Whilst the task is daunting, it is also exciting. Never in the history of humanity have we been in front of something so existential for humanity. I believe the European Green Deal proposes an exciting transformation. If we do it well, it will bring us a better world with more meaningful cooperation.
What we are looking at here
is the question of the planet’s survival,
so we must not ponder if it is realistic
– we must just do it ad act fast.
In 2019, hundreds of thousands of young people across the world took to the streets to protest the inaction of governments on the climate crisis. What is your analysis of the impact of these protests on global thinking and action on climate change, and do you think these protests will set a long-term trend for young people’s engagement in policy and politics?
I am not a sociologist nor a policy analyst, but what I can give you is my own understanding. The first thing that strikes me is that there is a notable dissonance between what people believe in, and know to be right, and how they act in their daily life. We all know that we should use our cars less – but do we do this? Not always.
When we consider these young people, who may be moving into policy-making positions, the changes they can make depend on their personality. People are very diverse in nature: there are some young people who are very idealistic and may become frustrated if changes do not happen almost instantaneously. This may result in them becoming very angry at politics in general, since they can see a better world and future in sight, but they see no change. On the other hand, there are young people who analyse what should and could be done, and this constitutes a very different attitude. When you realise how hard it is to change reality, you are either frustrated at the complexity and obstacles or excited by the prospect of the challenge. This spectrum of responses can make working in policy a difficult experience depending on your personal traits.
An example that I would use to demonstrate this is the phasing out of coal. We all know that we should get rid of coal as soon as possible. However, if we look for example at regions such as Silesia in the south of Poland, we realise that coal is integral to the profession of thousands of miners. Coal is also used in Silesia to heat homes, to produce electricity and in many other economic activities. How do you change this system to function without coal? These activities come with jobs and assets, so the social and economic impactsare huge. This shows that, when you start to unpack the reality of these changes, you realise that you must confront an idealistic vision with a harsh reality. Not everyone is prepared to face the discontentment that will come from allowing this transition. You must ask yourself: do I have the strength, the empathy, and the imagination to create alternatives, and does this prospect excite me?
You participated in last year’s WIL Women in Talent Pool leadership programme as a Career Development leader, working with a small group of our talents to hone their leadership skills. How would you define ‘leadership’?
I believe that leadership is very different to management. You can have leadership in any position in the hierarchy. What you need to be a leader is a vision of where you want people to go to with you. You need a clear direction to get people to work with you, and then you need the quality of inspiring people. Inspiring people requires empathy, as they need to feel an emotion which gives them a desire to work with you. This is a key difference between management and leadership – you can manage by authority, but you cannot lead by authority as it destroys the empathetic aspect of leadership. However, being a good leader does not always mean being a good person. Hitler and Mussolini were great leaders, but terrible people. They did, however, have a clear vision and the ability to inspire others.
Becoming a good leader requires working on yourself and understanding your motivations deeply, as it is with these motivations that you will be able to inspire people. You also need to like people; not every leader generates a real love, but they can generate a certain empathy and find themselves surrounded by people who will follow them.
Becoming a good leader requires
working on yourself and understanding
your motivations deeply,
as it is with these motivations that
you will be able to inspire people.
How in your view can mentoring and other programmes help to empower emerging leaders, particularly women, and what else can be done to achieve gender parity in leadership positions in Europe?
I believe that coaching is sometimes understood as being a way to climb the steps faster in your career to achieve a higher position. I would disagree with this perception: we do not coach women to create an army of women ready to take the top posts. There is only one CEO, one Prime Minister; there are not that many high-ranking positions and not everyone is made to fill these positions. As I said earlier, learning to be a good leader is so much more than your rank. You can manage by authority and organisation, but this is not the same as leadership. Management is a skill which you learn, whereas leadership is a journey of self-development and understanding.
In coaching, I help women understand who they are, what they want in life, their limits, their inner power, their inner confidence, and how to build upon all these elements. The work on leadership comes from within yourself. When I myself was being coached on leadership, the best sessions I had were when the coach identified something about me of which I wasn’t aware and hadn’t understood about myself before. This is why I love coaching small groups, because you can really work with the person and create a mirror to help them discover themselves.
Some people are natural leaders; becoming a leader is easier for them given their inherent qualities and the environment of their upbringing. An upbringing where you have been supported to grow independently helps this development I believe. Everyone has a different starting point in their journey to leadership. I believe that everyone can become a leader, but it is easier for some than others.
To respond to the question “what else can be done to achieve gender parity in leadership positions in Europe”, I would say that we definitely need more women in visible positions. I think that change begins with women talking – be it in debates, events and so forth. Many organisers claim that they cannot find women, so I believe that we must create tools such as databases to avoid this. Furthermore, we cannot promote the cause of women if we do not change the perceptions of men. How men perceive women in both the professional and private sphere is integral to change. If some men believe a woman should stay home to clean and raise children, we cannot change this perception by talking to women only. We are not working against men; they have everything to gain by creating empowered women. And life in the office is not the dream for all men. Creating women who want to work would allow more men to stay at home should they wish. I want men to feel more comfortable in having this desire, and to realise their right to stay home should they want this.
We cannot promote the cause of women
if we do not change the perceptions of men.
I also believe that all women are in very different situations. In certain cultures, women have much more complicated situations. I feel privileged that I already have a freer mindset where I feel able to progress in life, and I know that this is not the case for all women. The challenge is often reaching these women. We know the women who surround us, and these are the privileged ones. Thus, the question is, how do we reach and understand the stories of women who are more tightly bound to the family system? The answer is collaboration with local associative systems who know these neighbourhoods, and we cannot do all this work from an office in Brussels. We need to develop a more open network and adopt an open perspective. Furthermore, we must also face up to the reality that this is an enormous task; the goal is visible but far in the future. This means we must also celebrate each little win we get along the way.
We like to finish our interviews with a question from the Proust questionnaire. Your chosen question is: Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
“I don’t know”. I always say this when I react to questions. I begin by saying “I don’t know”, and then I start to piece together my thoughts to come up with a response. I don’t claim to be a specialist in everything or to have a big or final answer. That is why I think I overuse this phrase. I would say I should replace this with “I don’t know... But I want to know!”.
Meet our Member and Board Member, Enrica Acuto Jacobacci, CEO, Deputy Chair and Managing Director of Jacobacci & Partners in Italy. In this interview, we discuss with her the future of intellectual property in the EU, as well as the importance of education and fostering diverse representation within companies.
You are CEO, Deputy Chair and Managing Director of Jacobacci & Partners, a European agency focused on the protection of intellectual property. Tell us more about the organisation, your role, and what you enjoy most about it.
Jacobacci & Partners was founded almost 150 years ago as a professional Intellectual Property (IP) firm. In the last 15 years it has evolved into a large international Group with 14 offices in Europe. I currently cover various senior positions within the companies which make up the group. After a few years of focusing on the integration of our international acquisitions, this last year my focus is more on Italy, especially because of the pandemic situation, which is our biggest and most important operation.
Just before the pandemic hit, I created a new Executive Committee composed of eight people, including myself, who have been actively involved and helped me in finding the right balance between our employees’ wellbeing and our clients’ needs all throughout the year.
As an Executive Committee, we share this and other responsibilities by interacting in a way which makes the most of – and respects –the different skills which we bring to the table. We are all actively involved in the management of corporate strategies and have the common goal of putting into practice all the necessary actions to ensure the smooth running of the company. I am very grateful to have such an amazing and collaborative team.
I am personally a great advocate of shared leadership in the company. This is not just an organisational issue but one of managerial culture, and it is an approach which helps everyone to go above and beyond. Shared leadership ensures the distribution of decision-making processes and responsibilities amongst managers. Thus, by adopting this structure, I have been able to preserve what I like the most in my role – that of vision, coordination, and strategic management. It allows us as a team to keep the right perspective and a common and shared line of action.
The concept of intellectual property has evolved since Jacobacci & Partners was first established in 1872 and it wasn’t until the late 20th century that the concept became widespread in legislation across the globe. What are intellectual property rights, and why is having a strong and fair intellectual property regime so important for developing a thriving creative economy?
Intellectual property has always delt with innovation - and we need innovation now more than ever.
In the past, entrepreneurial success was more defined by its capacity to aggregate several factors. Nowadays, however, everything starts from ideas. We must protect these ideas, and ideals, especially as it is becoming increasingly common for entrepreneurs to do business with the aim of improving the world.
We must protect these ideas, and ideals,
especially as it becoming increasingly common
for entrepreneurs to do business
with the aim of improving the world.
What Jacobacci does, and has always done, is to help entrepreneurs protect and define their ideas in the best possible way, so that their project can become something which has an impact on the market. Jacobacci’s job is to support entrepreneurs and IP managers as they learn more about the market and the importance of protecting their ideas. We employ several tools to protect intellectual property: patent, design and copyright to name a few. Jacobacci helps select the best protection tool in relation to the needs and type of idea which our clients present to us. However, when working with IP, one must keep in mind that the right to protection is temporary, because in the long term every innovation must become advantageous to a larger number of people, and this is part of the deal.
IP protection tools can also become business tools; for example, the owner can make his idea available to others in the form of a licence or can sell the patent itself. This flexibility is a big part of the open innovation dynamic which Jacobacci has chosen for its customers – this approach is excellent for evaluating new ways of accelerating our clients’ growth.
From a worldwide perspective, we can see that the IP market is still growing, both in emerging markets and in mature markets. We are witnessing a large change in the tools which are being employed to protect IP; there is a great deal of structural turbulence in the system, and this constant evolution is a historical moment. The good thing about IP is that you are always on the edge; you never miss what is going on and it is quite exciting. We must monitor these new emerging trends and adapt to them very quickly so that we can help entrepreneurs and IP managers to continually find new solutions. Time is of the essence with IP. This has been especially true during the pandemic, since patents have had to be filled quickly due to the increasing amounts of new products being launched. Our company was really under stress for most of 2020, but I am very proud of my team for having managed the situation and ended the year on a great note.
The good thing about IP is that
you are always on the edge,
you never miss what is going on
and it is quite exciting.
The European Union’s (EU) Lisbon agenda committed the EU to becoming the most dynamic and competitive knowledge-based economy in the world. What is the role of knowledge in the modern economy and how far have we got in meeting the EU’s ambitious target?
Even though the Lisbon agenda was established 20 years ago, it can still be considered as quite an extraordinary policy. The Lisbon agenda is an essential point of reference for understanding what it means to commit to the prioritisation of education and the training system to develop a contemporary society.
With the pandemic, one of the things we have surely been deprived of is school. In my view this institution is too often taken for granted; we underestimate the importance of education for all ages to our way of life. The knowledge economy is based on education and training, and I feel that we are still very far away from having achieved the objective of the Lisbon agenda.
What I wish for from now on is adequate awareness with the right decision-making. We need to understand that this unique and strange situation in which we find ourselves in cannot be remedied solely by online teaching. This will never be able to replace, not even in part, face-to-face teaching. I believe that we have, in the current crisis, the opportunity to enact what was written 20 years ago in the Lisbon agenda and rethink these priorities. Online education is advantageous since it means more people can be educated; however, it takes away the importance of collaboration in teaching, something which is better facilitated when we are all in the same room. To give an example, when you arrive in a company it is important to shadow someone and learn from them. You cannot learn in this same way online. This type of learning comes very much from example. We are like animals; we need to be able to model examples, and this modelling mainly occurs in person.
Europe must focus again on the importance of education for the future generation by putting more resources into this sector. We need to take a quantum leap into a new world, and I believe that education is the way to get there.
Jobs in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and maths) have been described as ‘the occupations of the future’, driving economic growth and innovation, and social wellbeing. Yet, a 2017 study by The European Institute for Gender Equality found that among tertiary STEM graduates, only one third of women end up in STEM jobs, compared to one in two men. Why is gender parity in STEM so important in today’s knowledge economy and what more can be done to close the gap?
With the development of the knowledge economy and the growing importance of new technologies, it seems that skills in STEM are increasingly necessary and will continue to become more important in the coming years. To ensure our capacity to develop in these areas, it is essential to approach young people and excite them about these developments to ensure that enough people are qualified in this area. When discussing study programmes, I believe that it is important to attract young people to inspire them to work in STEM. Though there are more and more women in the scientific fields, this is not enough. Diversity in the scientific sector is a legacy that we need to fight to attain.
One of the difficulties that women are facing in STEM is stereotypes. These are very insidious because they slip into our minds and stick, without us really realising. Comments when you are young such as “the science field is only for men” need to be countered. We must speak about STEM in a gender inclusive way, even to young children. It is by doing this that girls and boys will be able to realise their full potential in scientific and technological careers.
One of the difficulties that
women are facing in STEM is stereotypes.
These are very insidious because
they slip into our minds and stick,
without us really realising.
Institutions and companies play a special role in promoting science education activities, which influence the way that students construct their identity and attitudes towards STEM. Furthermore, a lack of diversity can have dire consequences in scientific trials. If researchers do not take the gender variable into account, the result obtained can be distorted. For example, if a drug is only tested on males, the results will be totally wrong.
I believe that it is extremely important to reposition the image of STEM. At Jacobacci, we have a large representation of women who have completed scientific and technological studies and whilst this number is constantly increasing, there is still more work to be done for STEM to become truly diverse.
You have long been a champion for women’s advancement in leadership positions, both as a Board Member AIDDA, an Italian association seeking to promote and support female entrepreneurs, managers, and professionals, and as a Board Member of WIL. What are some of the barriers to ensuring equal representation of women and men in leadership positions in Europe and how have you sought to overcome these as Manager Director of Jacobacci & Partners?
It is essential that we all contribute to breaking down gender stereotype. Women and men, in all their diversity, should always have the same opportunities for equal fulfilment. There are still too few women in managing positions, and the fact that men have exclusively occupied the top positions historically makes it very hard for a woman today to break through into these high-level leadership positions. It is important to push women to go for these opportunities.
From a leadership perspective, a diverse leadership is the best leadership. It is important to have both men and women present in the top positions in order to bring new ideas and strategies to the table so that we are equipped to respond to the complex challenges we are facing today.
Over the years, at Jacobacci & Partners, we have worked to achieve equal representation of women and men. However, there is still more work to be done. Since I entered the Board of Directors in 2004, we have attained an equal representation of women and men in the Executive Committee. We still have a long way to go, but I am proud to be one of the first people in my firm working towards gender equality and supporting the conciliation of professional and private life for women.
This conciliation of the professional and private sphere is really important to me. In the household, women are usually the carer of the children. Following this trend, Jacobacci & Partners has tried to make the lives of women with families easier, especially during the pandemic when they had to work from home whilst looking after their children. To lift some of this stress, we offered online yoga classes for children to encourage them to practice at home. In addition, last summer we hosted our yearly summer camp to look after the children of our employees when the schools are closed over the summer but when mothers were still working. I am also proud of a long-standing tradition we have at the office, which is to leave a bouquet of flowers on a new mother’s desk when she returns from maternity leave.
We also try to keep this gender representation present in our events. In Italy, we organise one of the most important events about technology transfer called the 4T-Tech Transfer Think Tank. We have been running this event, dedicated to tech transfer and innovation, for eight years. For the past edition, we dedicated the event to innovative health at the time of COVID-19 and presented this topic with a diverse line-up of speakers and an equally diverse scientific committee.
We like to finish our interviews with a question from the Proust questionnaire. Your chosen question is: What do you consider your greatest achievement?
I have been very lucky in both my private and professional life. I am very proud of my beautiful family and my three children. I would say that my greatest achievement has been finding a good balance between the various aspects and roles in my life. During my career, I was able to work flexible hours and this really allowed me to spend time with my children, especially when they were younger.
I believe that women should not be forced to find excuses to spend time with their families and children. It is unacceptable that women who choose to have a family are penalised for it. I believe that all the good moments we encounter make the bad ones easier to overcome. In every situation, we must remember that there is something to learn.
I believe in many ways that my biggest achievement is still to come, and I would like to play a role in changing the rules for a better world - not only for women but for everybody.
I believe in many ways that
my biggest achievement is still to come,
and I would like to play a role
in changing the rules for a better world -
not only for women but for everybody.
Interviewed by Lucy Lawson
This month, WIL had the pleasure of interviewing Pervenche Berès, former Member of the European Parliament (MEP). We discussed the greatest lessons she learnt from her 25 years in Brussels, how women can work together to advance in their careers, and what the future holds for the EU in the face of Brexit and increased Euroscepticism. Learn more about Pervenche in this interview.
In 2019 you left the European Parliament to pursue new pastures after 25 years as an MEP, including five years as Chair of the Committee on Economic and Monetary Affairs and five years as President of the Committee on Employment and Social Affairs. What achievement from your time as an MEP are you most proud of and what was your most memorable experience?
It is difficult to choose just one achievement! If I had to choose, I would highlight the success we had in drafting the Charter of Fundamental Rights. During this time, there were only nine women present out of the 62 members involved in the Convention. There was a clear underrepresentation of women here, and I don’t believe that such a gender-imbalance would happen in today’s parliament.
Amongst the nine women present, we formed a network with the support of the European Women’s Lobby, which was very active outside of the convention. The Lobby helped us to mobilise this female network to guarantee that we had a significant say on the draft we were putting together. It was thanks to this mobilisation that we were able to work cross-party to achieve a very promising draft of Article 23 in the charter which reads: “Equality between woman and man must be ensured in all areas including employment, work, and pay”. This was quite an achievement. I am particularly proud of this article, not only because of its content, but because of the way in which it was brought about. For me, this was an experience which taught me a great deal about how much you can achieve when you find the best way of doing it.
The most memorable experience for me came when I was chairing the Economic and Monetary Affairs Committee, which was a professional landmark that I was eager to do and I feel came at the right point in my career. During my time as Chair, I said “no” to the Constitution for Europe as I thought that, particularly in relation to the Euro and on economic policy, it was not fit for purpose. Seeing the 2007 financial crisis which followed, which took us all by surprise, does make me think that I was right to say “no”, and many people agree with my perspective.
During my time as Chair there was a bench of dominating male senior members who were not at all happy with me being in such a position. These men would shout, trying to destabalise me and to make my task very difficult. Of course, I resisted them and tried to find my way to manage the Committee. I remained calm, and they got used to it.
When you are engaged in politics, it is best to be mindful of your gender - whether you are a man or a woman. I was not an active feminist, but I believed that you can never forget that you are a woman. It is your identity, and the way that people behave towards you make this evident. Your gender is a part of the game of politics, and you must make it work as an asset, intellectually or professionally I mean.
The issue of gender in politics is without a doubt an ongoing battle. The younger generation is lobbying for a strong gender-balanced approach, and I believe that when it comes to sharing power, having women in power will always bring added value.
Your gender is a part of
the game of politics,
and you must make it work
as an asset.
You are actively involved as an expert in several projects and organisations, including as a Board member of the WIL and a Board member of the Fondation Jean-Jaurès. Can you tell us more about the different projects and organisations in which you are currently involved, and how your experience in Brussels has helped you to bring added value to them?
After 25 years in Brussels, where you live very much like an expat and learn to think about things in terms of a negotiation, when you return home your perceptions and way thinking about things are very different. However, the advantage of coming home is that you feel much more comfortable; your surroundings are more reassured, and this allows you to share the tools you learnt as an expat in Brussels in your situations back home, even though home has changed a lot in between.
This transition of skills is something on which I am working right now. I am involved in several think tanks, including a think tank working on financial regulation. By returning home, I also have more time to dedicate to the WIL Network. Alongside these activities, I am also working with the French Market Authority in a committee dealing with climate and sustainable finance – a project following the work I did in the European Parliament for 15 years. I am supplementing my work on environmental affairs by leading an orchestra which is full of musicians who are also engaged citizens for the ecological transition. We combine our love for music and ecological matters by organising musical concerts involving sustainable symbols such as bicycles. Lastly, the most recent activity in which I have been engaged regards the question of how to register children in countries where they have no civil status. The problem is that when a child or an adult is not registered, they are not entitled to any rights – and without any rights.
As you can see, this represents quite a broad range of activities. But I believe that for all these activities – although they are quite different – the added value which I bring is largely tied to what I learnt in Brussels and Strasbourg. It is the life experience of being an MEP, which teaches you how to mould and present a project whilst negotiating the unique ways in which Europe functions. It is also largely affiliated with my ability to coordinate many different actors and viewpoints – a skill which I picked up by engaging at the human level as an MEP. I am very pleased to be engaged in all these activities, and to be able to bring my experiences to the table.
One of your recent contributions to the WIL network has been leading online Career and Development sessions with the participants of the 5th Edition of our Women Talent Pool Programme. What in your view are some of the key challenges for professional women looking to step up to more senior leadership positions, and how can programmes like the WTP can help?
You will have to ask the women with whom I have been conducting the sessions! We just had our final meeting, and I will cite the reflections which they shared in this session to show both the challenges that women face, and the solutions they can bring.
The first thing that all the women in this group viewed as important for professional development was confidence. All the women identified that there are obstacles to building this confidence, and that we must overcome these.
The second challenge which we discussed in depth was dealing with a remark or an attitude which is very much gender orientated. We spoke about how important it is to not ignore these. One of the things we agreed aids career advancement is staying true to your values and being able to say what needs to be said. If you wish to realise your values in your professional career, you must speak out against these kinds of remarks so that you remain able to address adverse situations across the spectrum of professional interactions. You must find your own way to navigate these conversations in a way with which you feel comfortable, but you must not ignore these remarks: if you do then you do not solve the problem and fail to remain true to your values.
The third key to career advancement we discuss was to build your own agenda. You cannot just be a great employee in relation to how you help others in your company, you must set your own individual goals and targets. It is completely possible for female professionals to do this – men have been doing it for years! It is now time for women to realise that, for their career advancement, they too must build an agenda in accordance with their professional goals.
The final solution we discussed was that ultimately, work is not everything you need to succeed – to advance, you must network.
Work is not everything you need to succeed –
to advance, you must network.
In 2019 Ursula von der Leyen became the first woman to chair the European Commission. Unfortunately, across the world women make up less than 23 percent of parliamentarians while in Europe the figure it at around 34 percent. What can be done to get more women like yourself into politics?
Firstly, I must say that the situation is much better than when I first started. In fact, I remember my first time on stage in congress; I started my speech by citing the famous proclamation that ‘Women hold up half of the sky’. I said, “I know that I belong to half of the sky, so I believe that I have a good reason to be here”. I thought I had to justify my reason for being a woman in European politics because I had been selected to become an MEP as a contribution to parity.
In the current climate, I believe that the question we are facing is: do we need to define the role and place of women by law, or should it be implemented by example? I am not a lawyer by trade, but I do maintain that if you want something to happen, you had better be backed by the law. I think that the obligation to have women represented should follow in this manner.
One of the regrets I do have about my time in Parliament is that the proposal stating that there should be an equal distribution of seats between men and women on boards has still not been passed. This is a clear mistake. Even though it has not been passed, the proposal demonstrates that thinking is shifting – however this is not enough and there is still a need for substantial progress.
To facilitate this progress, it is imperative that women in power help other women. Too often, there is a mindset amongst women that, because it is such an uphill climb for women to attain power in the first place, when there is another woman in the room she is seen as potential competition. I believe that this mindset needs to be eradicated. Female representation should be a momentum for change and collaboration, not competition. Furthermore, I maintain that women in power should use their privileged position to better the position of all women.
To facilitate progress,
it is imperative that women in power
help other women.
Female representation should be a momentum
for change and collaboration,
In the last interview we did with you in 2011, you commented on the significant increase of Eurosceptics across the content. Five years later, the UK has voted to leave the European Union. In these uncertain times, what does the future hold for the EU?
For me, I believe that the disease is the same no matter what level you look at. Be this analysing the issues that each EU Member state has individually, or regarding the problems we are facing on a broader EU-level. The problem is a very widespread increase in Euroscepticism, nationalism, and a lack of faith in the way democracy is delivered.
I think that this Commission has engaged itself in trying to change these ideas by becoming very dedicated to the Green Pact. This approach is very beneficial in that it aims to restore faith in the idea that you can advance a new way of life through commitment to the EU – and this is an idea about which I have been writing since 2007. The EU’s dedication to the Green Pact is not just about trying to reduce water usage, it is about mobilising member states to change their behaviour and practices in a collaborative manner.
However, I believe that this is not enough. COVID has brought to the surface many things we did not want to see: the disturbance we have made to our environment, and the mistake we made in ignoring the fundamental right of access to health and education, being just a few clear examples. The issue that this brings is it makes people reconsider their faith in democracy, and reversing this opinion is challenging.
To restore faith in the EU you must work on these two issues in parallel. On the one hand, you must draft an ambitious agenda, such as the Green Pact, which considers and responds to the worries that people have as long as it would adapt to what we learned from Covid-19. On the other hand, there is the question of the method – and this is linked to the confidence which people have in democracy. The way to restore people’s faith in politics is to deliver results, but you need a certain faith in the method of democracy to be able to deliver these results. Therefore, it is so essential for both these elements to work in tandem to restore faith in the EU.
This is the only way to solve the disease plaguing politics now, and it is not easy. We need to act sooner rather than later to eradicate the Euroscepticism which is leading people to believe that they have no means to improve their situation.
I have always been pro-EU and believe that democracy is the best way to overcome these challenges. But it is not enough to believe it - we must also deliver these promises to stimulate trust in the EU. We are in a position where we must defend our systems and beliefs, and we need to do so by adapting to the new technologies, situations and challenges which face us. We can never take a situation for granted.
We need to act sooner rather than later
to eradicate the Euroscepticism
which is leading people to believe
that they have no means to improve their situation.
We usually finish our interviews with a question from the Proust questionnaire. The one we have chosen for you is: Who are your heroes in real life?
My heroes are the artists. I don’t believe in God, so I believe that culture is the answer to mankind’s need of giving a sense to life – this is what artists allow us to do. We cannot live with just material food, we also need spiritual food, and this is what they give us – food for thought and emotion. Today they find themselves in an incredible situation. Governments are currently fighting to make sure that economic stability and activity can continue, but the artists are amongst the many victims of economic struggles. Of course, they are not the only ones suffering, but as a sector they have been treated as an exeption in a bad sense, and this must change.
Interviewed by Aurélie Doré
This month, we had the pleasure of interviewing WIL member Mary Lawrence, Partner in Osborne Clarke’s commercial and regulatory disputes team and Head of Osborne Clarke’s health and safety practice. We discussed her work on advising businesses during the current unprecedented public health and safety crisis, and why it is so important to her to be involved in a network dedicated to female leaders.
Can you describe your current role as Partner in Osborne Clarke’s commercial and regulatory disputes team and Head of the health and safety team?
In my current role, I work alongside a fantastic team of other lawyers to help businesses understand their health and safety duties. My mission is to help them make their businesses safer and healthier places to work, as well as supporting them when something goes wrong and they are investigated by the authorities.
What do you enjoy the most in your current role?
I get to spend most of my time speaking to - and hopefully helping - people, which is what I really love about my role. I am lucky that I get to lead a team of eight lawyers who are specialised in health and safety.
Among them are some excellent women with whom I have worked for several years and whose development and progression I have championed. I am proud to work with these women, and especially proud to have gender diversity in the team.
I was lucky enough to join the team when we were much smaller. As the team has grown over the years, I have had the opportunity to mould and shape it.
The COVID-19 pandemic is an unprecedented public health and safety crisis. In this context, your role is more crucial than ever. How do you plan to help your clients navigate the challenges that lie ahead?
We have been hugely busy during the pandemic, helping our clients to navigate how to do business with all the restrictions that have been put in place. We have been running frequent webinars, or simply talking to clients about the issues to try and keep them abreast of what the rules are, and what the law is. Not only have we been helping our clients understand the current restrictions, but I have also been working with clients to help them think ahead and reflect on how this crisis is going to affect businesses of the future and shape things in the longer term.
One of the most absorbing projects that I have been involved in during this time is focused on helping one particular industry in the UK shape their industry guidance. This same guidance, which focused on how to operate safely during the COVID-19 pandemic, was then endorsed by the UK Government. It was interesting to watch how this played out, with the aim of helping businesses stay up and running.
Why is it important for you to be involved in a network dedicated to female leaders?
It seems to me that you have a different conversation when you are all women or when there are many women together. It feels safer, you can talk more openly, and I like that. I often work with men, so I am not afraid of that situation; however, I do relish the opportunity to gather collectively with a group of women from time to time.
I also believe that role models are crucial. Finding someone who has traits you admire and wish to emulate is so important. That is not just about looking up to people who are more senior than you but it is also about observing anyone you work with and seeing what you can take and learn from them.
Before joining Osborne Clark, I had reached a stage in my career in my mid-thirties where I really felt that it was important to have a female role model to look up to. I had worked with a female boss before and she was fantastic. When I interviewed for a position at Osborne Clarke, I saw the possibility to have another person above me from whom I could learn a great deal, and that was one of the main reasons why I moved to the organisation.
Role models are crucial. Finding someone who has traits
you admire and wish to emulate is so important.
What advice would you give to your younger self and to the young generation of female leaders?
The best advice I received was from my Dad when I was starting out in my career. It was about authenticity, trusting your gut instinct, holding your values close to you and not letting them be impacted. This was at a time when I was a junior lawyer, or maybe just entering the profession. It is a time when you do feel constantly challenged and you are not sure if you are becoming the right person, the person you want to be. That advice really helped me navigate through a complex time.
When you are choosing a place to work, take the time to question if it is the right fit for your values, and if it is not, ask yourself if it really is the right place for you.
Of course, it is important to be challenged and to listen to other people, but I do think that being authentic is crucial. This advice from my father is still relevant to me and I would give it to people of a younger generation.
The best advice I received was about authenticity,
trusting your gut instinct,
holding your values close to you
and not letting them be impacted.
One of the big conversations we have been having recently is about the critical role of men in this conversation, and the need for both men and women to really support and champion those below them in their careers and actively provide opportunities to women progressing in their career. Whilst it is important to have groups which bring together women only, we must also look at what we are asking of men, and how they can help us.
2020 has been marked by a global pandemic which has taken its toll on women economically and socially. In this interview, Olena Podoleva, Professor of Economics and Vice President at the Ukrainian National Committee of the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC), talks about why this is the case, and about what she is doing in her role to support the development of female entrepreneurship and women’s empowerment in business and technology. An interview about the importance of keeping in mind the female perspective during chaotic times.
How would you define the mission of the International Chamber of Commerce and what do you see as its role in the world, especially during the COVID-19 crisis?
The ICC is the most influential organisation in global business. We are the institutional representative of more than 45 million companies in over 100 countries, with a mission to make business work for everyone, every day, everywhere.
Through a unique mix of advocacy, solutions, and standard setting, we promote international trade, responsible business conduct, and a global approach to regulation, as well as providing market-leading dispute resolution services. Our members include many of the world’s leading companies, SMEs, business associations and local Chambers of Commerce. We represent business interests at the highest levels of intergovernmental decision-making - whether at the World Trade Organisation, the United Nations or the G20 – to ensure that the voice of business is heard. This capacity to bridge the public and private sectors sets us apart as a unique institution responding to the needs of any stakeholder involved in international commerce.
In a coordinated effort to combat the coronavirus pandemic, the ICC and the World Health Organization have agreed to work closely to ensure that the latest, most reliable information and tailored guidance reaches the global business community. The ICC has launched SOS, a one-stop shop, as part of a global campaign to SaveOurSMEs. The SOS site highlights the challenges MSMEs face and features calls for urgent and coordinated action from governments, private sector leaders and international institutions to ensure their continued viability.
It is this capacity to bridge the
public and private sectors
that sets the ICC apart as a
The past few months have been a whirlwind for the global economy. How would you assess the current economic landscape and prospects for the future?
The baseline forecast of the World Bank in June 2020 envisions a 5.2 percent contraction in global GDP in 2020 — the deepest world recession in decades. By comparison: in 2019, Global GDP grew by 2.4 percent. Per capita incomes in most emerging and developing economies will shrink this year.
At that time (June 2020), few researchers expected a second COVID-19 wave. Now we can see that the second wave is hitting many countries much harder than the first did. No one knows what impact this will have on the dynamic of GDP decline. Advanced and Developing Economies are likely to experience a deeper shock and a slower recovery, but there is much we still do not know. Coronavirus makes the future uncertain. However, the message is clear: we urgently need policy actions to protect populations and improve our capacity to respond to a global pandemic.
Today, nobody can predict the
economic impact of the pandemic.
Coronavirus makes the future uncertain.
From your perspective, how is the Coronavirus pandemic particularly impacting women?
Compared with the 2008 financial crisis, when more men lost their jobs, COVID-19 is hitting women harder. At the start of the pandemic, 55 percent of all employed in the service sector worldwide were women. There were over 800 million women in retail trade, food production, tourism, restaurant business etc. Due to the pandemic women in these sectors are affected by job cuts and shortened working hours. In some countries, there was almost a complete paralysis of the restaurant and hotel sectors – and this sector employs 144 million women.
Female workers in the health and social sector are the next group most affected by the pandemic. These include doctors, nurses, pharmacists, and care home staff. These female workers have a much higher chance of catching COVID-19. For example, in the UK, 2.5 million (or about 77 percent) out of 3.2 million such workers are women. At the same time, almost all low-paid positions (to be exact 98 percent) are held by women. Obviously, solving these problems should be the focus of our attention in the post-pandemic period. I believe that female leadership should play an effective role in this.
The crisis has battered industry sectors
in which women’s employment is
But the financial impact is only half the story:
women are at the core of
the fight against COVID-19.
Analysing the national policies of the Coronavirus crisis, we can see that the effectiveness of policies varies. Female leaders such as Prime Minister of New Zealand Jacinda Ardern, the President of Taiwan Tsai Ing-Wen, the Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg, Finish Prime Minister Sanna Marin provide more effective anti-COVID policies than their male counterparts.
However, at the beginning of the pandemic, only 10 of 152 heads of state and government were women. Therefore, women were constituted only seven percent of the world’s leaders. We urgently need to empower more women to reach leading positions!
Policy makers, regional frameworks, multilateral organisations, and international financial institutions must recognise that women will play a crucial role in resolving the crisis, and that measures to address the pandemic and its economic fallout should include a gendered perspective.
Measures to address the pandemic
and its economic fallout should include
a gendered perspective.
In your role as Vice President at ICC Ukraine, you are responsible for a variety of international projects. Which one might be the most important from a societal perspective?
I am responsible for different international projects. However, our activities around women in business concern me the most. We support the development of female entrepreneurship and women’s empowerment in business and technology.Since 2017, we have organized more than 80 events among them trainings, panel discussions, round tables, webinars, and forums in which participated more than 4000 women from different regions of Ukraine. To help women create and run successful companies, we have launched a special program attracting investors for female business. We also have mentoring programs, and have conducted international conferences with experts, not only from Ukraine but from other countries as well. We had the pleasure to host the President of Estonia, Kersti Kaljulaid, who shared her wisdom about female leadership and talked about her own career.
You also promote female leaders in social business. Can you tell us why you focus on helping women in this specific sector?
There is a trend, not only in Ukraine, but worldwide: the social enterprise model continues to attract more women than men. We find female leaders in many social business sectors: education, social welfare and employment, children and youth.
Let's have a look at what seems to drive them. Women tend to long for sustainable impact, to be innovative and to pioneer new solutions. They try to be independent and gain a better balance between professional and private life. Most aspire to develop new skills and grow professionally, while men are, in contrast, often motivated by more financial opportunities.
There are many barriers to starting up a new business, especially for women: stereotypes, uncertainty, lack of knowledge, financing, and experience are only some of them. That is why we launched different projects for female social entrepreneurs. We try to support women and accompany them along their business journey. We help them to find a partner, create a network, exchange experience, communicate, learn from each other, and find a mentor.
You are woman in leadership, holding a PhD degree in Economics, with a fruitful career not only at the ICC. What is the most important lesson you have learnt in your professional career?
No matter what career path you choose, there are three keys to success: a good idea, a good team, and hard work.
There are three keys to success:
a good idea, a good team,
and hard work.
Do you have a piece of advice you would like to share with women who wish to follow in your footsteps?
When it comes to career advice, listen to Steve Jobs: “The only way to be satisfied is to do what you believe is great work, and the only way to do great work is to love what you do”
We usually finish our interviews with a question from the Proust questionnaire. I chose this one for you: What is your motto?
Benjamin Disraeli, who served as Britain's Prime Minister, novelist and bon viveur, once said: “Action may not always bring happiness; but there is no happiness without action.”
© European Network for Women in Leadership 2018