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.