The appointment of a female Executive Director brings about a wind of change both for the company and the industry.
Part of a group of happy-few women with an engineering diploma, Delphine Ernotte Cunci has been with the group for the past twenty years, where she moved from research and development to sales and commerce, gained management experience in the field as director of a network of agencies, before starting her preparation for executive levels as head of the communication department, then sales director. She was appointed number two this year by Stéphane Richard, CEO France Telecom Orange.
The interview below revolves around the company’s strategy and its executive committee’s ambitious plans to make more room for women.
What change would you like to bring about in the company?
The social, business and economic crisis with which we are being faced for two years left room for re-thinking our management systems. A servicing enterprise needs to adapt its solutions to several customer groups, particularly in the telecom sector where trends are fast replacing one another. In turn, achieving a good level of customization requires more flexible internal management systems. We have to delegate more decision making power from headquarters, and decentralize it to staff in the field.
What specific commitments have been made by the new executive team?
Apart from planned investments to accelerate international development and in leading edge networks, we will channel our efforts towards this new vision of human resources for the men and women of Orange, so that each employee can feel the impact of his or her work on the overall business operations.
Orange set up a quota of 35% of female representation at all levels of management. What is the current status?
We will deploy resources top-down to reach a more gender-mixed structure. While women make up 35% of our employees overall, we want to reach this proportion at every management level, in all departments. For instance, 20% of our executive positions, of which there are 300, are filled by women. This percentage is already high for a telecom company; however we are determined to push it to 35% by 2015. This is why we’ve set up a Diversity Committee at executive level, which comes up with proposed solutions to improve recruitment policies, give equal access to training and career orientation, in addition to developing gender-friendly management practices.
How will this be achieved more exactly?
First, we need to make sure that there is a gender mix beginning with the recruitment process. This is particularly critical for technical jobs, as we are competing with the whole industry to attract a scarce number of female graduates of technical studies. In that aim, we’ve set up partnerships with engineering schools so as to promote our career opportunities to young women, but also to work together towards bringing more girls into science classes. At this point, we can already notice a sort of bias against jobs with generally high responsibilities, driven by the fear of not being able to balance their professional and personal life. Our duty is to break these stereotypes and give a clearer picture of the diverse daily tasks in a telecom company.
Second, management practices need to be adapted to different work styles. We are aware that women provide most of the family care in our society, a fact which compels them to have a different schedule than most men. Technology today enables us to adapt our working schedule to our other responsibilities; yet its usage is determined by the practices of each manager who can either put pressure on employees by setting up late calls/meetings, or set rules of work that are adapted to them.
Should women change anything in their working style so as to reach top leadership levels?
Every time Stéphane Richard pays a visit in the field, he himself is doing a headhunter’s work so as to uncover talented and competent women who usually don’t get noticed. When proposing a new assignment, most women don’t consider themselves capable enough to assume it, whereas men seem much more comfortable with accepting it. This status quo leads to increasing gender gaps at higher levels in the hierarchy. However, instead of demanding women to change their work style, which would involve an alteration of the entire societal construction, a more realistic solution is to ask managers to find those women with a great leadership potential and give them confidence in their abilities.