WIL interviewed Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet, during a busy moment of her life, about her ministerial responsibilities in supporting tech-based SMEs and promoting the large array of prospects that this sector offers to young people. A few days after our meeting, on September 23rd, Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet gave birth to a gorgeous boy named Louis-Abel. We wish all the best to both of them!
Her professional path together with the personal responsibilities she holds as a mother make her a strong role model for women who aim for top-leadership positions. Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet graduated from one of the best French technical universities, Ecole Polytechnique, where women account for only 10% of all graduates. She started her political career in 2002, when she became a member of the French National Assembly, which she remained until July 2007, focusing on initiatives aimed at increasing environmental protection as well as consumer protection. This hard work earned her the position of State Secretary for Ecology in 2007, a role she held until she was named to her current ministerial position in January 2009.
In 2008, Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet was also elected mayor of Longjumeau and became Secretary General of the UMP party.
Last week, Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet launched her first book -“Tu Viens?”- an insightful essay exploring the technological solutions that lie ahead for a society facing climate threats and of the challenges presented by global governance. In an innovative approach, the French Minister has also launched a website TuViens where internet users are invited to answer the 6 questions tackled in this essay. A compendium of their contributions will become part of a future collaborative essay.
Thaima Samman (TS), Senior Director/Associate General Counsel, Corporate Affairs/Corporate Social Responsibility, Microsoft Europe and Cofounder of the WiL Network: Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet (NKM), thank you very much for welcoming us and for accepting this interview. You are the French Digital Minister in charge of information technology (IT) and its different aspects, and you are a woman. It is great for us to have you explain a few things in the current economic and political context and from the point of view of women in society today, so thank you very much.
My first question is for you to comment on the current economic crisis and organisation. We know that small and medium enterprises are key to economic development. As Digital Minister, do you have any specific plans or ideas to promote entrepreneurship in France and Europe? Do you have a specific policy that will encourage women to create enterprises, generally speaking, and in the IT sector as well?
NKM: We have plans to promote entrepreneurship in France, generally and specifically for IT. Generally, these are tax cuts and the simplification of the process around creating a company – simplification, as far as administrative constraints are concerned. For example, we now have a new status by which it is very easy to create your own small company. You can do that on the internet and you will benefit from tax cuts in the first years.
We also have specific programmes for IT companies. Some of them are dedicated to certain sectors – for example, we have programmes for video games – but some of them are temporary, and are just an opportunity to highlight parts of the IT sector. Currently, we are doing something around Web 2.0 start-ups and something with serious gaming. We are working to do more. One idea is to create a specific fund dedicated to small IT companies – a specific wall of investment to help companies grow quickly. They need money at this time.
TS: The second question is more related to women. This is an issue that affects both US and Europe, all of the developed world, which is the lack of appetite for science and technology courses in this part of the world, which may lead to a lack of engineers, scientists and technicians in the future. In the Western world today, only 22% of students embark on science and technology courses, of which only 22% are female. Is this something you are concerned about as IT Minister; i.e. the general lack of scientific students? Do you have a specific policy addressing women? On the female aspect, our American colleagues are also particularly interested in your view, as France is well known for having the best engineering schools in the world. You know that. Do you have any specific policies to encourage ambition in this area? Do you have a specific policy for women?
NKM: This is a major issue. The problem is that fewer students are interested in the sciences in general and, among them, there are not enough girls. This is not a new issue. For decades, girls have been less interested in scientific studies. It has always been a problem. When I was a student in an engineering school, 10% of students were girls. We have put in place a lot of programmes, like other countries, to develop awareness of this problem, at least, and to help girls consider opportunities.
One of the problems is cultural: the vision people have of girls discourages them from science. Therefore we have developed programmes like ‘La main à la pâte’, with Georges Charpak, the Nobel laureate. There are 30 countries interested in these same kinds of programme and we have exchanges with them. This is not specifically intended for girls but to interest young people in sciences and the concrete benefits of science. We also have programmes for social reasons, around people who would not enter into higher studies and may not choose sciences. In this programme, we have a special focus on girls and people, who for social reasons – because they have immigrated into our society or because they live in certain areas – do not embark on these types of studies. Both programmes are growing increasingly strong and we are working on that.
In my view, the main chance for girls’ place, as far as IT is concerned, is this new trend for the increasing importance of service users. I want to explain myself: historically, the IT business was based on technology, which mainly involved boys. Startups were funded by programmers. Those businesses were led by technology, by engineers. Increasingly, values are migrating towards users. This is not as much about technology – ‘I have found a new technology and want to do something with it.’ This is more about having an idea about a service that can be supplied with IT startups. This new and growing approach in the IT sector gives a lot more room to women. This new trend in the IT sector around services and the usage of IT is much more open to women.
I read with great interest an American book called Why Women Mean Business, which I understand has become a bestseller in the US. New trends are about the woman’s view on the world and life, which is becoming increasingly important in business. This means companies need to have women within the company. This is also a message for women: you mean something for companies. Your value is growing so take advantage of it.
TS: Just for the interview, the author of this book is a member of our network. You addressed my next question, which was from our American colleagues, on the importance of diversity, innovation and IT development.
NKM: Diversity is important for everything. It is obviously important for a growing sector, for politics and for society. The reason why it is important is because a diverse place is more creative. My view concerns creativity. It is not about having enough girls. You would have the same problems in a place with only girls. Diversity itself raises value and brings creativity. An increasing amount of companies understand this, I think. In the IT sector, which is a new, growing and creative sector, this is even more important. Thaima Samman
This is another question from our American colleagues, who wonder what you think about the transatlantic relationship, in particular in the IT sector but also more generally. Do you think IT has advanced the relationship between the two continents or otherwise? How can we work together more to advance economic growth?
NKM: In my view, IT is about relationships. People who are not very involved in IT have false views about this. For example, they think that the internet is for lonely people sat in front of their computer, with no relationships. This is wrong. The internet is about creating relationships and we can see that now with what is happening in terms of social networks. The development of IT is creating relationships around the world and strengthening traditional relationships. This is, however, also a challenge, because it means that we have to structure and create an architecture for this new world, which does not exist today.
Next year will be the occasion for us to challenge this view and develop common answers to common challenges, like the management of personal data on the internet and cyber security. All sorts of new global challenges are emerging from the IT sector, and we are now very much at a turning point. The question is whether those challenges will unite us and create a common momentum and desire to face them, or whether they will divide us. They could divide us if there is an issue around a balance of power, in terms of taking the lead on the internet or a desire to keep one’s own leadership and sovereignty, when the system is changing.
TS: Thank you very much. The last question is a more personal one. You are clearly a role model. A Minister, you studied at a famous engineering school in France. You have the highest responsibility possible in your career, and it will probably continue. You have a family and will have children very soon. Do you have any specific advice to give to a young girl today? What three recommendations would you make? What does it take to have it all?
NKM: Women often come to me via the internet or by mail to ask advice. Some of them are interested in politics but are not sure whether it is a good moment. In general, my main advice is not to give anything up. If you want to do it, do it now. If you want to have a family, do it now. Do not give up anything because, all the ideas you might have about family first and career second, or career first and family second, can lead to problems. If you choose career first and then family, you will start a family when you are 40, which is more difficult. If you start a family and then go into politics, you cannot do that, because men have a 20 year lead on you. My main advice is to do whatever you want to do, right now. Do not give anything up. If you want various things, you can manage to do them all. I am not saying it is easy; I am saying that, if you give something up, you might regret it. If you try to do everything, you might only do half, but you can manage it.
TS: Thank you very much. I could not agree more.