Delphine Pouponneau, Director of Diversity & Inclusion, Orange Group

02 Jun 2020 13:18 | Anonymous


Interviewed by Hajar El Bakara

Our premium partner Orange is leading the way towards corporate diversity, inclusivity, and gender equality. This month, we had the pleasure of interviewing our Board Member Delphine Pouponneau, Director of Diversity & Inclusion for the Orange Group.

We discussed her work and her contribution to the development of an inclusive artificial intelligence and to promoting more gender diversity in data and AI related jobs. Delphine also shared with us her insights on Human Resources management during the Covid-19 crisis and reiterated the importance of networks such as WIL Europe.


In April 2019, you were appointed Director of Diversity & Inclusion for the Orange Group. What are the most important decisions that you have had to make? What would you like to improve?

In an open, complex and competitive labour market, and to meet the technological, societal and environmental challenges that the world is facing, companies need to include diversity and inclusion ambitions in their priorities.

My mission is to design and coordinate the deployment of the Group’s diversity and inclusion policy in France and internationally, which means: constantly questioning our practices, to give men and women the same opportunities; striving to build an inclusive environment and helping our clients to confidently navigate the digital world.

Last year, we signed a global agreement on workplace gender equality, demonstrating our commitment to employee diversity and equality in the 26 countries within Orange’s footprint. This year, on April 21, together with the Arborus endowment fund, we launched the international charter for inclusive artificial intelligence, in particular with a view to promoting women in digital professions.

More generally, we are also working on initiatives with non-profit organisations to promote equal opportunities, support the professional integration of the most vulnerable people, and encourage digital inclusion.

Companies need to include diversity and inclusion ambitions in their priorities to meet the technological, societal and environmental challenges that the world is facing.

In July 2019, Orange signed a global agreement with UNI Global Union on workplace gender equality. What concrete measures has this agreement led to and how are you adapting them to the different challenges and contexts in each country?

Orange is an international group present in 26 countries. This agreement is the first of its kind amongst CAC 40 companies and in the telecommunications sector, and covers three areas: workplace gender equality, work-life balance, and combatting discrimination and violence.

We have set ourselves several objectives to achieve by 2025, such as improving the gender diversity of teams, especially in technical professions, and achieving a proportion of women in management bodies of 35%, etc.

The implementation of this agreement relies on a structured dialogue and on the active participation of all stakeholders. We created local diversity committees to review current situations and define an action plan that is adapted to the local context. Action plans will be tracked over time, in collaboration with unions and staff representatives.

We also focus on getting our offices around the world certified by the Gender Equality European & International Standard (GEEIS) label.

On April 21, Orange and Arborus launched an international charter for inclusive artificial intelligence. What are the companies that sign the charter committing to, and what issues does their commitment address?

Artificial intelligence (AI) is an excellent driver of progress and an opportunity for reducing inequalities, so long as it is designed inclusively. The aim of the charter is to create a framework of trust because the potential of AI can be fully realized only by designing, deploying and operating it in a responsible and inclusive way.

The commitments made in this charter address three major issues:

  • Promoting women in AI jobs: because a mix of men and women is the only way to guarantee the sustainable objectivity of AI-based programs.
  • Giving each link in the chain the means to detect and report potential bias, through a training programme. We can only effectively combat bias if we raise the awareness of all players and, more generally, society as a whole.
  • Implementing a continuous improvement process for the quality of data used, to respond to all forms of discrimination.

We hope that many companies and institutions will sign this charter, which is an initial step towards the introduction of the GEEIS-AI label.

We also support the initiative taken by Institut Montaigne called “Objectif IA” to introduce at least 1% of the French population to the fundamental aspects of artificial intelligence.

The potential of AI can be fully realized only by designing,
deploying and operating itin a responsible and inclusive way.

Orange has been a partner of WIL for over 10 years. Many of your female executives are part of our network and, every year, 10 of your talents join our leadership programme. Why is it so important to continue to support us and to take advantage of the opportunities our network provides to senior executives at Orange?

Orange promotes the development of many networks, within and outside the company. Today, at Orange, fifteen internal networks are active in a dozen countries worldwide with over 6,500 members, both women and men.

WIL Europe is a wonderful opportunity to exchange with talented women, create networks, gain access to different cultural and professional environments. It also gives us the opportunity to offer our young talents a leadership programme and help them boost their career by meeting Europe’s elite in the political and economic spheres.

WIL Europe is a wonderful opportunity to exchange with talented women, create networks, gain access to different cultural and professional environments.

In this time of crisis, women working at home also often have to deal with a greater workload due to the increase in household duties. How can a company guarantee work conditions that foster gender equality whilst protecting work-life balance?

This health crisis is highlighting the inequalities in our societies.

Managers and executives can work remotely but many employees are forced to expose themselves to the virus to go to work. This is notably the case of women who are on the front line dealing with the pandemic (healthcare, cleaning, etc.). With the lockdown and the closing of schools, the added load of teaching children full-time often borne by women on top of the usual domestic chores, regardless of whether they work or not.

While working from home has become a well-established way of working over the past few years at Orange, we have been forced to review our practices, especially the requirement to be physically present at the workplace two days a week.

To support our employees, we have communicated online training courses such as “Working remotely together.” Or “How to work from home”. We have also reminded everyone of their right to log off out of working hours and introduced customised support for people with disabilities. A confidential hotline is also available for Orange employees in France with 24/7 support from independent psychologists, doctors, social workers, and local HR managers if required.

Still regarding the coronavirus crisis, many examples of female leadership are emerging in countries such as Germany, Finland and New Zealand. These female leaders offer an interesting alternative to how power is exercised. In your opinion, what can we learn from them?

These women have handled this health crisis by deploying a strategy without procrastination, with an open mind, determination and empathy. Forward-planning, pragmatism and responsiveness are also key to effective management. They also talked directly to the population without mentioning the word “war” …

I don’t know if we can conclude from this that women handle crises better but more egalitarian societies, focused on the common good and where men and women are in positions of power, work better.

More egalitarian societies, focused on the common good and where men and women are in positions of power, work better.

In your opinion, what will the post-covid-19 world look like?

The health crisis will probably go hand-in-hand with an economic and social crisis. Companies have a social and environmental role to play if we want to avoid rifts in our societies and can no longer operate in a vacuum without caring about potential social inequalities.

That is actually the aim of our mission, i.e. making digital technology accessible to everyone in a responsible way. We can see how the internet and telecommunications networks are essential tools, especially for education, access to healthcare, and to maintain social relationships.

We are currently living in a sort of ‘freeze frame’. It is probably the right time to design a more cohesive and ecologically-viable society.

We are currently living in a sort of ‘freeze frame’.

It is probably the right time to design a more cohesive and ecologically viable society.


© European Network for Women in Leadership 2018

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