Connecting, inspiring and empowering women to lead the way
Interviewed by Tessa Robinson
In this interview, colleagues and friends Olivia Sinfield and Victoria Parry discuss their different pathways into the field of law, the value of strong interpersonal relationships in the workplace, and the traits they value most in leaders.
You are both Partners at Osborne Clarke (OC) in the UK. Could you both describe a little about what attracted you to the field of law and your career journey until now?
Olivia: Initially, I was attracted to a career in law because I wanted to make my dad proud; he has always been a huge influence on my life. And then it became more of a personal challenge because I didn't get the grades to study law at university, so I had to switch to history instead. From that point on, I desperately wanted a career in law, not only to make him proud but because I had something to prove to myself: that I could be a lawyer. There's nothing like a setback to make you more determined! First, I trained at a city law firm, where I had the great pleasure of meeting another of our current colleagues, David Cubitt. He came to OC first and I followed quickly. I then had three children, and that led to a five-year career break after which I had a serious case of imposter syndrome and thought that there were too many obstacles to return to a career in law, so I started thinking through other options. But I remember clearly again, my dad, on a holiday in Portugal, questioning how I could possibly have invested so much in a career to think about walking away from it. He told me, “Olivia, you've just got to put your game face on and get stuck back in”. And I did, and the rest is history. My dad and I sometimes talk about that moment and how things could have been different if we hadn't decided to have that one last piña colada…
Victoria: For me, if I'm honest, I don't think that I particularly chose law. The school I went to was in the north of England and it was very much the view that if you had higher grades and you were arty, you were doing law; if you were good at science, you were doing medicine; and that was kind of it. I went with the current and in fact, if I had my time again, I probably wouldn’t do a law degree, because I think that you get a little bit more out of doing something you absolutely love at university. That said, my law degree gave me the employment law option, which I did love, and I came out of university certain that I wanted to be an employment lawyer. I've got the best job in the world: I always say we get paid to kind of be a little bit nosy in people’s lives and act as a strategist at the end of the day.
Later I migrated down to London and joined Linklaters, which was great for my career and very enjoyable. But back then they didn't do employment tribunals and my dad, also influential, said to me, “There's no point chopping the trees down in the wood if you're in the wrong wood”. So I made a brave decision to leave Linklaters and went to a boutique law firm where we did lots employment tribunals for the banks in London, and it was there that I met David Cubitt. We left the firm together soon after and went to another law firm where we met Olivia. We were delighted when she joined us. Shortly after I had my first child I came back to the firm, where I was one of the first people to work part time. It was a long time ago, so there weren’t any iPhones or laptops or anything. I went on to have three more children!
You have been colleagues and friends for over twenty years now. What has your relationship taught you both about solidarity between female professionals and the importance of a strong network?
Olivia: I've been lucky in my career because I've had Vic (Victoria) as a friend, colleague, mentor and role model. Between us, we've experienced some key critical moments, both professionally and personally, having gone through marriages, promotions, highs and lows at work and having our children. We've both got four kids. I actually went into labour with my eldest daughter at Vic’s house and she got me through it by feeding me chocolate chip cookies! Because of that, there's a huge amount of trust between us and, I think, mutual respect underpinning our relationship. That's important to me: she’s someone who understands me and who will be totally honest with me. Sometimes that means delivering tricky messages. Vic’s on our executive board and does all our reviews. Her feedback is always frank and honest, but from the heart, and I value her opinion. I might not like it, but I always listen!
The sense of solidarity between us brings fun to our days, which is important since we spend so much time in these four walls together. When you're in your career for the long run, like we both are, I don't think you can underestimate the importance of really enjoying, really loving what you do and who you do it with. I'm very lucky in that respect.
Victoria: I think that over a lifespan, as a female and as a mum and as a lawyer and as a friend, every now and again you meet people who you consider to be truly talented: someone's in your life for a reason!
Olivia and I started off just as colleagues, but we’ve faced lots of challenges and we see that there's lots of competition out there. For us, it's important to be collaborative. As Olivia says, sometimes that means giving tough messages to each other, but it’s always done with love. I think that's helped us build a relationship based on trust, respect and empathy. As Olivia said, we've got four kids each, so there are always going to be curve balls-and that's just on the night job! In the day job, there are plenty of curve balls too, but what’s important is that we navigate our problems together.
When you're in your career for the long run, I don't think you can underestimate the importance of really enjoying, really loving what you do and who you do it with.
You both have over fifteen years of professional legal experience. Looking back over this experience, what, if anything, do you wish you had known at the start of your careers and why?
Olivia: That it's okay to dance to the beat of your own drum! When I started my legal career over 20 years ago, I had a preconceived notion of what a lawyer should be like and look like. And it was much more LA Law than Ally McBeal. I can clearly remember going into Jigsaw and buying my trouser suit in three colours and then wearing that same trouser suit day in, day out. It’s taken time to realise how important it is to bring your real self to work, which is something that's really encouraged at OC. That’s what clients and colleagues can relate to. I do think you become a bit more fearless with age and less concerned about what others think. So, if I were speaking to my younger self, my message would be to make your own footprints in the sand rather than trying to tread in somebody else's.
Victoria: I still remember a time when women weren't even allowed to wear trousers at work! Although it sounds like a 100 years ago, it was actually only 30 or so. My boss took me aside one day and she said to me something along the lines of, “We have really intelligent people at this place and that's great, but our clients need you to stop pretending to be geeky and start being yourself and more down-to-earth. What we don't need are more rocket scientists. We need people who can talk to clients. Not everyone's going to like it. Some people will hate it. But you don't need to be all things to all people, just be yourself and enough people will like it to build a career.” I think that's probably one of the most important career conversations I've ever had. I was newly qualified, and as lawyers we're very good at praising or criticising work. But often we forget that there's a human being behind that. Everybody is high achieving in this profession. Otherwise, we wouldn’t be here. But we need to allow people to be themselves. I'm very grateful for that conversation because it has stayed with me for 30 years.
If I were speaking to my younger self, my message would be to make your own footprints in the sand rather than trying to tread in somebody else's.
Victoria, you are an active participant in Osborne Clarke’s Corporate Responsibility Programme. Could you explain what attracted you to this and why you are motivated to be involved in the programme?
Victoria: Everybody feels passionate about different things and it's important to find your own passion and be true to that. For me, diversity is most probably my passion because of my experience as a working mum. I spent the first five or six years pretending that I didn't work part time, sometimes not admitting that I was a working mum. Now I want to be an advocate for change on that. I am delighted with the journey that OC has been on in this regard because we're up there with the brightest and the best on this issue. That's the legacy that I want to leave my daughter, so that when she reaches the world of work, she won’t feel that she has to be all things to all people. I want her to feel that it's okay to make her own choices.
Olivia: Vic really is an advocate for that. Just to give you an example: I'm a part time Partner, so I work four days a week, and if I'm not working and my out of office isn't on, Vic is always the first to ask me why not. So, yes, she does very much walk the walk on that front.
Everybody feels passionate about different things and it's important to find your own passion and be true to that.
Olivia, you often advise clients on issues relating to the Future of Work and help them to adapt to changing working practices. What would you say are the greatest challenges and opportunities for organisations right now, and what do you think the next five years will hold?
Olivia: I think the biggest change we've seen over the last 18 months concerns people. I sometimes hear that referred to as ‘human capital’ and I have to say I absolutely hate that term! We’ve seen a real shift regarding employees’ expectations and the stakes have been raised in terms of what people are looking for. They're looking for alignment around their personal values; they're looking for places that have great culture, where there's an opportunity for them to advance and be creative and have a voice and play their part in the wider business. I think there’s a real opportunity for businesses to look at how they can meet these expectations and become workplace destinations of choice with positive working environments where people are really engaged and invested in their own future. That's a fantastic mix. The flip side of that, and where there are challenges, is getting the balance of power right: ultimately work must be done, it must be properly supervised. As a result, you've got a little bit of a seesaw going on now. It’s slightly up and down and I think that most businesses are now just waiting for it to settle and working out how to find a happy equilibrium. Regarding the future, I'm going to be succinct and say this: the future is a metaverse. But the metaverse is worthy of a whole different conversation itself...
We've seen a real shift and change around employees’ expectations and the stakes have been raised in terms of what people are looking for.
Finally, what trait do you both value most in a great leader and why?
I've got my three role models here and I'm going to call all of them out because you don't get many opportunities to do that. Vic, of course; David Cubitt, who is our fellow Employment Partner; and Ray Berg, our Managing Partner. These people deserve all sorts of praise because all of them embody the qualities and the traits that are important to me.
The ones that I value most are, first and foremost, authenticity: leaders need to bring their real selves to work and be true to who they are. There are two parts to that. First, it's about allowing your strength to shine and encouraging others to shine as well. Second, it’s about being open and honest about your own vulnerabilities too, and just being human. So that's the first value I’d highlight. The second is being value-driven in everything you do. That goes hand in hand with authenticity because it’s inspirational and something you really want to follow and be part of. The third is the simplest one: just being kind.
Victoria: Leaders need to be visionaries, to know where they are going. I also think it's important to lead with humility. Times have changed. Today it’s more important than ever to be led by people who we want to follow. Teams need to understand where leaders are going and why, which requires them to be open. We're all on this journey in life and there are many paths that we can follow. There's no right or wrong way, but we need to be straight up with people. People will spot a fake. Most people in this world are doing the best that they possibly can every single day. We need to make it okay for people to get it wrong, to make mistakes, to feel that they're valued: as we always say at OC, we back the racehorse, not the race. The leaders in this business need to make it psychologically safe for people to follow others and to want to follow; to be kind and to have fun along the way. I feel incredibly lucky to be surrounded by people who are truly talented and who value others for who they are.
Times have changed. Today it’s more important than ever to be led people who we want to follow. Teams need to understand where leaders are going and why.
Video edited by Juliette Gill
Interviewed by Hanna Müller
Ever wonder what people say when you leave the room? In this interview our Member, Charlotte West, Executive Director for Global Corporate Communications at Lenovo, talks about corporate reputation and its link to business purpose, including how to infuse Diversity & Inclusion into company culture.
You are Executive Director for Global Corporate Communications at Lenovo promoting the reputation of complex global businesses across diverse markets and audiences. What does your current role entail and what set you off on this career path?
Lenovo is a big technology powerhouse, operating in 180 markets around the world with $60 billion revenue each year.
In my role as Executive Director for Global Corporate Communications, I represent the company on the global stage. That includes two aspects: building and protecting our reputation. The building part is about telling great stories and launching new products, while the protecting part is trickier in terms of issues and crisis management. We step in when the company's reputation is possibly being tarnished. I came to this career path after studying business between the UK, Germany and Singpore. I quickly realised that I liked communications the most and accounting the least! So I knew where I was heading. After that, I gained work experience in marketing, communications and PR and tried to build a career out of it. Interestingly, I had already written my dissertation on crisis management. I pulled it off the bookshelf the other day and realised that, even back then, I was already passionate about issues, reputation, and how I could help corporations build it and protect it. My path was probably established quite early during my university days.
Stakeholders are no longer only interested in a company’s product but also in the values that they stand for. In a nutshell, how would you define corporate reputation? Do you think it is a vital asset to a company or it is only a “feel-good” concept?
The easiest way to explain corporate reputation is thinking about it like your own personal reputation: things that people say about you when you leave the room. When it comes to corporate reputation, it is similar: what are people saying about our company? Keeping that in mind, corporate purpose is massively on the agenda of businesses today although it is not new. If you look at companies from the early 20th century like Cadbury's and Bourneville in the UK, many of them had purpose at their core. They established towns for their workers and pushed improvements in health facilities.
Even if purpose and values are nothing new, they are more critical than ever. We have seen that in particular over the last two years during the pandemic. Companies are expected to stand up and protect their employees. Now, more than ever, consumers want to trust in the companies they buy from. Research tells us that consumers are willing to pay more for a product with better environmental credentials behind it. Edelman’s trust barometer shows us that also employees want to believe in the brand for which they are working. That is a new trend we’re seeing.
Now, more than ever, consumers want to trust in the companies they buy from.
As a member of Lenovo’s Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) Oversight Committee, how do you infuse Diversity & Inclusion (D&I) into your company?
The ESG Oversight Committee is made up of various stakeholders from around the business. We basically help force the discussion, debate, and action around ESG in the company. Lenovo’s heritage was built up on Chinese and American roots, so in that sense, we developed a diverse approach to the way we think about leadership and the work together from day one. A few years ago, we initiated the company's first D&I report. That means we made our business publicly accountable. Through that tactical move, we established a forcing function for change, something I’m incredibly proud of and that I believe is our role in comms to drive, i.e. real business change.
Since then, there has been more investment in and clear KPIs for D&I. We also look at it in our own teams, how we build the makeup in terms of diversity and culture. As I sit in a worldwide job, if everybody is American, or if everybody is British, we are not diverse. We are always looking at every opportunity to think about how we can bring our D&I story to life.
You are committed to empowering underrepresented communities through your Directorship of the Lenovo Foundation. What are some strategies implemented by the foundation to promote access to technology and STEM education?
The Lenovo foundation has been around for several years now, and I am very fortunate to be on their board. It is very easy to look at the big halo NGO partnerships of other companies. Our strategy is a bit different. We tend to look at smaller partnerships that are based in our own communities. For example, supporting women returning to the workforce, giving access to technology so that they can build their skills after having children, or offering coding classes for younger women. These small partnerships mean can create lasting impact in a different way – a small amount of money can go a long way.
Small partnerships can create lasting impact in a different way – a small amount of money can go a long way.
With more than 20 years of experience in PR, what do you wish you had known at the start of your career?
This is a hard one, because you pick up so many bits of advice along the way. One thing is to listen more and speak less. As a woman in the workforce, I feel we often have to force ourselves into conversations or be a loud voice to get heard. Sometimes that brings us to speaking too much. Working in a company like Lenovo that has a culture originating from Asia, I got used to a style of listening and being considered before you respond. That would be the one bit of advice I would give to my younger self. It is probably easier once you have established your own profile and people know you, but even in the early stages, listen a bit more than you speak.
Listen more and speak less!
We like to close our interviews with a question from the Proust questionnaire. The one we have chosen for you is: what do you consider your greatest achievement?
This question is impossible to answer. This might feel like a cop out, but it is true to who I am; there is no one great achievement to put on my epitaph when I die. There have been lots of achievements along my career that have helped me. It is the cumulative impact of each piece on my journey.
One example I am particularly proud of: at Lenovo, we regularly put on major media product launch events where we typically have executives to speak on stage. In the past, nine times out of 10, those executives were white, middle-aged, and male. But I wanted to transform things and show up on stage in a way that reflects our customers. It wasn’t popular, but I pushed and drove change and since then we have had a different lineup of speakers on stage: a mixture of different genders, races, ethnicities, religions, and ages. Putting those voices on stage and doing things differently may seem small, but it might be one of my greatest professional achievements.
Video edited by Tessa Robinson
Interviewed by Hajar El Baraka
Meet our Member, Myriam El Ouni, Managing Sales Director for Financial and Insurance Industries at Pegasystems. In this interview, Myriam talks about what she gained from working for leaders in the Tech industry, learning from the sanitary crisis and why she is contributing to the Women Talent Pool Leadership Programme.
You are currently the Managing Sales Director for Financial and Insurance Industries at Pegasystems. What does your job entail and what energises you about your work?
I have the great pleasure to manage the Sales team for the insurance and banking industry at Pegasystems. What energises me the most is, first, seeing my team grow daily and, second, seeing the impact my team has on our customers. It’s really enthralling to see how we help banks and insurance companies grow in their digital transformation. This is a high motivation for me each day!
You have gained extensive leadership experience working at Microsoft, Salesforce, LinkedIn and Pegasystems. What have you learned from being part of such successful technology and digital companies?
I have learned many things. First and foremost, I have learned that everything is possible. When you work for leaders in Tech, especially American ones, you are taught every day that you can achieve more, that you can become a better person than you were yesterday, that you can contribute to all the digitalisation of our customers’ companies and have a real impact on their success. Long story short, I think that what I gained most from these companies is that they empowered me to achieve more.
You oversee diverse international teams as part of your work, and you proudly state on your LinkedIn profile that you make sure to provide an inclusive environment. How are the technology and digital sectors doing in terms of gender equity and diversity in your view?
I feel very lucky to be part of this industry! Out of all the industries, I believe the digital and tech sectors are the most advanced in terms of gender equality. They are also focusing on investing in more diversity within the workplace more broadly, not only in terms of gender. Because we use the technology we sell, it helps us be more inclusive and diverse. For instance, female inclusion in these types of companies has always been facilitated by the ability to work from home, which was possible long before the COVID-19 situation made it mandatory for everyone. When you are a woman and you also have a family, working from home is such a good way to manage your work-life balance.
A research article published in the European Journal of Social Psychology concluded that it takes on average 66 days to form a habit. If that is true, then it is good news for businesses which experienced and capitalised on digital transformation during the COVID-19 pandemic. In your opinion, how can business leaders keep this momentum going? Which lessons can they learn and make sure it’s woven into everything they do moving forward?
I am a deep believer that what we have learned during this sanitary crisis, and the behaviour changes this has brought, should not just be temporary. People feel more empowered now that they can choose from where they work and how they engage with customers and manage teams. I believe as a manager and a leader that when you trust your team and your people, everything goes well. Not being in the same office or location but having a team located all over the country, for instance, is something that works very well if you trust them and empower them to deliver their best work.
I believe as a manager and a leader that when you trust
your team and your people, everything goes well.
Digital transformation often reshapes workgroups, job titles and held business processes. People may be unsure about their value and perhaps fear losing their jobs. As a leader, how do you build trust to nourish an organisation that is supportive and fully onboard with the transformation efforts?
I remember when I worked at Microsoft back in 2006, I had a customer who thought that if they digitalised their messaging system, they would no longer need teams to maintain it and their co-workers were afraid they would lose their jobs. This is relevant in every type of industry. My conviction is that technologies will help people focus on higher-value tasks. We don’t need human intelligence to deliver tasks that robots can do, but we do need this intelligence to deliver high-value tasks. When you digitalise your messaging systems, or you automatise your business processes and no longer need a team to maintain all this within your organisation, then you have the unique opportunity to leverage these teams. I believe not only in artificial intelligence, but in augmented intelligence. I believe in a world where technology will only replace people where we do not need that level of intelligence and bring people in where they will add real value.
I do not only believe in artificial intelligence,
I believe in augmented intelligence. I believe in a world
where technology will only replace people
where we do not need that level of intelligence
and bring people in where they will add real value.
In 2018, you have founded a start-up that empowers organisations to succeed in their own digital transformation. Can you tell us more about this and about how your prior experience helped you as an entrepreneur?
After more than 15 years working for big digital companies, I decided to gather all the skills and knowledge I gained to create a start-up and to provide my own services to benefit customer digital transformation. I learned a lot during this entrepreneurial experience. I learned that being an entrepreneur is very different from working for a company. You can be very successful within a company because you are leveraging its name and ecosystem and you are part of a team. When you create a start-up, you suddenly realise that being alone is less easy than you thought and everything you learned during your collective experience probably cannot be applied. Nevertheless, I also learned that working for big companies makes you more structured and customer-centric, and much more agile in providing solutions, which has helped me create this start-up. The start-up was subsequently sold and continues to be successful without me.
You participated in our Women Talent Pool Programme in 2012. How did participating in this programme help you in your career and what spurred you to become a WIL Member afterwards?
I loved being part of the Women Talent Pool programme as much as I love being a Member of the WIL network. I am grateful to have had the opportunity to meet many inspiring women. The leadership programme lasted 18months during which we had the opportunity to network and be exposed to senior female leaders who were always happy to provide feedback, guidance and share their experiences. Back at that time, I wanted to follow the path of these women. They made me realise that you can both strive for a career and have a rich personal life and make it work. I grew confident in my capability to be both a professional and a mother.
The reason why I wanted to become a WIL Member is to give back. I received so much from this programme that I thought when the time came and I had enough to share, I wanted to contribute to the future editions of Women Talent Pool programme. I hope to inspire future Talents to be successful and succeed in their professional and personal lives.
I wanted to follow the path of these women.
They made me realise that you can both
strive for a career and have a rich a personal life
and make it work. I grew confident in my capability
to be both a professional and a mother.
Video edited by Dovilė Bogušytė
Núria Martín is not only Managing Partner, co-founder of Osborne Clarke Spain, and one of the ‘Top 50 inspiring women lawyers in Spain and Portugal’; she is also a mother of two children. Núria discusses her career achievement, the importance of networking events and balancing career and family.
You are Managing Partner, former Chair of Osborne Clarke’s International Council, and co-founder of Osborne Clarke Spain. Could you tell us about your current Managing Partner role and what skills have been required to be successful?
In my current role as Managing Partner, I focus on one major client and the rest of the time I manage the firm and our people. People are the most valuable asset in all businesses but especially in a law firm. I try to anticipate everyone’s needs, give my best and make sure that Osborne Clarke remains a great place to work. I also keep an eye on turnover, profit, and growth.
What makes me successful today is the time I spend listening to our people, always keeping the door of my office open, trying my best to achieve goals and make our firm profitable.
What makes me successful today is
the time I spend listening to our people,
always keeping the door of my office open,
trying my best to achieve goals
and make our firm profitable.
You have over 30 years of experience in both transactional and advisory work, leading major acquisition projects and coordinating legal councils around the world. What helped you get to where you are today in your professional career?
It is always a mixture of things, but luck remains an important component of success. We had always believed in the idea of building the Osborne Clarke office in Spain and we worked very hard for it. What helped contribute to my professional success was having loyal clients and great partners not only professionally speaking, but also on a personal level.
You played a big role in our 5th Women Talent Pool Programme Kick-off in Barcelona where we welcomed 39 new participants. What is the impact of such events and networking opportunities on young female leaders in your view?
I have good memories of this event because it allowed me to work hand in hand with WIL Europe. These types of events are quite important, especially for younger female lawyers. They can learn a range of things, such as communication skills and the importance of building a strong network.
Now that the Covid-19 situation is slowly getting better (note to readers: this interview was held on 19th November, 2021 when this was the case), I believe we should try to get back to normal life, go outside, join networking events and connect with other professionals at least twice a month.
Besides being a successful leader, you are also a mother. What type of opportunities and initiatives does Osborne Clarke Spain offer to new and expectant mothers?
For female lawyers, life can be as challenging or as easy as for their male counterparts. At Osborne Clarke Spain, we have more female than male lawyers and we want them to give them an opportunity to combine both maternity and their professional career. As long as mothers want to come back and continue their professional careers, we are very open to adapting to their needs. We have some female lawyers who work until the day before birth but we also have colleagues who leave two months before. Both are fine! We try to be very accommodating with young mothers returning to work after parental leaves. We try to find individual solutions for young mothers such as child-friendly working hours, part-time or home office. They can come back little by little and we adjust because we do not want to lose these talents.
We, at Osborne Clarke Spain,
have more female than male lawyers
and we want them to give them an opportunity
to combine both maternity and their professional career.
Returning to the office after maternity leave can be scary, not to mention challenging. How did you manage the return to work after becoming a mother and did you, like many working parents, face parental guilt? If so, how did you manage it?
Parental guilt happens to a lot of mothers. Women always tend to feel guilty when things do not go smoothly. This is a very common pattern which we should try to fight against. As a mother of two children, I still remember very well the first day when I returned to the office after maternity leave. Indeed, I felt very guilty leaving my four-month-old baby at home.
After a couple of months, I was happy when it was Monday again because my weekends with the kids were much more exhausting than my job. That is why it is important to find a balance between your professional and personal life. In the end, this only works when husbands and partners support you. Parenting should a 50/50 and responsibilities must be shared. Women have just as much right to work and grow professionally as men. It is important that everyone, not only their partners but also their colleagues and bosses, understand that.
I try to tell our female lawyers who become mothers for the first time that we do not work at the same speed throughout our entire career. For different reasons, there will be moments where we must slow down and moments where we allocate more effort and time to our jobs. Everybody understands that. We should not feel guilty about it.
Parenting should be 50/50
and responsibilities must be shared.
Proust Questionnaire: what do you consider your greatest achievement?
Professionally speaking, I am very proud of having built up the local structure of our office and being a founder of Osborne Clarke Spain. When the founders retire, the firm will continue being in good hands. I have been working with some of my colleagues for the last 39 years now. There are some whom I know since the very first beginning of my career.
In my private life, I am really proud of my daughter and son and the people they have become.
Interviewed by Alison OATES and Dovile BOGUSYTE
Meet our Member, Bénédicte Micard, Southern European Business development lead at Virtu Financial, based in the South of France. We talked about being a woman in the male-dominated financial sector, the diverse competencies required for successful business development, and the impact of being a long-term remote worker on her career.
You are responsible for Southern Europe business development at Virtu Financial, a large financial services provider. What does your job entail and what part of it gets you up in the morning?
Virtu Financial offers a wide range of financial services and solutions that support retail and intuitional firms across the world.
The definition of Business Development is to find new clients and generate new business. In my view and experience, it entails so much more than that. To effectively engage with institutional prospects and clients, a successful business developer requires a multi-phased approach that includes Prospecting (identifying new clients) Analysis (listening to clients to understand their needs), Marketing (presenting and promoting solutions), Sales (converting prospects to clients) and Relationship Management (solving new client challenges as needs arise and ensuring their satisfaction in the long run. ).
What I value most about my role at Virtu is the relationship management aspect―solving client challenges and providing excellent service― it’s a key driver for me. I’ve learned that it takes years to earn trust and build confidence with clients and it’s personally satisfying when they recognise that your day-to-day efforts help.
In the years that you have been leading Southern European Business Development, have any new country markets emerged? Who are the key European players and which countries do you most enjoy working with?
In 2007, I began covering seven European countries (France, French and Italian speaking Switzerland, Spain, Portugal, Belgium, Norway and the Czech Republic), a time in which two financial crises led to many clients shuttering or being acquired. The client-culture in each country I manage are all very different. Success is gained through a tailored approach, and given the variety of my territory, a one-size-fits-all strategy simply would not work. I am creative in my approach (figuring out what works best and for who) and this challenges me and ensures my work is interesting and rewarding.
I am creative in my approach (figuring out what works best and for who) and this challenges me and ensures my work is interesting and rewarding.
You have worked for both small to medium-sized companies, and multinationals. What have you learned from being part of such different organisations?
To work in any size firm you need to be flexible and open-minded—that is a winning strategy and the mentality of today. I started my career in a small office of a large investment bank which was very people-oriented. Communication was open, and management was very accessible. I transferred to London with the same company and joined a trading floor of 500 seats and the sheer size seemed impersonal to me―like losing human contact with your peers―though I was surrounded by people. While the work was interesting, I missed being able to meaningfully interact with my colleagues. Networking and interaction with other teams build knowledge, but also creates strong connections and work relationships.
Networking and interaction with other teams build knowledge, but also creates strong connections and work relationships.
Based in Montpellier, you have been a champion of remote working since long before the Covid crisis. Tell us about the impact that this has had on your career and how attitudes towards it have evolved.
I enjoyed my life in London it’s is a great city to live in, especially when you are in your early 30s. I appreciated my work and travelling, but I was away from home too often, which was difficult with a baby. So, in 2009 I decided to move back to Montpellier to raise my child and I have worked remotely ever since.
Thankfully, this did not have a negative impact on my career trajectory. A few years after moving to France, I was hired by Virtu Financial―a firm that appreciates people's strengths and values professionalism.
Almost overnight, Covid-19 required people to become self-sufficient and motivated whilst working from home―a more difficult task than many people first anticipated. Fortunately, Virtu was a thoughtful and supportive employer who put their people first. They supplied all employees with the necessary tools and technology to set up a home office, offered child support, tutoring, community support and more. The employee and social/emotional support they continue to provide was instrumental in the firm’s successful transition to a physically distant work environment.
Working closely with clients through the periods of historic volume and volatility accelerated the shift and enhanced the appreciation of Virtu’s scale and technology-based solutions. The firm’s workflow technology, trade analytics and data, venues and execution services coupled with a client-first attitude is the heart of how we managed. We really are all in this together.
You have always worked in the finance sector, one which Board Member Paulina Dejmek-Hack wrote about in our July 2021 newsletter. What is your experience of being a woman in this male-dominated industry, and what in your view can be done to improve the career prospects of women in Financial Services?
Generally, when you work in a male-dominated industry you need to work harder as a woman to get the same recognition as a man. That is why networks like WIL exist, because as women we know we are strong and that we are super capable, but at the end of the day the gender pay gap is still a reality.
I grew up surrounded by male cousins and with whom I spent all my vacations, and my father was an FX dealer, so I was used to being in male-dominated surroundings. When I joined ITG (now Virtu Financial) in 2012, I was surprised by the large percentage of women in senior roles which convinced me that even in a male-dominated environment, women should pursue to access senior roles, as parity is just around the corner.
I do believe that people should be valued for their work, strengths and capabilities, and not be penalised because of gender. I feel that for women to be recognized professionally we need to trust ourselves and put forward our skills and knowledge with confidence.
I do believe that people should be valued for their work, strengths, and capabilities and not be penalised because of gender. I feel that women, in order to grow professionally, need to trust and believe in themselves more.
Finance, trading, and investment can seem quite daunting for non-specialists, especially women who remain unrepresented in the finance world. Do you have any podcasts, books, or blogs to recommend to our readers who may want to improve their knowledge of Finance and Investment?
The best book I have read relating to the overall business of trading would be the Nick Leeson autobiography, TRADER. Leeson was a senior trader at Barings Bank during its collapse in the 90s.
For more specific podcasts on investing, the website The Balance offers a wide choice of worthwhile content: https://www.thebalance.com/best-investing-podcasts-4584068
You are a new member of the European Network for Women in Leadership, having joined in April 2021. What spurred you to become a WIL Member and what are you hoping to get out of it? Also, what would you like to contribute to our network?
I have been following the WIL Network for some years now and have been inspired by the variety of different backgrounds of the WIL members–most of them outside of the financial services sector!
What inspired me to become a WIL member was the isolation due to the pandemic. Technology and e-networking have allowed me to meet WIL members online and participate in sessions that were previously held in person and were difficult for me to attend.
I value the exchange with senior women from different industries and look forward to engaging and meeting other female professionals. I can contribute by sharing my work experiences with younger members/talents and help women discover possible career paths within the financial services industry.
I value the exchange with senior women from different industries and look forward to engaging and meeting other female professionals.
Video edited by Dovile BOGUSYTE
Interviewed by Maria Luiza MENEZES DE OLIVEIRA
Meet our member, Dr. Andrea Schmoll, a Partner at Osborne Clarke specialising in Intellectual Property Law. In this interview, she talks about the future of legal tech, why patent protection is so important, and the need for diversity within and beyond the legal profession.
You are a Partner at Osborne Clarke focusing on Intellectual Property Law, you have been described as one of Germany’s leading experts in IP related transactions, and in 2018 you won the Client Choice Award for copyright. What led you to specialise in Intellectual Property Law and what has receiving these various awards and recognitions meant to you?
That’s a very good question, actually. The reason I became an IP lawyer is because, when I was a young student and dreaming about becoming a journalist, I met a renowned editor who told me I should study law in order to become a good journalist and learn how to use language most effectively.
That’s why I chose to study law. I began to really enjoy the legal discipline and, when I started to work as a lawyer, I quickly got into intellectual property and life sciences-related issues. After 20 years of practicing law, it still is a fascinating area for me, and I enjoy my day-to-day work. In terms of my awards, of course, they are a great recognition of the quality of work one delivers but, to be honest, they don’t mean that much to me. It’s a "nice to have" but it’s not what drives me.
Intellectual property has become one of the most influential and often most controversial issues in the knowledge-based economy, especially in recent months when debates have raged about IP rights on Covid-19 vaccines and the impact that waiving them could have on curbing the spread of the virus. Where do you sit on the issue of IP and Covid?
Being an IP specialist in the Life Sciences sector, I advise many biotech and pharma companies on the commercialisation of IP Rights, in particular as regards license agreements, research and development agreements and technology transfer agreements. Knowing how much time, efforts and funds my clients are investing in order to develop vaccines and other pharmaceutical products, I am really concerned about the current patent waiver discussion. It is incredibly expensive to develop a pharmaceutical product and is only worth it for pharma companies if they have an adequate return on investment when a development is successful. You only get that when you can exclude your competitors for a small amount of time to enjoy the exclusivity given to you by a patent. I have, in fact, a very strong view on this – and sincerely hope that we will soon have moved on from this debate.
This last decade in legal tech has been transformative, with a rise in the number of legal tech startups and legal technology and software. How has legal tech impacted your work, and what do you see as the future for legal tech?
We at Osborne Clarke are very much focused on digitalisation and were one of the frontrunners in terms of legal tech. We have, for example, an affiliate company that focuses on legal tech solutions. I see the need for legal tech, and many of my clients are using legal tech. We host platforms for our clients to help them navigate their daily challenges, upload work products and information material, keep in touch with them and use legal tech. And this is even combined with AI solutions, for example, for contract templates. So, yes, while legal tech is useful, I do not expect it ever to replace the involvement of a lawyer. Being a lawyer is so much about assessing the particular situation and then giving practical and pragmatic advice. It is also about understanding the position and concerns of the other party and then finding a good compromise. You do not only need extensive business and sector knowledge but also negotiation skills in order to get the best deal for the client.
Legal tech is useful, but it will never
replace a lawyer. Being a lawyer is so
much about assessing the situation and then giving
practical and pragmatic advice. You need extensive business
knowledge in order to find a good solution for the client.
You support clients from the Life Science and Healthcare sector. Here it has been said that there has been a “resetting of parameters”, allowing businesses to develop new technologies quicker than before. How has this resetting of parameters affected your role as an intellectual property lawyer?
As a lawyer, you have to adapt quickly to new developments and new parameters, whether it is new technical inventions or new regulatory landscapes. You have to be at the forefront and always have to know what is going on. It is not just that you qualify as a lawyer and that’s it. You have to constantly learn and adapt. This can be challenging. In terms of developments in the Life Sciences, there is certainly a lot going on, with many investments and transactions taking place. I actually think that, due to the pandemic, the Life Sciences sector is currently the most vibrant part of the economy.
As a lawyer, you have to adapt quickly to new
developments and new parameters, whether it is new
technical inventions or new regulatory landscapes. You have
to be at the forefront and always know what’s going on.
On your LinkedIn profile you state proudly that you are “driven by diversity”. How do you put this into practice in your career? What are the benefits of a diverse workforce, especially in the legal field?
Diversity is something that always drove me and was always important to me. I never understood why women or people of colour or anyone else should be treated differently than others. In my career, I never experienced any disadvantages being a woman. I was promoted to Partner when I had just returned from maternity leave after the birth of my first child. However, I learned early on that it is important to speak out and to put forward one’s requests. If you do not believe in yourself and fight for yourself, no one will. Despite this, I see that there are younger colleagues who need support, so what I really try to do is being a mentor and encourage others. I try to encourage people and help them to shine. Not just women – diversity is not just about gender. I really try to be a role model. In my case, for example, you can be a successful partner in an international law firm and enjoy a happy family life.
Working with a diverse team is more fun and helps the negotiation process. I really think that diverse teams lead to more effective and more successful results. That is why I am very eager to push diversity forward. We at Osborne Clarke show that we are on a good path, but there is still room for improvement.
Diversity is something that always drove me
and was always important to me. I never understood
why women or people of colour or anyone else should
be treated differently than others.
Before embarking on this rich and inspiring career in law, you studied at the University of Hong Kong. What impact did this experience of studying abroad have on you and how did it enhance your future career prospects?
I studied in Hong Kong for eight months when I was 20 years old. I am still a huge fan of Asia and take any opportunity that comes my way to spend time there. That is why, back in 1995, I chose to become a visiting student at Hong Kong University (HKU). It was far away and seemed very exotic. I was one of the very few Westerners at HKU at the time and it was a wonderful experience. In German, we have a saying "über den Tellerrand schauen", which means leaving your small-town life to see what is going on the other side. I could not describe it better.
I did an internship with a Hong Kong lawyer who was an expert in criminal law. One day we visited a client who was imprisoned in the New Territories (China). That was really a wake-up call in terms of my legal education. I also saw how great it is to work internationally, and that is something I always valued upon my return from Hong Kong. For my PhD thesis I chose an international topic that enabled me to spend time in the US, UK and France. I started working in an international law firm. Honestly, I think I could never work in a purely German law firm, that would not make me happy. I need to have an international exchange and to be surrounded by people of all nationalities and genders.
I could never work in a purely German law firm,
that would not make me happy. I need to have
an international exchange; I need to see people of all
nationalities and genders.
Video edited by Nadège Serrero
Interviewed by Aurélie Doré
Meet our Member, Carina Tyralla, Senior Vice President of Supply Chain Management, EMEA, at Adidas. In this interview, she talks about her vision of supply chain and desire to change perceptions of this field, how her leadership style has evolved over the years, and why giving back to the young generation of female leaders is crucial for her.
Can you describe your current role as Senior Vice President of Supply Chain Management for EMEA at Adidas and which aspects of the job you enjoy the most?
My team and I look after the European, Russia/CIS and Emerging Markets supply chain organisation at Adidas group. We are responsible for ensuring the best in-class fulfilment based on marketplace needs, which includes purchasing and order management through to final mile distribution for all channels, whilst driving strategic transformation programmes. It covers the whole chain, from buying to delivering the products to our various consumers and customers.
I recently took on the Russia/CIS and Emerging Markets which elevated the role from a diversity standpoint. Today, I have a truly diverse team in place, covering eleven different time zones! Since we cannot travel, I had the pleasure to virtually meet my team: it was great seeing their energy, their dedication, their ideas. They really want to make a difference, which is what drives me as well: elevating supply chain, moving it away from its image as a pure cost centre, having a cross-centred approach, focusing on partnership organisation, making sure that we deliver value to our customers and consumers. I look forward not just to executing the work but to bringing in innovative ideas and reaching the next level.
You were recently featured as part of the Top 100 Women in Supply Chain by Supply Chain Digital, the World's No.1 ‘Digital Community’ for the Procurement, Supply Chain & Logistics industry, celebrating female executives who are having a profound impact on global supply chain development. Congratulations! What does this recognition mean to you?
What an honour, it was so unexpected! I was excited, I felt privileged to be recognised for my work. It is powerful to be part of a great network of women. I hope I am making a difference in reshaping the supply chain industry, moving it away from stereotypes. I do what I do because I am passionate about it, and I strongly believe that this sector is much more than just delivering products to consumers. We create moments, we foster inspiration, and we can make a difference to someone’s life. Imagine that you forgot your Mum’s birthday: you order a gift online, and it is our mission to make sure that it will be delivered on time so that you can celebrate this event with your family.
Collaborating in such a network will make us all stronger. We can learn and benefit from each other, we can share best practices. It is great to have another community I can rely on. One woman from the network already reached out and suggested we organise a virtual gathering to get to know each other: this is where the power and inspiration start! Being appointed is great but it is only the beginning: we need to make something out of it, and I hope the next Top 100 will be open to all without distinction around gender.
We create moments, we foster inspiration,
and we can make a difference into someone’s life!
There is still a misrepresentation of women in executive business roles, especially within the field of supply chain management, with men holding 75-80% of jobs in the supply chain. Was it difficult for you to jump in the industry? Do you think we need more women in supply chain and logistics to close the gender gap, and do you feel that recruiting female talent is an issue?
Ending up in this industry was pure chance. When I finished my studies, the only thing that was clear was my desire to work with people internationally. My professional journey started in an agency, surrounded by men smoking, yelling, and shouting in different languages into their phones! When I walked in, as a nineteen-year-old girl from a village, everyone was radio silent and basically stared at me, probably thinking what the heck is she doing here! That experience shaped my career. I learned that if you bring the right mindset and attitude, everyone is supportive and helpful. When I joined the logistics and supply chain team of Adidas a few years later, I was still often the only woman in the room. But it has never been a problem for me, since I’ve known this environment from an early stage.
I recently rejoined Adidas after being with Tom Tailor for four and a half years, and there are many more women around than there were ten years ago. In general, we lack talent when it comes to supply chain, and i in particular female talents. It starts with the recruitment process: we usually ask for people with supply chain backgrounds to take on these roles, but, because there are not yet many women that have this, applications from them are limited. The second challenge lies with us as women: we often suffer from imposter syndrome, believe we are not good enough, that we are missing something to even apply. We need to be more courageous, to speak up about what we want, and recognise that we have something valuable to offer.
As a manager, I need to be flexible. I’ve always focused on mindset and attitude when hiring people, because to me you can learn everything. But our job descriptions are still asking for ten years of experience in supply chain, so maybe we should reconsider this habit, because doing so is part of the solution. The good news is that I currently have a decent balance between women and men talents in my team, which means there are plenty of talents who are keen to take on responsibilities!
As women, we often suffer from imposter syndrome,
believe we are not good enough, that we are
missing something…We need to be more courageous,
to speak up about what we want, and recognize that
we have something valuable to offer.
You joined WIL Europe as a Member last year. Why is it important for you to be involved in a network dedicated to female leaders?
I always considered myself as being privileged, thanks to my strong personal network. My family and my friends always support whatever idea I come up with, except when I wanted to try volleyball - everyone was convinced that it wasn’t a good idea. I went for it anyway but I must admit that they were right! From a professional point of view, I never had a masterplan. I was never the kind of person to plan my career for the next ten years. But I always had a mentor or direct manager who believed in me and gave me opportunities to prove myself.
Unfortunately, not everyone is that privileged, with a supportive personal and professional network. This is why I am trying to give back, to help future leaders believe in themselves. As I mentioned, recruiting female talents in supply chain is still a challenge. Some of them may be resistant because they do not understand it fully, and by sharing my experience I want to encourage others to give it a try. It is such a cool area, where innovative minds are required! Networks like WIL can help foster a better reputation of supply chain, but mainly support women to believe in themselves.
Network like WIL can help foster a better reputation
of supply chain, but mainly support women
to believe in themselves.
Managing a team effectively requires vision, communication, and diverse skills. As a Senior Vice President, what is your leadership style and how has it evolved since the beginning of your career? What advice would you give to your younger self and to other women hoping to become the next generation of female leaders?
I consider myself to be a rather balanced leader: I try not to over-dramatise things. There might be the worst crisis going on, but you still need to have a laugh!
Honesty is what I value the most, in my professional but personal life as well. The most important thing is to create a trusting environment. I always say that it is totally fine to make mistakes - we are human beings. But we need to talk about it and find a way to fix it as a team. Without that environment of trust and acknowledgement of what is working and not, I do not see how we can grow. It is never about blaming someone for not performing, but more about teaming up and finding solutions to grow together.
Diversity and inclusion are important to me, not only gender but also in terms of age, geography, and culture. I believe in collaboration, so let’s bring our different strengths together and figure out what the best solution is. I’m not in favour of silo decision-making and it is our responsibility as leaders to bring diversity of thoughts together to ease the process. My team are the experts: I want to hear from them, all of them. Any decision is better than no decision at all, even if sometimes it feels like trying to read a crystal ball.
My style of leadership has definitively adapted over the years. My younger self was more on the introverted side, wondering what value she could bring to the table in front of all these experienced people. But I learned that everyone has an opinion, and as loud as people can seem, it is important to raise your voice, speak up, share your opinion. Because if you don’t, others might take decisions that you think are the wrong ones.
The advice I would give is to the next generation of female leaders is to join the conversation: do not stay on the sidelines!
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.
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?
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