Connecting, inspiring and empowering women to lead the way
Meet our Members
Interviewed by Laura Packham
Helping to shape the world of business in Europe, Nathalie Berger has spent the last two decades contributing to the European Commission. In this interview, Nathalie shares with us more about her role in managing the European economy in the face of financial crisis and coronavirus, as well as her thoughts on leadership and the ‘double-glass ceiling’ in the banking industry.
You began your career as a lecturer and freelance consultant for a banking group. What drove you to join the European Commission in 2000 and what has kept you there 20 years on?
Since an early age, I have been very interested in international organisations, peace-making, integration and co-operation. When I was in Strasbourg, I was a very active member of The European Movement. Then I had the opportunity to join the European Commission and thought that it could be the best place for me to make a contribution.
Since then, it has been a fantastic experience! There have always been very interesting and fascinating opportunities, and it has allowed me to go toward what, for me, is a genuine objective in my life: contributing to the European project.
Under your leadership, your team contributes to the work of the Basel Committee on Banking Supervision, ensuring responsibility for the policy implementation of the Basel framework in the European Union. What is your role in contributing to the management of the economy in Europe and what are your key measures of success?
I am in charge of banking regulation and supervision in Europe and we pursue a double objective. The first one is financial stability which you need for the economy’s price. The second is to allow banks to play their societal role, that is which is to contribute to financing the economy, bringing cash and liquidity to industry, Small to Medium Enterprises (SMEs) but also to consumers - to all of us.
When we want to purchase our residence, we need to have a mortgage and for that, we need to be able to count on the support of a bank. We need to ensure the bank is reliable because we give them our deposits. So, we pursue financial stability, as well as growth and competitiveness.
My role is to contribute to shaping the regulatory framework in which banks, credit institutions and investment firms, are active in the European Union. We do this by following very balanced rules that ensure appropriate protection. In 2008, there was a major financial crisis after which we implemented a regulatory framework at a worldwide level. Why did we need to have access to a worldwide level? Because markets are interconnected and consist of an internal dimension (the European Union) and an international dimension.
The global economic landscape is everchanging. How can the European Commission keep pace with the rapid transformation in economies, and manage the systemic risks this poses?
I don’t think that the Commission should “keep pace” but that it should be at the forefront. We should anticipate evolution and movements and create the basis and the context in which businesses can thrive and facilitate.
We should have a very quick response and create conditions that allow others to make the most of the market and of the opening of the market. With this opening and a wider playing field for our companies, in every possible sector, there is risk because everything is inter-connected. When something happens in China, it can have major repercussions in France and across Europe.
So we participate in the international corporation organisations; the Basel Committee on banking supervision, the Financial Stability Board, we work together with the European Banking Authority and the European Central Bank, as well as the Single Supervisory Mechanism, which has been put in place in the Eurozone. We have the opportunity, through these different areas of cooperation, to manage and monitor the evolution of risk to try to design the appropriate response, which is what we are doing now in the context of the coronavirus crisis.
We manage and monitor the evolution of risk to try to design the appropriate response, which is what we are doing now in the context of the coronavirus crisis.
Managing a team effectively requires vision, communication and a number of diverse skills. What is your leadership style and how has it evolved since the beginning of your career?
I have been a manager for about 10 years and the more I accumulate experience in this area, the more I am convinced about working on the basis of trust. I really believe it encourages my colleagues to give the best that they can. I remember the2012 Nobel Lecture by Aung San Suu Kyi on the value of kindness : “Of the sweets of adversity, and let me say that these are not numerous, I have found the sweetest, the most precious of all, is the lesson I learnt on the value of kindness. Every kindness I received, small or big, convinced me that there could never be enough of it in our world. To be kind is to respond with sensitivity and human warmth to the hopes and needs of others. Even the briefest touch of kindness can lighten a heavy heart. Kindness can change the lives of people ».
I try to find the right balance between being kind, demanding and supportive and leading them to excellence. I am extremely lucky because I have a first-class team, so it is an honour and a pleasure to lead them.
My management style is open and inclusive. I always associate with people, I organise brainstorming, I exchange opinions in an open matter but once a decision is taken, there is solidarity and we all stick to it and move forward. I also make sure that when there are successes, people are appropriately rewarded so that their contribution is acknowledged.
I want to empower people; I want to empower people in my team – in the moment and afterwards.
I have been a manager for about 10 years and the more I accumulate experience in this area, the more I am convinced about working on the basis of trust.
While the goal is the realisation of a workplace environment in which men and women equally lead, barriers remain to gender balance. Do you agree women in the banking sector face a “double-class ceiling”? What actions are being implemented to promote gender diversity in this sector?
I must say that I too often find myself the only woman in a meeting. Be it when I am talking about regulation among supervisors, policymakers and regulators or when I meet with industry. There are few women. Generally, when there are women, they will likely be the lobbyists or the coordinators, more rarely for a substantial exchange about the issues. This could mean there is an issue with the complexity of the rules, which makes it perhaps less attractive to women.
There is certainly a double-glass ceiling within banks. The European Banking Authority published a very interesting report about the very low proportion of women on the board of directors in banks. They are looking to implement strong encouragement measures because it is widely known that when you have a more balanced composition, you get better results. This is because women and men often have different ways of thinking, leading and managing and these competencies are very complimentary.
We are starting to see some changes by some groups and companies who are trying to diversify their boards and management teams - all this is very much welcome.
As women, we also need to go the extra step, jump in the hot water, and not to be impressed by the fact that we are facing all these men. Recently, I chaired a meeting with about 20 people present. I was the only woman in the room. When the meeting ended, a man from industry approached me, almost apologetically, highlighting the low number of women and hoping that it was fine for me. I said, “It’s absolutely fine for me – the problem seems to be more on your side”.
I have no problem being surrounded by men but at some stage, it is getting a little embarrassing – so up to the gentlemen to take action!
“I have no problem being surrounded by men but at some stage, however it is sometimes getting a little embarrassing – so take action!”
Studies show that a key component to a company’s success lies in the recognition and promotion of women in leadership roles. How can women leaders be recognized in the workplace, particularly in the banking sector?
The governance of the banks, in the banking sector, is really where a lot of effort should be focused. We should take a look into other areas, too, such as investment banking and trading, where the proportion of women is still limited. This could be because these types of positions involve very extensive hours and a lot of stress. I fully understand that when women have other priorities, they may not want to take on all that. Perhaps, it is up to the bank and managers to think of ways that will attract women to take up these positions. It should be an effort, an investment and an adaptation for the short-term in the direction of long-term benefits.
Proust Questionnaire: What do you consider your greatest achievement?
My wonderful boys, Sidney and Hugo. I am the proud mother of twin boys, aged 17. They are the most wonderful boys on earth and if I have one achievement in this life - it is them!
“A leader who communicates well is able to manage her company well.” Active in cybersecurity and innovative multimedia communication projects, Cinzia Boschiero is CEO of ECPARTNERS and specialised in European Research programs. Read more about Cinzia’s insights on AI, scientific data, the future of work, and female leadership in this interview!
Considering the innovative EU research programs, what are the challenges for women in leadership?
Communication and artificial and emotional intelligence are the new frontiers of technology. Unfortunately, while many women participate to EU calls and to Horizon Research programs, there are still less women than men as chief coordinators of research projects.
Artificial intelligence (AI) deconstructs and reconstructs the logic of thought (reverse engineering) and accumulates knowledge (machine learning) by learning from our behaviours. The new technological machines contain an enormous amount of information including, for example, billions of words, images, and videos. However, if the data being collected is biased or contains cultural prejudices, the machines and their results will also reproduce these imperfections.
If the data being collected is biased or contains cultural prejudices, the machines and their results will also reproduce these imperfections.
The challenge for women at work and in innovation is to be present in this technological and scientific revolution, to monitor the AI applications and developments, and to be part of this new ‘connective artificial emotional intelligence’ that is changing jobs; but it is also to fight against old stereotypes and to avoid the improper use of high technology.
You work in the USA, Japan, and Europe in the private and public sectors. In addition, even if there is a family company, you opened your own company ECPARTNERS. Why and how do you manage family life and work?
Everyone can cope with difficulties and challenges in life with courage and enthusiasm. I also decided to open my own company ECPARTNERS in 1987 to be more independent as a working woman: to develop my passions and interests, but also to be close to my children, as I have two sons now 23 and 19 years old.
Everyone can cope with difficulties and challenges in life with courage and enthusiasm.
Managing my own company has allowed me to organise my time freely. I would have liked to be more helpful in the family firm, Simplex Rapid srl founded in 1948 by my grandfather. Simplex Rapid srl produces spring making machines and is well known abroad for the quality of its products. But since founding my own company ECPARTNERS, I work on multimedia communication projects and dissemination projects for research Horizon 2020, in addition to press office activities for firms, research centres, scientific associations, and foundations of high level technological and scientific areas. My goal is to remain curious, determined, humble, to accept daily struggles, and to be competitive in national and international markets.
My goal is to remain curious, determined, humble, to accept daily struggles, and to be competitive in national and international markets.
You are presently a member of the national board of UGIS, the national association of scientific journalists, member of EUSJA, European association of scientific journalists, and press office of the National Neurological Institute “Carlo Besta” best known internationally. How will AI and scientific data change the future of work for women and for communication at work?
Only leaders who communicate well are able to manage their company well. The problem is “either you control language, or it controls you”. The power of communication is extraordinary. Therefore the scientific data and the EU research projects we are doing with the DG Research and DG Connect of the European Commission concerning Artificial Intelligence and the use of Internet and social media in communication show that there can be several new jobs and responsibilities at work for women in the next years.
As women, we must take interest in scientific and technological matters. AI, internet, and social media are changing our ‘connective intelligence’ in a fast and deep process. This is something that must be studied and monitored, in particular for the young ‘digital’ generations. Life-long learning is important in every step of our life and we should learn a better use of the new “adaptive” AI technologies.
You are currently a Board Member at WIL Europe and a member of the women entrepreneurs national Foundation Bellisario, you are also a member of BEWIN, EWMD, WOMENTECH and AIJPF International associations recognized also by UNESCO. How important is it to be part of associations that are keen on gender matters?
I am part of several associations because I believe in the power of networking. WIL Europe is an excellence among them! The network is comprised of a high-level, selected group of women and WIL Europe has developed the Women Talent Pool program to support emerging talents in their careers. I became a member of WIL Europe because of my experience working on EU matters and programs, plus I am very keen on the European Union’s activities for cooperation and research development.
Each of us, as woman, can do more. We must never “let our guard down”. Gender policies need to be monitored day by day. Defending the identity and role of women is therefore increasingly fundamental with the arrival of new technologies that are globally deconstructing roles.
If there is one thing you would say to your younger self, what would it be?
I would tell my younger self: "frangar" not "flectar" (Latin for “I will break, but I will not bend”). Even though sometimes difficulties may bend us, we must not break, but instead we must go on. Everything goes by, “everything flows” as the ancient Greek Heraclitus of Ephesus once said (“πάντα ῥεῖ, - panta rein”). We must learn from each experience in our lives.
I would also tell my younger self a quote by Cornelius Nepos, “often we do not fall for the value of our enemies but for the perfidy of our friends.” So be aware every day, look around you, listen carefully, reflect every minute, and go on.
“Do not be afraid to ask questions” is the first advice given by our Member Debora Marrocchino on how to adapt to different working cultures. Based on her experience as Marketing Consultant, read this interview for insider advice on developing a signature brand and having a reputable work ethic!
You have a career background with over 15 years of experience in marketing, global brand development, licensing, and special events. What sparked your career path in marketing and what are some of the goals you have set for yourself?
I started out my career in New York in Media, working in international brand management within the magazine industry, which was a perfect combination for someone like me who seeks creative professional business environments.
After working for several years in magazines, I was hungry for online and digital experience, as well as, TV and was certain I wanted to continue on the international track. These were essential for me in order to obtain a more well-rounded professional background in marketing.
Could you tell us about some of the developments you have witnessed in corporate marketing, branding, and messaging?
Intense competition and constant technological development, coupled with exponential innovation, has changed the concept of branding as we know it. Today, it reaches far beyond just visual differentiation or unique positioning. Marketing encompasses a whole new set of elements – social consciousness, authentic customer relationships and community-centered communication.
I think what is most important today, is delivering a very personalized brand experience. If customers can relate to your brand in a more personalized way, they are more likely to trust it. Therefore, it is critical to build authentic relationships with customers rather than just trying to sell to them.
To me, storytelling is one of the important components of brand success in order to achieve a more personalized brand experience.
Marketing encompasses a whole new set of elements – social consciousness, authentic customer relationships and
You have worked in Madrid for five years as Marketing Director of Men’s Health Magazine. How do you develop a signature brand like Men’s Health Magazine?
Luckily Men’s Health Magazine has a a very strong brand identity and brand philosophy to begin with, so it was a question of ensuring that we were adapting and “translating” that philosophy to all the local markets where we published Men’s Health. I relied heavily on strong content, as content provides meaning for both readers and advertisers alike. A well-developed signature brand identity should connect with the lives and motivations of customers, as well as those who are likely to become customers.
A well-developed signature brand identity should connect with the lives and motivations of customers, as well as those who are likely to become customers.
Furthermore, you have experience working for global software companies in both the USA and in Europe. How did you adapt to the different working cultures?
In my experience working in both the US and European Markets over many years, I learned a lot about how to best manage working in different cultures, especially when it comes to very different work styles and ethics. The three most valuable “lessons learned” for me are:
You have a reputation as a dynamic, resourceful, and results-driven leader. How do you promote this work style on a daily basis?
Goal setting with clear action items and deliverables in an incredibly powerful tool for achieving results. By setting clearly defined, written goals, our ability to take the proper actions to create the results are vastly improved.
When I am working with my clients, I try to have them focus on their specific short-term goals on a daily basis. Both for my own personal work ethic and for my clients, I encourage daily “baby step” activities that lead to achieving their bigger milestone objectives.
You have joined WIL Europe as a member this year. What advantages do you see to being a Member in a women’s network?
I believe a major advantage to becoming a Member or participating in a women’s network is for the inspiration it provides.
Hearing the amazing stories of challenges overcome and lessons learned from other successful female leaders, executives, entrepreneurs is a huge motivator. These examples can really help especially the younger generation of women leaders to set goals and take their businesses to the next level.
executives, entrepreneurs is a huge motivator.
Lastly, we like to conclude our interview with a question from the Proust questionnaire: What is the quality you most like in female leaders?
Based on my experience working with and for successful women leaders, women typically possess a strong willingness for flexibility in the workplace and willingness to question the status quo.
Strong female leaders frequently feel the need to challenge “the way business has always been done.” They do not always necessarily accept a traditional approach to strategy and can be more willing to push back against convention when they feel strongly about finding a more effective solution.
What are the career advantages of curiosity? What characteristics do employers look for when recruiting talent? How can you make good career choices? Read the answers to these questions and more in this month’s interview with Stella Mantechou, Associate Director of Executive Development at INSEAD, the business school for the world. Let us inspire you to develop your career path!
You are currently the Associate Director of the Career Development for executive students at INSEAD. Can you tell us more about your position and how you support them in their career development?
INSEAD provides career development services to executive degree program students who are looking for their next career move. These students usually have over 14 years of experience, speak a variety of languages, have acquired international exposure, and are ready for either an internal acceleration, an external career switch, or the creation of their own enterprise.
At the Career Development for Working Professionals, we partner with executive students along their career journey and teach them lifelong skills that will serve them beyond their program. I am honoured to lead a global team of career experts who support not only executive degree programs but also alumni of all programs from INSEAD. My team spans across all main locations of our business school, France, Singapore, and Abu Dhabi, and consists of 20 coaches and 3 in-house staff.
We empower executives to take full ownership of designing their career. Our role as their co-pilot, is to move them from reflecting on their options, to developing their individualized plan and executing their career vision. Together we help executives and alumni put their dreams into action. We do this through personalized career coaching and a variety of events, complemented by our virtual programs that focus on skill development and on-demand digital content.
Because we have such diversity at INSEAD, from career switchers to aspiring entrepreneurs and internal accelerators we do not believe that “one approach fits all” and although we offer a great career program, we highly encourage our participants to customize an action plan with their coach.
Having over 14 years of global experience in the career development field within the higher education sector, what are the biggest changes you have seen in career management in relation to meeting the modern demands of our increasingly globalized job market?
Today’s fast-paced and dynamic business environment extends across national boundaries and demands a new kind of executive.
At INSEAD our executive students are well trained to meet these demands. We empower them to think of leadership in a global way, and that also affects how they view their careers. What they think of, as a clear career goal at the beginning of their program, may soon go beyond its initial scope. Once they graduate, they bring this global mindset and skillset to doing business as a force for good.
Another change that is observable, from the talent’s perspective, is that we see more people seeking meaning in their work. The millennial generation is leading this movement towards looking to develop a career path that aligns with their personal objectives for fulfilling work. This is one of the reasons that we see a higher number of moves between companies, while in the past, talent would stay in one position or company for longer. According to recent studies, the average person will change careers 5-7 times during their working life. With an ever-increasing number of different career choices on offer, approximately 30% of the total workforce will now change jobs every 12 months. This movement of talent is no longer being seen negatively as job-hopping, and links with one’s longingness for personal growth and better alignment with their career objectives; and that is also why we see more companies investing in employee engagement and retention programs.
We have also started seeing more career switchers. Talent that has been in one career for almost a decade is looking for a change or a new challenge in their next career “sprint”. To achieve these “switches”, more people are currently investing in their upskilling through education. For example, at INSEAD we see talent that wishes to leverage their MBA degree to achieve a radical career change, sometimes while simultaneously changing countries.
Finally, as we start to live longer lives, many senior professionals choose to continue their careers and retire later. Over 40% of professionals over 55 continue to work nowadays, compared to 29% in 1993.
There is also a growing amount of people who decide to start "Second Act" careers in their retirement, instead of leaving of the labour market. There are many cases of successful entrepreneurs not only within the millennial generation, but also within what we call “second act careers”, at talent closer to retirement who reinvent themselves at a later life stage. An AARP survey reports that 79% of Baby Boomers plan to work into their retirement years, at least in some capacity!
How does INSEAD help prepare its students for career management? And could you give any advice on how to make the right career choices?
A successful career is not a destination, it is a journey. It changes as you change, and as your life priorities change. In addition to that, defining success is also a very objective matter. What success means to me, may not mean the exact thing to you. For these reasons, we prepare our students to take full ownership of their career management and customize their personal development plan with a career coach. Questions such as, “what do you want to achieve in the short run”, and “how this links to your long-term objectives”, are very common in career coaching. Personal values must be considered when making what seems to be the right career choice to you: “what is important at that stage in your life”, and “where do you see yourself in the next five years?”; our role as coaches is to help talent find the way and skills so they can get there.
I encourage people to break long-term plans into smaller milestones. Sometimes, the right career choices are not always related to your education or acquired degrees but to your willingness to take a leap and listen to your true calling. Sometimes right career choices take certain sacrifices or time and persistence to materialize.
Sometimes, the right career choices
are not always related to your education
or acquired degrees but to your willingness
to take a leap and listen to your true calling.
Prior to joining INSEAD you held leadership roles in international education institutions while living in Europe, the Middle East, Asia and the USA. Have you observed that the needs of talent in these countries differed in any way, and if so how?
It is interesting to observe that regardless of where people come from, their needs are very similar. Everyone wants to find fulfilling jobs and purpose in their work, personal growth and life-work balance. Yet culture plays an important role in the way career decisions are made. Certain cultures are more open to experimentation and exploration of non-traditional career choices. We are also different in how we define success. Certain cultures define success by high financial returns while in other cultures, financial success is not as important in their value system.
Each individual's “ikigai” is personal to them and specific to their lives, values and beliefs. Ikigai is a Japanese concept that means "a reason for being." It reflects the inner self and expresses the source of value in one's life or the things that make one's life worthwhile. Everyone is looking for a career that will allow them to feel ikigai, regardless of what part of the world they come from!
You initiated and curated a regional “think tank” in 2012 (Middle East Career Development Conference) that ran for five consecutive years. What did it entail and what motivated you to set this up?
This was one of the most amazing experiences of my life! At that time, in the Middle East it was difficult to find a forum where career coaches and talent developers could get together to share knowledge. Most of us had to dedicate time and budgets to travel to the US or Europe to find a knowledge exchange forum. And most of those conference would not bring the expertise and focus needed to tackle the talent needs of the Middle East region. This is why I decided to make the leap and bring people together from the region and for the region, to exchange ideas and focus on what was new in career development, at the time.
As it was an extra-curricular project and without a big budget to execute on this dream, I had to be resourceful and bring the right people together to create value, while keeping the event free and open to all. With a lot of passion for sharing knowledge and the right connections, I curated an event in Dubai that attracted over 300 professionals from all the corners of the MENA region, who learned from each other and exchanged knowledge! The event continued for five consecutive years, with other institutions hosting it every year and last year it was held at the NYU in Abu Dhabi.
You are Greek by origin and have chosen to live in Paris. Why have you chosen to make the French capital your current home?
The capital chose me! It was not planned... I was in San Francisco when INSEAD offered me the opportunity to either be based in Singapore or France. I had been to Paris before and I loved the city: it is gorgeous architecturally and there is always something to do! I chose France because of the variety, multicultural environment, and my personal objective of being close to home. Living in a different country requires a certain level of adjustment and sometimes it takes a little bit longer to feel at home – particularly so when you do not speak French! But after almost 3 years in Paris, it finally feels like home.
Lastly, we like to conclude with a question from the Proust questionnaire: What is your most marked characteristic and why do you think it has helped you in your career?
Always having an open mind and being curious to what is out there and what the future can bring, is one of my most marked characteristics of my personality. Curiosity led me to new opportunities, new skills, new countries, and new careers. Curiosity helped me explore my mental toughness and resilience to change. Curiosity brought me to places, I would had never thought of living in before! Also, the same spirit of being curious to learn has led me in asking questions such as “why is this important”, “what problem are we trying to solve?”; these helped me grow as a professional but also create impactful value in the businesses I worked for.
Exercising positive curiosity has expanded my knowledge,
improved the way I interact and understand people
from different cultures, challenged my limits,
and changed the way I make decisions.
Exercising positive curiosity has pushed me out of my comfort zone and helped me to grow as a person. It expanded my knowledge, improved the way I interact and understand people from different cultures, challenged my limits, and changed the way I make decisions. So, remain an explorer at heart, be curious, and you will always become better in life and professionally!
Find out more about Stella, here!
“If you keep going, you will be rewarded.” WIL Member, Inga Karten, Principal at Miller & Meier Consulting spoke to us about some of her career achievements such as having been the German spokesperson for Billion Euro project and having expanded her consulting firm internationally. Who is her favourite heroine? And what is her vision for the future of Europe?
You have an academic background in political science, German language, and literature as well as having studied media science in Cologne and Melbourne. Since 2008, you have been Principal at Miller & Meier Consulting. Could you tell us more about your career path and what led you to consulting?
I chose my university subjects based on my interests, knowing that a degree in economics or law might be more useful from a career perspective. My reasoning was that I would rather do what I like and what I am good at. After I graduated, I wanted to work in a political environment without becoming a politician. I had tried political journalism, my original career goal, but did not want to go that way and then I ended up in a political consultancy in Brussels. I moved to Miller & Meier in Berlin after a couple of years and never regretted that choice of a consulting career. In consulting I love the variety of issues and people you are dealing with. That can be challenging but is also very exciting.
You currently advise international corporations on transportation and infrastructure policies including the planning and approval of large-scale projects. What are the 21st century transport and mobility challenges?
The main challenge is of course to bring a globally growing demand for mobility in line with climate protection goals. From my point of view, we need to drastically reduce the amount of privately owned cars. Especially in urban areas where there are so many promising new offers like eScooters and ride-pooling. The challenge is now to bring these offers also to suburban and rural areas. New solutions are politically wanted, but there is still a lot of reluctance to remove long-standing privileges e.g. from taxi drivers and car owners. In a car country like Germany this is particularly challenging, but necessary in order to avoid just creating more traffic.
We need to drastically reduce
the amount of privately owned cars.
New solutions are politically wanted,
but there is still a lot of reluctance
to remove long-standing privileges
e.g. from taxi drivers and car owners.
During your time at Miller & Meier, you were also the German spokesperson for the billion Euro project of the Fehmarnbelt tunnel between Denmark and Germany, which was recently approved. What were the issues at stake?
The most interesting thing about this project is that it is a cross-border project. You might not think that there are huge cultural differences between Denmark and Germany, but the countries have very different procedures and traditions in planning, approving, and communicating large infrastructure projects. In Denmark for example there is a construction permit for the tunnel since April 2015, the German permit was issued in January 2019 and is now challenged in front of the Federal Administrative Court. This of course sparks questions and a need for explanations.
Between 2013 and 2017, you founded and headed the U.S. office of Miller & Meier Consulting in Washington D.C. What were some of the challenges and highlights of such an important international expansion?
I feel lucky that after working in Brussels and Berlin, I got the chance to work in the “lobbying capital of the world” for a couple of years. Politically these were exciting times. I was there during the last election and witnessed the transition from President Obama to President Trump. For a political scientist and political consultant that was fascinating. One of my personal highlights was the International Women’s March on the day after the inauguration of President Trump with several hundred thousand mainly, but not only women protesting on the National Mall in Washington.
From a business perspective, the biggest challenge was to come to a city where everything works based on personal relationships and networks as a foreigner without any network. That was difficult, but I learned a lot. Americans are – at least compared to Germans – so much better at networking and small talk.
What leadership skills were necessary for the successful conduct of this expansion? What is your vision of female leadership more specifically?
In this case in Washington, it was mainly persistence – not giving up even if matters move slower than you had hoped for. If you keep going, you will be rewarded.
I do not have a vision of female leadership. I also do not like to distinguish between male or female leadership skills – I would rather like to differentiate between good and bad leaders, regardless of gender. My vision would be to make female leaders as normal as part-time working or stay-at home Dads.
My vision would be to make female leaders
as normal as part-time working or stay-at home Dads.
Before joining Miller & Meier, you worked as a political consultant in Brussels. Based on your experience in Brussels all those years ago, what is your vision for the future of Europe?
When living in Europe you tend to focus on the differences and on what separates the different member states. Living outside of Europe, you get a different perspective and see more of what unites us as Europeans. I had this experience in Australia as well as in the United States, although both countries have close historic and cultural ties to Europe.
I wish we could all focus more on what unites us. Europe can only tackle global challenges like climate change, migration, trade conflicts etc. when we stand together.
What impressed me most when I was working in Brussels were all the passionate and idealistic Europeans I met there. All of them are my hope for the future of Europe.
I wish we could all focus more on what unites us.Europe can only tackle global challenges
like climate change, migration, trade conflicts etc.
when we stand together.
Lastly, we like to conclude from a question from Proust questionnaire: Who is your favourite heroine, fictional or real?
I do not really have a favourite heroine, but I do admire people who stand up for their beliefs and for others – even if this means facing personal disadvantages or even risking your life. Rosa Parks, who refused to clear her bus seat for white passengers in Montgomery, Alabama in 1955 is one example. There are numerous more recent ones of women fighting for their rights in countries like Saudi Arabia, Iran, Russia, and so many more. They all have my biggest respect.
Interviewed by Marwa El Diwiny
Cellist, mother, and Vice President for Public Affairs at L’Oréal, Cynthia Sanfilippo, spoke to us about leadership, work-life balance, her passion for music, and life advice for women! Read more about her experience at L’Oréal and gender equality below!
You have held Government relations positions for US blue chip corporations and have extensive experience in public affairs that has led you to now be in charge of enhancing L’Oréal’s network and Public Affairs capabilities throughout Europe. Could you tell us more about your current position and challenges at L’Oréal?
As the Vice President of Public Affairs Europe, I have two main responsibilities. First, I head L’Oréal’s representation to European Institutions and lead a small team in Brussels, which does public policy work at the European level. I build a network, do monitoring, and represent L’Oréal in trade associations or direct meetings with EU institutions on fields of interest to us.
Second, at the regional level, I oversee a network of directors and people involved with public affairs activities in every market across the European Union. I ensure that public affairs is strategized at the country level: having roadmaps in place, the right tools, setting the direction and vision for the European team, and assisting country managers with their interactions within the public policy world.
I am also a member of the Western European Zone Management Committee at L’Oréal, headed by the executive committee member in charge of the business in Western Europe. I can access the strategy of the organization and input developments in the public policy field into the business, making sure we are equipped for the topics of tomorrow. Because L’Oréal has the ambition to be a beauty tech leader, we have a strong focus on creating an ecosystem that can allow us to continue to grow and provide more personalised beauty to our consumers worldwide.
L’Oréal has the ambition to be
a beauty tech leader, providing more
personalised beauty to
our consumers worldwide.
L’Oréal has long embraced Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), your US branch having even been recognised as the top performing global company on sustainability in 2017. What main initiatives has L’Oréal’s undertaken on CSR, in particular on the environmental aspect?
L’Oréal has a strong corporate social responsibility policy. In 2013, we launched a program called Sharing Beauty with All: a set of strong commitments with four different pillars.
The first pillar on ‘sustainable innovation’ includes measures such as improved environmental and social profile of our products.
The second pillar concerns ‘sustainable production’. To combat our footprint, our 42 plants worldwide will soon reach carbon neutrality. We have dramatically decreased our water consumption in absolute terms, and reduced waste from plants and distribution centres with zero waste to landfills. We also decoupled our environmental footprint from economic growth because produce more with much less resources.
The third pillar is ‘living sustainably’. We have developed an internal tool that looks at the environmental and social profile of our products to determine if they are good to go on the market.
The final pillar is ‘developing sustainably’, for which we set targets for the work we do with communities. For example, we want to enable more than 100000 people from underprivileged communities to access employment through our programs by 2020. Such programs include solidarity sourcing, vocational training in the beauty sector, and equal opportunities for people with disabilities.
L’Oréal also has a strong program for employees, called Share and Care. Our employees worldwide benefit from health coverage and financial protection in the event of an accident. L’Oréal fully pays every woman for 14 weeks or more while they are on maternity leave. In addition, we have the principle of one training per employee per year!
L’Oréal has also been recognised as one of the leading global companies committed to gender equality in the workplace. What is L’Oréal doing to increase female representation in decision making?
Diversity and inclusion are part of L’Oréal’s DNA. L’Oréal truly believes that gender parity in particular is a performance issue and a key driver for innovation. We are committed to promoting women worldwide every day through equal access to training and promotion. Women represent roughly 69 percent of the global staff within L’Oréal, 33 percent of the executive committee, and 48 percent of the management committee.
Women represent roughly 69 percent
of the global staff within L’Oréal.
Is L’Oréal also promoting gender equality in society, and how?
We are promoting gender equality through access to beauty from which a certain notion of well-being is derived. When you go to an interview or want to feel good in general, you put on a little bit of makeup to gain self-confidence and potentially perform well. We primarily work with underprivileged communities where we provide training so they can launch their own business, in addition to training for hairdressers. This September, we received a UN award for helping employ rural Chinese women! Moreover, the brands within L’Oréal have their own causes that vary from fighting illiteracy to fighting violence against women.
You report directly to the Executive leadership of L’Oréal and have held multiple leadership positions. What is your vision of female leadership and secrets to successful leadership?
One of the secrets of successful leadership is finding your own values and being true to yourself. Authenticity is a key value of L’Oréal! Leaders with strong ideas, express their ideas, sincerely. There is no individual success, success is always collective.
Another component of leadership is freedom. When I joined the group, my boss at that time said: “Do what you want, and if you're going too far, we will tell you”. We have an entrepreneurial spirit at the heart of our large organization: 80,000 employees work as if they are running their own company!
People have different views, which can lead to an enriched dialogue, especially from someone of a different background or age. The key is to not take criticism personally, but constructively.
One of the secrets of successful leadership is
finding your own values and
being true to yourself.
You have a passion for music, and you are a cellist by training. Where does this passion for music stem from?
My passion for music comes from my parents: my father was a musician, and my mother studied music. It was clear that my sister and I had to play music, starting with the piano from age 5. Music was fully integrated into our curriculum, we had 10 hours a week dedicated to music!
Music develops our sensitivity by opening ourselves up to other ideas, being able to see and experience things differently. Music is part of my life: I need it, I enjoy it, and therefore I make time for it. If not daily, then every two days or every weekend. If you prioritise something, then you always have time for it!
How have you kept up with the cello while managing an ambitious career?
I have a fantastic partner who also takes care of our children. In the beginning I felt guilty, but at the end of the day, it is quality over quantity time that my children need. I have moments to myself during which I play music or go to concerts.
Finding the right partner is essential and so is knowing yourself! I had to accept that not everything would be perfect, and to instead do my best according to what makes me feel good, because then it will be reflected in the family and work environment.
Lastly, we like to conclude our interview with a question from the Proust questionnaire: Which talent would you most like to have? Why?
I would like to know myself even better and to have greater confidence in myself. It is a big effort to trust yourself, because to do so you must analyse what you are good at, what you want, and how you can build upon your vulnerabilities. Also, being conscious of who you are as a woman is a strong card to play!
Find out more about Cynthia here!
Donatella Sciuto, Professor in Computer Engineering & Vice Rector of Politecnico di Milano, recently named one of the most influential women in Tech in Italy shares an insider’s account about the developments of STEM with regards to gender balance, how the future of Computer Science and automation will unravel, what it means to be member of varying boards and explains her significant scientific development which led her to be named Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) Fellow. For all science lovers and advocates of gender balance, this interview is must read!
You are Vice Rector of Politecnico di Milano and have recently be named one of the most influential women in Tech in Italy! What are the changes you have seen the field of STEM undergo in terms of gender balance?
Undoubtedly, I have seen an increase in the number of girls attending our engineering school with respect to the time I was a student, although in computer, mechanical and automation engineering the numbers remain disproportionally low, considering the potential job market. Where I work and teach, at Politecnico di Milano, only one student out of five is a girl when it comes to engineering programs. However, there is an increasing awareness on the lack of women and girls in STEM. As a result, companies are addressing this issue through the implementation of policies and practices, hereby also acting upon the substantial evidence which has indicated that diverse teams lead to greater innovation and more effective problem solving.
Diverse teams lead to greater innovation and more effective problem solving.
Increasing the number of women in science isn’t only harnessing the best talent to tackle the challenges we are presently facing, it also boosts the economic security of women, giving them a greater social and political voice and thereby establishing greater equality throughout society as a whole.
However, the problem which pertains is: how do we attract more women into STEM? One way of doing so is by showing them real life examples of how science and technology can have a direct effect on the world around us. Females are often drawn towards careers which have a positive impact on society. It is therefore important, especially so with young girls, to make them aware that technologies and science are inclusive and can positively change our lives! Just think about the central role that technology has gained in medicine, where applications and data can really make a difference when treating serious diseases, in particular using artificial intelligence techniques.
Still, most of the applications of Artificial Intelligence and the programs that use them are created by white males. To avoid the inclusion of implicit bias, it is important to have a more diverse workforce. We must all do our bit to ensure more females go into STEM.
What is Politecnico di Milano doing to attract, retain and support female students into STEM?
Unfortunately, the number of girls in engineering at Politecnico di Milano has only marginally increased in the last years. This is primarily due to the fact that there is a lack of encouragement by both families and schools, and because the number of female role models in STEM is low and not visible in society. This explains why many girls’ loose interest in science the older they get. We have recently published our first Gender Budget, a report on gender equality at Politecnico, and distributed it to the press and to companies. Numbers don’t lie, they have given us back a very clear picture of where we are today and where we should be instead.
At Politecnico di Milano, we aim to amend this “leaky pipeline” by offering different opportunities of learning about science and technology tailored to different ages. For 6-11-year old’s we organize lectures on the advances of science, showing why an airplane flies or how you can build a video game, for example. We regularly arrange open labs visits for families and children over the weekend. For those who attend middle school, we work with ValoreD, the association of companies which aims at boosting gender balance in the workplace. ValoreD has recently adopted a European program called “InspirinGirls”. Here, women from different professions go around to middle schools in Italy to share information about what their jobs entail. By doing so, they hope to inspire girls to pursue their passions and to understand that no work is restrained to one specific gender. Aside from this, Politecnico di Milano, in partnership with the European Commission and the universities in Milan, organizes the Researchers’ Night. The event takes place at the end of September and aims to engage a wide audience through exhibits and talks, so that people who aren’t well acquainted with science learn the value of STEM.
No work is restrained to one specific gender.
Other initiatives Politecnico di Milano has put in place to foster female engagement in STEM is a summer school in which lessons on coding and robotics are given to high achieving high school girls. In addition, we provide short courses on coding at different schools in Milan. We are trying to highlight to girls how the field of STEM has countless possibilities, in the hope that this heavily ingrained notion that science is a male orientated field can be overturned.
You have taught as a Professor in Computer Science and Engineering for 27 years. What is next for Computer Science in the coming decade?
The first significant prediction I see for Computer Science is the evolution of natural processing of languages. Verbal interaction with devices is already available but it is still limited, with texting and messaging slowly vanishing.
On a different scale, there is an increasing number of digital sensors and devices connected to the Internet and huge amount of data that are produced. To become useful information they need storage and advanced processing that must be performed often in real time and here there are numerous technological challenges to be addressed, such as cloud and edge computing, which means dividing the task of processing between the device and the remote servers (i.e. the cloud).
As intelligent things proliferate, we should expect a shift from stand-alone intelligent objects to swarms of collaborative intelligent things. In this model, multiple devices will work together, either independently or with human input.
Moreover, now more than ever before, ethics in science is an imperative: we reiterate this point to our students!
Ethics in science is imperative.
You were named Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) Fellow- an organization which develops standards for the computer and electronics industry- for your scientific contribution on “embedded systems design”. Could you specify what embedded systems design entails?
An embedded system is what we use in everyday intelligent devices. They require a combination of hardware and software which interact with one another in such a way, that they provide the expected functionality achieving the performance, security and power consumption required.
Having been Vice President of Finance of IEEE Council on Electronic Design Automation from 2008 to 2010, later President Elect and President from 2011 to 2013, in what sectors of society has automation had the greatest influence and how do you envision its future?
The electronic automation design constitutes all the tools and methodologies that are necessary for companies to design and produce hardware components and intelligent devices. Previously, many tasks required a manual process, now with the increasing number of transistors and elements that we can put together, resulting more complex systems, the demand for advanced tools has increased, and support in the design of more specific chips for advanced applications such as those based on artificial intelligence techniques, or fast 3D image processing or virtual reality.
You are a board member of the Bank of Italy, Human Technopole, Avio and Raiway. Can you give some examples what these memberships meant and why was it important for you to be on the board of these different organizations?
These are four very different organizations but all of them have enriched my competences and I think I am contributing to their governance with my technological and management competences.
Being a woman and a computer engineer with an understanding of cyber security enabled me to bring diversity to the board of the Bank of Italy. Avio and Raiway are two high-tech companies which are listed and therefore when renewing their board they had to satisfy a gender quota. As such, I was selected by headhunters on the basis of my technological competences.
My experience as a researcher in computer engineering and as a professor was considered useful. Comparatively, Human Technopole is a governmental project which aims at setting up a new research center focusing on Life Sciences, whose mission is to promote human health and well-being through an interdisciplinary approach to health and aging. I have been appointed by the Prime Minister to the Supervisory Board which is managing the startup phase, from the organizational, infrastructural and scientific point of view.
All four cases are extremely different, requiring me to study different fields and with a different perspective. Different styles of management have been required in these different positions. It has been enriching both academically and personally.
We always conclude our interview from a question from Proust’s questionnaire: With which historical figure do you most identify with?
I do not have a specific person I identify myself with, rather, I identify to two sentences by two different people. The first being the first woman mayor of Ottawa Charlotte Whitton who said: “whatever women do, they must do twice as well as men to be thought half as good, luckily this is not difficult”. The second one being from a chief of Justice in the USA, Charles Evans Hughes: “when we lose the right to be different, we lose the privilege to be free”. This remains one of the most important sentences I have heard.
Interviewed by Caroline Dougherty
We had the pleasure of interviewing Pinuccia Contino, the Secretary General of WIL and manager in the Directorate-General for Justice and Consumers at the European Commission. Having held several different roles at the Commission, Pinuccia discusses what she has learnt from these various positions and how factors like intellectual curiosity and multilingualism have shaped her career. She also offers insights into how the Commission is ensuring product safety for European consumers and the creation of a new middle management network across the Commission that she has played an active role in creating. Read the interview below to find out more!
You have been working for the European Commission for over 28 years. During this time you had the position of Civil Servant, Head of Unit “Programming, Evaluation, Communication” and your presently so, Head of Unit “Product Safety and Rapid Alert System”. What made you change positions and what did you learn from these various experiences?
Within the Commission, there is the possibility to move from one policy field to another with relative ease. This is much unlike national administrations, where shifting from one ministry to another often poses problems.
This mobility within the Commission corresponds to my interests as I find it of value to understand and work in a plethora of areas which are of importance to European citizens. Consequently, throughout various points in my career, I have switched policy fields and roles: from working within a cabinet to taking up managerial positions within these differing fields.
I find it of value to understand and work in a plethora of areas which are of importance to European Citizens
These experiences resonated with my aspiration of life-long learning as I had the ability to transmit what I learnt in one policy field onto the other, whilst simultaneously feeding my intellectual curiosity. These factors combined were the driving forces which led me to change professional career paths.
You speak several languages and directed the unit “Multilingualism and Translation Studies” for over three years in Brussels. How has being multilingual shaped your career and why do you feel it is essential to promote multilingualism?
After my initial traineeship, I started working as an interpreter temporary agent, later becoming a civil servant. This would not have been possible had I not fully mastered four EU languages.
To delve into some examples, when I worked as an administrator within my first field, we focused on creating greater cohesion throughout Europe in respect to Education policy. This was a pivotal moment for Europe as the level of higher education throughout the Union was being increased. Due to my language knowledge and aptitudes, the Commissioner responsible for Education entrusted me with the area of multilingualism policy. I thus had the honor of leading the first communication on multilingualism policy, which was adopted by the Commission in 2005. This policy was being defined for the first time in history, so it goes without saying, my passion for languages indisputably shaped my career in many exciting ways!
My passion for languages indisputably shaped my career in many exciting ways!
This experience enabled me to get an understanding of the different areas within the Commission which later led me to be appointed as the head of a new unit in the DG for translation, known as “Multilingualism and Translation Studies”. Overall, knowing a lot about languages has been one of the threads that have positively shaped my career.
Being Head of the Unit “Product Safety and Rapid Alert System”, could you share ways in which the Commission is ensuring that the products we buy on the European markets are safe?
As with many areas in the European Union, the duties of the different actors and the legal obligations which need to be met mean that product safety remains a complex and sensitive issue. If the manufacturers were to produce only safe goods, regulating and intervention would not be required; consumers could happily buy and use products as they please. Unfortunately, reality is not always as the law prescribes and therefore it is crucial to make sure that the right of, consumers to product safety be enforced.
To say it in plain words, the enforcement system for product safety is made up of national authorities who are appointed by the Member States to verify the safety of products put on the market, and of the Commission who assesses and keeps track of the measures taken by the Member States against dangerous products. Once we have been alerted about an unsafeproduct, it becomes outlawed throughout the Union: this is recorded on a large database.
I like to tell my colleagues in the Member States that when they take a measure against a dangerous product they are not only acting on behalf of their country, but as a true European authority.
When a Member state acts against a dangerous product, they are acting as a true European authority.
My role is to make sure that the system works and every actor fulfils their role. My position allows me to help the Member States by funding some of their product safety activities and grants me the possibility of offering guidance on what the best practices are which they can put in place. Additionally, I discuss the potential risk of new products and technologies that come onto the market. I also do it with my international counterparts, another fascinating part of my job. In my unit, we could be considered as a “catalyst and service provider” in the field of product safety, serving Member States and ultimately, European consumers.
At our previous event at the European Parliament, you spoke about the Internet of Things. What is the Internet of Things and how safe are the products in the Internet of Things?
The Internet of Things can mean several things, but let’s talk about individual products which are connected to the Internet through WiFi.
To ensure the safety of connected products, tailored actions have been put in place to assess whether the current legal framework is as far reaching as is required. Similarly, protecting the system as a whole against hackers is of equal importance. My department within the Commission is helping analyse the product safety legal framework to ensure that it covers connectivity, hackin g or bugs. We can propose new legislation to combat the potential dangers.
Additionally, we are discussing and sharing concerns about the Internet of Things with organisations such as the OECD and with the United States. From the many fruitful discussions that have taken place, a consensus has been drawn that greater pressure needs to be put on the manufactures who design the connected products, to ensure they do not distribute faulty and/or easily hackable products.
Currently, you have an active role in the creation of a new middle management network across the European Commission. Can you walk us through the initiatives of this network and how it came about?
This is first ever initiative of its kind in the Commission!
Middle managers, otherwise known as head of units at the Commission, have always been considered as the backbone of the institution. They link operational work, political vision and the setting of political strategies and priorities, so need to maintain a strong line of communication in all directions. I form part of the limited number of managers who, together with my colleagues in HR, invested a lot into setting up this middle management network, so that the Heads of Unit could share their main challenges and theways they overcame them. The network also serves as a hub in which we explore and develop new tools and resources, as well as identifying areas for collaboration. This initiative demonstrates that learning from peers holds greater weight than learning from books and videos.
Learning from peers holds greater weight than learning from books and videos.
This network was started at the beginning of last year through a thorough co-creation process. Every month, two or three heads of unit on a rotating basis propose topics for discussion. It is an interactive process and involves a great deal of peer-learning where participants share ideas and collectively tackle challenges.
The initiative has so far been a great success and I am optimistic that it can bring more impact, effectiveness and ultimately greater happiness into the institution.
You have served as the Secretary General for WIL since 2008. What does it mean to hold this position and how has being a part of WIL’s leadership team contributed to your professional development?
To hold this particular position has been thrilling for me as I have met, and continue to meet, extraordinary women, not only from my field, but also from the private sector. Getting to share, develop new ideas and learn from fantastic women who have launched their own businesses or who have very meaningful jobs has been very beneficial to me. How? Mostly so by sharing innovative ideas and formulating new visions on how women can better contribute to the development of the European society.
In reference to my professional development, this network has helped me broaden my horizons beyond the Commission. Specifically, through the Women Talent Pool Program where I am exposed to younger and often more forward-looking perspectives on things!
To conclude, we have the tradition of concluding the interview with a question from Proust’s questionnaire: If you had to recommend a book to our network what would it be?
The book I have chosen is quite surprising. It is not just a book, but a series of books named “A Song of Ice and Fire” by George RR. Martin, which have been adapted into the widely popular series known as “Game of Thrones”.
It is the best saga on power I have ever read! So don’t hesitate and dive into it, you will not regret it.
This month, we got an insight into one of our Board Members’ personal and professional life. In this interview, Emanuela Palazzani, Founder & CEO of Atman Advisory, shares ways in which she prioritizes family time and reveals what she does as a daily routine to achieve a better work life balance. Additionally, an indispensable piece of advice, on what to do to ensure you progress up the career ladder, and a message for her younger self, are shared! Further discussion surrounding gender equality and on what the importance is of female networks take place! Interested to know more? Read the interview below to access further information
After graduating with a bachelor’s in Political Science from the University of Milan, you joined Rubinetterie Teorema SpA as marketing & strategic lead. After 10 years, you were assigned the position of CEO. In your opinion, what qualities does an individual require if they want to move up the career ladder?
I started my career by working for 25 years in a family owned business, later moving into the corporate world. Although the qualities required to move up the career ladder hugely differ between a multinational cooperation and a family business, something which can apply to both, is to ensure that you make time to listen to all employees’ perspectives and thoughts. This is done best by being present in the “C-Suite”.
Professional development doesn’t come from pursuing your own agenda. On the contrary, you must be open to different inputs as this allows you to evaluate your own ideas and potentially offers a new way of looking at situations, which in turn allows you to flourish as an individual and a professional.
You are presently the founder and CEO of Atman Advisory, a consulting firm focused primarily on strategic, financial and marketing advisory to Italian SMEs. Since 2013, you have collaborated with Softlab S.p.A., an ICT company based in Rome. What has this collaboration entailed?
I advise Softlab on the strategic, financial and marketing side of things in a full 360 degrees and coming from an industrial background, I felt I could really utilize my expertise through this collaboration. I don’t like to advise firms from the “side-lines”, I like to be at the “front-line” and immerse myself within the company, so much so, that I feel as if it is my own company that I am advising.
I like to advise firms from the “front-line”.
Whilst leading your own consultancy firm, being on the board of numerous organizations, contributing to prominent publications and speaking at different international conferences, how do you balance personal and professional life and is there a daily routine to which you stick to?
The work that I do requires a lot of travelling, therefore my daily routine often includes packing and unpacking! However, being a mother has always been my main priority and I therefore always ensure I secure time for my family. My daughter is now 27 years old; this means I have more time for social engagements and have undevoured upon new activities.
For example, I do breathing techniques and meditations every morning. These are skills I learnt whilst I was in India and which have taught me that being aware and embracing the different emotions you are faced with will allow you to assess what areas in life you need to prioritize.
Although I am still trying to master work life balance, I have also come to realize that trust and clarity are essential in securing a stable work and family balance. This is why communicating with my friends and family via Facetime or WhatsApp is something I also do every day!
Routine is good in all aspects, specifically so for one’s health!
Being aware and embracing the different emotions you are faced with, will allow you to assess what areas in life you need to prioritize.
You are the only Italian to have been admitted to the second edition of the "Women on Boards: Succeeding as a Corporate Director" Executive Course, held at Harvard Business School. What were the main pointers you took away from this course.
Till now, I am still the first Italian to have been admitted. Although it was really demanding, it was an incredible experience! This course has equipped me with the necessary skills needed for being a leader of the future! For example, I was taught how best to fire and hire CEOs and how to encourage and advise management.
I have tried to implement these new skills in my role different roles, including as Board Member at WIL Europe.
I have also become aware of the importance of life-long learning and therefore, my one advice to you would be to never stop studying.
You are currently a Board Member at WIL Europe and were previously a National Deputy Chairperson of AIDDA (Association of Women Entrepreneurs and Company Executives). Why do you feel female networks are important?
Female networks are very important but only a few selective ones are really influential! WIL Europe is among them, as a high-level association full of women with advanced careers and motivated personalities.
I am particularly proud to be a Board Member of WIL Europe because it is a very selective network, thus enabling a community of like-minded women across Europe to meet, exchange and learn from each other! In addition, WIL Europe organizes diverse and unique events on relevant and pressing matters, therefore offers insights and knowledge for the future!
WIL Europe organizes diverse and unique events on relevant and pressing matters.
You are a strong advocate of female development. Throughout your years in business, what changes have you seen with regards to enhanced gender equality and what do you feel are the hurdles that still need to be overcome?
To achieve the top positions in politics, finance, insurance companies and so forth, we still have a lingering way to go if we are to reach total gender equality. Although there is a lot to do, I strongly encourage women to continue to bring gender discrimination to light and to not stop fighting against the bias we face.
The motto I live by is “the ones who dare succeed.” If you dare, it means you have the competencies to fight the discrimination that still pertains throughout society. You must have self-confidence and believe that you are capable of achieving any position possible!
We always end our interviews with a question from Proust’s questionnaire, therefore: if there is one thing you could say to your younger self, what would it be?
I will refer to Pablo Picasso who once stated that the past is something which occupies too much space in your brain. Therefore, I would have said to my younger self to be more focused on the present and not to worry so much about the past. Alongside being focused on the present, we must look into the future as this is the only place we are going to live, the past is done and cannot be undone.
I would have said to my younger self to be more focused on the present and not worry about the past.
We had the pleasure of interviewing Helle Frank Liautaud, a member of our network and interim Executive Director in charge of setting up of the NGO B Lab in France. Having been an entrepreneur and held leadership positions in companies such as VMware, Helle discusses the importance of bringing one’s “whole self” to work and of sponsoring women in the workplace. She also offers insights into how to drive innovation through a more inclusive and diverse work environment, which must be promoted by the leaders of the organization. Alongside getting to know how the WIL Europe Network has been for her, Helle talked about how necessary it is to set and articulate boundaries in order to have a balanced professional and personal life. Read the interview below to find out more!
What motivated you to move from Denmark to Paris for your undergraduate studies in law and to return at a later date for your professional career?
I was born and raised in Copenhagen, Denmark, which is a wonderful country, but a small one! As a young person, I was attracted to the idea of opening my mindset, which motivated me to move to Paris. When I started out here as an attorney I was for many years focusing on getting my professional French correct, so when I went out with friends they would always tell me, “you speak like you are in a courtroom”. I recall the day I was able to read first Le Figaro and a few years later, Le Monde! When you learn a foreign language as an adult, you remember with every word the context in which you learnt it, so words have a special meaning for you.
When you learn a foreign language as an adult, you remember with every word the context in which you learnt it, so words have a special meaning for you.
You recently became the interim Executive Director in charge of creating B Lab France. Can you tell us more about how the organization is promoting business as a “force for good” and your role within this NGO?
B Lab, founded in 2006, is the international NGO that is behind the B Corp movement. It has been established to promote a better way of exercising capitalism, by shaping corporate governance and ensuring that all stakeholders are dealt with in a similar manner. The companies that join the B Corp movement volunteer to exercise their professional activities in a way that strives to benefit society and to design their governance to ensure that they put social and environmental concerns at the same level as the interest of their shareholders - also referred to as the “triple bottom line” (people, planet and profit). With today’s pressing challenges, companies can display their commitment by obtaining certification as a B Corp. When companies gain this certification, not only does it mean they are redefining their internal governance, it also entails that efforts are being made to integrate social and environmental progress into the heart of their business models.
There is already a great community of B Corps in France, so time is right to open a branch here. My mission is to give life to the French B Lab organization, which will carry the voice of the international movement in this country, while using all the great French B Corp certified companies as ambassadors of business as a “force for good”.
During your time at VMware, you engaged in dialogue around sustainability. How have you promoted the sustainable development goals (SDGs) through your work and what do you feel is the central challenge in achieving them?
The SDGs are extremely important! The objectives are encompassing to the global challenges we face today. They have generated a moral compass to encourage and inspire every individual and organization to take action. VMware, a global technology company, is already engaged in “tech for good” and can play a role to bring about the innovation that is needed to achieve the SDGs. In order to further promote corporate engagement in achievement of the SDGs, B Lab has entered into a partnership with the UN to develop an online platform, which will allow corporations to manage their impact through performance on the SDGs.
Whilst holding leadership positions in a large organization such as VMware, what have been the biggest leadership challenges you have faced as a woman?
The absence of role models and being a minority have been central challenges for me. There remains a pressing need for practices to be put in place to ensure top leadership positions aren’t tilted towards men. Amidst the perpetuating gender imbalance, we must not dismiss the fact that conversations surrounding gender equality have seeped into the public domain and as such, are now a constant point of discussion. These discussions have manifested into change, however not fast enough. Organizations are not putting enough pressure to address the “systemic web of challenges”, a term referred to by INSEAD to define the hurdles that women face in a workplace that has not been designed for them!
I was personally faced with a harsh reality as my career advanced: the higher I went, the more isolating the working environment became because of the lack of females present in higher positions. I did not really have anyone I could turn to for guidance or advice!
As a way to overcome this, I propose for more sponsorship programs to be implemented. You take away this deficit of being a minority because a safety net is formed in which your skills are properly acknowledged, and support is given when needed. An internal advocate is vital if we are to see an increased representation of female leaders. When it comes to mentoring, I don’t dismiss that this is a useful tool to help females advance in their professional careers. However, too much mentoring prevents independent growth, that is why I stand behind the belief that sponsoring women is more effective and efficient to close the gender gap.
Sponsoring women is more effective and efficient to close the gender gap.
How has being a member of the WIL Europe Network impacted your life and your career?
For women, networking often does not come as naturally as it does for men and most networking events have been typically male-dominated. WIL is a great initiative to create something for women by women, which redefines our idea of networking and makes it a desirable and even fun for women to connect with one another.
An important lesson I have learnt, is that the road to happiness requires the ability to set boundaries, as both professional and personal life can be all-consuming. I disagree with women who say that you cannot have it all. In my experience, it is possible, when you learn to define and articulate your own boundaries.
WIL is a great initiative to create something for women by women.
What has been your strategy in creating a more inclusive and diverse work setting, for example, through your work with the global “VMinclusion Council” at VMware?
Through my experiences, I learned that it starts at the top. Until you get the leadership of an organization convinced that diversity and inclusion is a matter of strategic importance, you can waste a great deal of time further down in the organization.
In addition, I believe in the organizational benefits of bringing your “whole self” to work. I encouraged people to participate in discussions with their “whole self”- with their ideas and values - as this initiated more fruitful and frank discussions. With Tech companies such as VMware, success is all about innovation. Therefore, diverse teams and the idea that people can bring different perspectives drive the highest level of innovation! Comparatively, from a leadership perspective, providing an open community in which employees feel they can share their personal stories, can enhance a sense of purpose and definitely create a more welcoming environment for women, who are more often than not, underrepresented.
We have enabled a more inclusive and diverse workplace by getting leaders to share their personal stories of how they “dare to be themselves” at work, through the creation of peer group mentoring sessions, directly combating each aspect of the “systemic web of challenges” for women, inviting experts to discuss the importance of an inclusive culture and much more!
Although these initiatives are all useful tools when establishing diversity and inclusion, benchmarks and setting targets of where you want to be are vital for driving change. You must hold leaders accountable for success, like you hold them accountable for any other business objective that you are trying to achieve.
Diverse teams and the idea that people can bring different perspectives drive the highest level of innovation.
To conclude, we have the tradition of concluding the interview with a question from Proust’s questionnaire. Who for you has been a key figure in your life who has supported and motivated you during your career trajectory?
My husband Pierre! I have a wonderful husband who, on top of everything, is my best friend. We have a rich family life, whilst simultaneously staying respectful and encouraging of each other’s professional careers. It is a dynamic and supportive partnership and I am very lucky!
© European Network for Women in Leadership 2021
Registered Training Provider: number 11756252375
21 bis rue du Simplon, 75018, Paris
firstname.lastname@example.org | +33 970 403 310