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This year, WIL’s partner INSEAD, a top international business school, marks the 50th anniversary since the first woman was admitted to its MBA programme. The timing provides us with a great opportunity to discuss with our Board Member Nida Januskis, Associate Dean of Advancement about how INSEAD is promoting career advancement among women, notably through its partnership with WIL, and learn about her own experience of combining a career with a family life. And as it is quite rare to meet an American and Lithuanian living in France, we also used this occasion to learn more about Nida’s origins and her views on preserving one’s language and culture!
This year, INSEAD celebrates 50 years as one of the first business schools in the world that admitted women to its MBA programme. However today, only 30% of all applicants are women. What do you think is the reason for this number of women who are interested in the programme, and what can be done to increase their participation?
There are several reasons why fewer women are applying to the MBA programme. The first is that the average applicant age at INSEAD is higher compared to our peer schools. The second is that INSEAD is a global business school, which means that we have women applicants from all over the world. Some countries are well-represented by women, such as the US and China, with more than 40% participation rates. However, we would like more representation from Central and Southern Europe, and we will be focusing on growing these numbers. Finally, as we have a global pool of women applicants, their financial challenges are more complex. By increasing our scholarship offerings, we hope to better facilitate their access to INSEAD.
It is our aim to increase the percentage of women students in our MBA programme to 40% overall in the next five years. We have taken a number of steps to achieve this ambitious goal. For example, we have started a targeted campaign called Limitless to attract more women applicants. The campaign highlights our alumnae by featuring their stories, which we hope will inspire other women to join us. We also plan to expand the applicant pool by targeting younger women and building referral programmes.
During the application process at INSEAD, the applicant is always interviewed by two of our Alumni. In order to avoid biases, we are making sure that in the case of a woman applicant, she is always interviewed by at least one woman, which was not the case in the past.
“It is our aim to increase the percentage of women students in our MBA programme to 40% in the next five years. To attract them, we have started a targeted campaign called Limitless.”
INSEAD has chosen to partner with WIL and also offers a customized Woman Global Leaders Programme. Can you tell us why?
This year, INSEAD celebrates the 50th anniversary since women were first admitted to our MBA programme. We realize that partnerships with organizations like WIL, and in particular, WIL’s Women Talent Pool programme, help to feed our pipeline. This partnership is very important to INSEAD and is very much aligned with our mission and values.
INSEAD also offers a Women Leaders Programme to executives. The programme addresses the challenges women face when progressing into senior leadership positions. It is specifically designed for women with 15 years, or more, of professional experience.
“The partnership with WIL and in particular WIL’s Talent Pool Programme is very important to INSEAD and is very much aligned with our mission and our values.”
You are a great example that taking maternity leave is not an obstacle to a career advancement for professional women. You were working for Harvard Business School (HBS) as an Associate Director for External Relations when you moved to Paris and decided to stay at home with your children for almost three years. What led you to make this decision, and did you disconnect entirely from your professional life during that period? In addition, what was the biggest challenge you encountered upon your return?
I was working for HBS in Boston for almost 6 years when my husband was transferred to Paris. Although I have never thought I would stay at home with my children, I realized that this was a good opportunity for me to learn French and become part of the community. At the time, I was doing pro-bono work, such as fundraising for schools and nonprofits. Looking back, I think it was the best decision I could have made at the time.
Nevertheless, after three years at home, I wanted to return to the workforce, knowing that I had a lot of value to bring. Maternity leave for me was not an obstacle, and I was lucky enough that my previous employer Harvard Business School was entering their second capital campaign and recruited me back to work for them remotely. The challenges were mostly logistical and related to childcare. However, at the time, I was fortunate that my office was within walking distance of where we lived so it ended up being an easy transition. Now, I enjoy being a working mom, and I also feel that I am being a better mom because of it.
As already mentioned, upon your return, you started working for HBS International Alumni Development Team, where you were raising private funds from former students. When it comes to asking for money, Europeans are very different from Americans – was this an obstacle? How did this experience benefit you once you joined INSEAD as an Executive Director for Development in 2016?
The culture of philanthropy in Europe is very different from that of the US, where one is exposed to fundraising at an early age, often through a sports team, your school, or through your church. By the time one attends University in the US, fundraising has become an accepted, and even welcomed, way to elevate institutions one cares most deeply about. In a strong sense, philanthropy is seen as an investment in the self, as to improve the institutions that have launched our careers can only improve our own standing in the world.
“INSEAD was founded on the idea of rebuilding a war-torn Europe by bringing people together through business education.”
Nonetheless, the tide is changing, and Europeans are starting to understand that fundraising is important. If we can make the case that their donation to an organization or to a school will make an impact and that it will touch more people, than people will be willing to donate.
INSEAD was founded on the idea of rebuilding a war-torn Europe by bringing people together through business education. I feel that we have stayed true to our mission and that the funds we raise go to good causes, such as scholarships, thought leadership and new ventures. Our alumni understand that for the school to compete with peer schools and to promote our mission, it is important for them to support INSEAD.
You are American and Lithuanian and have been living in France for 9 years. Where do you feel at home and how important is the preservation of one’s cultural origins for you?
“I believe the language is key to preserving one’s cultural identity, and that it is the greatest gift you can give to your children.”
Being an American, Lithuanian and living in France, I truly feel at home at a global institution such as INSEAD. In fact it makes me think of my children, who are third culture kids and whom I wish to raise as global citizens of the world. I believe that language is key to preserving one’s cultural identity, and that it is the greatest gift you can give to your children.
INSEAD’s flagship MBA programme has a policy that no more than 10-12% of the class is represented by any one nationality, which makes diversity part of INSEAD’s DNA. Diversity adds value to the conversations and the decision-making process, which is often lacking in corporate boards. I believe that being inclusive, diverse and gender-balanced is of utmost importance for INSEAD, which is also why our gender initiative, in which men are also involved, can make a big difference in management education.
Could the Blockchain, the technology underpinning digital currencies like Bitcoin, transform how our economies work and foster financial inclusion and gender equality? WIL had the pleasure to interview WIL Board Member Marina Niforos on this topic.
Marina is the founder and Principal of Logos Global Advisors, a strategic advisory firm to high-growth startups and large multinationals and a recognized expert, author and speaker on economic competitiveness and digital transformation. Recently, her whitepaper series the impact of blockchain were compiled in a special International Finance Corporation (IFC) Report, Blockchain: Opportunities for Private Enterprises in Emerging Markets, that has been distributed in the context of the World Bank’s Annual Meetings.
If you had to explain Blockchain to a total newcomer, what is the most exciting thing about it?
Blockchain is an emerging technology that offers the possibility of re-engineering economic models and enabling the creation of markets and products that were previously unavailable or unprofitable across emerging markets. Blockchain is a database ledger that functions like a distributed network. It is often referred to as a distributed ledger that can register blocks of cryptographically-secure, tamper-proof data with members of a network. This unique structure offers near-frictionless cooperation between these entities, allowing them to transfer value or information without need of a central authority or intermediary. Its potential to deliver a new mechanism of ‘trust’ and to significantly limit transaction costs offers great promise for leveraging the technology to boost economic development in emerging markets. Evangelists call it a digital revolution and sceptics dismiss it as a combination of existing technologies with exaggerated potential. Despite its detractors, venture capital flowing into blockchain companies hit $544 million last year, according to KPMG.
"Blockchain is an emerging technology that offers the possibility of re-engineering economic models and enabling the creation of markets and products that were previously unavailable or unprofitable across emerging markets."
Blockchain’s ability to send blocks of cryptographically-secured, tamper-proof data through a decentralized network provides a scalable, secure system that can be applied to all kinds of transactions. The technology can help identify, authenticate, and track goods moving across different countries and modes of transportation. Ethereum — a second-generation blockchain — provides a programmable blockchain platform with ‘smart contracts’ that can be used in numerous scenarios, including the transfer of property titles, settlement of financial derivatives, shipment of goods, and payment of royalties to artists.
Does it hold a potential to transform the economy and can we speak about the second generation of internet? Which industries will benefit most from it and what challenges does Blockchain still needs to overcome to become a mainstream technology?
Blockchain holds enormous potential to transform our economy. What the Internet did for the exchange of information, Blockchain can do for the exchange of value, eliminating the need for a trusted third party to authenticate and validate transactions and thereby significantly disrupting existing business models. It has the potential to deliver productivity gains to multiple industries, from the financial sector to energy markets, supply chains, health care, intellectual property management, the public sector, and beyond.
"Emerging markets may prove to be ideal for the adoption of blockchain-based financial solutions due to their underserved populations, higher banking risks, lower bank penetration and legacy systems, and greater presence of digital financing."
The financial services industry has been an early experimenter on and adopter of blockchain technology. Financial institutions around the world find their business models continually tested by technological innovation. The emergence of innovative digital financial technologies (fintech), including blockchain, is challenging traditional players in the sector by demonstrating new ways to deliver value across the entire financial value chain. And emerging markets may prove to be ideal for the adoption of blockchain-based financial solutions due to their underserved populations, higher banking risks, lower bank penetration and legacy systems, and greater presence of digital financing. The convergence of these factors may provide the basis for a faster adoption of the technology and could result in a technological leapfrog that boosts financial inclusion and growth.
The technology is in early stages of development and will need to overcome serious challenges and risks, both technical and regulatory, before it achieves widespread adoption. Questions remain about blockchain’s scalability, interoperability, security, transition costs, data privacy, and governance. We are at the beginning of this experiment and the road to maturity is likely to create both winners and losers before sustainable and profitable business models can emerge and full network effects can be seen. Companies and regulators will need to strike a balance between allowing enough space for the innovation ecosystem to flourish, while also effectively managing the associated risks and costs. Companies—in emerging markets and elsewhere—can neither afford to wait until the outcome is evident nor expose their existing business models to overly risky wholescale blockchain initiatives. Instead, they will need to adopt an experimental approach that allows them to develop options and thereby learn in the process, inform their strategies, and improve their value propositions.
In your final white paper, you make the case about Blockchain being the technology of inclusion. How can it address the barriers to gender equality?
Blockchain can also be used beyond fintech for a more sustainable and inclusive management of global supply chains. Two critical attributes of the blockchain in particular—the reduction of agency costs and auditable traceability—may help to boost trade facilitation as well as ensure compliance with specific goals regarding sustainability and gender inclusion. Two supply chains where specific experimentation with blockchain is taking place are food and agribusiness, and pharmaceutical safety.
"Two critical attributes of the blockchain in particular—the reduction of agency costs and auditable traceability—may help to boost trade facilitation as well as ensure compliance with specific goals regarding sustainability and gender inclusion."
Blockchain offers the potential to address some of the barriers to women’s inclusion in global value chains and their economic empowerment, both as individuals and as business owners. It could provide a cost efficient digital identity, which can help overcome women’s comparatively low access to formal identification and offer an entry to formal roles and remuneration in supply chains. It could also help women establish ownership of disputed land titles. Additionally, it could promote financial inclusion by helping women establish credit scores through alternative credit data sources, bypassing traditional intermediaries and banks. Finally, blockchain’s auditability and traceability can provide a tool for the monitoring and enforcement of supplier inclusion and gender empowerment initiatives that are currently difficult to monitor and enforce. Investors and credit agencies are now paying greater attention to non-financial performance issues, including human rights and gender equality. While blockchain technology alone is not sufficient to address the cultural and structural issues underlying the challenge of gender equality, it does present a strong toolkit to tackle significant facets of the issue. The potential benefits of even marginal change can be significant for both the private sector and entire economies.
We are very proud to welcome her among our members, and on this occasion, to have the opportunity to learn more about her already impressive career and her insight on what it takes to become a successful leader!
* The interview took place in September 2017, before the appointment of Ariane Gorin as the President of Expedia Partner Solutions in December 2017.
Since 2014, you have been the Senior Vice-President and General Manager of the Expedia Affiliate Network brand. Can you tell us more about your current role and in which ways it fulfills your ambitions?
Expedia is a global travel and technology company, and Expedia Affiliate Network (EAN) is our global B2B partnership brand, powering the hotel business of hundreds of partners worldwide such as airlines, online travel agencies and corporate travel companies, Through EAN, millions of travelers are able to find the perfect hotels for their trips. At our core, we are a technology business, with the bulk of our business done through our APIs (Application Program Interface).
As leader of EAN, I am accountable for the end-to-end results of the division. I recently read an article in which senior female executives explained that their careers accelerated the most when they were accountable for a number and that’s what I’ve experienced. It’s a great feeling to point to the numbers, whether they are financial results or employee engagement survey data and know that I’ve accomplished this with my team. What brings me the most joy in my job, though, is seeing my team accomplish goals they’d initially viewed as out of reach, as well as seeing individuals develop themselves in new and unexpected ways.
You moved from the USA to France and then to the UK; from Microsoft EMEA to Microsoft France and then to Expedia; from marketing to sales and now general management. Do you think that getting out of your comfort zone has been key to your professional success?
Absolutely. Whether it was changing geographies or going from strategy to sales to marketing, getting a lot of different experiences helped me become more confident, make better decisions, get more comfortable taking risks and ultimately be a better leader. Getting out of your comfort zone early in your career allows you to absorb and learn from different experiences, failures and successes that you can then use later.
When I took on my first sales role, leading distribution sales for Microsoft France, I wasn’t sure I could run a sales unit, as my experience had always been in strategy and marketing roles. However, I proved to myself and to other people that I could quickly learn the distribution landscape, build win-win partner relationships and manage an experienced sales team. The learnings from that first sales experience still serve me today.
Getting out of your comfort zone early in your career allows you to absorb and learn from different experiences, failures and successes that you can then use later.
Do you think that women can sometimes censor themselves? For example, they may think that they are not ready for a promotion, or do not have the adequate skills. Regarding this matter and based on your personal experience, what would be your advice to negotiate a promotion?
Studies have shown that women apply for a promotion only when they meet 100 percent of the qualifications, while men apply when they meet just 50 percent. This would suggest that women tend to be less confident in their abilities than men.
This is mirrored in my personal experience. Five or six years ago, when I was at Microsoft, a role that I was interested in became available but I thought that I wasn’t ready yet so I didn’t raise my hand. Not surprisingly, I didn’t get the job, while the person who did get the job wasn’t any more qualified than I was, but he raised his hand and asked for it. I was disappointed and even mad at myself. After that, I promised myself to always raise my hand for opportunities, even if I feel like I may not be qualified enough. It helps to have mentors and support networks that can help women get over any lack of confidence and to go for stretch opportunities.
The advice that I would give to young women is the following: get out of your comfort zone, trust your instincts and most importantly, go where there is growth.
In 2012, you participated in our Women Talent Pool program aimed at supporting high potential women to become leaders, and as Senior Vice President of Expedia Affiliate Network brand, no one can deny that you have become one! What would be your key advice for young women eager to develop their leadership skills?
I remember one of the WTP events I went to at the French Sénat, with Delphine Arnault (Assistant General Manager of Vuitton since 2003): the participants, all of them women in high-level positions, were very impressive and shared valuable advice which has helped me and inspired me. I thought that one day I wanted to be able to give back in the same way and share my own experiences. Getting to be on talent pools and in contact with such role models certainly contributed to my taking more risks and bigger roles, and I find it gratifying to now be part of the network.
The advice that I would give to young women is the following: get out of your comfort zone, trust your instincts and most importantly, go where there is growth. There will naturally be more opportunities – and more excitement – in an industry that is growing well. Finally, surround yourself with a support network of family, friend and mentors. I love the concept of a “posse” – a group of peers who support each other.
How would you describe yourself as a manager? What do you think are the key competences for leading a team successfully ?
It’s important to tell your team where you want them to go, not how to get there. Nothing demotivates a team like micro-management - this is a sure recipe for disengagement.
It’s also important to ensure people on your team invest in their own development – whether through stretch assignments, classroom training or mentoring.
Finally, being a great manager is also about focusing on team dynamics – making sure that you have a balanced and diverse team, that the environment is such that everyone can contribute equally and that the team trusts each other. With my teams, we talk a lot about assuming positive intent, not judging each other, but rather creating a safe and supportive environment for risk-taking.
You worked both in France and in the US. Which differences did you notice in the workplace regarding the status of women? Where is it more difficult to manage both work and professional life?
Compared to many of my friends in the USA, I found managing work while building a family easier in France than in the USA - whether it is paid maternity leave, childcare or health care - the infrastructure is much more developed in France than in the US. Fortunately, many companies in the US are catching up, but in France, I found that society at large – and not just employers - place a strong value on allowing women to be parents while continuing to thrive professionally.
On the other hand, when I moved to France 15 years ago, I remember networks of women professionals were just beginning to emerge, unlike the US where a strong women-centric networking culture already existed. Since then, networks for professional women have developed a lot, whether through WIL or other organizations.
In 2016, you stated in an interview that 33.3% of Expedia’s leadership roles are held by women ; in which way does Expedia promote inclusion? Which politics are they implementing in order to have more female Executives?
Like many companies in the tech sector, women are under-represented in leadership roles and acknowledging that gap is the first step. At Expedia, we believe that having a balanced workforce leads to better business outcomes.
We firmly believe that the conversation about inclusion needs to be one across all managers, male and female, to make an impact within the organization. In June, we released data specific to gender representation noting that we have parity across pay and representation at Expedia, but where we see the drop-off in gender representation parity is at the senior leadership level. As part of this, we are working to educate our workforce and are doing things like offering micro-inequities training to all managers to help identify areas of unconscious bias that may be present.
At Expedia, we believe that having a balanced workforce leads to better business outcomes.
We are on a journey toward gender balance and like everything at Expedia, we will follow our “test and learn” philosophy to find the right path. Test & learn follows a real scientific approach where we ask a question, collect the observation, construct a hypothesis, test that out as quickly as possible, then analyze the learning and repeat on that. The methodology makes sure our decision-making is verified by real data & insights, and we will utilize this approach to identify the most effective approaches to achieve true gender balance across our organization.
We are always glad to keep up with our members and follow their career development. In this regard, we had the opportunity to interview Ourania Ekaterinari, one of our committed Greek members.
Since we last interviewed her in 2013, Ourania's career led her to new paths: she became partner at EY, and more recently CEO and Member of the Board of Directors of the Hellenic Corporation of Assets and Participation (HCAP), a holding company aiming at grouping and managing a wide array of Greek State owned assets and participations.
In this interview, Ourania shares with us valuable insights on the current and future state of the Greek economy and on the role of the HCAP Fund for the country.
I believe we can create a strong investment story at a time that many investors are looking to invest capital.
Almost 10 years after the Greek recession has plunged the country into an unprecedented crisis, what is your vision of the current and future state of the Greek economy?
Greece has been at the international spotlights for a long time. As you said, it has gone through a very difficult period for many years, with huge fiscal adjustment programs and a GDP decline that has not been witnessed anywhere else in Europe since the World War II.
Today the country is clearly at a turning point. The challenge Greece is facing today is to attract long term investors for which one has to create a stable economic and business environment, build in trust and common interest.
Greece’s road to recovery passes also through the implementation of long required and necessary reforms. Very important is also the successful implementation of the privatization program.
At the same time, many Greek companies have proven how resilient they are and already done most of the required internal changes, while focused on careful cash flow management, at times when access to funding was scarce and expensive. They improved their operations, promoted efficiencies and overall became more extrovert and competitive. Combining these gains with a rich human capital, the excellent climate conditions, the improving infrastructure and geographical location, as well as the fact that Greece shares all European values and principles, I believe we can create a strong investment story at a time that many investors are looking to invest capital.
The Hellenic Corporation of Assets and Participation (HCAP) was founded in May 2016 as part of the Greek government’s new investment policy. Can you tell us more about its vision and its mission as well as its main objectives?
The Hellenic Corporation of Assets and Participations (“HCAP”) is a newly established holding company, operating in accordance with the rules of the private economy, in an independent manner, but for the benefit of the public interest.
Its long-term vision is to enhance the value and improve the performance of the assets under its management, by assessing and promoting the right strategies for asset exploitation and by targeting operational efficiencies. HCAP will also promote reforms of public undertakings, through restructuring if required, good corporate governance and transparency and by fostering accountable administration, social responsibility and innovation.
The ultimate goal of HCAP is to manage and exploit such assets to generate resources to contribute to the implementation of Greece’s investment strategy, as well as to the reduction of the sovereign debt of the Hellenic Republic.
In the above context, there are mainly 3 direct subsidiaries ‘’under its roof” and a fourth one (HFSF) in which HCAP has limited powers and control. The 3 main subsidiaries are:
- The Hellenic Republic Asset Development Fund (“HRADF”), being responsible for the implementation of the Greek privatization program.
- The Public Property Company (“PPCo” OR “ETAD”), being responsible for the management and exploitation of a large and diverse real estate portfolio that has come under its possession from the Greek State.
- The Public Holdings Company (“EDIS”), currently under establishment, which will practically hold the State’s shareholdings in different SOEs across different sectors.
How does the Corporation guarantee its independence and full transparency rightly expected from such a fund?
The Board of Directors of HCAP has been selected by the Supervisory Board, following an open international selection process, which was also supported by reputable international expert advisors. HCAP board members are professionals with long and successful careers abroad and in Greece, in large organizations and across different functions and sectors. Thus, the Board of HCAP has the breadth of experience and skills to carry out this mission and to act in an independent and professional manner, following best practices. This will be the aim for the Boards’ composition and the management of the subsidiaries of HCAP too.
How does it also guarantee its ambition to proceed according to a long-term perspective in the achievement of results?
Within the most important objectives of HCAP is the transformation of the public sector, including the introduction of a new culture and mindset. It is necessary to build a new environment of trust, commitment and accountability, by setting a common framework of corporate governance rules that enhance transparency, by empowering people and by fostering dialogue and communication. Change is usually not easy but it is the only way forward for sustainable growth, taking into account all stakeholders’ interests and supporting a more inclusive economy.
Within the most important objectives of HCAP is the transformation of the public sector, including the introduction of a new culture and mindset.
Which other guidelines will be followed by the fund when it comes to reforming public undertakings?
The Public Holdings Company (“EDIS”), which is one of the direct subsidiaries (currently under establishment) of HCAP, is responsible for a number of state-owned companies. It aims to introduce international corporate governance practices, appropriate financial planning and monitoring, operational efficiencies and a new corporate culture.
For the public undertakings that are offering services of general economic interest, these will have to be provided in accordance with EU law and the Union’s common values. This will require introduction of mechanisms that will define and monitor objectives, functional targets and performance indicators so that targets are met and the general interest is adequately served.
Furthermore, some of the public undertakings, facing different and pressing challenges such as economic, liquidity, funding, regulatory, technological, etc., will need to implement reforms, by taking all the appropriate actions to safeguard their sustainability, to optimize the use of resources and to adapt or restructure their business and operating models. To this end, good strategic and business planning, budgeting and reporting will drive efficiencies and create long term value for their shareholders.
Last but not least, what made you accept such a challenge and how do you think your previous professional experiences will help you fulfil your new role?
Without a doubt, it is a huge personal challenge but this is what makes the role attractive. With commitment, persistence, team work and by articulating a clear vision, I will dedicate every bit of my energy, knowledge and experience to succeed, especially since this is a mission of very high importance for the country.
I feel quite confident that my past professional experience will be very helpful to carry out what is required, having worked both in Greece but also internationally; also having worked for large organizations in the private sector as well as in the public & utilities sector. I believe I understand the challenges companies are facing today, not only in Greece but also in Europe, including issues of competitiveness, access to capital, digital disruption, changing customer needs, and many more.
I will dedicate every bit of my energy, knowledge and experience to succeed, especially since this is a mission of very high importance for the country.
In Greece, problems have been more harsh, particularly when it comes to liquidity and managing cashflows, in an environment where access to funding has been scarce. I believe there is great potential for improvements in the operating, technological and business model of many Greek companies. In the public sector, space for improvement is even bigger, where traditionally there was more resilience to change. Modern times require change, not only for the benefit of the shareholders, but also for the benefit of the consumers by offering better services at competitive cost, for the environment by optimizing the use of resources, and overall for the benefit of the economy and the society by promoting sustainable investments and supporting economic growth, together with accountable management and best corporate governance practices.
“Champion of women”, “food guru” and “inspirational entrepreneur” are just some of the terms used to describe the successful Pinky Lilani. Founder and Chair of a number of awards recognizing influential women and leaders, such as the Asian Women of Achievement Awards and the Women of the Future Award, and patron of several charities, Pinky started her career as an Indian cookery specialist. Not only did she manage to successfully run a rich and diverse career, but she did so with a pinch of passion and a large dose of generosity.
WIL Europe had the chance of interviewing her and we hope this article will spice up your day!
You started your career as an Indian cookery specialist, which led you to become a prominent consultant for major food companies in Europe, and you published your first book in 2011 (“Spice Magic: An Indian Culinary Adventure”) . But already in 1999, you had founded your first Awards to celebrate women’s accomplishments: the Asian Women Achievement Awards. What made you realize the importance of promoting women’s achievements in our society?
There were a lot of stereotypes about Asian women: everybody thought that they just stayed at home and cooked for their husbands. On the contrary, all the women I met were very spirited and with a lot of energy and huge ambitions. I really thought that we needed to profile them and show to everybody that they were doing amazing things.
Thanks to your experience as a founder of various awards, you had the opportunity to see different promotions of talented women, with very diverse profiles and professional backgrounds. What makes a good role model according to you? Has it changed over the years?
I set up the Asian Women of Achievement Awards for Asian women, and then the Women of the Future Awards for women of all backgrounds (they just have to be under 35, since the program is targeting emerging leaders).
The role models in those two different categories were different but also had a lot of similarities. Role models must be very good at what they do, and be passionate, but they must also care about other people. People are looking for role models with integrity, who share their values and are authentic. They must also be actually shining in the area where they are working, but also breaking barriers and boundaries that other people thought unbreakable.
Did you have any role model?
To be honest, when I was young and was growing up in India, I didn’t think that I would ever work. Even though I finished my degree and my post graduate, I didn’t have huge ambitions to be a career woman. None of the women in our family worked. I thought that I would be like my mother who was a very hospitable person, had a lot of dinners and lunch parties and was involved in charity committees. My role models were people like my mother, homemakers.
What gave you the incentive to work? Why did you want to change this pattern in your family?
I love meeting people and through the work I was doing, I was meeting very interesting people. Then once I began working, new challenges came and triggered my curiosity. I was energized and I started looking at new areas where I would be able to make some kind of contribution. That’s how I really began working.
In the course of your career, you had the opportunity to embrace diverse sectors, from the business sector as a cookery specialist and owner of Spice Ltd to the creation of awards programs, not mentioning the charity sector. Why is it important for women to step out of their comfort zone and take up new challenges?
For me, that’s the only way to succeed in life and find it fulfilling. Life is about learning and adding value. If you never take risks, you will never experience new things and meet different people.
I met people from various sectors (business, social media, charity …) because I got involved in those different areas. By working with people, you learn about how to collaborate and you learn from them. The more diverse and different from you they are, the more you learn and the more you give. We all have certain qualities and by working with others, you learn about qualities you don’t have and you share your experiences and knowledge with others.
In 2007, you founded the Women of the Future Network, providing an opportunity for talented women to come together, share experiences and build business relationships. What would you say to women who find networking challenging, either by shyness and fear of seeking favor or because their agenda is already quite tight?
For people who are uncomfortable with networking, my advice is the following: don’t call it networking, just call it going out and meeting people! Networking is not at all about seeking favor and promoting oneself but about building relationships and reaching something better than what you can do on your own. I could not have succeeded without the help of others.
It is very important in terms of business and personal growth because the more different people you meet, the more you learn. Mark Granovetter, a famous professor at Stanford, CA, who wrote a paper named “The Strength of Weak Ties”(1973), once gave this advice: for everything in life, actually go your weak tie and not your strong tie, in order to learn and get new ideas.
According to you, being successful is all about “kindness and collaboration”, which you consider to be a “powerful tool”. How can it work in a society where competition and individualism have often become the rule?
According to me, it is absolutely a win-win: people never forget if you have been kind to them, even if they are very hard people. At the end of his life, the philosopher Aldous Huxley said that the key for being successful in life is “being more kind”. When you are kind to people, they want to repay you immediately and to help you. On the other hand, nobody wants to work with people who have values which they don’t share. If somebody is rude to you, you’d rather go to someone who is thinking about collaboration and working together. It works for me as a model so I am very confident about it.
So, all in all, what would be the three main ingredients in your recipe for success?
First of all, I think you have to be passionate about what you do and believe in it because if you don’t have passion you cannot succeed.
Collaboration is also very important: you need to have other people helping you, because in most cases success doesn’t come on its own.
The third element is luck: you can be very clever and have an amazing network, if you don’t have luck you will not succeed. But it is also about timing: you have to be able to seize opportunities when they arise.
Xenia Loizidou is the Co-Founder and Director of ISOTECH LTD, one of the leading environmental firm in Cyprus. She is also a Member of the Board of Director of the Cyprus Tourism Organisation where her expertise as a Civil and Coastal Engineer helps preserving the coastline of this beautiful island.
First of all, congratulations for the two awards you received recently the Sir Stelios Award for your work on incorporating environmental considerations in the Cyprus peacebuilding process and the International Award last may in New Delhi from the Women Economic Forum “for business and leadership, contributing to a better world”. How do you feel about it? Do you think it is some kind of achievement for all your work?
Of course, I am very proud and very happy of these awards! I am always working in teams and I believe in the power of cooperation and team work. So, these awards are a reward for all of us, for so many years of collective hard work.
You have been the cofounder and Director of ISOTECH Research and Consultancy for 25 years, what are the aspect of your work you’re the most passionate about?
I am costal engineer. I studied civil engineering and costal engineering in my post graduate. I am passionate about the power of the sea I think sea and its waves are the most dynamic elements of our world. As engineer, I follow a solution-oriented approach in my work: provide solutions to problems and see them being implemented in for example in infrastructures, or for conservations issues. I think that I am blessed working in a field like this.
What made you choose this field of study? Have you always been aware of the importance of protecting our environment?
I was brought up in Pafos, a small coastal city in the island of Cyprus. Beautiful coastlines, pristine in those days. It had great weather, so almost all year round we were swimming. The sea and the coast were always my natural environment! When I eventually started studying civil engineering I found this post graduate specialization that allowed me to work in coastal environment and all the beauty outdoors.
I have not been always aware of the importance of protecting our environment. In the early 80’s when I started my studies, nobody was actually talking about the protection of the environment as we do today. As I told you before, I’ve spend my childhood in a beautiful, natural area, I started realizing the importance of preserving our environment and made it my job, while I was looking at this beautiful area being constructed in a non-sustainable way and damaged…
Have you seen a change in the mentality on the issue of preserving our natural sites? Do you think people are now more aware?
Definitely yes ! I think public awareness, especially in Europe, has tremendously improved over the last 30 years. Nobody can deny those facts nowadays. We have seen improvement in the ozone layer, technology has turned into more greener solutions and education is now focusing more on those issues. However, at the same time, other technologies and other countries are developing in the other way, the non-sustainable way. For example, in Asia we have the mega-cities causing tremendous pollution and for many of them, environmental issues are not a priority. For them, combating poverty and the need of economic growth are stronger than implementing environmental standards.
So, we see some improvements in Europe and some other developed countries but the world is big and several overpopulated countries have not listed environmental consideration among their priorities.
With the American elections, we have seen that even in Western Countries environmental preservation is still threaten…
Indeed, many people are afraid of the policies that President Trump will follow, and this will reflect on the budget that will be allocated for environmental protection, which is a very important issue. However, I am optimist per nature, so I would give some time to the new US government to adjust to reality and hope that their initial policies might change. I hope that environmental consideration will stay in the top priorities of the US administration.
Will the EU have to take over a more important role in this matter?
The European Union is a pioneer in environmental consideration, green technologies and policies. However, the EU has become very bureaucratic. There are a lot of areas where we are losing focus and giving too much importance to managerial issues and technicalities. I really believe that the EU should once again be the pioneer, take more initiatives, become less bureaucratic.
Being a woman in science and especially in engineering, did you face more obstacles on your career path? Do you think mentalities are evolving on those issues?
Of course, I did. Construction sites and those fields of expertise where I work are very male dominated. However, among engineers there is an embedded respect for each other, as colleagues. Actually, it is when I started participating in decision making boards that I encountered a lot of gender bias from my counterparts. I think mentalities are evolving with time but there is still a resistance from this male decision-making system, especially in the south of Europe. It is not very common among men to support women in the decision making process. There is progress, but, gender bias and prejudices are still strong. To improve that we need a change in the mentalities which will only come from a change in our education priorities, in the families and in the cultural environment in general. As in nature, a system needs biodiversity to be sustainable, in human systems we need diversity! So women must participate in decision-making in order to have sustainability in our human system.
Looking back on your career, are there things you wished to have done differently? do you have some examples of mistakes you’ve made and would have dealt with differently now?
I have made a lot of mistakes during my career! Βut what is important is to be able to stand up again, deal with the consequences of those mistakes and learn from them. I also think it is important during those moments to have a good supportive network of people around you People who trust, who love you, who can support you. People you can lean on, when you need it!
What advices would you give to a young woman starting her career now and aspiring to leadership and high level positions?
Young women should dare to take risks. They must not be discouraged by any obstacles, especially if it comes from gender bias that exists in our society. I would also advise them not adjust themselves to the male way of ruling, keep up with their own characteristics. They don’t need to become man-like to be powerful.
What is the thing that you are the proudest of in your career?
I feel very happy about my work and life balance. I am a mother of 2 children while I run my own international consulting company, and I have a career that I love and at the same time I do a lot of voluntary work. I am doing very interesting things in my professional life but at the same time I spend time with my family. At the end of the day it is something that I feel satisfied about, if not proud of. It is a false idea to say that women need to sacrifice family life for career. Balance and love are the key words and ….hard, hard work.
Thank you for this so interesting interview. I believe that networks such as WIL are really important for promoting, in our societies, the culture of women in leadership, through the support of women-members and dissemination of role models. Very proud to be member of WIL-Europe.
We were honored to have an interview with Sarah de Carvalho, the founder and Chief Executive of UK-based charity Happy Child International. Sarah began her career in television production and film promotion in London before moving to the slums of Rio de Janeiro to work with street children.
In 1993 Sarah founded the charity Happy Child International which in nearly 20 years has rescued over 9,000 street children in the cities of Belo Horizonte and Recife in Brazil. Beginning with a 24 hour shelter in Belo Horizonte, the charity has expanded by opening 11 centres with 70 staff able to receive 150 children at any one time.
Sarah has since returned to the UK where she lives with her husband and children and is a leading campaigner for street children. She was awarded an MBE for her services to Happy Child in 2012 and is the author of two books, The Street Children of Brazil and Solomon’s Song.
In 1991, you were a successful TV producer Sky TV, yet you decided to give up your career in film promotion and TV production to to work and live in a shanty town in Rio de Janeiro and dedicated yourself to rescue street children in Rio de Janeiro. What led you to make this radical shift in your life/career?
In my 20’s I worked as a film publicist, then I went to work for TV production for BBC and Sky. To give you some background, when I worked for Sky we were producing a magazine chat show in the west end of London, and when I left the theatre at night, I started to notice young people living on the street on my way to catch the underground home and it broke my heart. So, I decided to volunteer once a week at a night shelter, after my day job, for homeless people in London. And when I later heard that there were children living on the streets in Brazil, where many at the time were murdered, I knew I had to do something about it. So, between TV contracts, I went out to Brazil. At the time, I thought I’d stay only few months, but when I saw the reality of what those children suffer, I knew I had to stay and dedicate my life changing theirs, and I set up Happy Child International
Can you explain to us what is Happy Child International (founded in 1993) , how does it work? Can you describe your current role as CEO of Happy Child Foundation (founded in 2015l)?
There are two organisations: one is Happy Child International, which I set up 23 years ago in Brazil, and which has its focus on work on the ground, meaning the rehabilitation and the reintegration of street children and children at risk, to reintegrate them back into education and into society. The other organisation is Happy Child Foundation which I set up in 2015, to specifically focus on preventative work. We believe that prevention is better than cure.
The work on the ground began by opening a Day Care Centre in the basement of a church. In the 90's , they were lots of street children, and back then between 40 to 50 children were coming into the centre during the day. But it was really hard to see them leaving the centre and sleeping on the streets again at night, so we found a beautiful farm just downside the city center. During 20 years, hundreds of children were rescued and lived on that farm. Today, many of these children have now a family of their own, because Happy Child has helped them to get an education and encouraged them to go to the University and to pursue a career. For 23 years, Happy Child has rescued more than 11,000 children and ran 15 projects on the ground, mainly in Brazil and Angola. However, most of these projects are now self-sustainable, which means they are locally run and locally funded.
Today, I am Honorary President for this work on the ground, because my focus is now on the Preventative work for the Foundation which runs the global It’s a Penalty campaign. The It’s a Penalty Campaign harnesses the power of sport to prevent children from being exploited online and offline. I became aware that vulnerable children were at risk of exploitation, especially around major international events. It all started when I met a young street girl called Rose, in 2012, before the World Cup in Brazil. When I first met her, it was late at night and she was standing outside a motel with a group of very young girls. She told me that when she was 11 years old, her mother sent her out to the streets to beg for money, because they were no food at home. Soon she had got caught up with a pimp. She told me that her clients came from Europe, America, Africa, as well as from Brazil. By the age of 16, she'd given birth to two babies. I remember to this day when she looked at me and said: “Please, do something to help us!”, Rose represents hundreds and thousands of children who are in the same predicament all over the world. When I came back to the UK, I called a friend of mine, a reporter from the BBC, and asked if he could do a report for BBC World. We were soon contacted by the Metropolitan police, who told us about Extraterritorial legislation, which are provisions in law that allow countries to prosecute their citizens for the abuse of children even if it takes place abroad. Currently, this legislation exists in only 43 countries worldwide; in the European Union, all member states have some form of extraterritorial legislation which would protect children from exploitation at the hands of their citizens, except from Croatia, Malta, Estonia and Slovakia.
One of the consequences of 500,000 sporting fans and tourists travelling to one country for a short period of time, is that vulnerable children are exploited, because there are groups of unscrupulous people who want to make money from them, and they dress them up to look older than they are. The Metropolitan police encouraged us to launch a campaign to educate about the issue of child exploitation, inform people about the legislation, and promote mechanisms to report a crime.
Can you give us more details about “It’s a Penalty Campaign”?
It's a Penalty is a global movement to end child exploitation, bringing together the biggest names in sport, governing sporting bodies, international airlines, hotels, governments, law enforcement agencies, major corporations, international NGOs and the general public. We educate people about the global issue of child sexual exploitation, both online and offline, and the penalties for offenders, and encourage sportings fans, tourists and local residents to report a crime, “If you see something, say something." For the 2014 World Cup, we partnered with the Brazilian government to open a hotline to report child abuses, and we had 11,252 calls reporting child exploitation. It’s a lot, but we know that every call is a child rescued and protected. Therefore,
we relaunched the campaign in 2016 for the Olympic and Paralympic Games in Rio. We were the first organization to be allowed inside the Olympic Park. We made a new film with famous names, shared inflight on 9 international airlines, including British Airways and American Airlines, and showed on the giant screens inside the Olympic park. We also launched a massive campaign on social media. In total, we reached 212 million people with this campaign. We made an impact, because no incidents where reported on the ground, on the venue, regarding crimes against children. What we are trying to do is to change behaviors and change attitudes.
Our next global campaign will be l for the PyeongChang 2018 Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games in South Korea, and the Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games in Australia. Following these, we will relaunch ahead of Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games in Japan.
Have you kept contact with the children you rescued? Do you know if they have become successful in their lives?
I had a reunion on the Happy Child farm a few years ago, with several of the original children who came to the farm 15 years earlier. Most of the boys are in their 30’s now, and have families of their own. In particular, I remember Anderson, nicknamed Derson, who used to live on the streets and even slept on the branches of a tree in the city to get away from danger before coming to live on the farm. At the reunion, he spent the whole day in tears. He said that coming back to the farm reminded him how this beautiful place had turned his life around. He is now a supervisor at his job, leads worship in his church, is living in Belo Horizonte with his wife, and has a daughter. Another boy, Fernando, is working for the local government, and another boy is now lawyer. Our success rate for reintegration was about 70 to 80%, with these children who being successfully reintegrated back into their families and into the society. A lot of encouraging stories, which is good because it is a tough work.
How do you see yourself in 10 years? Would you pursue your work for child protection?
I would really like to see child protection on the top of the agenda of governments and sporting governing bodies like the IOC and FIFA, and I think we are on the way for this to happen. Furthermore, I would like to see the global enactment and implementation of extraterritorial legislation to protect children from exploitation no matter where they live. The It’s a Penalty Campaign will have a truly global impact – although we started in South America, our reach has extended to children across the world. . I believe It’s a Penalty is a global movement.We have a 3-5 year strategy in which we plan to run campaigns around PyeongChang 2018, Gold Coast 2018, Tokyo 2020, Beijing 2022, Durban 2022 and Qatar 2022. We aim to help end child exploitation by the year 2030, in line with the UN Sustainable Development Goals Target 16.2.
I am now done with the questions. Is there something you wish to add?
Indeed, I’d like to add that we are looking for partners to help us achieve our 3-5 year strategy plan, and organizations to collaborate with. If any of WIL members wish to come on board, whether it is for advocacy, whether is to partner with us for the next It’s a Penalty Campaign, feel free to contact me!
email@example.com website: www.itsapenalty.org
The title is referring to the many myths that exists about why we don’t have more women on top leadership positions. For example, “they don’t want leadership positions”, “they don’t have the courage”, “they are not skilled or able to hold such positions” etc. In the book we analyzed these myths and found out that none of them are true.
But first let me give you a bit of background. Along with the other co-authors of “Myter om magten”, we found out, that Denmark was one of the European countries with the fewest women in top leadership positions! This surprised us, because Denmark is historically one of the leading country in Europe in gender equality and we have one of the highest percentages of working women in the world. Women also represent 65% of all students in Danish Universities! So where do they end up if not in leadership roles? In Denmark, higher education is free, which means that most of the money invested in these future talents is “wasted”. And we waste crucial talents who does not leverage their full potential to their own benefit but also to the benefit of the society. Having such a low number of women in leadership positions, when the talent pool is so big, is a sad waste for the economic world and also for the society as a whole.
In the book we are analysing when the women are disappearing from the “leadership track”. We discovered that there were two “picks” when a large number of women disappear from the track:
First, it is when they are pregnant and start having a family. Many high potential women who takes maternity leave never come back to work, or at least not to the leadership career track. They choose to spend more time with their family rather than pursuing a demanding professional career. The second pick is right before accessing top management positions. A large percentage of women actually do come back to work after having children and keep climbing up the company’s ladder, but then they back down exactly when they’re about to reach top management positions. Why?
Why is exactly what we tried to figure out in the next part of the book. What we found out is that the “drop out” has only little to do with the “traditional myths” about why women don’t hold management positions. Its not because they don’t want, don’t dare or don’t have the capability. Instead, it has something to do with our leadership culture and the lack of role models.
High power positions are mostly held by men, and power is largely associated with manhood. Spheres of power are built upon masculine codes, and result in creating an unfriendly environment for minorities, like women. It is difficult for women to be themselves in a boardroom or leadership team full of men. Women feel like they do not belong to the male dominated sphere of power and they feel
Have you listed in your book solutions to address this issue?
The first step is for the men in the leadership teams to be aware of this issue and have a more inclusive behavior and culture. Mentoring is also very important: we need more role models, both male and female, to share their knowledge and advices, and to provide guidance through the difficult career path.
In addition, I think managers need to give voice to women’s concerns, and understand that these concerns are different from men’s ones. Men and women communicate differently, and it is sometimes difficult for male managers to address correctly women’s concerns. To provide you with an example, when a man gets a job offer, he will take it without hesitation and will even tend to oversell himself while a woman, even if she’s interested by the offer, will first focus on work and life balance and how she’ll be able to arrange her personal and professional responsibilities. As a result, the manager will tend to think that she is less eager to get the job and the male candidate will be preferred, even if the woman would have been better. Instead he should talk to her about her personal challenges and convince her that there are solutions and help her by giving her the flexibility needed to fulfill the job.
Women should be more aware of how their concerns is received/perceived by their managers. They should understand that what they express could be misinterpreted as reluctance. Both women and men should learn more about women’s communication.
Also, I think we need more female role models to provide examples of success to which other women can rely on. It is important to show that you don’t need to be a superwoman to be a leader. You can have a life aside from your work, you can have a family, you can have friends! Few years ago, I gave a long interview in a magazine, where I dispelled the myth that you have to be a superwoman to be successful. You cannot be a super partner, a super friend, a super mother and a super professional. But you can be a successful leader and still be a good mother, friend and partner. You don’t have to work 20 hours a day and travel 200 days a year, you can be effective and successful with less. But men love to paint the picture of themselves being hard working and sacrificing everything for their career – but this picture does not appeal to women, - and I also think it does not appeal to the younger more modern man either.
First, I was incredibly lucky to have a great mentor, who really believed in me, who had a strong experience in leadership, and who supported me. When I arrived at Microsoft, I had no experience in leadership, yet, but she really trusted my leadership skills and pushed me out of my comfort zone.
Second, I also think I have been lucky to work for Microsoft, because this company is more focused on employees results than on their time spent at work. You’re responsible for your work, and as long as the job is done, nobody will check the number of hours you spent in front of your computer screen. I need this flexibility in my work, and to have control over my life, and my work.
Third, I know I am not a superwoman, therefore, I am not afraid of “outsourcing” household chores. For instance, I have one au pair for my children. I learned how to share tasks.
Microsoft is indeed committed to gender equality and has developed a set of principles for women’s empowerment within the company in regards to discriminations at work, equal pay between women and men, and gender equality on boards. One of these principles is to get at least 30% of women amongst our employees and in our management teams as well. Our VP in Western Europe, Eric Boustouller, has over the past 2-3 years been hiring many women to lead our subsidiaries, almost half of the general managers of Microsoft subsidiaries in Western Europe are now women! The company is also working on education programs to inspire young girls to pursue studies in the tech sector. Microsoft created the DigiGirlz program, which gives worldwide high school girls a chance to experience firsthand what it is like to develop cutting-edge technology and grow their careers in this field. This year was launched #Makewhatsnext, a program that helps empower the next generation of women with the knowledge, skills and resources needed to become creators in a world where technology is embedded into every aspect of life.
I don’t know if we can talk about a Nordic model in management, I think we can speak more of a modern leadership style. It is a model that builds on trust and empowerment, transparency and respect. Trust, respect and empowerment means that you believe you have hired the best possible have faith in your team to do the job in the best possible way and avoid micro management. Transparency means that you try to be as transparent as you can to give the people in the team the information they need to understand the strategy and the objectives , you are trying to achieve. This way you leverage all their potentials and build trust in your team
You have been working as an HR professional for 20 years. Looking back on your experience, could you please describe the evolution of the HR function in this fast shifting ICT sector that occurred over the last decade? As traditional business models are now disrupted by a generational shift and Digital transformation, what are the main challenges faced by an HR Director at Lenovo nowadays, which may not have existed ten years ago?
A huge shift occurred in the recent years from the HR perspective: We moved from a typical service provider function, where the HR basic role was to make sure the contract was legally compliant and Payroll runs smoothly, to a more business oriented and consulting function. Nowadays HR leaders seat with Marketing, and Finance leaders around the table to discuss business issues. We are part of a leadership team, which means that HR needs to better understand the business, to consult the other leaders. We also need to adopt an outside-in perspective regarding our customers and to get a better understanding of their needs. So I would say the HR function is much more involved in the business than the previous years.
But overall it is the whole IT Sector that is changing very fast: there are much more flexibility, speed and dynamism requested nowadays.
Would you say the new generation of talents have more expectations in the workplace than the previous generation?
I wouldn’t say the new generation have more expectations, I would say they have different ones. People who graduated from university are more interested in development opportunities, assignment opportunities, in working in different countries, they want more flexibility, remote management… they are not so much focused on security, they don`t feel that they will retire from the same company. Of course expectations from the young generation are different from 10/20 years ago and it raises new challenges for companies to be able to retain talents. Especially in Lenovo which is growing very fast, the requirement for HR department is to keep the pace, to stay flexible, to fulfill the need of the business. The strategy is changing and we really need to stay connected to our employees and costumers’ needs.
Diversity and integration are also keys here: Lenovo have conducted many merge and acquisition projects during the recent years, and probably more are coming in the next years. From the HR perspective it is a challenge as well as an asset to work with different work cultures: For example, the culture is different if you work for IBM, Motorola or Lenovo so we have to do a lot of integration to turn this diversity into an asset.
Regarding work culture environment, you were a team manager in several European regions: First as an HR Director for Germany, Austria and Switzerland, then for the Western European countries, and currently you are in charge of the EMEA East Region. What would you say are the main challenges of managing cross- culturally? How did you adapt your leadership style to the different business cultures?
From the leadership style, I did not really changed a lot. You just need to listen more and to be open to the feedback you’re getting from your peers and team members. Communication is key. Now that we have the help of technical supports such as Skype and online messengers, you are able to keep close contact with your team whereever you are, i.e. in my home country Germany or travelling through my region and that is really important. Especially in our East Region (understood as Eastern Europe, Russia, Turkey, CIS Countries) which is a huge territory, you’re facing cultural differences: they have many different languages, currencies, bank holidays, different ways of doing business, different hierarchy perceptions, economical and political crises or significant currency devaluations from one day to another than in Western Europe. But despite the various economic crisis that occurred in this area, Lenovo is very successful there because we managed to be very responsive to the local needs, thanks to the local teams implemented in the region and our market share is significant. For me personally, it is a very enriching experience to work for a different environment from where I am coming from. I am a typical German, always on time, always responsive, so I am used to that behavior, while in Eastern Europe the work behavior is a little different. But it is a successful region, and it is a great enrichment for me to work with those people.
Lenovo has launched "Women in Lenovo Leadership" (WILL) program in 2007, which supports women’s growth and drives gender diversity projects for Lenovo. Could you tell us more about this initiative and its goals? Why do you think gender balance and diversity are key factors of performance for big companies like Lenovo?
Gender balance is a relevant topic for Lenovo, because we are operating in a very competitive environment where we are constantly fighting to attract and retain the best talents, no matter if they are men or women. This initiative was launched in 2007 and we are all very committed to it: we make sure we are looking for the best opportunities of networking, mentoring and coaching for the talents at all levels of the company, especially on Women. Today we have around 36% of women in Lenovo in the whole workforce, which is ok for an IT company but still not enough. We always can do better. Overall in companies’ boards, the higher we get in top leadership position, the lower is the percentage of women, and this gap between men and women still needs to be balanced. Lenovo is trying to do more on gender diversity by launching this WILL worldwide initiative, and we do our best to partner with other initiatives, such as the Women’s Forum in Deauville and in Dubai, the Cercle Inter’Elles with Catherine Ladousse (WIL Board member ndrl). We plan various activities on Women’s Day to address key priorities that would support women’s growth and close the gap between women and men in Lenovo and we are looking especially on development opportunities for our female key talents.
What advice would you give to women in the early stages of their career?
Maybe this is an answer that not everybody wants to hear, but I think that if women want to progress in their careers, they just need to work hard. Very hard. Sometimes even harder than men and it is not always easy, especially if you also have to take care of your family. We talk so much about work-life balance and integration, but sometimes it is just really a matter of accepting to get into discomfort. That is not easy and you will fail but you have to move forward and take failure as a learning opportunity. Don’t get demotivated, next time you’ll do better and it’ll make you stronger. My advice would be: find a good mentor, no matter if it is a man or a woman, who really listens to the issues and obstacles your facing in your career, and who would help you and give you advice to overcome those obstacles.
Do you think women are holding back by the fear of failing in their career?
Exactly. Men fail, but they get back on their feet and keep moving on. They don’t overthink about it too long, while women tend to criticize themselves too much. Of course self-reflection is important to perform better, but do not look back and focus on the future. It is normal to fail, to be uncomfortable sometimes, but next time you’ll do better. Every great leader faced failure in his career, but he or she grew even stronger by learning the lessons and moving forward!
Wassila Zitoune-Dumontet is currently VP Roaming from Orange Group. With over 21 years of experience in the Telecommunication industry and an international background in leadership and executive positions in the Middle East, Africa and France she shares in a 5 minutes with ... interview her experience in managing a large organization, within the framework of a multi-cultural environment while witnessing the strategic transformations of the Telecommunication sector.
WIL Europe (WIL): You have held leadership and executive roles within Orange across the world, in regions such as the Middle East, Africa and France. Do you feel that female leaders are perceived differently in these respective regions, and how did you adjust your leadership style to the different business cultures?
Wassila Zitoune-Dumontet (WZ) : First of all, an international experience is a great opportunity to open your mind, to learn and to grow. From my perspective there are two very important aspects that need to be taken into consideration: a very personal one that implies to make sure your family is willing to take the ride with you and a professional one: being ready to go out of your comfort zone and in a way to “reboot yourself”. Believe me, this is not an easy process at all.
Regarding adaptation, I have worked on two sides:
Adapting my soft skills: investing time in understanding my stakeholders (peers, teams, market, regulator, authorities …). It is a challenging process that requires a lot of listening, observation, analysis efforts and patience before making the first judgement or decision. I realized afterwards, how much this helped in building my credibility and legitimacy. Communication skills were also a part of the needed adaption to the business culture: learning how and when to be sharp or soft, how and when to compromise or not, how to disagree without saying “no” in a sensitive situation, and so on.
The second challenge was related to adapting my management style through intensive one to one practices to make sure everything and everyone was aligned and that all subtleties were capture. I needed to invest also in regular communication to all my management layers, sharing the vision, the ambition, the achievements and challenges. This also helped me to detect talents, with specific attention to female talents (very often too humble and lacking self-confidence), giving them the opportunity to shine, dare, and succeed.
Lastly, it is worth mentioning that the executive committees I was part of, had between 15 and 20% of female executives. Figures talk for themselves! Thus, personally, I did not feel that there was a “perception issue” during my years abroad as a female executive. Yet, things were very different below the C level layer, and this became a subject to be addressed for me.
WIL : With over 21 years of experience in the Telecommunication industry, what do you appreciate the most about this sector? What would you say has been the most distributive innovation in the sector so far, and what do you see in the future for telecom companies such as Orange?
WZ : I believe a lot of my peers would say the same about how amazingly dynamic the Telecommunication Industry is, and how it is constantly innovating.
It is a fact that Telecommunication is an important part of our daily lives, be it at home or in the office, and I do enjoy taking part in making this easier, closer, faster, and simpler for our customers.
Besides Mobile Payment which I see as part of the major recent innovations with a huge uptake in Africa, I would definitely speak about Internet usage explosion, and how much technologies like 4G and Fiber has transformed our day to day life into a more and more digital one. Let’s thinks about how many videos are viewed per day per teenager, the number of connected screens in a household, how many clicks to book your airplane ticket and do your check in…and we’re entering the ERA of Internet of everything (cars, watches, clothes, …)
This hyper connected eco system brings connectivity and networks performance on the top priority for Telcos and Orange has clearly set its ambition in our recently presented strategic plan “Essential2020” committing on delivering an unmatchable customer experience, relying on 5 strategic pillars: connectivity, a reinvented customer relation, diversification through IOTs and Mobile Banking, being a digital and human company, and the Digital partner supporting the B2B market transformation.
WIL : As the current Vice President of Roaming for Orange Group, how do you expect the new EU Digital Single Market Strategy announced by the European Commission in May 2015 to affect the roaming market? How will companies such as Orange adapt?
WZ : Roaming regulation is not a new topic for the Roaming industry. For sure, the new regulation will affect both the retail and wholesale market at the same time. There are some technical implementation challenges ahead that we are currently focusing on, and some potential borders’ effect to be properly mitigated.
One important driver for Orange’s strategy has always been making sure customers have access to affordable roaming bundles in a simple and transparent way to enjoy the best roaming experience.
We have been focusing, in Orange, on developing the roaming adoption by our Orange travelers over the past year in Europe, and we are happy to see the positive trends since three years for both active roamers and usage.
It is worth mentioning Orange is in the top 3 leaders on 4G Roaming in Europe.
WIL : Throughout your career you have developed your leadership style and innovative mind-set through various positions in Marketing, Sales, project management and digital technology. What would you say were the main challenges you faced during your career, and how did you overcome them?
WZ : Prioritizing! That is one of my main challenges. My different experiences taught me that part of a leader’s role is to select the top priorities that will make the difference instead of trying to do everything. The 80/20 rule is key for either think / build or run functions and I do pay attention to stick to it.
Managing emotional sensitivity has also been of value for me, especially when leading large organizations and transformation projects. There are some difficult situations that require keeping the right distance. I have to say, this is another great thing about Orange, being a place where you can have access to such a diversity of roles and challenges. I entered Orange as a trainee, and I am still amazed it’s been 21 years now!
WIL : Despite your busy career you are actively involved in corporate social responsibility projects mainly in education, rural development and gender equality, why are these areas so important to you and why do you feel it is so important to engage in activities that reach beyond your ‘typical job description’ ?
WZ : I always considered it is part of the job because Orange has historically been active in corporate social responsibility in many different areas such as fostering access to knowledge, education, health etc.
Knowing how much telecommunication is vital to bridging gaps between communities and societies, and it became quite natural for me to work in these areas. One amazing memory for me was when I was leading the “Broadband Fund Program” of Orange Jordan. The goal was to equip rural schools with internet Labs. This project had a huge impact on families’ trust in Orange as a responsible brand and company, to overcome the safety concern for girls to access the internet. After every opening ceremony, I felt that I was a responsible telecommunication professional and that Orange has done something meaningful.
To conclude, when it comes to female executives, I think we are on the right path but let’s not forget that it has to be done in a sustainable way, and there is still a lot that needs to be done. Mentoring programs for female talents, sharing ideas and experiences, and being inspired by others is worth investing time on, but so too is giving back.
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