Connecting, inspiring and empowering women to lead the way
Interviewed by Tessa Robinson
Meet our WTP7 Talent, Anna Jassem*, International Coordinator at the European Commission. In this interview, Anna discusses the personal and professional benefits of mindfulness, why we need compassionate and courageous leaders and shares her thoughts on the situation of women in Japanese culture
Having worked briefly in the NGO sector, you have now also held several positions at the European Commission. Could you explain a little more to us about your current role?
I'm responsible for cooperation with our key international partners in the unit in charge of consumer product safety. I also coordinate the international activities of the whole Directorate for Consumers. The idea is to ensure that when dealing with our international counterparts, we speak as one voice. Because, of course, in today's ultra-connected world, where you can buy things from all around the world with one click, there are a lot of dangerous products and fraudulent business practices and basically no borders, so no one country can tackle challenges to consumer protection on its own: we need to join our efforts to make an impact.
I have also been leading work on the EU Product Safety Award, an initiative that we launched back in 2019. The aim of it is to shine the light on businesses which, as we say, “go the extra mile” on product safety. By showcasing best practices, we want to inspire all companies to put consumer protection at the heart of what they do. We also aim to raise consumer awareness around product safety and what to look out for when making shopping decisions.
Last but not least, I'm a trained Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) teacher, and I've been guiding regular mindfulness and compassion sessions across our Directorate-General and beyond. I really think that the COVID pandemic and all the turbulence that it's caused has highlighted even more the importance of mental health and this is certainly an area where mindfulness can make a change. We know from rigorous randomised controlled studies that mindfulness training is effective in reducing stress levels, preventing burnout, and increasing overall mental and even physical health!
You mentioned your training in mindfulness-based stress reduction. What motivated you to become a mindfulness teacher and how has it helped you in your own life?
What drew me to mindfulness in the first place was actually my own talent for stress and distraction. I remember that in my pre-mindfulness times, I would constantly feel guilty about doing long hours at the office and then getting home and instead of enjoying family time, still thinking about work. I once read a whole book to my son at bedtime; and when he asked me a question, I couldn’t even tell what the book was about. Mindfulness has allowed me to be more present in whatever I'm doing. This has made me much more productive, resilient and simply happier.
Another benefit of practicing mindfulness is that you're better able to catch your inner critic: the little voice that we all have in our head which tries to convince us that we’re not good enough, something with which women in particular struggle. Being more mindful of this inner monologue has allowed me to become less hard towards myself and consequently, also kinder towards others. You realise that after all, we're all just doing our best to be happy. It's like a virtuous circle!
The final benefit I would mention is that with mindfulness you become more aware of what your body and mind need in a very concrete sense. For me, these are often simple things, like getting enough sleep, physical activity and meaningful human connection. I've also realised that I absolutely need some me-time when I can recuperate from being with people. Again, I think that many women have this notion that self-care is a luxury that they cannot afford when all these other things need to be done. To me, it's about preventative maintenance even if it means getting up 20 minutes earlier to start the day more mindfully. “You can't pour from an empty cup”, as the saying goes.
To me, mindfulness is about preventative maintenance. You can't pour from an empty cup.
You have a background in political science, sociology and European studies. What would you say is the commonality between these subjects and how have they shaped your career path to-date?
I would say that these three disciplines are indeed complementary. Sociology has certainly the widest scope studying human society as a whole, whereas Political Science and European Studies focus specifically on systems of governance at national or international level. All three certainly enhance your critical thinking and analytical skills and give you a broad focus so you can see the underlying relationships between phenomena. I think that my academic background did nudge me towards jobs that involve translating scientific evidence into concrete policy measures. And it also drew me to policy areas where I felt that I might make people's lives a little bit better, be it by improving their health, their safety or economic welfare.
During your maternity leave in Japan, you published a book and a series of articles on Japanese cuisine and culture. What did you observe about the situation for women in Japanese society and how does it differ from Europe, if at all?
Overall, our stay in Japan was an amazing adventure. I was really fascinated by Japanese culture and how different it is from Europe. For the book, I started by inviting myself to Japanese women’s kitchens, and of course, it's at the kitchen table where you have the most important conversations. We shifted very quickly from talking about food to talking about culture and much more.
There were things that I absolutely fell in love with; for instance, the ability to savour the present moment, to sit down and contemplate your bowl of tea with a little ‘wagashi’ sweet. Even in a metropolis like Tokyo, people still very much live according to the rhythm of the seasons, celebrating seasonal ingredients and dishes and harvesting bamboo shoots in the spring. Then there's the whole search for harmony and the importance of family ties, as in many collectivist cultures.
On the other hand, there were things that I didn't appreciate at all. For instance, the rigid conformity, epitomised in the saying that the nail that sticks up needs to get hammered down. But indeed, probably the thing that shocked and saddened me the most is how male dominated Japanese society is. A woman’s social status is defined first by her father and then by her husband. If you're single and childless over 30, you're called ‘makainu’ (literally ‘loser dog’), which indicates your social status. Japan is also apparently the only country in the world where married couples are legally obliged to share the same surname, which of course, in virtually always is the man's surname. You also rarely see both genders mixing. You’ll see groups of men in black suits heading to company drinking parties. Then you’ll have groups of elegantly dressed women playing with their children in the park, but there's no interaction between the two: men belong to the public sphere and women belong to the domestic sphere. Those women who decide to work outside the household typically have part-time or temporary jobs. There’s also a kind of dual track employment system in Japanese companies: a career track and a routine clerical track. Virtually all men are chosen for the career track, whereas women, even those with university degrees, primarily get clerical jobs, photocopying, formatting tables, or answering the phone.
The European Commission aims to have at least 50% female managers by 2024. What do you think are the most important qualities of a good team leader and why?
I would say that in this ‘VUCA’ world of high vulnerability, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity, as Marina Niforos taught us, what we most need in leaders are two things: courage and compassion.
Leaders need to be courageous to effect change, to shift and respond to constantly evolving circumstances, to step out of their comfort zone rather than stick to the tried and tested ways of doing things. So it's really about having this growth mindset, or what Brené Brown calls ‘daring greatly’- knowing that you can fail but also that you can learn from failure.
But equally essential is compassion, empathy, kindness, the ability to listen and to see human beings behind job titles. All these qualities that for some reason are called ‘soft skills’, as if they were somehow easier or less important than hard technical skills and KPIs. Yet, they are indispensable for a team to flourish and to become more than just a sum of its members. I truly believe that when people feel valued, empowered and simply happy at work, they are also more engaged, innovative and productive.
I truly believe that when people feel valued, empowered and simply happy at work, they are also more engaged, innovative and productive.
Finally, is there a particular motto that is important to you regarding work or life that you would share with others?
There's this one quote that I like, which I believe is a paraphrase of Marcel Proust’s words from ‘The Prisoner’: "The real voyage of discovery consists, not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes." It's this idea that how we interpret things and how we react to them that makes all the difference, and that's also where our freedom lies.
*The information and views set out in this interview are those of the interviewee and do not necessarily reflect the official opinion of the European Commission.
Video edited by Tessa Robinson
Meet our WTP7 Talent, Tatiana Chamis-Brown, VP Global Marketing at Orange Cyberdefense. In this interview, Tatiana talks about her career journey from Brazil to Europe, why she is so passionate about cybersecurity and the role of Marketers in increasing visibility for women
You have extensive experience at Orange where you started as an Internal Consultant in Business Efficiency Transformation in 2007 and became head of B2B customer transformation in January 2015, a position you occupied for almost 3 years. Can you describe your journey into this leadership position?
My career journey began in Brazil, where I am from, and where I joined the telco Oi as a strategic planning trainee. After graduating, I moved to France and then to the UK, where I worked in strategy and operational management consultancy in smaller firms. This allowed me to have responsibility and autonomy early on and offered me the opportunity to work in a variety of fields and projects, like market entrance strategies for new players, M&A due diligence, competitive benchmarking, and operational efficiency. Most importantly, these experiences enabled me to collaborate with people from the shop floor to the Board in different parts of the world.
This was a rich start to my career, and I really enjoyed the consulting side, but I wanted to have an impact on a longer-term basis. That's when I joined Orange. At the time, Orange had telecom operations in the UK and they were running a transformation programme to improve cost efficiency. My previous experience in consulting was a good fit for that. The programme reported to the CEO at the time and when he went onto a new role at a group level position, he invited me and my team to come along. From there I moved to other roles, eventually pivoting to cyber security marketing.
In each of my roles, I've always been curious and proactive in developing new initiatives, and convincing others to contribute and support them. This has allowed me to have an impact, be visible, and to meet and work with people across the business. I have also had plenty of support and great mentors along the way, to whom I am grateful.
I've always been curious and proactive in developing new initiatives, and convincing others to contribute and support them.
You are currently the VP for Global Marketing at Orange Cyberdefense. Can you tell us more about your responsibilities? How have these responsibilities changed over time?
Cybersecurity’s growth has gone hand in hand with the world becoming more digital. It has transformed and is still transforming the way we live, work and do business, and I believe it's changing our society in many ways for the better. But it also comes with risks, as cybercriminals explore weaknesses to make money and gain some leverage.
As a marketer, I care about delivering our mission in this wider context, which is to build a safer digital society and allow us all to enjoy the benefits of the digital world. When I joined Orange Cyberdefense, the organisation had businesses and operations primarily in France. Since then we’ve made two acquisitions and expanded our footprint primarily in Europe, improving the capability and type of services that we provide. I really enjoyed the process of integrating the new organisation together and setting the vision, positioning, strategy, and roadmap within the marketing team, at the global level, and country level teams.. This was an interesting experience to get a first-hand view and have a role in shaping this new organisation.
In my current role, I lead a team of amazing global marketers across Europe and the world. Together we promote Orange Cyberdefense and take to market the services that we provide to organisations around the globe. We contribute to business growth via digital marketing, analyst relations, events, thought leadership, sales enablement, and many other activities, alongside experts across the business. I'm lucky to work with brilliant professionals from whom I learn every day. This is a dynamic and growing industry with lots of challenges from a marketing point of view.
As a marketer, I care about delivering our mission in this wider context, which is to build a safer digital society and allow us to all enjoy the benefits of the digital world.
What is it that inspired you to shape your career towards marketing, cybersecurity, and tech and what is it you like the most about these fields?
Cybersecurity and tech are fields that attract people who are very passionate, think differently and innovate. They are evolving fields, so the potential to learn and to develop is immense. What interests me about cybersecurity is that it concerns all of us as citizens and professionals, organisations of all sizes, across sectors. It's a growing challenge.
In our annual threat report Security Navigator, where we analyse statistics from our operations and trends in the cybersecurity ecosystem, we've noticed a 13% increase of cyber-attacks compared to the previous year. There are of course technology solutions to address this challenge but they alone are not the solution. Even with the most advanced technology, there still is a need for human intervention. For instance, in our report we noted that 60% of the security alerts were false positives and not real cybersecurity incidents. Technology can raise the alerts and contain some incidents, but you still need real people to investigate and guide you during a cyber security crisis. That's where marketing can come in: we are ensuring that this and other challenges that organisations are facing are understood. We focus on establishing trust and being an advisor to our community and to our customers, outlining what they can do to address these challenges. That’s why we are a good partner to help them navigate through them.
I like to think that marketing is a combination of art and science. Our tools and touchpoints have evolved which makes our job more precise and effective, but the basics remain the same. It's gratifying to make an impact in marketing within the cybersecurity field and its innovative people.
You are an economic empowerment and entrepreneurship advocate: you were a Volunteer consultant for GROW movement and you have now joined our 7th edition of Women Talent Pool Programme. What inspired you to join us? Could you describe the different career paths that lead into cyber security?
I'm very conscious of the responsibility that I have to elevate other people and to use my skills, my experience, and my platform to do that. However, I felt there was more that I could do, and the Women's Talent Pool Programme is equipping me via learning, coaching, networking and sharing experiences with other women to nurture not only my own leadership skills, but to empower others. It has inspired me to reach out to other women within our organisation and hear their stories and to understand how I can support them to be more visible in our marketing initiatives. This is important because cybersecurity is a sector where only 24% of the workforce are women despite being 51% of the global population. There is a real issue here in making sure that more women are attracted to the field.
By speaking to these women, I discovered very different paths that lead them into cybersecurity. One, for example, was a psychologist who brought her criminology studies background to the sector and moved into cybercrime research. Another used to work in the public sector and went back to university to retrain in cybersecurity after the birth of a third child and she's now an ethical hacker. I also came across a fellow marketer who pivoted into a security service delivery role. There are so many different profiles that can make an impact and have a role within cybersecurity. What was also interesting to me is that all the women I spoke to share a willingness to have a greater impact and a desire to harness their skills and support other women into the business. They also feel that representation matters within our industry, including to provide role models for others.
When I look into what other organisations are doing to increase gender diversity in the sector, I see some promising initiatives out there. For example, the Women4Cyber / European Cyber Security organisation who promote the upskilling and reskilling of girls and women towards cybersecurity education and professions. And in the US, the Department of Homeland Security partners with the Girls Scouts Organisation to give girls the opportunity to learn about cyber security, to practice key concepts and get interested in a career in the field.
I felt there was more that I could do, and the Women's Talent Pool Program is equipping me via learning, coaching, networking and sharing experiences with other women to nurture not only my own leadership skills, but to empower others
As part of our interviews, we usually end with a question from our Proust Questionnaire. Therefore, what is your most marked characteristic and why do you think it has helped you in your career?
I think it's vision and perhaps curiosity; to see what could be around the corner. These characteristics have allowed me to pursue not so obvious opportunities along the way, to pivot roles in my career, and to encourage and empower my team to innovate.
Interviewed by Juliana Cantin
Meet our WTP6 Alumna Tolulope Ayeni, who is Head of eCommerce Product Management at Rexel. In this interview, Tolulope shares her views on maximising potential, mentoring as a management tool and the value of diversity in the workplace.
Your current role at Rexel ranges from ensuring the customer experience to data analytics and management. These responsibilities are all vital and all interlinked. Could you tell us more about your daily responsibilities and how you manage to practically prioritise the different strands without becoming overwhelmed?
My mindset is that I have one job made up of many different aspects. The main job is ensuring our customer experience is top notch and that we are delivering rapid business value to the market. I am in daily contact with my team to achieve this common goal as our constant vision is to ensure that our customers “convert”. This involves managing up, down and horizontally, and so I work with business owners, my peers who are managers of designers and architects and my own team. My work involves numerous meetings cutting across different continents and time zones, ranging from the Pacific, Europe and North America. The thing that holds us together is that we are all working towards the same objective
You specialised in tech at a young age and as your primary degree. What attracted you to the tech industry initially and have you found what you were expecting?
I was introduced to tech by a relative who you could call a “geek”! I became one too as I was interested in the software he was creating for games, and I found this to be a lot of fun. What attracted me is that I was able to look at a problem and find a solution. This is what has kept me going throughout my career. I would say that problems are our friends because they help us innovate and we will never run out of problems that need to be solved! This is what I was looking for initially and this is what I continue to find daily.
You have achieved so much, often managing to study whilst holding down a demanding job. What drives you forward, and do you have a longer-term career objective that you are able to share?
What drives me is that I believe that everyone has a potential in them and if we do not exploit our potential we will always live below this level. I know that I need to continue to learn to maximise my full potential and therefore I am always excited about learning. I learn about other subjects too such as finance, marketing, law and medicine because I believe that is what my brain is for.In terms of career progression, I enjoy management and leadership so I would love to lead larger teams whilst continuing to look for solutions to problems at all levels. Working with a huge number of teams solving problems every day for instance as a CEO or on a board of directors.
Which are the qualities that you consider to be essential to your current role at Rexel and which other ones, more personal to you, do you think have enabled you to excel at your job?
Mentoring is a relatively recently recognised management tool. Did you benefit from any special encouragement whilst moving up the ranks and, if so, how has this influenced the way in which you reach out to those that you now mentor?
The knowledge and wisdom of these people is incredibly valuable. I have heard you can go far and see far if you stand on the shoulders of giants! And of course, you can go faster if you ask people who have already been in a particular situation. I push people to take advantage of mentorship because you can learn so much in just one session and this can save time and anguish.
The knowledge and wisdom of people is incredibly valuable. You can go far and see far if you stand on the shoulders of giants!
How has being part of the Women Talent Pool (WTP) leadership programme impacted your way of thinking and management style? And why do you think it is important to network?
It has had a tremendous impact especially because I have understood about the VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous) environment in which we operate. Deciphering complexities daily requires leadership skills. I didn’t think networking was so important and I now understand why strategic networking is necessary for collaborating and advancing my career by ensuring I have more impact inside and outside of the organisation. Personal relations help you understand why people think the way they do, what they are trying to achieve and how you can work together to achieve common goals.
As a young successful African woman how would you define diversity and how important do you think it is that this subject is actively brought out into the open in the workplace?
I think diversity should be at the forefront and not just be a subject of discussion. Diversity has so many aspects such as gender, race, age, background. It is important for leaders to understand all the different types, not just race and gender. We have been talking about the “Breaking the Bias” and the diversity of gender but as leaders we need to think of diversity of ideas for all our customers. We need to actively include diversity in decision making and to hire with diversity in mind.
In my team I have diverse groups represented. Diversity is a buzzword but there needs to be deliberate action. It can involve setting specific goals and objectives to engage and make diversity a reality. Rexel is very engaged in diversity, and I am proud of this.
Interviewed by Linda Zenagui
Meet our WTP6 Alumna Mechteld Flohil. In this interview, Mechteld shared her views on how best to improve female representation at senior levels, fostering creativity in the workplace and what she believes to be common skills and traits of successful leaders.
You were appointed Associate Director at Osborne Clarke in 2020. Not everyone has a clear picture of what the legal profession entails. Could you describe your role and your typical day at work?
I work as a Deputy civil law notary in the corporate (M&A) department of the law firm Osborne Clarke in Amsterdam. I provide legal advice, assist clients with implementing legal structures, merge companies or transfer shares and all the actions that require the involvement of a notary.
On a typical day, I spend a lot of time on the phone and in my mailbox, exchanging emails with colleagues and clients, tax advisors and accountants. I also write legal advice and guidance notes. The advice can take the form of a notarial deed, which is executed before the notary (either in person or on the basis of a written proxy). A day at work can be quite diverse and dynamic.
You were appointed to your new position at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. How did you adjust to your new role in such turbulent times and what methods did you implement to create meaningful relationships with your new clients or colleagues?
I was lucky to start my new position three months before the Covid-19 pandemic started disrupting our lives. As part of the notarial team, I was still allowed to go to the office during the lockdown. I was working from home one-third of the time. Being in the office was helpful to get to know and cooperate with my new colleagues.
Before joining Osborne Clarke, I had been working for 13 years at another law firm. It was quite a change to adjust to a new firm and position, especially given the context of the pandemic.
I found it easier to connect with my colleagues through in-person meetings. When this option was not available, video meetings were the second-best option. I also enjoyed meeting new people during training sessions organised by our firm.
According to a UK Diversity Report published in 2015, women outnumber men as associates and in legal support, but only 20% go on to become partners. In 2019, Osborne Clarke decided to redress the balance by putting their female lawyers first on its website for International Women's Day. Has Osborne Clarke implemented any other actions to achieve greater gender balance at all levels? And as a leader, what actions would you put in place yourself to improve diversity?
I believe that on a local level at Osborne Clarke, we are doing quite well, with three female partners. In 2021, the Netherlands adopted a new legislation to improve gender diversity on corporate boards, meaning that one third of the board positions of listed and large companies must now be held by women effective per 1st January 2022.
Despite this progress, sometime ago, I was made aware that some women with whom I’m connected on LinkedIn had changed their LinkedIn username to ‘Peter’. There are in fact more CEOs named ‘Peter’, than there are women CEOs. The change of name was a way to raise awareness of this sad situation.
In my view, people are less likely to facilitate certain conditions if they didn’t have these conditions themselves. When at my previous work, a male associate asked for time off for the birth of his child, the partners were not so generous in providing this and kept noticing that they had also not been able to take time off when they became fathers for the first time themselves. Leaders must have a clear vision of the current situation and be aware that times are changing. They must provide an environment suitable to the current times. This can help to retain talent.
Understanding and adapting to other people’s situation could lead to better work-life balance and would improve diversity at work. Parental duties can be shared by both parents and not always be picked up by the mother. This may be helpful in achieving greater diversity in top positions.
People are less likely to facilitate certain (flexible employment) conditions if they didn’t have these conditions themselves
How do you foster creativity in your role and organisation, particularly in such a competitive and regulated sector?
I use creativity in my job when it comes to problem-solving and see it as a way of presenting solutions. At Osborne Clarke, we also use playful ways of explaining solutions such as cartoons, designs or structured charts. We try to not just use words to make our ideas insightful and get a good understanding. We are always balancing the strict legal guidelines with the client’s desires, which are not always aligned. The client doesn’t always get their desired outcome. I try to be creative where possible, to suggest an alternative solution in order for the client to get the same result but within the framework of the law.
From all the mentors or leaders who you have met, what is the one behaviour, skill or trait that you have noticed to be the most common to make a great leader?
Great leaders can take in information in a very open way, being curious and interested. When they receive information, they do not put labels on the information but really listen to grasp and understand the underlining issues. A few weeks ago, there was a “Me Too” discussion in the Netherlands when allegations of sexual misconduct engulfed a popular Dutch TV talent show. It highlighted how a culture of permissiveness can allow issues to be ignored for years - even though the TV show management pretended to have put mitigation measures in place. Leaders must be able to listen and be aware of the culture of their organisation, since people might act differently in front of them. They need to be able to identify and treat the disease and not just the symptoms.
Leaders must be culturally aware and allow open communication. They must create a culture which is open to criticism and feedback. They must (endeavour to) be role models themselves.
Both male and female leaders are to be judged based on their merits, what they are providing to the company, bringing in more clients, giving the best legal advice, etc. Other key features are good communication skills and empathy.
Leaders must be aware of the culture of the organisation, be able to identify and treat any diseases and not just the symptoms
We would like to end the interview with a more light-hearted question. If you could pick a country where you could work several weeks a year besides your current location, which country would it be?
My partner is Greek and I would love to spend some time in Greece, although the language is very hard to learn. It is so different from Amsterdam which can be cold, grey, and not always sunny during the winter. The pandemic showed the possibilities to work in different locations. It may also offer a better work-life balance. For me, I would also have an extra push to learn Greek since my partner speaks the language to our baby and I do not want to be excluded from the conversation! (laughs)
Interviewed by Lin Peterse
Meet our Talent, Néné Maiga, CEO of Orange Botswana. In this interview, we talk about Néné’s career that has taken her all around the world, digital growth in Africa and the importance of curiosity.
Since 2016 you have been working in the Telecom industry and you have recently been appointed CEO of Orange Botswana. Could you share with us why you started your career in this field and how it brought you to your current position?
I graduated from a business school in France almost 10 years and that is when I started my career. I quickly became convinced that the future for me was in Africa. There were so many opportunities on the continent that I needed to go back.
I went to Cameroon as a Financial Controller. We had very fast growth in the pay-TV industry and so I also had an opportunity to work with the marketing and sales teams.
After a couple of years, I got an offer from Sonatel in Senegal. Sonatel is the leading telecommunications provider in Senegal and West Africa. I was asked to work in sales, which was an exciting career step for me as I wanted to learn more about this field. The job had two components. One was very analytical about segmenting, targeting and animation. The other one was more about meeting people and working with the sales team. It was a very exciting time in my life as I had the opportunity to visit many places, cities and villages in Senegal. Moreover, I learnt so much about business and day-to-day life in that part of Africa.
I then received another offer, this time from Orange Finances Mobiles based in Mali, the country from where I am originally, as a CEO. When I was contacted, I thought for a few seconds and then realised that I could not refuse this opportunity, so I packed my stuff and moved from Senegal to Mali.
After a couple of years, I was contacted once again by the CEO of Orange Middle East and Africa. He invited me to work as his Chief of Staff. Since the job sounded very political, I was not sure about my skillset and I was very happy with my job in Mali, so I refused the offer. However, soon I realised that it was a unique opportunity to learn from a major player in the industry, work on the group strategy and grow my network. Hence, I called the CEO again and accepted the position. I had to move to Paris and then to Morocco. It was an eye-opening experience, and I learnt a lot about the group strategy, transforming the continent in a positive way and investing in our networks and our people.
I was lucky to be able to work on some specific projects. For example, I contributed to the group’s Engage 2025 strategy, where we put a huge focus on digital inclusion and environmental protection. I also led a project which was about bringing back talents to the continent and making sure that going forwards we keep on providing new services that meet the future challenges and deliver excellent customer service. The very last project I worked on was related to gender parity.
I think in our industry, we are one of the companies with the highest number of female CEOs. I'm happy to be a part of that list. In September 2021, I was appointed by the board of Orange to be CEO in Botswana, so I left Morocco for Botswana. Botswana is a lovely place with the nicest people you can imagine.
Could you tell us more about the projects of Orange in Botswana and describe your daily work more broadly?
My day-to-day life is similar from Monday to Friday. I wake up very early. I go to the gym as often as I can. Once I get to the office I work and then have several meetings with my teams.
Today we have the fastest network in the country, and we want to keep providing outstanding service to our customers. We also focus a lot on digital, because we think that the future for us is in being a multi-service operator, leveraging our assets to bring useful innovation to our people and making sure that in the coming years we become one of the best places to work.
You have lived in many different countries including Mali, Senegal, Cameroon, France and Botswana. How have these experiences contributed to your professional and personal growth?
Mali, France, Cameroon, Senegal and Botswana are all wonderful places. I think that I owe a lot to every single one of these countries in terms of how I have grown as a person, what I have learned and the fact that I'm not afraid of trying new things or of being wrong.
I think that I owe a lot to every single one of those countries in terms of how I have grown as a person, what I have learned and the fact that I'm not afraid of trying new things or of being wrong.
Africa is experiencing growth in the digital sector which is contributing to the development of the continent. What has been the impact of your current and former positions on the development of the continent and why is it important for you?
Digital is a huge opportunity for Africa. It is an opportunity to have the latest technology at almost the same time as every other continent, as well as become the owner and maker of our own digital.
I do believe that in the coming years we will be producing our own technology and will be shaping our continent to build a future that is filled with inclusive growth everywhere for everyone: no matter whether you live in a village or a big city.
What motivates me every day is the belief that digital has the potential to transform our society for the better.We're making it easy for our customers to communicate, manage their finances or work from home. We are helping agriculture become more efficient all over the continent. All of these things can lead to huge change, and I am very happy to contribute to this transformation.
What motivates me every day is the belief that the digital has the potential to transform our society for the better.
You participated in the 6th edition of the Women Talent Pool Leadership Programme. Why did it seem the right moment for you to take part in such a programme and what were the key takeaways?
Today we still don’t have enough women in management positions. Women do not lack the hard skills, but they sometimes lack information: that is why female leadership programmes are very important. It is great that in this environment we can talk to other women, share experiences, and have positive role models and mentors.
During my time on the WTP Programme, I was very happy to meet women from across Europe, working in different fields and for different companies. This gave me an opportunity to share with others about my career and grow not only as a person but also as a leader in my industry.
It is great that in this environment we can talk to other women, share experiences, and have positive role models and mentors.
Female empowerment is a critical priority for Orange, with initiatives in place such as The Women’s Digital Centres and The Hello Women programmes. How does this commitment to gender equality and inclusion impact your daily work?
I am proud to say that my direct team has almost reached gender parity. The work we do with the Women's Digital Centres is something I care a great deal about. The aim of these Digital Centres is to empower women, to give them the basic ICT skills they need to be able to better manage their businesses. You don't have to have a specific background or studies to access these centres. We equip women with tablets, computers, servers, and provide training. The goal is to make sure that they gain the skills needed to make a living. Sometimes we also give financial help to women who are ambitious and who present outstanding projects.
We like to close our interviews with a question from the Proust questionnaire. The one we have chosen for you is: what is your most marked characteristic and how do you think it has helped you in your career?
I think that my most marked characteristic is curiosity and always asking why. Curiosity opens so many doors in this universe, and the more you learn, the more you realise that you have even more things to learn. The more you meet and talk to people, the more you create the networks that help you grow and become a better person.
We cannot progress or grow alone. That is why it is important to have a support system, peers and mentors and, to be able to talk to them and share your worries, your questions.
Curiosity opens so many doors in this universe, and the more you learn, the more you realise that you have even more things to learn.
Meet our WTP 6 Talent Jiaojiao Wang, Pricing Director at Rexel France. In this interview, Jiaojiao talks about how living in different countries has contributed to her personal and professional development, her move from telecommunications to the energy sector and some thoughts and reflections that she would like to share with other women.
Could you tell us more about yourself, and in particular your current position as a Pricing Director at REXEL?
I was born and grew up in Shanghai, China, and came to France to study after my Bachelor’s Degree as part of a student exchange programme. I began my career working as a Management Consultant and got a chance to travel to many different countries, such as Spain and the UK.
I joined Rexel France in 2018 to lead a transformational programme before being promoted to Pricing Director last year. My current position has been a big challenge for me. I am still leading the deployment of the transformational programme whilst at the same time managing a new operational team. This new team implements the price changes from our suppliers, then optimises our own pricing structure in order to find a balance between profitability and attractiveness.
The scope of my work and my responsibilities have changed quite a lot: I was previously managing 2 analysts and now I have a team of 13 people! The challenge is to listen to each individual, understand their needs and priorities and try and motivate everyone as a team.
The challenge is to listen to each individual, understand their needs and priorities and try and motivate everyone as a team.
You have a very international background, having studied in Shanghai, worked in London and now are back in Paris. What did you learn during your time abroad and is there anywhere else you would like to live in the future?
I have always been curious about things I don’t know, and I have always been keen to explore different horizons, which has brought me to different countries. I can still remember my first day in France when I understood only three words: Good morning, Goodbye and Thanks! This was a really steep learning curve. I studied very hard and forced myself to socialise with my classmates. Later, when I found myself working in different countries, I had to learn to adapt to a wide range of cultures and ways of working. For example, in London when I worked for BT, even though I was very good at my job, I realised that I needed to improve my communication skills. I took classes with an actor to improve my oral presentation skills and my mastery of the language. I’ve especially learned a lot from difficult experiences; I feel that I have more empathy and more maturity than I did before.
I’ve especially learned a lot from difficult experiences; I feel that I have more empathy and more maturity than I did before.
You have a diverse background in Telecommunications. What first attracted you to this sector and what inspired you to then make the move to Energy?
I have always been very interested in maths and technology, and this encouraged me to major in Telecommunications at University. Having always been interested in learning new things, I chose to work as a Management Consultant to learn about different aspects of business. I worked on a range of projects from market research, pricing, sourcing, manufacturing, distribution and telecommunications. When I moved back to Paris, I was ready for a new challenge, and I was especially looking for a new strategic sector, such as the environment. I was really happy when I joined Rexel France in the Energy sector. The position I took requires experience in leading transformational programmes and so my previous experiences fit perfectly.
You are taking part in WIL’s 6th edition of the Women Talent Pool Leadership Programme. What have you most enjoyed about this programme and what has been your fondest memory so far?
I was lucky to be chosen to join the programme. One of our leaders at Rexel, Nathalie Wright is a WIL Europe Member, and at the time when I received my promotion, our HR Department told me about WIL and the programme and encouraged me to apply. I wanted to improve my leadership skills and so I jumped at the opportunity.
I enjoyed every aspect of the programme. I learned a lot from the workshops and benefitted from personalised advice during the mentoring sessions, and of course, got to know so many wonderful women
What I appreciated the most were the mentoring sessions, which, due to logistical problems, ended up being for me one-on-one discussions, and which meant I could really ask a lot of questions and bring up real-life difficulties I was experiencing in order to ask for advice. This was very beneficial for me!
As you grow in your career, what would you most like to share with other women?
Thanks to the WIL Talent Pool Programme, I have been thinking a lot about female leadership. As women, we have to stay true to ourselves. We need to know what we really want, and what we are ready to fight for. We have so many different roles to play, both professionally and personally. We have many different choices to make. Once we make these choices, we should not let stereotypes stop us. I would also like to say: don’t fight alone, and never hesitate to search for support. We can only go far if we are supported by others.
As women, we have to stay true to ourselves. We need to know what we really want, and what we are ready to fight for.
How do you nourish your mind outside of the office? Do you have any podcasts/books/ blogs/social media pages/activity ideas to recommend to our readers?
I love to read and I love to travel. My latest discovery is the Shardlake Series of books. These are seven Detective Stories that take place during the reign of Henry VII. These stories allow me to dive into Mediaeval England and it is fascinating to read about how people at the time struggled to live through the political turmoil. I enjoy the stories whilst learning about English history!
Video edited by Dovilė Bogušytė
Meet our WTP6 Talent Angélique Pichon, Group FP&A Manager for Europe Zone at Rexel. In this interview, we discuss the personal qualities needed to succeed professionally, challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic and Angélique’s passion for nature and mountains.
Rexel provides B2B energy solutions so you must be extremely busy in the current eco-political context. Could you talk briefly more about the organisation and your own role within the company?
Rexel is a French group present in 24 countries, listed on the Paris stock exchange and dedicated to the distribution of electrical products & services. We operate as an intermediary supplying installers of electricity in the residential or commercial sectors. We are currently very busy with the global situation combining strong demand due to post-COVID recovery and the trend to electrify everything within the context of product shortages and inflation.
I am Group Financial Planning & Analysis Manager for the Europe Zone. Belonging to the corporate finance team is very exciting since it is multidimensional and requires working with a great diversity of stakeholders. Our day-to-day is made up of multiple contacts with subsidiaries to analyse and understand the performance of the various regions and to support them in reporting tasks, and then to challenge their results in comparison to targets.
Which are the personal qualities that you rely on most to succeed professionally?
I believe that strong positive energy and enthusiasm are key qualities to succeed professionally, combined with determination and resilience. I would even say that these qualities drive leadership, since people who feel good within their team will give their best and this is so important when operating in a fast-paced and demanding environment as we do. As a student, I lived in Canada and I learned to appreciate the positive attitude of the people there.
combined with determination and resilience.
Would you say your skills in financial planning and auditing are transferable to other areas of business?
Absolutely! Both these functions require curiosity and the ability to build strong relationships with others. Obtaining the right information is the key to bringing added value to your analysis. Adaptability is also a must-have when working in a multicultural environment and I have experienced how other cultures sometimes ask and reply to questions in a very different manner. Finally, analysis and synthesis can be used in several areas as support for the rationalisation of complex matters.
What have you found to be the most challenging aspects of the pandemic and how have you coped with managing your team at a distance?
For me, the most challenging aspect of the pandemic was the stopping of face-to-face interactions. I am an expressive person who gains energy to move forward from exchanging with people so, at first, I found it terrible to be working from home 100% of the time.
I dealt with the situation and managed my team by keeping in very regular contact, just as I would have done while being at the office or during a coffee break. I used the camera when we talked on Teams to maintain eye-to-eye contact. I also tried to continue sharing with my team the guidelines and information on the challenges we were facing on a larger scale, including discussions with management or with other departments. I saw these as pillars to keep them on board and to maintain the link with me and the rest of the company.
You are one of the participants in the 6th edition of the Women Talent Pool (WTP) Leadership Programme. Could you tell us what it brought to you personally and professionally?
Participating in the WTP Leadership Programme has been a real opportunity for me to reinforce my self-confidence whilst reflecting on me, my career path, and what being a leader means.
The programme has been perfectly well-balanced between workshops to provide practical tools such as public speaking, balancing risk and opportunities, and building your personal brand which is a concept that I had not reflected on before. I do my best to keep these in mind to improve my communication style and the way I make decisions every day. If I were to retain just one single word, I would go for “Dare!” which came from one of our speakers. It will remain the ultimate call for action for me to believe in myself and to grow during the journey ahead.
The career development sessions in smaller groups allowed for deep and personal exchanges with both peers, young women aspiring to grow professionally, and senior female leaders. It was an exceptional time to take a step back and reflect on the situations we were facing. It was great to see that others had similar questions as me. I have kept in touch with some of my peers and hope that we continue to do so after the programme ends.
Participating in the WTP Leadership Programme
has been a real opportunity for me to reinforce my
self-confidence whilst reflecting on me, my career path,
and what being a leader means.
Which societal issues do you feel passionate about?
There are many topics that are close to my heart in the current debates. As someone who is passionate about nature and more specifically about mountains, I feel strongly about the global challenge of climate change and particularly the melting glaciers. I am very aware of this because I come from the region of the French Alps. Climbing the Mont Blanc last summer and regularly hiking has made me realise how fast glaciers are receding. I deeply believe that we need to think globally about the energy we use. For me, the meaning of history is not to revert to the old times but to use human intelligence to create, develop and operate sustainably. International travel and exchanges are key for humanity development so stopping them would mean going backwards. But we must collectively put all R&D efforts into finding the right technologies to save our planet whilst not disconnecting humans from each other.
We must collectively put all R&D efforts into finding
the right technologies to save our planet
whilst not disconnecting humans from each other.
Interviewed by Anel Arapova
Meet our Talent, Tatiana Chernyavskaya, Industrial Development Expert at UNIDO. In this interview, she talks about the rising trend of environmental activism, the role of gender equality in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals and Paris Agreement Goals and redefining leadership as an important aspect of inclusiveness and empowerment.
You have extensive experience working for various structures within the United Nations. Could you tell us more about your career journey and what your current role as an Industrial Development Expert at the United Nations International Development Organisation (UNIDO) entails?
My journey in the United Nations started in 2004 when I joined the UN Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) as an intern in the Trade and Timber Division. After the internship, I joined the Gender Advisor of its Executive Secretary, which allowed me to contribute to the Beijing +10 conference. Personally, it was very inspiring to see how Eastern European and CIS countries were approaching the matter of gender equality and giving women a greater role as powerful participants in economic development.
During my 17 years working in the UN system, I also worked in UN University which is headquartered in Tokyo, Japan. It was truly a great opportunity for me to engage with research on the UN sister agencies and contribute as a Research Associate. My work has mainly focused on how the 2008 financial crisis affected economic development and the environmental agenda.
I first came to UNIDO as part of a project focusing on public private partnerships for infrastructure and sustainability to contribute to a regional programme on technology foresight and innovation. That work gave me an opportunity to learn about the key activities of the Organisation and how industries can contribute to economic growth and development. It was what brought me to the UNIDO Headquarters in Vienna, Austria.
Currently, I am working as a Project Coordinator of the EU4Environment programme. Founded by the EU, the programme is dedicated to greening the economies of six Eastern Partnership countries. Particularly at UNIDO, this comprehensive programme is responsible for circular economy and new growth opportunities. This allows us to work directly with small and medium-sized enterprises to help them achieve higher resource efficiency, as well as their sustainability goals.
A significant portion of your work is centred around questions of sustainability and the environment. What are the biggest current trends and challenges in the field? At UNIDO, what do the intersections between international development and sustainability topics look like?
Environment and sustainability issues definitely have become top priorities in recent years. It will not be news to anyone that most issues are centred around decarbonisation. The Paris Agreement has highlighted that responsibility does not only lie with industries, but also various sectors like transportation and energy.
One major aspect that cannot go unnoticed is that more and more trends are not only driven by policy or frameworks but by people’s behaviour. There is a rising movement of environmental activism, calls for more ethical consumption, and a change in the global vision for our world. Another trend related to industries is the focus on supply chains as critical elements in the agenda.
Moreover, all of this is now linked to digitalisation. While providing impactful tools for services, it allows us to be less dependent on many established patterns that have historically negatively affected the environment.
My daily work consists mainly of informing and building the capacity of stakeholders to introduce these new trends in their processes and translate them into tangible actions. Across industries, all the tools are available to bring profitability and sustainability together. Now, since we see that economic growth cannot go without serious environmental considerations,: ESG criteria and circular economy are becoming the driving forces for change in industries.
If we continued developing at this pace, we would need three planets by 2050. That is why sustainable instruments and decisions are at the core of economic development.
If we continued developing at this pace,
we would need three planets by 2050.
That is why sustainable instruments and
decisions are at the core of economic development.
You coordinate the EU4Environment programme in Eastern Partnership Countries. Could you tell us a bit more about the programme and its main objectives? Since its launch in 2019, what notable milestones have been reached?
EU4Environment is a programme that unites several UN Agencies, the OECD, and the World Bank with the main goal of incorporating environmental matters into the heart of policies, decision making, economic and development agendas of six EU neighbouring countries: , Armenia, Azerbaijan Belarus, Georgia, the Republic of Moldova, and Ukraine.
All partners of the programme bring their own unique knowledge and agenda, which are combined to look at different aspects of sustainability in the Eastern Europe region. In particular, UNIDO’s work is driven by its mandate to inclusive and sustainable industrial development. We work directly with enterprises promoting resource efficiency, greener production, and new opportunities stemming from a focus on circular economy.
In 2020 and 2021, we had to go through quite a rapid transformation in order to continue showcasing efficient use of resources to enterprises in the countries. Nonetheless, due to the digital tools put in place, we could use them as another instrument of interaction.
Regardless of the challenges, I am very happy to admit that enterprises have continued to accept and support the green agenda as an issue of high importance. The crisis has also helped a lot of them see that sustainable practices add resilience and efficiency to daily business operations.
In your opinion, what is the role of gender equality in achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and Paris Agreement Goals?
There is no doubt that gender equality is a very important aspect of development. Gender equality is at the core of SDG 5 and the reason for that is quite simple: we cannot speak about development if we exclude half of the world population.
Moreover, when coupling gender equality as presented by the UN and the goals set by the Paris Agreement, two things can be highlighted. On one hand, it is imperative that we speak of the impact that climate change has on rural areas where women are the main caregivers. On the other hand, due to our unconscious biases, we often exclude women from important decision making when, in reality, their differentiated perspectives give key insights into how the issue might be tackled.
At the core of this is education. In particular, STEM fields are sometimes thought of as not attractive to girls and women. For issues related to climate change where innovation and technology play such an important role in finding a solution, the inclusion of women becomes a defining factor. In my opinion, to see positive change in our efforts to mitigate climate change, women’s opinion and role in decision making need to not only be considered, but also made more visible.
Gender equality is at the core of SDG 5 and
the reason for that is quite simple:
we cannot speak about development if we exclude
half of the world population represented by women.
You are a participant in the 6th edition of the Women Talent Pool Leadership Programme. What were your motivations for joining and has anything you have learnt whilst on the programme surprised you?
I was interested in leadership concepts from an early age. In school, I would easily take on different leadership roles and responsibilities. However, for some reason, leadership and my work did not coincide until I started reading more on the topic of professional development. WTP’s 6th edition became a great trigger for me to start considering leadership as a norm rather than a separate and unreachable domain.
The first surprise came to me at the programme’s opening. During her speech, Petra De Sutter spoke of leadership as an internal power to bring people together and inspire each other with openness and ease. She was very articulate when speaking about the internal barriers that we tend to create for ourselves over becoming leaders, not only in professional teams but also within families and social groups. What struck me as interesting was the reframing of leadership as a tool to empower people from within.
During the programme itself, the variety of sessions on personal development, acceptance, and mindful decision making was a pleasant discovery. It showed me the importance of soft skills that we have a tendency to disregard in our education and professional development. For me, this helped me redefine leadership as an important aspect of inclusiveness and empowerment.
WTP’s 6th edition became a great trigger
for me to start considering leadership as a norm
rather than a separate and unreachable domain.
You are currently based in Vienna, Austria. What attracted you to the city and what are your favourite things about it? What does a perfect day there look like for you?
Coming here to work for UNIDO, I was pleasantly surprised by how welcoming Vienna is. I consider myself very blessed to be given this opportunity since Vienna is an absolutely beautiful city where music and cultural heritage are represented all around you.
Vienna has an ideal location with the mountains and the seaside all being only a few hours away. There are so many festivals and events that cater to families with kids. Learning German obviously helps a lot when it comes to integrating into the city and discovering all it has to offer.
A perfect day for me would start with a brunch at the Naschmarkt where you can find anything from fresh produce to oysters with champagne. It could be followed by a leisurely walk either through the old centre or around the parks surrounding the city. A highlight could be the City Park (Stadtpark) which has a very beautiful pond with all sorts of birds.
In the afternoon, one can choose an activity close to one’s heart. For those looking for a hiking opportunity, the famous Wiener Wald (Vienna Forest) and vineyards in the 18th and the 19th districts could be a great challenge to take on. In the evening, the State Opera can be a great choice for music lovers.
Meet our WTP6 Talent Carole Stiegler, Sales Director at Orange. We talked about how to become a successful leader in high demanding positions while still being able to take time off for the family, and why developing trusting relationships is so important for career success.
In 2019, you were promoted to the position of Large Account Sales Manager at Orange Business Services (OBS), the branch of Orange, the biggest French operator. Could you tell us about some of your biggest milestones during your time there?
When I joined OBS in 2019, I worked with my teams to undertake two main tasks. First, we modernised the core business to maintain our clients’ loyalty. This involved developing key strategic activities for Orange such as those around data, cloud computing or cyber defence and having our teams of key account managers implement innovative strategies focused on our pool of large accounts customers. We now systematically put in place strategic committees to facilitate high-level discussions with our clients.
Second, I redefined the teams’ scopes to enhance their motivation.
Stepping into a role as a team leader is both challenging and exciting. What have you done to strengthen your leadership competencies and ability to handle demanding jobs?
When I took my position, I wanted to inspire my teams by switching from being just a manager to being a leader. I try to give as much autonomy to them as possible whilst supporting them to achieve their goals. I act as a coach for them and I always make sure their efforts are rewarded.
When I took my position, I wanted
to inspire my teams by switching
from being just a manager to being a leader.
In 2020, when COVID-19 hit, OBS had to meet the most urgent needs for digital services. With hospitals in search of better connectivity and people switching to teleworking, OBS teams had all hands on deck. How did you manage to keep your colleagues motivated and energised during such intense times?
With the arrival of Covid, we faced a unique situation overnight: all of our clients needed better connectivity. At the very beginning of the first lockdown, I had to implement new strategies for keeping in touch with my teams, one of which was introducing daily calls with them.
These daily calls had several benefits. First of all, it allowed me to gain a better understanding of the challenges my teams were facing. Daily calls were also useful to brainstorm and come up with creative ideas to overcome these challenges. Finally, since we were all working from home, we used this time to reconnect with each other and ensure that we still feel close. During the particularly intense times, I had to manage the stress within the teams. I needed to be calm, peaceful and collected to handle the situation properly.
More than a year and a half after the first lockdown, we are still reinventing the way we work. We obviously can not go back to the old system. Where I work, people have embraced a “hybrid work model” where half of the team work from home and the other half is in the office.
We were lucky to have support from the company to provide employees with specific training on the new ways of working and the management of stressful situations.
Managing teams can be stressful, especially when remote work is a “new normal” and every day might feel like an endless marathon. How do you maintain a healthy work-life balance and manage to reconnect with joyful things in life?
I have two sons and I do not want to have to choose between my work and my family. Finding the right balance is indeed one of the main challenges I face; however, I have implemented a few golden rules.
While I am at work, I stay 100% focused on my job and my teams. However, I disconnect from work during the weekend. I know it can be tempting to check your emails during your time off but it is not a healthy option in the long term. I also enjoy listening to music with my sons and completely unplugging from work when I am spending quality time with them.
I am lucky to be working in a company where I have the autonomy to manage my workload. There is trust with my managers. I have goals to achieve but I can manage my time flexibly. As such, I believe I have found the right balance now.
I have two sons and I do not want to
have to choose between my work and my family.
Finding the right balance is indeed
one of the main challenges I face; however,
I have implemented a few golden rules.
You are the participant in the 6th edition of WIL’s Women Talent Pool leadership programme. What led you to join the programme and what do you think are the main challenges and opportunities for the next generation of women leaders?
I am delighted to be a part of the WTP6 programme as it allowed me to meet very inspiring women and learn new things.
For instance, we recently had a Career Development session where I learned precious time and career management techniques. Even though all participants have high-responsibility positions, we all walked away from the event with ideas on how to manage better our work-life balance. Through the programme I also had the chance to take part in workshops, which have been inspiring to get a helicopter view of my skills and learn how to develop them.
As for the future challenges women will face, I do not believe there will be fundamental differences. Women will still need to demonstrate great abilities and knowledge to handle high-responsibility jobs.
If you could share just one important professional or life lesson that you have learnt over the years, what would it be?
Building trustful relationships with stakeholders is a long process, but an important one. If I could share one life lesson I have learned over the years, it would be to stay committed, be brave and be honest in building long-term, trusting professional relationships. My advice is to always say the truth, as people appreciate honesty in others. Finally, never stop building your network. I, myself, still have strong ties with former colleagues and clients, and this has been important for me.
If I could share one life lesson I have learned over the years,
it would be to stay committed, be brave and be honest
in building long-term, trusting professional relationships.
We like to close our interviews with a more fun question: What will be your first holiday destination once all travel restrictions are lifted?
I would definitely go to Italy. I love this country, it is “dolce vita” with the rich culture and exquisite food. I am sensitive to environmental issues, therefore, I would go to Italy by train. Genoa and Turin are the two cities I would like to visit as soon as possible.
Interviewed by Hajar el Baraka
Meet our Talent, Rita Verderosa, Senior Investment Manager of Technology Transfer Fund at CDP Venture Capital SGR. In this interview, she talks about how her strong academic background has helped her in her career, what changes are needed for investment firms to become more diverse and why she is passionate about empowering girls
You have an impressive academic background having obtained a Bachelor’s degree and three Master’s degrees in Finance and Economics. How does having such a strong academic background help you in your current position?
Studying is fundamental for every job or position, even more so for technical jobs like mine. A strong academic background makes it possible to solve critical problems during our daily work. When I started my professional career, my academic background helped me overcome barriers. It gave me critical thinking and hard skills without which I could not do my job. Of course, soft skills are also very important for working in a company. These soft skills could include empathy, the passion you put into your job and the capacity to understand other people.
What does a typical day look like at your job as a Senior Investment Manager at CDP Venture Capital SGR? What makes you proudest to be where you are today?
I deal with the screening, analysis, evaluation and selection of technology transfer funds characterised by a clear value proposition and go to market strategy.
Typically I schedule analysis and due diligence meetings with potential fund managers to select the right people whom to give money to invest in suitable deep tech startups. I also deal with the negotiation of fund rules, in terms of quantitative metrics and governance principles.
The final aim is to boost the Italian technological ecosystem – launching funds means launching new startups and it leads to more job opportunities. I am proud of having a real impact on the economy and creating real value in the marketplace.
in the marketplace.
CDP Venture Capital SGR is committed to accelerating the marketing of high-tech intellectual property via its Technology transfer funds, on which you are working. Can you tell us more about why this work is so important? How do you recognise whether research is worth investing in and how do you transform it into a profitable product?
The Technology Transfer Fund managed by CDP Venture Capital SGR is a multi-compartment fund. We invest directly in pre-seed projects and indirectly - throughout fund of fund facility - financing fund managers who invest in deep tech startups. On the one hand, the aim of the tech transfer fund is to finance intellectual property and derive value from research activities in Italy and all over Europe. Research is the pillar and the source of every type of innovation and intellectual property. In a preseed stage, it’s very difficult to understand if a specific type of research is worth investing in or not. For this reason, we invest in the proof of concept stage (PoC), which is the first laboratory evaluation of the technology; if the PoC is positive, we invest further in seed and early-stage rounds.
On the other hand, there are the tech transfer funds financed by us, that could take a look at PoC and early-stage projects that have already been financed, to invest in furtherly.
Our main aim is to invest in the scale-up of these targets.
A study from Bella Research Group and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation found that investment firms owned by women and minorities manage just 1.3 per cent of the investment industry’s 69$ trillion assets in the US despite being overrepresented in the top quartile of performance. In your view, which changes are needed for the industry to become more diverse and what happens when they do?
In my opinion, women need to have more confidence in their entrepreneurial skills. This should become the new normal. We should no longer be surprised by the results achieved by women, for example, them entering C level positions. A lot of stereotypes would then finally be erased because we would see that women generally are doing well in their jobs and that prejudices are a cultural and social issue.
This should become the new normal.
We should no longer be surprised
by the results achieved by women,
for example, them entering C level positions.
You are one of the participants in the 6th edition of WIL’s Women Talent Pool Leadership programme. Can you tell us why you wanted to participate and what have you gained from this experience?
When I was informed about WIL’s Women Talent Pool Programme, I was very excited because finally, I had found a serious programme dedicated to the training and promotion of female leadership targeting young women. I had never before participated in a programme focused on women’s leadership, particularly coming from a world fully dominated by men in C level positions. I have really appreciated the entire experience. It has been a nice discovery that has changed me in many aspects: I have had the chance to network with diverse women from different sectors and backgrounds.
When I was informed about WIL’s
Women Talent Pool Programme,
I was very excited because finally,
I had found a serious programme
dedicated to the training and promotion
of female leadership targeting young women.
You have been volunteering for more than four years at a school providing an educational and cultural point of reference for female students. Why is it important for you to work on empowering girls through education and how can this lead to achieving gender equality?
During my university studies, I lived in a female college recognised by the Italian Minister of Education, University and Research, where I received a complete education also with reference to soft skills. My role was to be a mentor for young ladies and to work on their empowerment. Based on my experience, one of the major difficulties girls face is feeling underestimated and the fear of doing something wrong. I think it’s really just a cultural issue and, by supporting young girls, we can build the future of female leadership.
Video edited by Dovilė Bogušytė
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