Connecting, inspiring and empowering women to lead the way
Introducing Ajita Abraham, General Counsel, Capgemini Financial Services NA. In this interview, she talks about the importance of mentorship and having support groups, and the challenges and joys of pursuing law as a woman.
Interview by Chaminiee Gombault
Before we get into speaking about your career, I would like to understand more about your roots and foundations that have possibly contributed to your successes. Growing up, what were your hobbies and dreams? What would the 15-year-old you think of you today?
My father came to the United States from India in 1960, so he was one of the first Indians to arrive. He came on a Spanish ship with $200 in his pocket to pursue his graduate studies. He then went back to India and met my mom. They had an arranged marriage, after which they came to the United States to start a new life in a new culture. So that is the background to the environment in which I was raised. It is really a story of being brave, being bold and pursuing the American dream.
I grew up in Delaware where I went to a private school and where my sister and I were the only Indian-Americans. I became very used to morphing between American culture and the Indian culture at home and in our community. We took classical Indian dance and spoke our native tongue at home. Keep in mind that these were the days when Bollywood was not heard of, and saris were considered quite foreign.
Growing up in this very bi-cultural environment really helped me to adapt to new situations and to be curious about different cultures. I think that really drove me and was a main focal point when setting my future goals.
The 15-year-old me would probably be very surprised to see me living in New York City and in the role that I am in now. When I was 15, I became interested in pursuing a career as a diplomat, and although my career has gone in a different direction, I am quite sure the 15-year-old me would be pleasantly surprised to see where I have landed.
Growing up in this very bi-cultural environment really helped me to adapt to new situations and to be curious about different cultures, and I think that really drove me and was a main focal point when setting my future goals.
You studied international relations at university before going on to law. Did you always know what you wanted to study? What or who influenced your decisions?
What is funny is that that I grew up initially wanting to become a paediatrician. Then, when I was 15, I went to Spain for a summer and lived with a family in the south of Spain, after which I went to visit my sister who was studying in London. That is really when I became excited about travelling and learning about different cultures and immersing myself into new situations.
I became very interested in International Relations and took several courses at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. I ended up going into law because it seemed like the safer career. When I was working at JP Morgan, I took the foreign service exam, which I passed, and almost became a foreign service officer. But I decided to stick with law, since I really enjoyed it and wasn’t ready to give it up. During my career, I lived and worked in Madrid for a year, and travelled extensively. I also lead a global team, so in my career path I have been able to combine both my legal background and my interest in diplomacy.
Careers always look so linear and straightforward on LinkedIn, and in your case, incredibly impressive as well. I would like to go past these titles and know more about what it was like as a woman pursuing law. Have you had any mentors or support in your career?
Just touching on what you mentioned about being a woman in law school, I would say that it is split 50-50 between women and men. Certainly, in company legal departments, women are not necessarily a minority.
To go back to mentorship and working with other women, I do think that a bigger challenge has actually been working with the generation of women above mine. This generation of women lawyers struggled and worked very hard and were not able to achieve the same work-life balance as subsequent generations. Many had to sacrifice having children to take on very long working hours and move up the corporate ladder. It may seem surprising, but I had a female boss who was not very supportive when I said that I wanted to go on maternity leave and wanted me to return to work after one month. For me, this is an indication of how much women in the prior generation had to sacrifice to get to where they are.
A lot has changed. There is more understanding thanks to the Covid push for more hybrid work. There is greater understanding about both men and women needing to raise children and balance work and raising a family. I do think that the upcoming generations are being more assertive about what they want and need, and I commend them for that. There are many studies which show that offering the chance to work from home creates more productive workers and relieves a lot of stress, so it is no surprise that a lot has changed, even since the time that I had my first child 17 years ago.
Back to mentoring, I did have a mentor when I was working at McKinsey who really supported me to take an opportunity abroad, and that is when I worked in Madrid. She knew I was really interested in expanding the breadth and scope of my work to handling European and Middle Eastern deals and assisted me in making this move. It was life-changing to be able to work in another jurisdiction as a lawyer.
There is greater understanding about both men and women needing to raise children and balance work and raising a family. I do think that the upcoming generations are being more assertive about what they want and need, and I commend them for that.
Was there ever a time when you faced gender bias?
I do not want to chalk it up to gender; things are always very nuanced. I think the days where it was obvious that there was clear discrimination are thankfully behind us. It may still exist, but fortunately I haven't experienced it lately.
Today there is a lot more use of buzz words like ‘’executive presence’’ to describe modern-day leadership — I find this to be a very elusive term and it tends to be used mostly against women, sometimes to the point of excluding them from the seat at the table for important discussions. Often it is subtle and unintentional. I think that there is still room for recognising that sometimes we just need to give women a seat at the table and let them prove their worth.
I see it across many companies, and it comes up often in conversations with friends. There is a lot of talk about diversity but at the end of the day, when it comes to promoting women to the higher-level positions, there seems to be a little bit of hesitation, even though there are women who are ready to be promoted.
There is a lot of talk about diversity but at the end of the day, when it comes to promoting women to the higher-level positions there seems to be a little bit of hesitation, even though there are women who are ready to be promoted.
How have you faced challenges in your career and how do you use lessons learned from such challenges as a manager?
Every role presents new challenges, but I see these hurdles as good growth opportunities!
It takes a village to progress in your career and a lot of support from family, mentors and other leaders in the industry. In my case, they were many role models in the legal industry and in the business teams. I have been given good advice as I have moved from one company to another which has been invaluable. I also lean on family, friends and co-workers for support.
In my own team, I have had a few women who have had children during their tenure with me, and I am always very supportive of them taking time off if they need, knowing that they can make up for the hours later. I do not micromanage; I believe there should be a level of trust. The notion of the 9 to 5 job in the office with zero flexibility is a concept of the past. I really think that we need to provide that type of flexibility to everyone. There is no point in having people stressed in the workplace. As I mentioned earlier, people work harder and are more dedicated when offered some flexibility.
You have been a Deputy General Counsel at Capgemini for two years and were recently promoted to a General Counsel role. Can you share a bit about your day to day? What do you love and what do you find more challenging?
I have been a Deputy General Counsel for a global business unit, which involves about seven employees in the United States and 21 globally. As Deputy General Counsel, and in my new role as General Counsel, my goal is to support the business teams who are focused on global capital markets, banking and insurance accounts and assist them with any legal issues. The day to day really involves negotiating contracts, responding to emergency issues with employee relations or cybersecurity and establishing appropriate compliance and legal policies. Of course, managing the team and making sure that there is consistency from a jurisdictional perspective throughout the various countries on certain terms is part of the job as well. I think what I really enjoy the most is interacting with the business teams, providing strategic advice, and determining how to make a deal work despite potential risks.
Beyond your role at Capgemini, you are many other things to family, friends, and your community. What are your priorities right now and how do you balance these to find time for yourself?
The London marathon was my sixth marathon and I think it might be my last. It took a lot of time out of my weekends, but I was happy I did it and got back into shape post-Covid. I have three children—a 17-year-old, a 15-year-old, and an 11-year-old. Having teenagers and a tween at home, it is important to understand what they are doing and make sure that things are going well from an academic and social perspective.
On top of that, I am always interested in enhancing my skills. I still take Spanish classes to perfect my conversational Spanish. I would love to take French classes so I can come and live in Paris one day! I enjoy skiing, swimming and biking and would love to take on a new sport in the future. It is important to have a balance between work, staying active, social life and personal interests – and, to keep challenging yourself!
Introducing Krystelle Lochard, Head of Partnerships at Save the Children Germany. She talks about the important skills to have to manage relationships with partners and to lead a team towards a common vision, what working abroad has taught her, and what personally drives her in her career.
Interview by Tessa Robinson
You’ve been with Save the Children for approximately 7 years, the last 5 years as a Team Lead. Could you describe a little more about your current role as Head of Partnerships at Save the Children Germany and how you ended up in the non-profit sector?
I started with Save The Children about seven years ago, and I'm now heading the partnerships team. We focus mainly on fund acquisition. In the non-profit sector, an organisation like Save the Children looking at human rights and children's rights worldwide needs funding to be able to fulfil its mission, and we get our funding from private and public entities. The work I am doing is about looking for the right partners to support us to achieve change and a better situation for children in need.
I started my career in Brussels as a policy analyst, working on EU policy. After this, I took up a role in Berlin with a small NGO where I worked on development through sports, which included working with children and looking at how sports can empower them. This was a very enriching experience because it was building the organization from scratch, getting partners to understand development through sports, which was not well known at that time. I then joined Save the Children in 2015, which is a bigger entity with a larger capacity to scale up and have a greater reach, with about 100 offices worldwide.
As Head of Partnerships, you are responsible for relationship management between donors and partners. Could you describe the skills and personal qualities you feel are important, both in managing a team and in managing external partnerships successfully?
I think that, to manage partnerships well, you need to be an analyst first and foremost, observing the trends within your sector and the strategies of your partners and potential partners, always keeping the big picture in mind for your organisation. At Save the Children, this means focusing on the needs of children around the world. My role involves looking at different policies and governmental priorities and bringing those different strategies and objectives together. For this, you need good knowledge of the sector in which you are working. Last year, for example, Germany put in place a Supply Chain Act, which has had a large impact on the private sector since companies had to comply with human rights norms across their whole supply chain. We had to ask ourselves some important questions, like how could we work with this given the impact for our private sector partners? How could we support our partners, coordinate between them and this policy, and what could we contribute? In our work we also pay great attention to what a new policy means for the children in the sourcing countries. For this, good analysis is needed, as well as an understanding of partners, to harmonise different objectives and needs. These are important qualities in my role. As a team leader, it is also necessary to set clear priorities for the team, to help people understand the vision and where the decisions are coming from. This is key to be able to bring the team on the same journey and empower people to join in.
To manage partnerships well, you need to be an analyst first and foremost, observing the trends within your sector and the strategies of your partners and potential partners, always keeping the big picture in mind for your organisation.
You have studied and worked in several countries including Germany, Japan and France. What attracted you to do so and what would you say has been the impact for your career?
My first motivation was curiosity; to see how people live and work in other parts of the world. My stay in Japan at the very beginning of my studies was a very intensive, enriching experience, because things there are so different, including the language. When you work in an international organisation, you need the capacity to understand other people’s perspectives, and working in different countries in Europe and elsewhere can help with that; it can help you understand different positions. When I coordinate on issues, working with colleagues from Tanzania, Guatemala and Myanmar, for example, I need to account for different ways of working, thinking and problem-solving. The fact of having spent time in other parts of the world has, for me, been key in being able to bring different people together on an issue, through a common strategy or vision, but seen from varying perspectives. Experiences abroad can set you up as a leader and be influential in your career, on top of being an opportunity for personal growth. Even if it is not immediately obvious in your everyday work, you always grow through being immersed in different cultures through this change of perspective. Living in a foreign country is just such a unique experience and if you have not done it before, you must!
The fact of having spent time in other parts of the world has, for me, been key in being able to bring different people together on an issue, through a common strategy or vision, but seen from varying perspectives.
Save The Children aims to improve the lives of children across the world through better education, healthcare, and economic opportunities, as well as offering emergency aid in natural disasters, war and other conflicts. What aspect of the non-profit sector are you most driven by? What other issues are you most passionate about, either professionally or personally?
The personal and professional are connected and, as a result, I believe that more equality in the world is possible. I know that the work I am doing is contributing to protecting vulnerable children, families, and people across the world. We face a lot of challenges in the world right now, but it is important not to lose hope that things can get better and that improvements can be made. A more positive outlook can help us to look differently at crises, for example the current situation in Afghanistan, where girls cannot go to school after grade seven. My job is very rewarding when I see cases where access to healthcare becomes possible for families and children where it was not before. We see progress being made on the issue of climate change, which is disproportionally affecting children, and trying to support them with targeted projects and work is a way to improve their situation in the future. This is something I believe in and which I want to contribute to.
You are a Talent of the current WIL Women’s Talent Pool (WTP) leadership programme. Could you explain a little bit about what being part of a network means to you and what value networking represents?
I am very proud to have been selected for the Women’s Talent Pool programme. For me, it has been a wonderful experience to be in close contact with peers and mentors and some new role models. What I find also interesting is how you have different sectors coming together: there are women from the non-profit area, the private sector, academia and the public sector. It is always interesting to see the common challenges in leadership and to look at how to really get a team behind the vision you have. There are also plenty of issues to discuss around the balance between work and family, which are particularly relevant for women. Because some of these issues are cross-sectoral, you can talk about them with women from all industries. At the same time, it is fascinating to see that certain challenges are sector-specific and to have the opportunity to exchange on them with women who are a few years ahead in their career. The WTP programme also allows you to build up a network of experienced contacts to whom you can refer to if you want to discuss a specific challenge or if you want to develop new ideas for your future career. I am convinced that these exchanges with other women are helpful in overcoming challenges and progressing in our careers.
I am convinced that these exchanges with other women are helpful in overcoming challenges and progressing in our careers.
Finally, which living person do you most admire and why?
I can think of two people whom I admire. First is Amani Ballour, who is a Syrian-born doctor. During the Syrian civil war, she ran an underground hospital, saving many people. When she was elected hospital director, she was 29 years old, so very young. People like her bring me hope, particularly looking at the crisis and conflicts and forgotten conflicts the world is currently facing, such as in Yemen and Syria. Amani Ballour has enacted real change and she has faced challenges in doing so. As a woman elected as director of the hospital, there were male patients and even male colleagues who did not want her to have this position. She worked tirelessly under conditions of war and save people, but she also had strong conviction. Amani Ballour is the kind of woman who inspires on my way to work every day and gives me hope when new crises emerge in the sector in which I work.
The second person I would like to mention is Sanna Marin, who has been the Prime Minister of Finland since 2019 and is a working mum. When she became Prime Minister, she had a one-year-old daughter and was 34, so also very young. She has several ministers in her cabinet who are women as well. She posted pictures of herself before becoming Prime Minister, when she was already a politician, where she was breastfeeding her daughter. She highlights challenges women often face in combining a career and a family. In her case, she has not only had a career, but a very successful one. She is very ambitious and at the same time is a mother and takes care of her child. For me, she is someone who tries to set standards for women to be free both to pursue a career and take care of their families, which is possible now and even the standard, I hope, for the next generation.
Video edited by Marella Ricketts
Interviewed by Abby Ghercea
Meet our WTP7 Talent, Eve Huchon, M&A and Corporate Counsel at Osborne Clarke. In this interview, Eve talks about why she embarked on an international career, the importance of great teams, and how she measures success.
You joined Osborne Clarke in 2014 and were promoted to Mergers and Acquisitions (M&A) and Corporate Counsel last year. Congratulations! Can you elaborate on how you have reached your current position? What initially drew you to pursue a career in law?
I deserve to be where I am. I got to where I am because I'm very committed, available, and adaptable. It’s also thanks to my parents to some extent, because they set high standards. They didn’t put pressure on us to go in a particular direction but told us that with hard work we could achieve anything we wanted to. This explains why I'm so committed to working hard and getting to where I want. I believe that the sky is the limit!
I am also very lucky to work for an organisation, Osborne Clarke, that in France at least is very different from other law firms, particularly when it comes to gender equality at all levels. Close to 50% of our Partners are women. When I was promoted to counsel, three out of four people promoted were women. The strong team spirit at Osborne Clarke is also important to me. My colleagues and I are aware that it takes a village to succeed: we cannot do it alone. It's about committing to the team, committing to the clients, and showing that you care.
I originally wanted to study law because, when I was younger, I was a bit of an idealist. I wanted to save the world. My initial idea was to become a children's judge, but very quickly I realised that was not for me because I knew that I would get too emotionally involved. During my time studying law I saw how varied and interesting it is, and I discovered my passion for an area that I wanted to keep up with. The mergers and acquisition world was a perfect fit for me because it combined everything that I loved about law. What we do is very pragmatic, and you can have an impact, no matter how small. It has been humbling to know when I have worked on certain files that, if I manage to close deals, people’s jobs will be saved. Little grains of sand make a desert. It is a small contribution, but it matters.
It has been humbling to know when I have worked on certain files that, if I manage to close deals, people’s jobs will be saved. Little grains of sand make a desert. It is a small contribution, but it matters.
You currently advise French and international clients on many different investment-related operations. What do you enjoy most about your job, and are there any aspects that you find particularly interesting to work on?
Working for international clients is like intellectual gymnastics because their needs vary depending on where they are from and the kind of organisation they represent. It is not only their legal culture but also their work culture, where they have been and what they are used to. I constantly need to adapt and present solutions that are going to work for them in their jurisdiction and based on their experience. Finding solutions for them is challenging, interesting, and rewarding. My job demands precision; it requires going into detail and identifying how solutions can be found.
I enjoy brainstorming with teammates, even from other fields of law, because what I practice cannot be done alone. This means people who are in my organisation, but also the team built to find a solution for the client. We get in there and find solutions together and then pick what will work for them. In our line of work, we engage with so many different profiles that we always need to adapt, and this is a very interesting aspect of my job.
In your position, you intervene in both counseling and litigation. What does this involve exactly? According to you, what different skill sets allow you to be successful in each form of intervention, and how do these skill sets overlap?
Counseling is mostly about giving advice, and that includes negotiating contracts or settlement agreements for clients. We do a lot of structuring work and work with the firm and client teams, but also commercial teams, IT teams, and whatever is needed. As a team, we work to find solutions to save costs, facilitate an acquisition, or facilitate an integration or separation. Everything must be completed within a short time frame. There is a lot of pressure and learning to cope with this pressure is a big part of the job, as well as relying on your teammates and helping them. It is important to trust people, to delegate, and to check in.
In litigation, these same skills are necessary. However, the approach needs to be quite different because in this case you are not talking to a client, you are talking to a judge, so you don’t build your arguments the same way. You can convince the judge with five or seven arguments in your brief, which you would not do with a client because you must provide the best one. You cannot adapt to the judge because you don’t know them. Litigation is also more demanding in terms of organisation because cases can be spread out over long periods of time. It can take months to be able to file briefs and sometimes years to get a decision, which can then be appealed. It is important to have a very good memory because you need to be able to pick up a case that you haven't touched in months, sometimes years.
The ability to work in a team is also key. Your teammates are there for you and support you during the difficult moments. We also have fun together; this is one of the reasons we do what we do, to enjoy it. Teams work best where they bring together people from different backgrounds, because that way you can make sure to bring in different perspectives.
You have studied in the United States and France and were admitted to practice in the state of New York in the US and France. How has this international experience shaped both your career and you personally? Where did this interest in gaining international experience come from?
I was interested in working on international matters because of the way I was brought up. I was also very curious. I had cousins who lived in the United States, and I travelled a lot with my family when I was younger. My parents spoke a bit of English and Spanish and my grandpa spoke 13 languages and dialects. I had good grades in English at school which allowed me to do a double degree in law and to study in the US. I have worked for companies and firms of various sizes in various sectors, but I have always picked ones where I knew I could use English because it was important to me.
Working in an international field is eye-opening because you meet people from all over. You learn about lifestyles, cultures, working practices, the need to adapt, and the need to put yourself in other people's shoes, and to see things from different perspectives. You learn that adapting is a skill that you must have when working on international files with international clients. The ability to see things from other people’s point of view is so important for successfully managing international files.
This experience shaped my professional life, but also shaped my personal life because I met my husband in the US, and I'm now raising my son as bilingual!
Working in an international field is eye-opening because you meet people from all over. You learn about lifestyles, cultures, working practices, the need to adapt, and the need to put yourself in other people's shoes, and to see things from different perspectives.
We are delighted that you are a participant in the 7th edition of the Women Talent Pool (WTP) leadership programme. Why did this feel like the right time to participate? What takeaways do you have from the programme?
I contributed to WIL’s work at the very early stages on some corporate matters. Over the years I followed the organisation from afar and when Osborne Clarke offered me the opportunity to join the WTP, I was thrilled because I knew it would be an amazing experience, and it was the right timing because I had just been promoted to counsel.
Being part of WIL is a very good way to learn how to cooperate, build teams, and make sure that people will follow you for the right reasons. It strengthened my will and my commitment to become the best manager and leader I can be. Having someone by your side to support you brings a great deal. It can be helpful to reach out and say, “Nobody taught me this, so maybe I need some help.” It is certainly not a weakness to do so.
We like to end the interview with a question from the Proust Questionnaire. The question we have selected for you is this: What is your greatest achievement, either personally or professionally (or both)?
I don't rank my achievements. I know what's good and what's not and I have never had this mindset. I'm competitive with myself and I like being the best at what I do, but not necessarily as compared to others. It's very difficult to rank professional or personal experience because there's so many things that I’d consider success even if others would not see it as such. For me, it's really a matter of how you measure your own success and not how others see it. Something that is huge for me is when a key client of the firm reaches out to me directly, instead of going through the usual channel, meaning, though a Partner, to ask for help. It means that I have done the job well and that I have earned their trust.
It's really a matter of how you measure your own success and not how others see it.
Interviewed by Anna Marin
Introducing Nina Foss, Senior Manager EMEA for Channel Enablement at Lenovo. In this interview Nina shares her personal story about starting in tech, her thoughts on how the industry is developing, and why sustainable leadership matters.
You are currently the Senior Manager EMEA (Europe, the Middle East and Africa) Channel Enablement at Lenovo. Can you tell us a little but about that role and what it is like working for one of the largest tech companies in the world?
I am responsible for deploying tools and initiatives that enable our customer-facing teams to execute the core-aspects of their job more effectively. This means that I am a part of developing framework and systematic approaches for our channel sellers in EMEA, to engage our partners. We try to gather insights and collaborate with teams to execute initiatives that improve upon existing sales processes. In EMEA we have 16 markets, more than 150 countries and are supporting about nine languages, so it is important to have intuitive and easy-to-use tools for our partners. We are there to support and enable our local teams, partners and distributors.
For me personally, it is nice to see that the work I do is influencing our business throughout EMEA. I know that I make a difference and that I am a part of making everyday life for our sellers and partners a little bit easier. Being allowed to contribute to the strategy for our sales transformation is both exciting and very challenging, and I feel lucky to work and collaborate with incredibly talented and dedicated colleagues all over the world.
Working in one of the largest companies in the world is such a privilege and there is never a boring day! I must say that I love working with people all over EMEA, with so many different teams. Everything from marketing, sales, and IT. But I have missed travelling, because of Covid, so I am very happy to be able to travel again, meeting colleagues face-to-face.
Working in one of the largest companies in the world is such a privilege and there is never a boring day!
It sounds incredibly exciting working in that environment. You have been in the tech industry for many years, during which time you have built extensive experience in marketing, sales, and business. What led you to a career in IT and to Lenovo, and what are some of the challenges you have faced along the way?
I’ve worked in the tech industry for what feels like my entire life: over 27 years now! I started out in the sector by coincidence. I had just come back to Norway after a year in the US, and I got a job at an IT company. There I discovered my passion for sales and started in sales and IT-solutions, after which I worked my way up to different roles in sales, marketing, and distribution. When you work in the tech industry you get to know many people, so I knew some employees at Lenovo before I stared there and got to know quite a bit about the company.
Lenovo has a great culture, good products and loyal customers. Lenovo is also a very large and global company, and I was sure that there would be opportunities for me to develop, get exciting roles and grow within the company. So, when the chance presented itself and I was offered a position at Lenovo, I couldn't say no. And I have never looked back!
In terms of challenges that I have faced along the way: I discovered that you need to believe in yourself. You need to be tough and not afraid to raise your voice.
I discovered that you need to believe in yourself. You need to be tough and not afraid to raise your voice.
In what kind of situations have you felt the need for that, the need to raise your voice?
There have been situations where I have felt the need to speak up, though I am not shy and am comfortable doing so. When I started almost 27 years ago there were very few women working in tech. Back then, you had to work to make your voice heard: there were so many men in the industry who had been there longer than I had. However, as time went on, I gained confidence in my job and started to see things in a different way. I started to make suggestions on how we could do things differently and by doing that I noticed that you are heard when you make suggestions.
Two important pillars of Lenovo’s vision are innovation and collaboration. What do these values mean to you and how do you integrate them into your work daily?
I am proud to be working at a company with this much innovation, where it is so important. It excites me to be involved in how we shape our projects and initiatives around our channel platforms and tools to ensure we deliver the smartest, most convenient, and comprehensive resources to help our partners win with Lenovo. But innovation is so much more than a product, it is also innovation of approach and how we work with each other. The trust and freedom of remote working is one example of that.
When it comes to collaboration, that is key to me. Especially in my work, where I depend on colleagues from all over the world and from different teams and business areas to succeed, to be able to collaborate and work closely is important. I also believe that with collaboration, knowledge is shared. And increased knowledge means we all grow, learn, and become better. In many ways, I guess you can say that collaboration and innovation are linked. I feel really privileged to work with the best people, irrespective of location, seniority, gender, or background.
In terms of how this works on a day-to-day basis: since we are this global company, many initiatives start at a worldwide level. At the start, my team and I sit down with the worldwide team and talk about new projects and if they can work in EMEA. We have lots of conversations on how to structure projects and how we can deliver the message to our partners in EMEA. We also ask ourselves how we can train our sellers to work with the new projects; if and how the new projects resonate with our local teams and sellers: is it what they want? how can they communicate about it? The message needs to fit the needs of the different markets.
I believe that with collaboration, knowledge is shared. And increased knowledge means we all grow, learn, and become better
You talked a little bit about Lenovo being a company that is both collaborative and connected. As the world is getting more and more connected, what do you see for the future of tech and how do you think the everyday people will be affected by it?
As the world has become more connected, technology has become more ingrained in our daily lives, in many ways positively, but also with some harmful consequences. Technology has improved our human connectedness, productivity, accessibility, ease of everyday tasks and many others. But it has also resulted in harmful online behavior, a digital divide, mounting e-waste and many other issues. For the future of tech, I see a gradual convergence between these challenges and opportunities. More and more tech companies are aware of the challenges and opportunities and are actively working towards the sustainability of products and services. Ensuring that ordinary people, no matter where in the world they are, can access technological advances and derive benefits from their use.
Speaking of sustainability, you recently completed an EARTH 51 certification on driving sustainability leadership. Why does sustainable leadership matter and what were your key takeaways from this course?
The business world is facing a turning point where corporates, and especially tech companies, have a responsibility to change the world for the better, and they are being held accountable for this. I recently became the EMEA Focal for Lenovo ESG (environmental, social, and governance) and I am now working closely with the Global ESG teams to help implement our sustainability strategy and ESG framework for the channel here in EMEA. Our goal is to help organisations accelerate their business model transformation around sustainability and enhance their positive impact to solve important challenges. So, hopefully I am playing my own small part in making the world a more sustainable place.
In terms of takeaways, the course really drew attention to the seriousness of the challenges we face. I think most of us have not fully understood or taken in what these challenges mean and the impact for our planet, not the importance of us all stepping up. This is not just about companies’ behaviour, but also what we can do every day, as humans. At Lenovo, it is not just us managers who are getting trained up in these questions: we are planning to have a sustainability experience week in Lenovo for all employees in EMEA. During this week we will demonstrate what ESG means, what Lenovo is doing to become a more sustainable business and how each person’s actions impact on the world and on communities. I am happy and excited to be a part of this.
Is there anything you wished you knew before pursuing a career in this industry and is there anything you would like to say to someone who is thinking about this career path?
As I said earlier, I was very young when I entered the tech industry, and back then it was a very male-dominated industry. I really had to believe in myself and stay strong. But the industry is constantly changing, it keeps you on your toes, and to anyone who wants to pursue a career in tech I would say go for it! It is an amazing and interesting industry, with endless possibilities and so many different positions to choose from. You don’t have to be a “techie” to work in the tech industry! Working in the tech is an exciting challenge.
You don’t have to be a “techie” to work in the tech industry!
Meet our WTP7 Talent, Helen Hart, Head of Bid Management at Rexel UK. In this interview, Helen discusses carving her own career path, how she innovates solutions and leads her team, and the importance of networking with and empowering other women.
You are currently the Head of Bid Management at Rexel UK, having over 15 years of experience in Business Development and Bid Management. Could you explain what first interested you in this career and elaborate on how you got to your position today?
I was working as an Executive Assistant for a charity that impacted the lives of individuals around the world. During my time there, I was asked to research applicable funding and complete the application process to support our work. Venturing into this new world made me realise that this was something that I was good at and had a passion for. I decided to pursue it as a career and joined a consultancy that specialised in EU funding research projects. This work elevated my knowledge from charity funding applications to the commercial and technical side of things. From here, I moved into the construction industry, working for material suppliers and contractors, where I honed my craft in the full bid and business development lifecycle. I achieved specific qualifications within bid management and was relentless in my pursuit of striving to achieve more and be as successful as I could be to win contracts. Then, nearly four years ago I joined Rexel as their Head of Bid Management!
Could you tell us more about the projects you are involved in at Rexel and describe a typical work day for you? What types of projects are you most passionate about?
Rexel is a leading wholesale electrical distributor, connecting electricians, contractors, and industrial organisations with electrical products, site supplies, and solutions. For Rexel to win work, we help select the right opportunities and develop a winning commercial offer. In the procurement sector, the most common projects in which we are involved are invitations to tender, which involve pricing the job at hand and answering technical questions about our ability to do the work in accordance with the detailed specification or the project scope. A typical day for me will involve curating a response to high-value tenders, strategic planning and performance management of my team, mentoring and coaching, and solution and value proposition development.
I enjoy working on complex bids. In my personal life, people always joke about how organised I am. One of the things that I love about my job, and one of the reasons why I am so good at it, is that I am able to manage several projects at the same time.
Something that has really spoken to me in recent years is the importance of social values, and sustainability. Our pursuit of net zero plays such an important part in the world. In our work we think about not just what happens today, but what will happen in the years to come. We think about the materials that we supply : what are they made of? Could you actually recycle that product again? Addressing the environment and providing social value to the local communities has been a great avenue for me to explore.
At Rexel, you have redesigned their bid lifecycle and developed an integrated way of working. How do you approach developing solutions for the business?
When you are joining a new business, you need to talk to people; you need to know what challenges they face, what gaps there are, and identify what is required to provide the optimum bid lifecycle. Stakeholder management is key to achieving the desired buy-in, so that they understand not just what we are doing, but why. As part of the redesign process, I took the bid lifecycle at Rexel online, using a combination of Office 365 applications such as SharePoint lists and Teams. I am a huge advocate for working smarter and not harder and these tools provide the platforms to be able to do that. It was actually this method of working that allowed for a seamless transition to homeworking at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
When I joined the business and spoke with the team, I found that there were projects on whiteboards in the local office and documents were being saved on local machines, then on servers where people would have to connect. I knew that as a business they had invested in Office 365. I was aware of the capabilities of all the different solutions working together. So, first, I created a private SharePoint. Next, I educated the team on how to use it. As part of that SharePoint site, we created trackers, where we use Microsoft lists to automate event reminders, such as clarification and submission dates. When each person is managing seven or eight bids at the same time, it is useful to have that backup and the knowledge that you are automatically going to be reminded of those events. In parallel to the tracker, we also have a documentation library. Everything is set up in exactly the same way, which means in the future when we are tendering for a bid, we can reference very quickly to what we did before. When the time came to homework, it was easy because people were familiar and comfortable with using Teams.
I am a huge advocate of working smarter and not harder.
You have recently been awarded the Chief Executive Award at Rexel in recognition of your leadership. What do you think are the most important qualities of a leader and how do you implement these qualities, both professionally and personally?
I believe that the most important qualities of a leader are integrity, communication, and empathy. Something that I learned very early on was not to be a “yes” person or a people pleaser. As well as providing direction, inspiration, and guidance, I also believe good leaders need to exhibit courage, passion, confidence, conviction, commitment, and ambition. They nurture the strengths and talents of their people and build teams committed to achieving common goals. They share their vision and they lead by example. They demonstrate integrity, communicate effectively, make hard decisions, and recognise success. They empower, motivate and inspire others.
I recognise that to be a good leader, I must keep learning. I have equipped myself with a group of trusted colleagues and friends with whom I have check-ins at least once a month to talk about the challenges we are facing at work and in our personal lives. Rexel also does in-house courses on leadership. You get out of it what you put in. If you invest in yourself and take full advantage of all the opportunities that are available, then you get the most out of it.
I recognise that to be a good leader, I must keep learning.
You are participating in the seventh edition of the Women Talent Pool (WTP) Leadership Programme. What motivated you to join the programme and what impact has being a participant had on you?
In recent years, Rexel launched an initiative: Women in Rexel. I was honoured to be part of the steering group in the UK. My HR director had heard great things about the WTP Programme from colleagues and nominated me to participate in the seventh edition. I was grateful and thankful for the investment from both of our Rexel UK and Rexel groups.
Engaging with the other women on the programme has really shone a light on the similar challenges that women face, regardless of the industry in which they work. It has been a great experience to be amongst people who have experienced and gone through what I have, and who can laugh about it. When you are going through something difficult, it can be quite upsetting. Sometimes you do not know how to handle it. So to be able to have a laugh with those other women and look back on it has been quite liberating. The programme has provided an opportunity to find tangible and practical solutions to those challenges, but also allowed me to acknowledge these challenges so I can highlight them when engaging with other women, professionally or personally. I can say, “You are absolutely not alone.”
The Talent Pool has also been a great opportunity to connect with people who are not ashamed to be ambitious, to encourage each other and celebrate success. The mentoring sessions especially have served as a great tool to challenge my way of thinking, receive feedback from my peers, and provide a space to dream bigger. It is important to network with people not just within your sphere of influence, but more widely. You easily find common ground. Through those connections, you are better able to think of what you want to do in the future and bridge any opportunity gaps.
Engaging with the other women on the programme has really shone a light on the similar challenges that women face, regardless of the industry in which they work.
We end the interview with a question from the Proust Questionnaire; who are your heroes in real life and why?
I prefer to think of this in terms of the qualities that I admire in people. I admire women who are unapologetic in wanting to be successful; women who have achieved and are relentless in the pursuit of their dreams ; and also women who want to empower others.
Being part of a network of women who have these qualities is important to me now more than ever, because the opportunity to think about what I want to do in my life was not there years ago when I was growing up.
In my career, too, I have had to carve my own way and my own path. In this I have very much been surrounded by men who have been the breadwinners, and men who have achieved.
So, when I see women around me who are successful, I think that it is fantastic. Thankfully it is being recognised more and more that we are all equal, that we need to bring different perspectives into the workplace and that we are all able to achieve.
Video edited by Juliette Gill
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.
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