Interviewed by Alison Oates
Meet our Talent Natalia Melniciuc, an IT Mediation Manager for Orange Moldova, and a member of the WIL Talent Programme 5th Edition. In this interview, we discuss how inclusivity in the IT sector has improved in recent years, as well as the impact that being part of different women-led professional communities has had on her perspectives.
You are currently an IT Mediation Manager at Orange. What does your job entail and what do you enjoy most about it?
In my current role I lead a team of IT experts, providing IT services in implementation Telco Mediation solutions for our international clients in Belgium, Luxembourg and Moldova. I am responsible for ensuring productive collaboration between the clients and the teams, as well as organising internal delivery processes and driving continuous improvement activities.
I am always on the lookout for new projects that can take my team to another level. This is what I enjoy most about my job: driving growth, taking on new responsibilities and developing new skills and team maturity. As a leader, I am always focused on both processes and people. I really love when team members proactively bring new ideas, and I always ensure that we have a safe environment for people to give and receive feedback. Trust, openness, and mutual respect are key to the success of our team. This helped us to transform in a strong Competence Centre of Mediation domain during the last years.
“As a leader, I am always focused
on processes and people”
Prior to this experience you studied for a PhD analysing the economic impact of the IT sector in Moldova. How has this study helped you in your different roles?
Studying a PhD, for me, required maximum levels of self-discipline and concentration because I was working full-time alongside my degree. I spent long hours researching and investigating, which helped boost the analytical skills I still use today.
Throughout my PhD, I was analyzing the relationship between different sectors and trying to understand the impact of IT over Economics. I used this knowledge in my subsequent job roles, where I had to reveal non-obvious dependencies between different disciplines and create bigger picture over the topic. For me, my PhD was a marathon. It taught me to be patient and consistent, and I consider it to be one of my biggest personal achievements.
The IT sector remains a very male-dominated field today. What have been your experiences as a woman working in this sector and what can be done to make the IT sector more inclusive to women?
I have dedicated my entire professional career, more than 15 years, to the IT sector; thus I have seen considerable progress being made for women in this field. When I started in the sector, IT was not promoted to women, and as a result women rarely chose this area for their careers. I can think of a very clear example of discriminatory attitudes towards women in my own personal experience: one of my male teachers once began his lesson saying, “Today I will solve problems with the boys, and the girls can do anything else they want, but quietly!”
Years later, at the 2018 Summit for Women in Technology, the Head of IT solutions for Siemens (Germany) gave her inspirational speech with a story similar to mine. I was blown away, and for the first I realised that this story did not have a geographical component but instead represented a global, deep-rooted issue in our society.
Today, more and more women are choosing IT and we are fortunate to have many different events, conferences and webinars, aimed at promoting inclusion and diversity in the IT sector. However, men still need to work harder by promoting and accepting women in senior positions. It is time for them to accept, support and promote women. The idea of diversity and talents despite the gender in our society is actual than ever before.
“It is time for society to accept,
support, and promote women.”
2020 has been a year of unprecedented turmoil and change. How can the IT sector better meet our needs both during and after the COVID-19 pandemic?
The pandemic has launched a new era for IT. The speed of the economy already required fast IT development; however, COVID-19 has accelerated this need even more. The IT sector has to be dynamic since it is a partner for many other economic sectors. For example, IT provides online tools and digital services which enable the economy to adapt to our new reality. Everything we are seeing at the moment – with recent developments such as working from home, online entertainment services, online health, and education activities - requires integration between IT and other sectors..
These changes have placed a great deal of pressure on IT companies. This is not only because of the demand COVID-19 has brought, but also because there are increasing questions regarding security, privacy, and agility.
I feel that IT should reinvent itself quickly. This reinvention applies not only to technologies, but also to the people who work and develop IT. People have to be ready to adapt to the changes we have seen in 2020, and be more open and agile.
“People have to be ready to adapt
to the changes we’ve seen in 2020,
and be more open and agile.”
You are a strong advocate for personal and professional development and have taken part in different management and talent programmes, including WIL Talent Pool Programme 5th Edition. What attracts you to such programmes and what have you learned from being in WIL’s WTP?
What I love most about these programmes, other than gaining knowledge, is that you meet people you would never usually meet in your day-to-day life. These people often have a similar energy and a hunger to grow, and I have found that networking in this way often has a long-lasting impact, which for me is a great achievement. WTP, in particular, is a great community of women who are willing to share their experiences without competition (as is often the case with male-dominated spaces); it is an opportunity to expand your perspective and way of thinking.
As well as your extensive work in IT Mediation Management, you seem to enjoy working in international environments. What have you gained from working with different nationalities and what has been the biggest challenge?
Working with different nationalities is about tolerance and the ability to accept different views. When we work with people of different backgrounds, we all bring diverse approaches. This is both a great advantage, and a substantial challenge. However, working in these environments in incredibly beneficial; it encourages continuous self-development, always retaining a “beginner’s mind”, the ability to listen, to accept and strong communication skills.
We usually finish our interview with a question from the Proust questionnaire. What do you consider your greatest achievement?
My greatest achievement would have to be gaining understanding of key life principles, which for me are the following:
Happiness is a process and not a result. Focus on the process and doing what makes you happy and the result will come.
There are times for action and times for patience, and you should be grateful for both.
Human relationships are always the most important aspect.
“Happiness is a process and not a result…
There are times for action and times for patience.”
Interview by Aurélie Doré
For this month’s interview, we had the pleasure to meet WTP Participant Marion Serpantié, Head of Strategy and Supplier relationships at Orange France Network and Services Operations. Shortly after this interview, Marion returned from her maternity leave and undertook a new role at Orange as Deputy of Field Operations, “Paris- Ile de France”, in charge of Performance. We discussed gender equality in the scientific world, as well as 5G deployment and its risks. Learn More about Marion in this interview.
Can you describe your role as Head of Strategy and Supplier relationships at Orange France Network and Services Operations?
I joined Orange 12 years ago as network engineer on the IPTV domain, and I never left! I have been Head of Strategy and Supplier relationships for three years now. There are two key parts to this role. The first part focuses on anticipation and strategy; I define what the Networks Operations at Orange France in 2025 will be, and then I strategise how our actions can lead to social, economic, and operational performance. To define my role more precisely, at Orange France Network and Services Operations we oversee all of the maintenance of the equipment which delivers services to our mass Market and Pros customers. We must guarantee a high quality of service for our customers, but also make sure our teams have the tools and skills required to operate the networks, and finally we must also guarantee that our profitability is sustainable.
The second part of my role surrounds supplier relationships. My team oversees all the suppliers (Network, Services, and subcontractors) to make sure they respect their engagements in terms of operational and economical objectives, all whilst reaching a sustainable working relationship.
Wireless carriers around the world are beginning to deploy 5G. Indeed, in France, auctions have just started. This technology is the subject of much controversy, as many are afraid of the environmental and health effects of it. What is your position on this matter?
As I am on maternity leave for now, I can give my personal position on this topic. However, my personal position is actually quite aligned with Orange’s position, and specifically that of Stéphane Richard - Orange’s CEO.
Firstly, we need to be well-balanced. Being late on the deployment would penalise France, specifically for its role in business. 5G will enable new applications such as ‘Internet of Things’ (IoT) or extremely low latency, therefore being a lever for competitiveness.
On the other hand, not considering civil society's expectations could be a trap. The “stop and go” strategy on these topics is quite difficult to manage, therefore if we need a debate, it needs to be based on scientific data and not on fake news, as this has the potential to be deeply destructive. Confidence in 5G has been shaken by misinformation preying on the fears of the public. This misinformation has been spread via the internet and has been presented as facts. We cannot force French people to accept something they do not want, but 5G is more an opportunity than a risk for the environment.
What challenges did you encounter during your career in terms of gender inequalities and lack of diversity and how did you overcome them?
Gender inequalities and lack of diversity start way sooner that you would think. Even from as early as my high school studies, there were only 20% women versus 80% men in my courses in science. Choosing to study science is still unusual for a girl. I remember my Physics teacher explaining me that there is a good reason why “ingenieur” is a masculine noun in French, therefore suggesting that as a woman I had no seat at the ‘engineer’ table. Countering this inequality starts with educational choices, but gender biases are still strong: we must highlight female role models in the scientific world to help pave the way for future generations.
Fortunately, Orange understands that gender equality and diversity is a strategic asset to nurture future business growth. I have had a lot of managers who believe in diversity, and three out of seven of these managers were women.
Yet, besides all of this, gender inequality and lack of diversity remains an issue. Take for example between 30 and 40, when your career as a woman is accelerating, you might want children - and you cannot handle this all at the same time. You cannot have equality at work if you do not have equality at home. I am lucky enough to have a partner who is invested in our family life, I can rely on him.
Choosing to study science is still unusual for a girl.We must highlight female role models in the scientific world
to help pave the way for future generation
What skills are the most useful in your professional life and which were the most needed for your success?
Agility in complex environments is my most useful skill. This means being able to work in different environments with different people who all have their respective objectives. Succeeding to find an “end-to-end” solution with all the counterparts is really rewarding! You know it is a success when people feel concerned and motivated - and in the end, the solution is always stronger.
You know it is a success when people feel concerned and motivated,as a result, the solution is always stronger.
What is the biggest career lesson you have learnt?
Do not plan everything and know your priorities! To be efficient, I need to both enjoy what I am doing as well as feel useful; I also need to know where I want to go next. But being able to go off path is what makes it fun. Don’t always stick to the plan - if an opportunity comes up, take it! Life is full of surprises, so enjoy it while you can.
Don’t always stick to the plan -
if an opportunity comes up, take it!
We usually end our questionnaire with a question from the Proust questionnaire. We picked this one for you: which talent would you like to have and why?
Some people are gifted with the talent of creating stories. I am extremely impressed by the ability to transmit emotions and feelings through writing - and of course I love to read them! If you are looking for your next novel, I would recommend reading Marie-Antoinette’s biography by Stefan Zweig.
You cannot have equality at work
if you do not have equality at home.
For this month’s interview, we had the pleasure of interviewing Michelle Gulrajani of Lenovo. Michelle discussed with us her transition from working as a Territory Manager and Account Director at Triangle, to opening her own consultancy firm. Michelle also shared with us some valuable advice to women wishing to endeavour to be entrepreneurs.
Interviewed by Hajar El Baraka
You have an extensive experience, having worked in sales before opening your own consultancy firm, “Signature Consultancy”, which was later sold to a competitor. How did your interest in the tech industry start and what inspired you to launch your own consultancy firm?
At a young age, I was never shy; I loved meeting new people and making new friends. It was actually a family member who initially guided me into sales, as she noted that this sector drew upon pre-existing skills that I had.
My position at Triangle was that of Senior Account Manager, where I was responsible for some of our biggest customers in the UK. It was in this position that I started looking at the business more strategically; even though I was a senior salesperson, I proactively worked with the business to tailor multiple off-the-shelf workshops and services based on what I was hearing from my customers. I was also involved in retraining existing employees in my team, from different backgrounds, into sales roles. Unfortunately, after many years, the company went into administration and that’s what led me to start my own business. I initially launched Signature Consultancy and set myself a goal of three months to start building a successful business.
To cut a long story short, I had a successful business for over eight years and that period was incredibly rewarding. After that time, with so much time in my career selling to end-users, I decided to sell the business to start a new challenge. I was keen to start a new adventure utilising some of the many skills I had acquired in my career and this brought me to Lenovo, working at a large corporate vendor.
Can you tell us more about how your prior experience helped you as an entrepreneur?
Running your own company is a tremendous experience. If anyone is reading this and thinking about starting a business, I would say: don’t hesitate; don’t live with the regret of not doing it!
Every day I draw from my prior experience as a reseller and business owner. I can genuinely relate to sitting on the other side of the fence as a reseller, and this perspective is important for me, our partners and customers at Lenovo. For the past 25 years, I have been selling to end-users and Managed Services Providers, so I can also draw on those experiences.
My biggest lesson is to not fear failing. I have made many mistakes. I was so busy when I started my business that I decided to employ another salesperson. It was the first person I had recruited. While that was a great success in terms of additional revenues and profit, I subsequently realised that what I really needed was someone to support me in the areas that were time-consuming, such as the invoicing and taking payments. Taking a step back and focusing on what would free up the right people, with the right processes to do the right job and maximise productivity, was a valuable lesson.
If anyone is reading this and is thinking about starting a business,
I would say: don’t hesitate;
don’t live with the regret of not doing it!
Another challenge that you must have faced is the coronavirus outbreak and its impact on the global tech industry, particularly as China is a major manufacturing centre. Has this crisis impacted your work and how have you tackled these challenges?
Inevitably, Covid-19 impacted our business in terms of both supply and demand. However, I feel we did better than many in our industry, thanks to our excellent operations and supply chain. As a global organisation , we do have multiple factories around the world, and we are currently opening a new factory in Budapest. Looking ahead, as more and more people work and study from home; not only in terms of devices, but also data centre and infrastructure technology to power that increase is required in digital consumption and the requirement for faster networks.
Obviously, we have had to adapt the way that we work with our teams. In terms of managing my team, I conduct team calls multiple times a week. Often, they are more informal to try and recapture those missed chats around the coffee machine. This month we even have one of the team who is going to teach us how to make sourdough pizzas on a video call, a great team building exercise that we are looking forward too. As a business, we have regular calls with our UK and Ireland team to ensure that everyone is kept up to speed with our strategy.
Having held management and leadership positions throughout your career, what do you consider to be the key leadership skills necessary to succeed in such positions?
Adapting your style based on the individual and your company or team is incredibly important. By doing this, rather than adopting a broad management style, you get the best out every team member. This also helps them to develop as individuals throughout their careers.
People follow by example. I have always been passionate and enthusiastic in any role that I have done. That energy does transfer to my team and, as a result, it has created a good team work ethic with everyone caring about our vision and striving for success.
Never assume that you have all the answers. Being confident is essential, but being keen to learn from others around and above you means that you develop every day, which will result in you becoming a stronger leader.
Being keen to learn from others around and above you means
that you develop every day,
which will result in you becoming a stronger leader
There is still a long way to go before women are no longer considered a minority in tech. Statistics from tech Nation suggest that only 19% of the tech workforce are women. In your view, what do you think should be done to encourage more women to enter the tech industry and to attract them into senior and leadership positions?
There are so many young women who aren’t aware that the skills they possess could lead them to a career in tech. It is not all about being technical and in fact there are a wide variety of jobs available. Developing closer working relationships between businesses and academic institutions is the way forward so women can develop a greater understanding of the variety of jobs that are offered when choosing to pursue a career in tech.
The same applies to women returning to work. Women who are further on in their career often choose to make changes to their career path. Their prior experience could strengthen the tech industry, yet they too might not be aware of this.
I am a big advocate of organisations providing mentoring and support for all women in any workplace. I am lucky that at Lenovo, we have an extremely strong Woman in Lenovo Leadership Programme. By providing this type of platform, women together can grow their network, develop their leadership skills and encourage each other to progress within an organisation. I would certainly say that from my personal point of view that has been a great thing to be part of.
Closer working relationships between businesses
and academic institutions is the way forward so women
could develop a greater understanding of the variety of jobs
that are offered when pursuing a career in tech
We usually end the interview with a question from our Proust Questionnaire. Therefore, which talent would you most like to have? Why?
I would love to learn to fly and get my private pilot licence. The ability to jump into a plane and take a trip anywhere in the UK or France for the day or the weekend is really appealing!
For this month’s interview, we have had the pleasure to meet WIL Talent Viola Zazzera, Chief Marketing Officer at Jacobacci & Partners. We discussed the company’s actions to reassure clients and colleagues in the face of the Coronavirus crisis, but also the importance of gender education both at the home with her children and in the workplace, as well as the successful response to her 4T-Tech Transfer Think Tank.
The Covid 19 crisis is unprecedented. The speed with which it has spread, and its effect on families and daily lives, have led to a deep sense of fear, anxiety and confusion. How did you work and support your teams and colleagues across the business?
The second half of February 2020 was, for me, a period of huge changes that turned me upside down - sometimes even now I wonder how I survived!
In fact, more or less in the same few days, I began to actively participate in the meetings of the Executive Committee of Jacobacci & Partners (the company in which I have been working for 7 years in the role of Marketing and Communication Manager), and then the situation in Italy worsened and we entered into lockdown. It was a bit like finally having a sedan available, but without fuel for refuelling: I had been promoted to the company's management team, but in one of the darkest and most uncertain times possible.
I remember the first meetings we had on the COVID emergency, where we were evaluating possible scenarios, only for the most catastrophic of these to come true a few days later. Thankfully, due to our daily contacts with China, we knew where all this was going to lead. Then, on March 13, the company entered lockdown, with accelerated widespread smart working for all employees of the company. We were scared, distanced and worried about the future. Indeed, we had in mind that, as Executive Committee, we had to protect both the health of people and that of our company, to guarantee a future for all of us.
There have been many initiatives aimed at our people to reassure, motivate and involve our teams and our colleagues. We have written over 40 newsletters (one a day) to keep the sense of belonging alive, organized aperitifs with art to tell the strategic and artistic aspects of our corporate collection, offered mindfulness breaks for adults and yoga for children, and launched other initiatives to bring people closer such as asking our people to send a photo of themselves working from home or to share a story. The memory of these actions will be remembered with a book delivered to each of us, to be kept and reread in the future. Our colleagues have greatly appreciated these initiatives, and we have created the basis for transforming ourselves from a professional legal services company of the advanced tertiary sector, to a real community which puts people at the centre.
We have created the basis for transforming ourselvesfrom a professional legal services companyof the advanced tertiary sector to a real community, which puts people at the centre.
With so much changing so fast during this difficult time, you have a critical role to play as companies shape their response. What actions do you advise brands to take to serve and grow their customer base, mitigate risk and take care of their people?
The situation that arose during the pandemic has changed our order of priorities and has put communication at the centre of our actions, whether they are directed inside or outside the company. While internally we had the aim of informing and reassuring, externally we had to make our clients feel that they could trust us with their strategic assets, that we were operational and that we continued to work with our usual standards as market leaders. Even though we were distant, we were reachable, because the first thing we did when we saw each other on a video call or heard each other on the phone, was reassure each other. Our clients knew that whilst we were present to assist them with their business needs, we could also be there for them simply to just listen to their fears, which differed depending on their sector.
The lockdown, for better or for worse, has given a great boost to all digital communication activities, both inside the company and outside for clients. We have launched several projects to stay close to both our regular clients and to approach new clients. There have been - and still are - many initiatives in progress: sending regular newsletters, launching a detailed and well-structured editorial plan on our social channels, webinars on in-depth topics, and various collaborations.
What is your opinion on the widely spread argument “use the lockdown to…”? Is it a good marketing strategy or a mistake that shows a lack of empathy and transparency from companies?
I really love the words of Domenico De Masi, sociology professor at "La Sapienza" University of Rome, about Covid-19. In short, he interprets it as an extreme attempt by nature to remind and teach humans that they are mortal beings and that homo sapiens are not as wise as it is believed. It is an attempt to teach and remind us that health comes before democracy, and democracy comes before economics. To teach us that planet's resources have an end; instead of fighting each other, we would better to be united against three common enemies: viruses, global warming and inequalities.
In fact, in Jacobacci we have not limited ourselves to managing contingencies, but have launched many new projects, all with an eye to the environment. Personally, the attention to the environment was a theme that we had been pursuing for some years together with Enrica; from the plastic free and paperless, through to the carpooling company, we have relaunched these issues together with others in our communication and integrated them into company strategies.
If the lockdown is a big jolt to warn us that we need to change course, that we don't need to go back to life as before, it's a great opportunity to review our values and reconsider our goals. It was a hideous jolt, but we can rebirth our ideas and leave our children with a better world.
If the lockdown is a big jolt to warn us that we need to change course,
that we don't need to go back to life as before,
it's a great opportunity to review our values
and reconsider our goals.
The crisis also brings a lot of uncertainty about the future and will likely influence how consumers behave for years to come. What actions did you take at Jacobacci & Partners and how are you preparing for a post Covid-19 world?
Firstly, we established a commitment to maintaining and safeguarding jobs. I believe that we are a rarity amongst Italian companies as we have used this period not as a layoff, but rather to hire people as a more concrete way to support society. Then, we created special packages to support services which had declined in various sectors – for example, in the design sector or related to innovated start-ups. During this period, we have undertaken many actions at the company-level, and we have several more in mind for the autumn months to come. All our actions aim to take the most advanced digital world power, which is even more important following the most recent boost of the COVID-19 emergency.
One of these actions we are taking to support the brand is Jambassador - a pilot program devoted to the selection of colleagues. This project aims to create a group of company value "ambassadors", who can provide an authoritative voice on Intellectual Property issues via the social channel Linkedin. After all, who would be a better candidate than ourselves to speak well of our company! With the right tools, you can see the results. In fact just last month our page on Linkedin reached 10,000 followers and continues to grow!
You have recently been promoted to the company board at Jacobacci & Partners which makes you one of the three women holding a management position. How does your companypromote shared leadership? Could you tell us more about this concept and why is it important?
The founder of the shared leadership in the company is our CEO, Enrica Acuto Jacobacci; among other things Enrica is also the Italian representative in WIL. In a company that represents the evolution of a renowned professional firm, Enrica has adopted the governance of a large company. Enrica has established an Executive Committee (composed of the chiefs of various company functions) who interact to: create a value chain; to share responsibilities and guidance together; and to amalgamate and respect each other's skills. Eight people actively involved in the management of corporate strategies who easily put into practice all the actions necessary to run the company.
Shared leadership is not just an organizational issue, but it is a management culture and a mentality which is more easily found in a female leadership. It is this approach to management that helps to overcome the obstacles that traditionally separate company employees, especially when it comes with highly professional business. This more collaborative and sharing climate is truly fantastic: a leadership approach that gives the managing team a wide responsibility for the management of the company, whilst attracting talents and retaining people. Paradoxically, having worked in a crisis like the current one, it united us even more and increased mutual trust.
Decision making and responsibilities are distributed, but of course our CEO maintains a unique role in the entrepreneurial and strategic management that cannot be delegated. She has an exceptional vision and the business acumen to help us frame issues accurately, putting them in the right perspective, helping us decide together a course of action and then implementing it.
Shared leadership is not just an organisational issue,but it is a management culture
and a mentality which is
more easily found in a female leadership.
On a more personal level, you are also a mother of a boy and a girl aged 12 and 8. How do you educate your children for gender equality? How do you prevent your children from acquiring strong gender biases and stereotypes?
It was a great stroke of luck to give birth to representatives both of the male and the female world, to be able to educate them in the same way, without any gender disparity. All children should have the freedom and the opportunity to discover and explore their own gender identity, without conditioning and without feeling judged. I have read them non-stereotyped stories, without princesses to save and courageous princes, from an early age. I let them play with what they preferred, and not with dolls and pots or tractors and bolts. I have always avoided repeating certain phrases that were said to me: “don’t behave like a tomboy” or “crying like a girl”. This behaviour perpetuates and strengthens a rigid and distorted vision of reality, in which there is no room for the child’s own experience; if we perpetuate these ideas, these children end up growing up with the belief that they are wrong.
Gender education is useful to create a freer and more balanced society, to create more tolerant individuals and to prevent others from experiencing their condition with difficulty, as something problematic, just because they do not correspond to what is accepted and considered as "normal in the society". Now that my children are older, as soon as they see a gender disparity they are the first to point it out to me with disappointment. This is a great satisfaction as a parent!
Of course, we try to maintain this approach also in Jacobacci & Partners, for example by using an inclusive language, which values diversity, or by creating transversal teams that enhance people's skills.
What do you consider your greatest achievement?
In general, the balance that I have reached between work and family life - certainly made possible also by the Jacobacci & Partners’ company policies which are attentive to these aspects, in particular in support of women and mothers who represent 80% of our human capital. This attention was certainly inspired by our CEO who has made ‘Work-Life Balance’ her personal and professional mantra.
But my "child" at work is certainly 4T-Tech Transfer Think Tank, the event on innovation and technology transfer that we have been organizing for seven years now. It is a great challenge every year to make it grow and evolve in content, format and interaction with the public, whilst remaining faithful to its original formula. And we see the fruit of our labours reflected in our turnout: more than 500 participants every year, and the success of an event that has now become the main in Italy.
For those who want to learn more about this event: https://techtransferthinktank.jacobacci.com
Gender education is useful to create a freer and more balanced society,
to create more tolerant individuals
and to prevent others from experiencing their condition with difficulty
as something problematic,
just because they do not correspond to what is accepted
and considered as "normal in the society"
Interviewed by Hanna Müller
13 years ago, Rebeca De Sancho Mayoral moved to Brussels to pursue the European dream: a continent of peace, solidarity, tolerance, and economic prosperity. Today she is a Business Advisor at EASME European Agency for Small and Medium Enterprises adhered to the European Commission. An interview about women without bank accounts and economic independence for female entrepreneurs!
For the past 13 years you have been working in Brussels on international projects at the European Commission. Why have you chosen a career in European policies?
I moved to Brussels 13 years ago to work for the European Commission. Coming from Spain, I looked up to Europe as the place where I wanted to live. I was passionate about the idea of one united Europe: a continent of peace, solidarity, tolerance, and economic prosperity. As a Spaniard, I was grateful when we joined the European Union in 1986 as one of the first countries. Joining Europe has had a positive impact on Spain, even in such areas as gender equality. In Spain, 30 years ago, women were not even allowed to open a bank account without their husband's permission!
Obviously, this personal perspective motivated me to support the European project so that not only Europeans, but also citizens in other nations partnering with the European Union, could benefit from it. Today, I am proud of being a European ambassador wherever I go.
Joining Europe has had a positive impact on Spain,
even in such areas as gender equality.
You have also worked with multiple neighbouring countries on an array of topics, ranging from internal markets and home affairs, to innovation and digital policy. How did your career develop to encompass policies and initiatives with these focuses?
When I was a child, my mom had a newspaper shop where I had access to many magazines and books. It was like a public library back in a time when we could not just google. I remember always reading the international section on the first pages of the newspapers. From a young age, I also longed to travel and explore the world.
Later, my first work experience was in Chile at the Spanish Commercial Office. That was the moment when I became more intrigued by the diplomatic European world. It felt like a dream that had come true when I finally came to Brussels to join the Enlargement project of the European Commission.
From there on, I understood diplomacy in a new and different way. For me, it means building up relations with other countries, long-term collaboration, and implementing meaningful projects together.
You are a current participant in the 5th Edition of the WIL Europe Talent Pool Program (WTP). How has leadership and personal development been important to you?
In preparation for this interview, I checked when I last paid for a coaching session. It was in 2014 with a private coach who seemed quite expensive to me compared to the salary that I earned at that time. However, I considered it a long-term investment. Sometimes we realize that we cannot grow the way we want, and we need help to overcome our inner barriers.
The journey of personal development starts in yourself. You need to find out who you are, accept yourself, set goals and follow them. Everyone you will meet in your career contributes to this inner journey, either in a positive or a negative way. Throughout my career, I was lucky to have unofficial mentors at my side. Today, I mentor younger women in Brussels at “Women in International Security”, and I am also part of the female leadership programme at the University of California.
The most important part of all these programmes and networks is the community that I created around myself, and the support of other women. We check up on each other and share where we are going in our professional and personal lives. Connecting with others is a way to build and expand your career network.
The journey of personal development starts in yourself.
You need to find out who you are, accept yourself,
set goals and follow them.
Do you have any inspiration and motivation for other women?
We all have inner doubts that hold us back in our careers; even Michelle Obama discussed this. It also happens to men, although they talk less about it. I believe whatever happens in your professional or personal life, it will teach you something. Stay true to yourself and believe in yourself.
Life is not linear, and your career path will have ups and downs with bumps, but if you trust the process and believe in yourself, you will make it to the finish line with integrity, courage, and passion.
You are a relentless advocate for gender equality, and even wrote your master’s thesis on the topic. You are also a founding member of "Women in International Security Brussels". Where does this passion come from?
Ever since I was a child, I noticed the differences between girls and boys. At that time, I just could not name or frame it because the awareness of gender issues did not exist. There are many rules for being a woman and society set a standard of rules, and, dos and don’ts. Even though all women in my family were working outside the home, they were still doing most of the housework and, carrying more of the burden than men.
There has always been an internal battle in me, trying to understand why women do not live the same way as men. The definitive eye-opener was the economic aspect: financial inequalities between men and women manifest themselves as not only unequal pay, but women are also promoted less often than men and fear asking to be paid what they are worth. When we look at single parents in Europe, we see that 80% of them are female. Consequently, the risk of poverty is much more dramatic for women. These gender injustices triggered me to support women and fight for equality. If we want to close gender gaps, it requires policy interventions that enhance women's economic opportunities and outcomes.
If we want to close gender gaps, it requires policy interventions
that enhance women's economic opportunities and outcomes.
What has the European Commission done for women’s independence, and women in finance and entrepreneurship?
We have a clear-cut objective: economic independence for female entrepreneurs. There are a lot of factors, such as reconciling business and family that make entrepreneurship a less attractive option for women than for men. The European Commission is working with EU countries to overcome these barriers and encourage more women to start their own companies.
Concretely, we are trying to build a community of female entrepreneurs around Europe, connect organizations, and raise awareness on this topic. There is funding available and we host events, workshops, and webinars. We deliver training and provide mentoring sessions to promote success stories.
Additionally, we created several tools such as networks and the e-platform called WEgate to help women become entrepreneurs and run successful businesses. Every year we award the EU Prize for Women Innovators and, obviously, we work to maintain gender parity on the European Innovation Council Board as well as the funding granted.
Reconciling business and family makes entrepreneurship a less attractive option for women than for men.
Which talent would you like to have and why?
I admire tennis players because of their capacity to focus and keep concentration during important moments of their performances. Although some of them are extroverted and very active, they know how to maintain control under high pressure.
In his book “The Inner Game of Tennis,” Gallwey discusses personal development and inner blockages. He describes the constant conflict of the two players we have in ourselves: the conscious one who knows all the techniques and the unconscious mind. To truly play at your best, you need to quiet your conscious mind by letting go of judgment. Then trust your unconscious mind to do what it does best.
Tennis teaches invaluable life lessons that will apply to just about anything you pursue for the rest of your life.
To truly play at your best,
you need to quiet your conscious mind by letting go of judgment.
We had the pleasure of interviewing Siham Soulaimani, Legal Counsellor and Diplomat at the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs. She discussed with us her views on diplomacy in a post-pandemic world, the challenges of diversity and inclusion, and the value of connecting with women from different careers and backgrounds through networks such as WIL Europe.
Since 2017, you work at the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs. What reasons made you choose this path?
As a European jurist, I had my first experience in the diplomatic field through European institutions, in particular during my internship in the European Court of Justice and my one-year experience in The Hague. I quickly understood I wanted to become a civil servant and represent my country at an international level.
Working in a multicultural and cosmopolitan environment, carrying the voice of my country, and having an impact on transnational issues have led me to choose this career.
As Board Member of the association La Cordée, what do you think is the main problem that needs to be fixed in order to achieve more diversity and equal opportunity in the public service?
In the past months, the question of more diversity, equality, and inclusion in France has been in the center of the debate. Both the public and private sectors face the challenges of inclusion and representativeness of translation.
Despite its principles and the development of measures on these themes, the public sector has still not managed to obtain concrete results: the example of equality is relevant: the trend that senior positions are reserved for the male elite. Our society tends to think of men as a legitimate source of authority. After years of continuous professional learning and teachings, the situation is certainly evolving but unfortunately not as quickly as it should. An example that we can find in practice nowadays in many institutions and companies is the existence of pools of experts.
The pool of experts consists of people from different backgrounds while achieving the diversity of genders, regions, academic background and disciplines and in this way you create a diverse balance of candidates.
Awareness seems to be emerging and I think that to really change things, there are first of all the psychological barriers of the actors that must be removed. For example, we have to question the recruitment criteria and profiles sought by the public sector: we have to recruit talents who are representative of our society.
We have to recruit talents who are representative of our society.
What challenges did you encounter during your career in terms of gender inequalities and lack of diversity and how did you overcome them? Did you have any role models or figures that inspired you to pursue your career?
I was never directly confronted with anti-feminist or anti-diversity discourse. However, indirectly I did face some situations in which I felt that I was not treated like my colleagues equally when yet I had the same qualification and experiences.
An example from such indirect confrontation was that I received excuses for not inviting me for important meetings or that I was expected to argue more to make an objective statement. In both situations, I felt excluded and I learned from my experiences for instance to be more proactive in asking to be associated in all the meetings, as I believe that this is a way to tackle issues of inclusion.
I have been fortunate to meet several women who have somehow motivated, helped, or inspired me. My role models are the women I met during my professional experiences: my colleagues in the administration, volunteers during my associative activities, former mentors, or even the women whom we have the opportunity to meet during events organized by the WIL for the talent pool program.
They inspire me with their determination, personality, expertise, and organizational skills. These women showed me that it is possible to lead a good career while having a rich personal life. With their different approach, they allowed me to learn and to think about my own career and the path I want to take in the future.
How has your experience with WIL inspired and encouraged you to create more opportunities for yourself and future women in your field?
Being in a program among women who are inspiring, experienced and have a genuine interest in giving advice has been helpful and refreshing. Working in the public sector, the WTP program gave me the opportunity to meet women with different careers, backgrounds, or approaches.
I never had this kind of opportunity before and I feel fortunate to be surrounded by positive energy.
I believe deeply in the concept of role model. As a volunteer, I already tried to connect people to help them fulfill their goals and to coach others to enter the public sector. It's a long-term job but the results are worth it. In a sense, it is to give back what I have been given.
The main qualities required in my profession are certainly thoroughness and the ability to adapt to different situations. This calls for being proactive and having a capacity for rapid analysis of issues and challenges. In order to be a good diplomat, you must also have a taste for diversity and project yourself into other cultures to understand them.
I think that being able to adapt has been my strength throughout the years. On a personal and professional level, I had the chance to experience different working environments, with different expectations and a renewed positioning. Each time, the beginnings represented a challenge, but learning strengthened my ability to be agile and to adjust.
How do you think diplomacy and international relations will be affected by the covid-19 pandemic?
Beyond the current situation, diplomacy has in recent years evolved by its means and its dimension. Immediacy has taken a prominent place in bilateral and multilateral relations thanks mostly to technologies, which led to adapt to a new tempo and learn to react to new emergencies.
Regarding global crises, they affect diplomatic relations because by their nature they question our system and the way it is run. Just like the crisis in 2008, the current crisis has revealed new fragilities and has been surprising.
In the short term, the covid-19 crisis has been indicative of certain underlying trends, exposing new ruptures and defining new challenges. In the future, the biggest challenge in international relations will be to adapt to the aftermath of consequences.
But in the long term, the new lines drawn after the crisis could prove to be only the continuity of current diplomatic relations with different intervention methods and tools.
In the short term, the covid-19 crisis has been indicative
of certain underlying trends, exposing new ruptures and defining new challenges.
What is your personal motto?
Be true to yourself. My experiences taught me that to meet the challenges you need to be passionate and work hard. I have learned that despite your best efforts sometimes you will never be what people expect. But your difference can become your strength, it depends just on how you present it to the others.
Your difference can become your strength,
it depends just on how you present it to the others.
Pauline Derrien is a manager at Orange Consulting for the E-Health sector. She works extensively with hospitals, pharmaceutical groups and health insurance companies leading their digital transformation. We discussed what innovation looks like in the healthcare sector, the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic for medical professionals and how Pauline is striving to make women’s voices heard.
Can you describe your current role as EHealth manager at Orange Consulting?
I have worked for Orange Consulting in the Ehealth sector for 9 years and I have been a manager for a year and a half. Our role is to help our clients from the health sector in their digital transformation. Our customer base is varied; we work with pharmaceutical companies, hospitals, health insurance companies and so our projects vary from developing custom-made solutions such as chatbots to deploying software throughout an organisation.
As a manager, my role can be defined by 3 areas; I sell our consulting projects, I act as a project manager for these projects and I coach the different consultants we work with. The health care team is very small, and so depending on the project I often bring on board other consultants from Orange and guide them throughout the mission. Our approach is unique because we are not healthcare specialists, meaning that we take ideas and inspiration from other sectors which is not something that the healthcare field is used to but is very popular with our clients!
Our approach is unique because we take ideas and inspiration from other sectors which is very popular with our clients
How are new technologies influencing the ehealth sector? What does innovation look like in this field?
The E-health sector is quite late in terms of innovation. A lot of new technologies are being developed for the health sector however because of strict regulations it takes a long time for these technologies to appear on the market. Today, even though you can book a doctor’s appointment or access or medical files online the majority of people do not use this. There are numerous apps that exist to help us track our health, as well as 3D printing which is gaining popularity. However, such technologies are not immediately accepted or promoted by the wider medical community which is why they are only used on a small scale.
In a country like France, where healthcare and social security is heavily funded by the state, new technologies require extensive financial investment which is difficult as budgets are already small and healthcare users are not willing to pay for such services.
Following the COVID-19 pandemic, how does the ehealth sector need to respond? What changes would you like to see in the post-covid19 world both in France and internationally?
The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated activity for the Ehealth sector. The number of virtual appointments has exploded during the pandemic; even doctors who were previously reluctant have been forced to work this way and have seen that it can be successful.
Secondly, data-sharing should have become more widely used especially for research linked to COVID-19 however we are seeing much reluctance on the part of hospitals and pharmaceutical companies to transfer data and knowledge amongst themselves. Conversely, within organisations we are seeing an increase in shared collaborative tools with many hospitals installing software facilitating collaboration between remote and on-site employees. Finally, during this crisis healthcare professionals have to make quicker decisions which I hope will continue in a post-COVID world.
During this crisis healthcare professionals have to make quicker decisions which I hope will continue in a post-COVID world
More generally, what will the world be like after the Covid-19 crisis according to you?
We have seen a lot of solidarity during this crisis and we should try to keep this in a post-COVID world, not only solidarity between people but also institutions, the public and private sector, and different organisations. I feel that this has been the best response to the crisis but also will be fundamental in moving forward from this pandemic. Meals have been distributed to the homeless, doctors and nurses have received snacks and hand cream to help during their long shifts, which I hope will stay with us.
I had a lot of hope at the beginning of the pandemic that it would help with the green transition, for example the drastic drop in CO2 emissions we have seen. I would like to see a stronger emphasis from governments on this issue to ensure that moving forward all companies and institutions are committed to the ecological transition.
You are now a manager at Orange Consulting. What have you learned since becoming a manager and what has been the biggest challenge?
I was lucky to have a lot of management training when I took on this new role which was very useful. I work in a small team of 8 and manage one consultant, however I trained with Orange managers who lead teams of 40 or 50 people which was a valuable experience. As a manager, I always try to keep in mind four key qualities: common sense, empathy, adaptability and listening. During lockdown, we have been conducting short daily meetings of 30 minutes in our team to help manage our workload but in general our consultants are very autonomous and are used to working independently so thankfully lockdown has not affected our work too much!
As a manager I always keep in mind four key qualities: common sense, empathy, adaptability and listening.
You co-founded the network ‘Femmes de Santé’, a platform for women working in the health sector. Why is it important for you to promote and support the role of women in this industry?
In the health sector, 50% of doctors are women however they represent only 15% of professors of medicine and only 7% of professors of surgery. This is a very clear example of inequality within the health sector and I wanted to try and make a difference. We decided to create a network for healthcare professionals-both men and women- to share ideas and initiatives around supporting women in this sector. We have an annual talent programme including 13 women who are making a difference in their profession.
Last year, for example, we had a participant who created an association for clowns in hospitals as well as a doctor researching rare diseases. The idea is to give visibility to these women and promote the great work they are doing, not only to help other women currently working in this field but also to inspire and encourage young women to work in healthcare.
You are also a strong advocate for more diversity in tech, having played an important role in Double You, Orange’s network for more diversity. Could you tell us more about this initiative and the work you are doing there?
Doubleyou was created in 2011 as a diversity network for Orange Business Services, and I joined the Chair committee in 2016. It is a network created by employees for employees, completely independent of the corporate HR department which for me makes Doubleyou unique. We have three main approaches to support diversity; facilitating access for women to higher jobs, promoting a balance of men and women in all services across the company and also encouraging a stronger balance between professional and private lives.
Our main activity is to organise events for our members (10% are men!), such as breakfast meetings on diversity, workshops on personal development, annual conferences for Women’s Day and networking events with DoubleYou groups internationally.
We usually end our questionnaire with a question from the Proust questionnaire. We picked this one for you: Which living person do you most admire?
I am inspired by many different people, especially those who use personal struggles and resilience to make the world a better place. I was very lucky to visit one of the Généthon laboratories which researches gene therapy for rare diseases. The President of this association, Laurence Tiennot-Herman, is an inspiration for me because of the groundbreaking work she is leading in trying to cure rare diseases.
I am inspired by those who use personal struggles to make the world a better place.
Emmanuelle Bautista is a Counsellor at the French Permanent Representation to the European Union. She has worked for both the French Embassy in Berlin and the French Permanent Mission to the World Trade Organisation in trade policy and dispute settlement. We discussed how diplomacy has drastically changed over recent years, the future of international trade and the underrepresentation of women in the media during the COVID-19 pandemic.
You have held a number of positions in international trade, in particular for the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and the European Union (EU). What first attracted you to international trade and investment policy and how have your roles changed over the years?
I began to work on Trade and Investment Policy when I was posted to the Economic Unit of the French Embassy in Berlin. It was an exciting time because trade policy was at the heart of civil debate in Germany, namely because of negotiations for the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) with the US. At the same time, increasing discussions between France and Germany centered on two important issues; reciprocity of public procurement and reform of the investor state dispute settlement (ISDS). I began to work on trade policy with these subjects until I moved to Geneva to work for the French Permanent Mission to the WTO.
Here, I was in charge of market access and legal issues which were both technical and very challenging. It was also very interesting to see how an international organization like the WTO (over 160 member states) actually functions. Now, I work in Brussels for France’s Permanent Representation to the EU which has enabled me to deepen my expertise on trade and investment policy.
As trade policy is an exclusive competence of the EU we have a huge responsibility defending and promoting the interests of our country. I have been very lucky that in each of my previous roles I have taken on more responsibilities and have deepened my technical skills and expertise, which definitely helps me in my current role at the EU level.
With trade policy, we have a huge responsibility
defending and promoting the interests of our country.
How have economic and commercial diplomacy changed or evolved over the last 10 years, and what key trends have emerged during this period?
Not only have economic and commercial diplomacy changed over the last 10 years but diplomacy as a whole has changed. We have a lot of crises all over the world and are always dealing with emergencies; having to react quickly, be flexible and to know everything in advance. We also have new means of communication with social media which I think has a huge impact on our work. The nature of diplomacy traditionally requires time to reflect and analyse but today we have to react quickly which is challenging for us.
For trade policy, there have also been profound changes. It has become more technical and complex and today covers areas such as non-tariff barriers, sustainability, consumer protection, labour rules and technological development. Trade policy is no longer a single area of diplomacy but rather an umbrella in relation with economic policy, financial policy, environmental policy and much more. There is also a stronger pressure and demand from the civil society on trade policy to be accountable.
Big players in international trade have also evolved, and new players have emerged. China joined the WTO 2001 and is now one of the biggest players but is also, as the European Commission stated, a “systemic rival” alongside the US who have reassessed multilateralism and their commitment to the WTO since the election of Donald Trump. Here for the EU, it has been very challenging finding a position in the middle.
I would also like to mention the changing role of developing countries who are now more engaged in negotiations for trade agreements within the WTO but still need technical assistance and capacity building in their development. We need to find a balance between this evolution but also the fact that they still need support.
Diplomacy traditionally requires time
to reflect but today, we have to react quickly.
With the COVID-19 pandemic already bringing about profound change to the world as we know it, how should international organisations respond? What role should they play in a post-pandemic world?
First of all, it is important to remember that international organisations such as the WTO are member-driven. This means that change will depend on the members proposing new initiatives.
The WTO has already launched new ideas by publishing reports on the trade of medical products and the future impact on trade as a whole. It has also asked all members to notify any export restrictions on trade related to COVID-19. This is important because transparency is one of the core principles of the WTO and will become more important as the crisis continues.
For the future, the WTO will need to go further in its cooperation with other international organisations (World Health Organisation, International Monetary Fund) and will also have to work on a new plurilateral agreement on medical products. The WTO will have to tackle other issues like digitalization, sustainability, supply chain, SME, developing countries and gender. But most of all, and this is not only a question for the WTO, a new definition of trade policy is needed.
You have worked extensively in dispute settlement for both the WTO and the EU. What roles can women play in resolving conflict and dispute?
Generally, in conflict and dispute, women have a better capacity to listen and let people speak without interruption or judgement. This, for me, is fundamental and is linked to our sense of empathy. Women have a capacity to search and look for a solution which is why we are so good at mediation. Many of my colleagues in investment policy and dispute settlement are men and I feel that many women are not comfortable studying or working in these fields because of this. As a woman you have to fight harder and longer than men, especially when it comes to finding a balance with your family life. The problem is that even though many women work in male-dominated industries, we do not see them enough.
You are very active on social media and seem committed to opening a dialogue about women in leadership. What, in your opinion, can we do to push the dialogue further and bring real change for women in leadership positions?
We not only need more visibility for women in leadership but for women in general. Currently, with this crisis, we are once again seeing an underrepresentation of women in the media. In newspapers, on TV, headlines are focused on the achievements of men during this pandemic. I am quite shocked because it feels like we don’t exist; that there are no women working during the pandemic or thinking about the future. There was one newspaper headline in France which said “Thank you to them” using the male pronoun for “them” (Merci à eux) even though the photo only included women! Visibility is very important because without it how can young girls imagine working in a field where we do not see any other women?
You are an active participant of our 5th talent pool programme. What do you like most about the programme?
I like a lot of things about this programme! It was an opportunity to meet so many different women and exchange with them with openness, empathy and goodwill. This gives me a lot of inspiration, ideas and fresh air; both professionally and personally. I particularly enjoyed the speed dating session at our WIL event in Barcelona, where one woman told us about her move to the US where she decided to focus her career only on what she is good at and what she loves doing. It was completely new and refreshing to hear that focusing on soft skills could translate so well into a career!
Meeting so many different women
gives me inspiration, ideas and fresh air!
Proust question: What talent would you most like to have and why?
I wish I could stop asking myself so many questions; to be able to let go and to see what happens. Doubt can sometimes be a good motivator but overthinking too much can be dangerous!
Interviewed by Vera Jonsdottir
Sasha Rubel, a participant of our Women Talent Pool programme, is Programme Specialist, Digital Innovation and Transformation, Communication and Innovation Sector, at UNESCO. In our interview, she talked about her current role and what she likes best about working for UNESCO, how her creative background has contributed to her career, her vision of the post-covid19 world, and much more!
Can you describe your current role as Programme Specialist at UNESCO and what do you like about working for such a prestigious organization?
I lead our work on digital innovation and transformation, specifically projects related to digital entrepreneurship, innovation, artificial intelligence, and internet governance.
What I like most about working at UNESCO is working in a multicultural environment as I work with people from 195 countries every day, with different perspectives, backgrounds, and expertise. With a Franco-Polish mother, a Scottish-Austrian father who grew up in India, and a large part of my youth spent in West Africa due to the motorcycle racing career of my mother, I know first-hand how much cultural – and career - diversity can enrich both your personal and professional life.
I also love the fact that I can bring together, in my job, different stakeholders and build crossroads where people from the private and public sectors, civil society, academia and the technical community can come together, talk, and dream up impactful, meaningful projects – and implement them together.
Lastly, UNESCO is a great opportunity to continue to challenge myself, learn, and grow in emerging areas that are important for women’s empowerment, inclusive growth, and self-determined development and I love the fact that my job allows me to harness creativity for the greater good.
UNESCO is a great opportunity to continue
to challenge myself, learn, and grow in emerging areas
that are important for women’s empowerment.
Beyond your role as a Programme Specialist, you are a dancer, musician, and video artist. How has this contributed to your career?
Having been trained as a dancer, video artist and a musician, I place creativity at the heart of the way I work.
Managing a team for me is like composing music or choreographing a dance. You find the most beautiful notes inside people and put these notes together to make something even more beautiful than the individual note. This is also relevant in ensuring that my team grows together, and encourages a form of deep listening practice necessary for productive teamwork.
My creative background is also a concrete asset working in the tech sector, which needs people that come from other horizons. We do not necessarily need more engineers or more backend software developers or coders – we also need designers that think out of the box. We need a multidisciplinary approach so that tech can be inclusive and harnessed for social good at large.
Through my creative work, notably in West Africa, I learned a lot about how creative practice can be transformed through the use of new technology. This intersection of cultural diversity, collective intelligence, and artificial intelligence is a very productive space, and also underlines the ways in which technology can give communities agency to imagine and co-create the futures they want.
Lastly, the creative sector also underlines the importance of finding your own voice. For women particularly, in a sector that is dominated by men, how to take up space, philosophically, psychologically, and physically, including in our own bodies, is a crucial exercise. Being creative can particularly help us as women to find how to do that professionally in our daily lives.
Managing a team for me is like composing music
or choreographing a dance. You find the most beautiful notes
inside people and compose these notestogether to make
something even more beautiful than the individual note.
After undertaking a PHD in anthropology you worked for several years in West Africa. Can you tell us a bit about your work there and the connection between culture, technology, and development?
My relationship to West Africa goes back to my childhood. After I graduated University, I went back to Mali and Nigeria with a Fulbright Fellowship to study performance-based peer education and do research for the center for disease control and prevention (CDC). Having studied infectious disease and public health, I had planned to become a doctor – and still dance. This was at the beginning of smartphone popularity. I became interested in the ways in which technology was opening up entirely new horizons for solving local development challenges, including those related to health. And it changed my life, and career.
I went back to the Continent in 2013, when I moved to Ethiopia as Liaison Officer to the African Union. For two years, I got to actively shape the ways in which emerging technology was part of development plans at the Continental Level like Agenda 2063 of the AU, and facilitated the EU-AU Digital Economy Task Force that articulated partnership priorities between the two Organizations in the field of digital transformation. I also played a lot of music with the incredible jazz musicians part of the incandescent Addis Ababa nightlife.
In 2015, I moved to Dakar to become Regional Advisor to the Sahel. I worked specifically, in the framework of the G5 Sahel, on training military personnel on how to work with the media to combat terrorism, promote access to information, and protect freedom of expression. At a time of democratic transition in the Gambia, I had the opportunity to support the revision of the Constitution and laws related to access to information and freedom of expression. And I still found time to play music, largely because the nightlife in Dakar starts after midnight.
In Dakar, I became a part of a network of women working in the ICT Sector, and through this network, established a partnership with the Government and Orange to work together to establish training programmes for young women in coding and the development of mobile app solutions to address local development challenges. This led to the opening of a free coding school, targeting young girls, in the heart of Dakar, but also lifelong friendships with the women in this network. It taught me first-hand how important it is to work across different sectors (public and private), but also how powerful we can be when women come together and mutually support and celebrate each other.
You have been working at UNESCO since 2009. How has UNESCO adapted to the shift to digital transformation?
My response has two sides: how do we change as an organisation and in our different areas of work in digital transformation.
As an organization, I would highlight that the speed of digital innovation is quicker than any policy process of any international organisation that exists. Which means that we need to completely reinvent how we work. Therefore, digital transformation is an incredible opportunity for us to come together and reinvent how we work internally, but also how we work with our partners. It also provides a great opportunity to develop, thanks to digital tools, public policy processes that are multi-stakeholder and inclusive. Governments cannot afford to develop policies behind closed doors. We must engage all sectors and citizens, and blow open these doors. If you want to develop truly impactful policies and programmes based on real need and dialogue, everyone needs a seat at the table, and particularly women.
Concerning our areas of work, digital transformation changes how we need to work intersectorally because, for example, the question of artificial intelligence is not just a question for the ministry of science and technology. It is also a question of the ministry of culture with copyright issues, for the ministry of education with issues around self-directed learning etc.
At UNESCO, we also emphasize that we need to position particularly developing countries, women, marginalized groups and young people, to be not only consumers, but also producers, of digital solutions and innovations. So this means that solutions to sustainable development challenges won’t need to be imported from offices in Paris or New York or San Francisco; they can be made on the ground.
Solutions to sustainable development
challenges won’t need to be imported from offices
in Paris or New York or San Francisco;
they can be made on the ground.
Can you tell us more about your work in AI and ethics and your standard-setting instrument under development?
At UNESCO’s general conference in November 2019, the 193 Member States mandated the organization to develop the first global standard setting instrument – or in other words, a recommendation – on the ethics of artificial intelligence.
This is a two-year process, and we hope the recommendation will be adopted officially in November 2021 by our Member States. It builds on some of the great work of other regional and international organizations which are working in this field like the European Union, the OECD, and the Council of Europe, as well as the IEEE and ISO.
In this framework, I am leading the development of an online platform to ensure multi-stakeholder input from the widest range of people possible and the development of a Decisionmakers toolkit to help policymakers – in government and the private sector- translate principles into practice and render them operational in AI development and deployment. Principles and frameworks on the ethics of AI exist, and some very good examples come from private sector companies like Orange, Microsoft, and Thalys. We are hoping to highlight some of these in our use cases: if we want an ethical and responsible AI, we need to be concrete about what we mean.
This recommendation will also reflect our two global priorities which is harnessing AI to ensure sustainable development in the global south, and also how we can address gender bias in the algorithms, in the systems, and in the tech sector more broadly. Women need AI, but AI needs women.
You are currently employed in the Digital Innovation and Transformation Section in the Communication and Information Sector at UNESCO. What is your department doing to address the COVID-19 Crisis?
I am leading specifically three responses at UNESCO to the COVID-19 Crisis.
The first initiative is called CAIAC, short for Collective and Augmented Intelligence Against Covid-19. It is a coalition between UNESCO, UN Global Pulse, the WHO, the AI Initiative, IBM, C3, and Stanford. We are developing a portal that will make sense of the enormous amount of knowledge and data related to COVID-19, and help navigate and translate that data into actionable insights and informed decision-making – both for policymakers and frontline healthcare workers.
Secondly, we are supporting the development of an AI-enabled mobile app that will help mitigate COVID-19 developed by the Quebec Artificial Intelligence Institute and Yoshua Bengio, who is one of the three inventors of deep learning. This mobile app will be launched as a free and open source and peer to peer solution, so it can be taken up for free and benefit countries most in need. It is also one of the only solutions to date that has ethics-by-design at its heart, and respects fundamental human rights related to data protection and privacy.
A really exciting project I am leading is the online campaign #DontGoViral. I developed this campaign with our partners, i4Policy, to combat the infodemic and disinformation around COVID-19. The campaign, launched on 1 April, addresses the urgent need to ensure access to culturally relevant and openly licensed information in local African languages in order to facilitate awareness-raising. The intent is to produce creative content that can circulate across the globe, with a focus on Africa, where populations are the most at risk given both lack of health infrastructure and lack of quality information. In partnership with 170 hubs in 45 African countries and the BBC world service, we have had more than 400 submissions from 36 African countries, with more than 54 million likes on FB and twitter alone. Our #DontGoViral playlist is proof: you can dance, learn, and save lives all at once.
What will the world after the Covid-19 crisis be like according to you?
COVID-19 will completely change the way we think about technology, education, community, and about the possibility of us coming together as a global community to work in a coordinated way for the common good.
It is also going to change how we think about women’s roles in the public sphere. Women comprise the majority of frontline healthcare workers globally, meaning that female representation is vital in tackling the COVID-19 crisis. Currently, 70% of health care workers globally are made up of women but only 25% global leaders are women. Without women in leadership positions, women’s issues could continue to fail to be addressed – in the crisis, and beyond.
Then lastly, one of the main questions COVID-19 raises is the need for women in leadership positions. We are currently seeing how countries that are being led by women during COVID-19 are managing the situation in a more efficient way, placing the primacy on global wellbeing instead of GDP or political gain. COVID-19 will dramatically change how we measure our growth and development, and this is also where women’s leadership will play an important role.
COVID-19 will dramatically change
how we measure our growth and development,
and this is also where women’s leadership
will play an important role.
More information on Sasha:
Teresa Peiro-Camaro, a participant of our Women Talent Pool programme, is the Associate Director for the EMBA admissions at the global business school INSEAD, a partner of WIL Europe. In our interview, she talked about the social responsibility of leaders, introspection during the lockdown and French kissing!
Can you describe your current role as Associate Director at INSEAD?
INSEAD is one of the leading and largest business schools in the world. Our mission is to bring together people, cultures and ideas to develop responsible leaders who transform business and society. We have four campuses in Europe (Fontainebleau, France); the Middle East (Abu Dhabi) and Asia (Singapore); and in February, we opened our San Francisco Hub for Business Innovation.
Beyond our full-time Master of Business Administration (MBA) programme, we also offer an Executive MBA (EMBA). As head of the EMBA Admissions team, I am responsible for the class composition of all three GEMBA sections (Asia, Middle East and Europe) and the TIEMBA section, which is a joint programme between INSEAD and Tsinghua University based in Beijing, China.
You can think about my role as that of a gatekeeper. As soon as a candidate completes an application, my team takes over. In the pre-selection process, candidates either take an in-house test or submit their Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) or Executive Assessment (EA) score. The next steps include discussing a case study and passing a motivational interview.
Candidates sometimes believe that it is enough to submit a great score to make their way into the programme, but our final decision is based on their holistic application, including their personal qualities and life journey. On average, our candidates bring over 14 years of work experience. At this stage of their professional careers, executives look for more than management theories.
At INSEAD, participants embark on a transformational journey that challenges their assumptions and certainties. For example, the Leadership Development Programme with coaching sessions allows participants to receive and give feedback on a regular basis. Our programme enables them to redefine the way they think and lead.
Our mission is to bring together people,
cultures and ideas to develop
responsible leaders who transform
business and society.
The golden area of business education began in the early 50’s and was long time considered as an accelerator for your professional career. How has the impact of business schools shifted during the last years? And how do business schools adapt to a changing education landscape?
During the second half of the 20th century, right after INSEAD was founded, the MBA diploma became the gold standard of business education. It was a prerequisite to attain senior management or leadership positions. Then, following the global financial crisis in 2008we observed a tremendous change. What was the change?
Today’s INSEAD students have a very different collective outlook than those of a decade ago. While they may once have been largely driven by money and status, now strongly consider the societal demands for greater accountability and social responsibility in the way large and small companies conduct their business.
In that respect, INSEAD took the initiative to entirely redesign our academic curriculum . We now provide a first-class learning experience for the next generation of students, with greater focus on sustainability, ethics and social purpose. We are responsible for preparing students to make a difference through their work as responsible leaders who transform business and society.
We also have a variety of extracurricular social activities. Last year the GEMBA’19 Class, organised ‘INSEAD RUN4CHANGE’ to raise money for a global campaign supporting female education and empowerment around the world. We ran 20,000 kilometres and even exceeded our funding target of €20,000.
Leaders do not only
have an impact on their team
but on the whole society.
Can you explain the difference between the traditional MBA and the full-time EMBA? For which of both should I apply to evolve my career?
In your opinion, what is the value of an MBA and is it still worth it in today’s world?
I do not think that the value of an MBA has decreased, but it has definitely shifted. One day a woman came to my office whose husband had gone through the EMBA and she said to me, ‘I do not know what you have done to my husband, but I want to go through the same programme. INSEAD gave me a better husband’.
After completing our EMBA program, many executives stay with their company. They do not change their employer, but rather their role. The programme gives students the opportunity for introspection and to figure out who are and what they want. We have students who worked at global companies before and have now founded their own start-ups.
Beyond your role as Associate Director, you are a licensed career coach. What would be your advice for professionals who may be worried about the impact of the Covid-19 crisis on their career?
The current context is really challenging. However, it also is an opportunity to step back, rethink and take some time for ourselves. We have never spent so much time with myself before. We pause and ponder: is this really what it is all about? Is there something we should be doing that we always wanted to do? Where are we going? What do we want from our professional life?
I am sure that the Covid-19 outbreak will trigger a lot of long-lasting changes to the way we live and work. Many people will change careers or try something new. It can help us understand that we have this one and only life.
The outbreak will trigger
a lot of long-lasting changes
to the way we live and work.
What will the world be like after the Covid-19 crisis according to you?
No one knows exactly what will come, but one thing is certain - we will not get out of this the same way we got in. I found this quote by Haruki Murakami, which describes the current context very well, ‘And once the storm is over, you will not remember how you made it through, how you managed to survive. You will not even be sure, whether the storm is really over. But one thing is certain. When you come out of the storm, you will not be the same person who walked in. That is what this storm is all about.’
Society, government, healthcare, economy, our lifestyles and more - will change. Daily habits will not be the same as before. There will be more sophisticated and flexible use of technology, more remote work, and a revived appreciation of the outdoors and life’s other simple pleasures.
Even our cultural habits might change. Physical distancing and wearing masks in public will be the new standards; and that will change the way we interact with each other. I am not sure if we will ever go back to ‘la bise’ in France. Kissing each other on the cheek to greet friends might no longer be tolerated.
Whatever the world will look like once we have overcome Covid-19, this period will last in our memories. I told my son that he will remember this period his entire life. When he is older, he will look back on the time he was locked down with his parents for several weeks.
However, I stay positive. Humans are quite inventive; they adapt rapidly and start thinking differently when they need to.
When you come out of the storm,
you will not be the same person
who walked in.
© European Network for Women in Leadership 2018