Interviewed by Maria Luiza MENEZES DE OLIVEIRA
Meet our Talent, Paola Brucker-Dhont, Government Relations and Policy Director France at VMware. In this interview, Paola talks about how she has found the transition to the private sector, her admiration for Christine Lagarde, and she shares with us her advice on how to choose a meaningful career path.
You recently joined VMWare as Government Relations and Policy Director France, after spending five years at Alstom, where you were Public Affairs Director France and Export. What does your role entail, and what skills are required for you to be successful in your job?
That is quite an easy question to answer, even though it is always quite difficult to explain government relations and public affairs. It’s a fairly rare job, and it's not the sort of thing you think about going into as soon as you leave school. Public affairs consist of reaching out to public stakeholders or policymakers and creating a channel for your company to connect with them as well as reaching out and explaining to them what you're doing. It's about raising brand awareness, of course, but it's also about having an impact on the policy landscape. When a government is thinking about building a future metro network or the impact of the move to cloud for the public administration, you need to talk to experts and companies who sell solutions, be it trains or cloud technology, or infrastructure, are experts. I strongly believe in discussing and talking to bring to decision-makers the points they need to be aware of. What's the landscape? What are the stakes? What are the challenges?
In this sense, the area of public affairs is about teaching, it's about diplomacy, and it's about not being afraid of reaching out to other people who might sometimes be in quite high places. You need to be confident in reaching out and building a channel. You need the confidence to keep it open, to maintain it and to build a long-term relationship of trust. So, that's it! There's a bit of strategy, a bit of tactic, and a need to be able to take current affairs into account. What are the trends? What is the political situation? What is the impact of the geopolitical situation? When dealing with large companies, often it's not just the local policy that's important but also geopolitics. It's interesting, it's really an amazing job, but it's something I would never have imagined doing when I came out of school.
When dealing with large companies,
often it's not just the local policy that's important,
but also geopolitics.
Prior to entering the business world, you spent several years working in the French Ministry of Economy and the Foreign Trade department specialised in trade policy and exports. How have you found the transition from the public to private sector?
It wasn't actually as difficult as one might imagine. I moved to a big company: a traditional, long-standing and very well-known one here in France. It sometimes felt like being in the administration again. There was so much red-tape, hierarchy, structure, and processes to be validated, that I felt like it wasn't so different. I think French and global companies should keep in mind that they should not lose their agility and flexibility by becoming too heavy-handed bureaucratically.
However, it also felt quite liberating because the work in a company feels more purposeful. Sometimes you win a deal, sometimes you lose a deal. Everyone has to pull their weight. Everyone in the team needs to contribute. When you win, you celebrate together and build team spirit. When you lose, well, you're sad together too, and you need to pick yourself up again and get motivated again with the team. It's challenging to be result-oriented, but it's also stimulating because often it goes hand in hand with recognition. A job well done will be celebrated, a victory won will be fought for the whole team, and it will be shared. In the administration, there is a great deal of effort made by intelligent people spending lots of hours trying to come up with solutions that will improve citizens' lives. Often, they work very late, and the meeting that they had been working so hard for gets cancelled for some political reason, and all the hard work goes to waste. A negotiation that didn't come to fruition, well, the next day, you start on something else… The point is that there's no result, and there's no business that will drown or be closed down if you don't meet the target. It's frustrating because there are many smart people there. Yet there's not enough recognition: of the effort and of the good work being done. Because, done well or not done well, it doesn't change anything: tomorrow you just have another task to do, and that's a pity.
The work in a company feels more purposeful.
Sometimes you win a deal, sometimes you lose a deal.
Everyone has to pull their weight. Everyone in the
team needs to contribute. When you win, you celebrate
together and build team spirit.
Both companies for which you have worked specialise in male-dominated fields: VMWare is a virtualisation and cloud computing software provider and Alstom is a leader in the transportation sector. What, in your view, can be done to encourage more women into the fields of technology and transportation?
This is a good question because, in both companies, I have seen that it is not only about women not being present enough in the company. It is also about these companies not being able to recruit enough women. And that's not because they aren’t attractive: it's because there are not enough women in this field of the market. We should start by getting rid of stereotypical thinking when we finish school. And that is not something dictated by men or women: it's really a question of society and culture. When we think about what we want to do next in our lives, we often question our strengths. If our strength is biology, we think, "Maybe I should do something in the field of medicine". If we're good with children, we think "Maybe I should become a teacher". So, we start with something we think we're good at. However, first of all, we do not know all the jobs that are out there. There are so many jobs that we don't even suspect exist. Second, we don't usually consider where we'd like to go with these jobs. It's not just about making money. For example, when you bring a train to a country where there hasn't ever been a train or people have commuting times of 2-3 hours, renovating the railways improves people's lives. People do not take 2-3 hours to commute anymore. People can get out of their faraway villages and connect to big cities. It's about creating an environment where you can choose to take the train over your car because you have access to comfortable train rides. So, instead, you should ask yourself: Where do I want to make a change? What are my fields of interest? I would like to see the world changing for the better, and that’s what technology is all about. It's not about "Should I be studying engineering or coding?" or "Am I good at maths?". Artificial intelligence can help detect cancers before any doctor can because it's been trained to recognise cancers where the naked eye can't. It's about a genuine interest in a particular field where you think you can make a change. Then, you can think about how to get there and choose your studies accordingly. Maybe we should change our way of thinking and encourage students, be it boys or girls, to change their way of thinking when asked to choose what they want to do next.
Maybe we should change our way of thinking
and encourage students, be it boys or girls,
to change their way of thinking when asked to
choose what they want to do next.
You have studied in both France and Germany and speak three languages fluently. How has multilingualism and an international education have added value in your career?
That’s not such an easy one to answer. By now, it feels very natural to me to be multilingual, so I don't even think about it anymore. However, it's a real benefit; it's opening yourself to something broader. Learning languages means opening your mind to the culture that goes with it, because you can't learn a language fluently when you're just studying in your home country. You want to learn when you are in a foreign country and want to order the dish that the person next to you is eating. Being able to do that is just delightful, and of course, the work aspect comes in too. VMWare is an American company. Every day, I work with colleagues from all over the world, which was the same as in Alstom. People are so pleased when you can communicate efficiently with them in their language. Multilingualism and having an international outset also means having the capacity to adapt to your partner. It's not just about speaking their language but also about connecting with them and being culturally sensitive. That is what languages are about. It is not just about academic achievement.
You are one of 49 talents participating in the 6th edition of WIL's Women Talent Pool leadership programme this year. In a few words could you tell us why you wanted to join the WTP6 and what do you hope to gain from this experience?
I really wanted to join because I became interested in Women in Leadership in 2015 when they did a presentation at the French Treasury. They talked about the idea that, generally, women need to do more to achieve and have to sacrifice more than men to get to the same place. When they talked about feeling like an imposter and not feeling good enough compared to our male colleagues, it resonated with me a lot. I really wanted to join a place where we could talk about these things, and people could help each other by sharing their experiences. WIL seemed like a place where women could connect and reassure each other that we've all felt the same way at some point. A network where women are recognised and encouraged to be strong, without copying their male counterparts, is really inspiring to me.
WIL seemed like a place where women
could connect and reassure each other
that we've all felt the same way at some point.
We usually end our interviews with a question from the Proust questionnaire. Your chosen question is: Which living person do you most admire and why?
I really admire Christine Lagarde, who is currently the President of the European Central Bank and was Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund. Christine was also the Minister of Finance in France when I was working in the Ministry. I had the privilege to travel with her on an economic delegation trip to Indonesia and Singapore. I was very impressed by this cool-headed woman who had such a stark impact on her female counterparts in Indonesia and Singapore. I found it very inspiring that she was able to talk in such a confident and competent way about topics of such high importance, including that of economic diplomacy. I believe that if there were more women like her, it could make a real difference. It would encourage other governments to have female members and female leaders working at the international level. Having people like her, people who are strong and competent, is so important. Being competent and having integrity is a challenge for some. In Singapore I saw Christine Lagarde shaking hands with the piano player in the lobby. Her feet are really firmly on the ground and I found that really admirable. I wish we had more leaders like Christine Lagarde.