Connecting, inspiring and empowering women to lead the way
Meet our WTP 6 Talent Jiaojiao Wang, Pricing Director at Rexel France. In this interview, Jiaojiao talks about how living in different countries has contributed to her personal and professional development, her move from telecommunications to the energy sector and some thoughts and reflections that she would like to share with other women.
Could you tell us more about yourself, and in particular your current position as a Pricing Director at REXEL?
I was born and grew up in Shanghai, China, and came to France to study after my Bachelor’s Degree as part of a student exchange programme. I began my career working as a Management Consultant and got a chance to travel to many different countries, such as Spain and the UK.
I joined Rexel France in 2018 to lead a transformational programme before being promoted to Pricing Director last year. My current position has been a big challenge for me. I am still leading the deployment of the transformational programme whilst at the same time managing a new operational team. This new team implements the price changes from our suppliers, then optimises our own pricing structure in order to find a balance between profitability and attractiveness.
The scope of my work and my responsibilities have changed quite a lot: I was previously managing 2 analysts and now I have a team of 13 people! The challenge is to listen to each individual, understand their needs and priorities and try and motivate everyone as a team.
The challenge is to listen to each individual, understand their needs and priorities and try and motivate everyone as a team.
You have a very international background, having studied in Shanghai, worked in London and now are back in Paris. What did you learn during your time abroad and is there anywhere else you would like to live in the future?
I have always been curious about things I don’t know, and I have always been keen to explore different horizons, which has brought me to different countries. I can still remember my first day in France when I understood only three words: Good morning, Goodbye and Thanks! This was a really steep learning curve. I studied very hard and forced myself to socialise with my classmates. Later, when I found myself working in different countries, I had to learn to adapt to a wide range of cultures and ways of working. For example, in London when I worked for BT, even though I was very good at my job, I realised that I needed to improve my communication skills. I took classes with an actor to improve my oral presentation skills and my mastery of the language. I’ve especially learned a lot from difficult experiences; I feel that I have more empathy and more maturity than I did before.
I’ve especially learned a lot from difficult experiences; I feel that I have more empathy and more maturity than I did before.
You have a diverse background in Telecommunications. What first attracted you to this sector and what inspired you to then make the move to Energy?
I have always been very interested in maths and technology, and this encouraged me to major in Telecommunications at University. Having always been interested in learning new things, I chose to work as a Management Consultant to learn about different aspects of business. I worked on a range of projects from market research, pricing, sourcing, manufacturing, distribution and telecommunications. When I moved back to Paris, I was ready for a new challenge, and I was especially looking for a new strategic sector, such as the environment. I was really happy when I joined Rexel France in the Energy sector. The position I took requires experience in leading transformational programmes and so my previous experiences fit perfectly.
You are taking part in WIL’s 6th edition of the Women Talent Pool Leadership Programme. What have you most enjoyed about this programme and what has been your fondest memory so far?
I was lucky to be chosen to join the programme. One of our leaders at Rexel, Nathalie Wright is a WIL Europe Member, and at the time when I received my promotion, our HR Department told me about WIL and the programme and encouraged me to apply. I wanted to improve my leadership skills and so I jumped at the opportunity.
I enjoyed every aspect of the programme. I learned a lot from the workshops and benefitted from personalised advice during the mentoring sessions, and of course, got to know so many wonderful women
What I appreciated the most were the mentoring sessions, which, due to logistical problems, ended up being for me one-on-one discussions, and which meant I could really ask a lot of questions and bring up real-life difficulties I was experiencing in order to ask for advice. This was very beneficial for me!
As you grow in your career, what would you most like to share with other women?
Thanks to the WIL Talent Pool Programme, I have been thinking a lot about female leadership. As women, we have to stay true to ourselves. We need to know what we really want, and what we are ready to fight for. We have so many different roles to play, both professionally and personally. We have many different choices to make. Once we make these choices, we should not let stereotypes stop us. I would also like to say: don’t fight alone, and never hesitate to search for support. We can only go far if we are supported by others.
As women, we have to stay true to ourselves. We need to know what we really want, and what we are ready to fight for.
How do you nourish your mind outside of the office? Do you have any podcasts/books/ blogs/social media pages/activity ideas to recommend to our readers?
I love to read and I love to travel. My latest discovery is the Shardlake Series of books. These are seven Detective Stories that take place during the reign of Henry VII. These stories allow me to dive into Mediaeval England and it is fascinating to read about how people at the time struggled to live through the political turmoil. I enjoy the stories whilst learning about English history!
Video edited by Dovilė Bogušytė
Interviewed by Juliana Cantin
Meet our WTP6 Talent Angélique Pichon, Group FP&A Manager for Europe Zone at Rexel. In this interview, we discuss the personal qualities needed to succeed professionally, challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic and Angélique’s passion for nature and mountains.
Rexel provides B2B energy solutions so you must be extremely busy in the current eco-political context. Could you talk briefly more about the organisation and your own role within the company?
Rexel is a French group present in 24 countries, listed on the Paris stock exchange and dedicated to the distribution of electrical products & services. We operate as an intermediary supplying installers of electricity in the residential or commercial sectors. We are currently very busy with the global situation combining strong demand due to post-COVID recovery and the trend to electrify everything within the context of product shortages and inflation.
I am Group Financial Planning & Analysis Manager for the Europe Zone. Belonging to the corporate finance team is very exciting since it is multidimensional and requires working with a great diversity of stakeholders. Our day-to-day is made up of multiple contacts with subsidiaries to analyse and understand the performance of the various regions and to support them in reporting tasks, and then to challenge their results in comparison to targets.
Which are the personal qualities that you rely on most to succeed professionally?
I believe that strong positive energy and enthusiasm are key qualities to succeed professionally, combined with determination and resilience. I would even say that these qualities drive leadership, since people who feel good within their team will give their best and this is so important when operating in a fast-paced and demanding environment as we do. As a student, I lived in Canada and I learned to appreciate the positive attitude of the people there.
combined with determination and resilience.
Would you say your skills in financial planning and auditing are transferable to other areas of business?
Absolutely! Both these functions require curiosity and the ability to build strong relationships with others. Obtaining the right information is the key to bringing added value to your analysis. Adaptability is also a must-have when working in a multicultural environment and I have experienced how other cultures sometimes ask and reply to questions in a very different manner. Finally, analysis and synthesis can be used in several areas as support for the rationalisation of complex matters.
What have you found to be the most challenging aspects of the pandemic and how have you coped with managing your team at a distance?
For me, the most challenging aspect of the pandemic was the stopping of face-to-face interactions. I am an expressive person who gains energy to move forward from exchanging with people so, at first, I found it terrible to be working from home 100% of the time.
I dealt with the situation and managed my team by keeping in very regular contact, just as I would have done while being at the office or during a coffee break. I used the camera when we talked on Teams to maintain eye-to-eye contact. I also tried to continue sharing with my team the guidelines and information on the challenges we were facing on a larger scale, including discussions with management or with other departments. I saw these as pillars to keep them on board and to maintain the link with me and the rest of the company.
You are one of the participants in the 6th edition of the Women Talent Pool (WTP) Leadership Programme. Could you tell us what it brought to you personally and professionally?
Participating in the WTP Leadership Programme has been a real opportunity for me to reinforce my self-confidence whilst reflecting on me, my career path, and what being a leader means.
The programme has been perfectly well-balanced between workshops to provide practical tools such as public speaking, balancing risk and opportunities, and building your personal brand which is a concept that I had not reflected on before. I do my best to keep these in mind to improve my communication style and the way I make decisions every day. If I were to retain just one single word, I would go for “Dare!” which came from one of our speakers. It will remain the ultimate call for action for me to believe in myself and to grow during the journey ahead.
The career development sessions in smaller groups allowed for deep and personal exchanges with both peers, young women aspiring to grow professionally, and senior female leaders. It was an exceptional time to take a step back and reflect on the situations we were facing. It was great to see that others had similar questions as me. I have kept in touch with some of my peers and hope that we continue to do so after the programme ends.
Participating in the WTP Leadership Programme
has been a real opportunity for me to reinforce my
self-confidence whilst reflecting on me, my career path,
and what being a leader means.
Which societal issues do you feel passionate about?
There are many topics that are close to my heart in the current debates. As someone who is passionate about nature and more specifically about mountains, I feel strongly about the global challenge of climate change and particularly the melting glaciers. I am very aware of this because I come from the region of the French Alps. Climbing the Mont Blanc last summer and regularly hiking has made me realise how fast glaciers are receding. I deeply believe that we need to think globally about the energy we use. For me, the meaning of history is not to revert to the old times but to use human intelligence to create, develop and operate sustainably. International travel and exchanges are key for humanity development so stopping them would mean going backwards. But we must collectively put all R&D efforts into finding the right technologies to save our planet whilst not disconnecting humans from each other.
We must collectively put all R&D efforts into finding
the right technologies to save our planet
whilst not disconnecting humans from each other.
Interviewed by Anel Arapova
Meet our Talent, Tatiana Chernyavskaya, Industrial Development Expert at UNIDO. In this interview, she talks about the rising trend of environmental activism, the role of gender equality in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals and Paris Agreement Goals and redefining leadership as an important aspect of inclusiveness and empowerment.
You have extensive experience working for various structures within the United Nations. Could you tell us more about your career journey and what your current role as an Industrial Development Expert at the United Nations International Development Organisation (UNIDO) entails?
My journey in the United Nations started in 2004 when I joined the UN Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) as an intern in the Trade and Timber Division. After the internship, I joined the Gender Advisor of its Executive Secretary, which allowed me to contribute to the Beijing +10 conference. Personally, it was very inspiring to see how Eastern European and CIS countries were approaching the matter of gender equality and giving women a greater role as powerful participants in economic development.
During my 17 years working in the UN system, I also worked in UN University which is headquartered in Tokyo, Japan. It was truly a great opportunity for me to engage with research on the UN sister agencies and contribute as a Research Associate. My work has mainly focused on how the 2008 financial crisis affected economic development and the environmental agenda.
I first came to UNIDO as part of a project focusing on public private partnerships for infrastructure and sustainability to contribute to a regional programme on technology foresight and innovation. That work gave me an opportunity to learn about the key activities of the Organisation and how industries can contribute to economic growth and development. It was what brought me to the UNIDO Headquarters in Vienna, Austria.
Currently, I am working as a Project Coordinator of the EU4Environment programme. Founded by the EU, the programme is dedicated to greening the economies of six Eastern Partnership countries. Particularly at UNIDO, this comprehensive programme is responsible for circular economy and new growth opportunities. This allows us to work directly with small and medium-sized enterprises to help them achieve higher resource efficiency, as well as their sustainability goals.
A significant portion of your work is centred around questions of sustainability and the environment. What are the biggest current trends and challenges in the field? At UNIDO, what do the intersections between international development and sustainability topics look like?
Environment and sustainability issues definitely have become top priorities in recent years. It will not be news to anyone that most issues are centred around decarbonisation. The Paris Agreement has highlighted that responsibility does not only lie with industries, but also various sectors like transportation and energy.
One major aspect that cannot go unnoticed is that more and more trends are not only driven by policy or frameworks but by people’s behaviour. There is a rising movement of environmental activism, calls for more ethical consumption, and a change in the global vision for our world. Another trend related to industries is the focus on supply chains as critical elements in the agenda.
Moreover, all of this is now linked to digitalisation. While providing impactful tools for services, it allows us to be less dependent on many established patterns that have historically negatively affected the environment.
My daily work consists mainly of informing and building the capacity of stakeholders to introduce these new trends in their processes and translate them into tangible actions. Across industries, all the tools are available to bring profitability and sustainability together. Now, since we see that economic growth cannot go without serious environmental considerations,: ESG criteria and circular economy are becoming the driving forces for change in industries.
If we continued developing at this pace, we would need three planets by 2050. That is why sustainable instruments and decisions are at the core of economic development.
If we continued developing at this pace,
we would need three planets by 2050.
That is why sustainable instruments and
decisions are at the core of economic development.
You coordinate the EU4Environment programme in Eastern Partnership Countries. Could you tell us a bit more about the programme and its main objectives? Since its launch in 2019, what notable milestones have been reached?
EU4Environment is a programme that unites several UN Agencies, the OECD, and the World Bank with the main goal of incorporating environmental matters into the heart of policies, decision making, economic and development agendas of six EU neighbouring countries: , Armenia, Azerbaijan Belarus, Georgia, the Republic of Moldova, and Ukraine.
All partners of the programme bring their own unique knowledge and agenda, which are combined to look at different aspects of sustainability in the Eastern Europe region. In particular, UNIDO’s work is driven by its mandate to inclusive and sustainable industrial development. We work directly with enterprises promoting resource efficiency, greener production, and new opportunities stemming from a focus on circular economy.
In 2020 and 2021, we had to go through quite a rapid transformation in order to continue showcasing efficient use of resources to enterprises in the countries. Nonetheless, due to the digital tools put in place, we could use them as another instrument of interaction.
Regardless of the challenges, I am very happy to admit that enterprises have continued to accept and support the green agenda as an issue of high importance. The crisis has also helped a lot of them see that sustainable practices add resilience and efficiency to daily business operations.
In your opinion, what is the role of gender equality in achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and Paris Agreement Goals?
There is no doubt that gender equality is a very important aspect of development. Gender equality is at the core of SDG 5 and the reason for that is quite simple: we cannot speak about development if we exclude half of the world population.
Moreover, when coupling gender equality as presented by the UN and the goals set by the Paris Agreement, two things can be highlighted. On one hand, it is imperative that we speak of the impact that climate change has on rural areas where women are the main caregivers. On the other hand, due to our unconscious biases, we often exclude women from important decision making when, in reality, their differentiated perspectives give key insights into how the issue might be tackled.
At the core of this is education. In particular, STEM fields are sometimes thought of as not attractive to girls and women. For issues related to climate change where innovation and technology play such an important role in finding a solution, the inclusion of women becomes a defining factor. In my opinion, to see positive change in our efforts to mitigate climate change, women’s opinion and role in decision making need to not only be considered, but also made more visible.
Gender equality is at the core of SDG 5 and
the reason for that is quite simple:
we cannot speak about development if we exclude
half of the world population represented by women.
You are a participant in the 6th edition of the Women Talent Pool Leadership Programme. What were your motivations for joining and has anything you have learnt whilst on the programme surprised you?
I was interested in leadership concepts from an early age. In school, I would easily take on different leadership roles and responsibilities. However, for some reason, leadership and my work did not coincide until I started reading more on the topic of professional development. WTP’s 6th edition became a great trigger for me to start considering leadership as a norm rather than a separate and unreachable domain.
The first surprise came to me at the programme’s opening. During her speech, Petra De Sutter spoke of leadership as an internal power to bring people together and inspire each other with openness and ease. She was very articulate when speaking about the internal barriers that we tend to create for ourselves over becoming leaders, not only in professional teams but also within families and social groups. What struck me as interesting was the reframing of leadership as a tool to empower people from within.
During the programme itself, the variety of sessions on personal development, acceptance, and mindful decision making was a pleasant discovery. It showed me the importance of soft skills that we have a tendency to disregard in our education and professional development. For me, this helped me redefine leadership as an important aspect of inclusiveness and empowerment.
WTP’s 6th edition became a great trigger
for me to start considering leadership as a norm
rather than a separate and unreachable domain.
You are currently based in Vienna, Austria. What attracted you to the city and what are your favourite things about it? What does a perfect day there look like for you?
Coming here to work for UNIDO, I was pleasantly surprised by how welcoming Vienna is. I consider myself very blessed to be given this opportunity since Vienna is an absolutely beautiful city where music and cultural heritage are represented all around you.
Vienna has an ideal location with the mountains and the seaside all being only a few hours away. There are so many festivals and events that cater to families with kids. Learning German obviously helps a lot when it comes to integrating into the city and discovering all it has to offer.
A perfect day for me would start with a brunch at the Naschmarkt where you can find anything from fresh produce to oysters with champagne. It could be followed by a leisurely walk either through the old centre or around the parks surrounding the city. A highlight could be the City Park (Stadtpark) which has a very beautiful pond with all sorts of birds.
In the afternoon, one can choose an activity close to one’s heart. For those looking for a hiking opportunity, the famous Wiener Wald (Vienna Forest) and vineyards in the 18th and the 19th districts could be a great challenge to take on. In the evening, the State Opera can be a great choice for music lovers.
Interviewed by Linda Zenagui
Meet our WTP6 Talent Carole Stiegler, Sales Director at Orange. We talked about how to become a successful leader in high demanding positions while still being able to take time off for the family, and why developing trusting relationships is so important for career success.
In 2019, you were promoted to the position of Large Account Sales Manager at Orange Business Services (OBS), the branch of Orange, the biggest French operator. Could you tell us about some of your biggest milestones during your time there?
When I joined OBS in 2019, I worked with my teams to undertake two main tasks. First, we modernised the core business to maintain our clients’ loyalty. This involved developing key strategic activities for Orange such as those around data, cloud computing or cyber defence and having our teams of key account managers implement innovative strategies focused on our pool of large accounts customers. We now systematically put in place strategic committees to facilitate high-level discussions with our clients.
Second, I redefined the teams’ scopes to enhance their motivation.
Stepping into a role as a team leader is both challenging and exciting. What have you done to strengthen your leadership competencies and ability to handle demanding jobs?
When I took my position, I wanted to inspire my teams by switching from being just a manager to being a leader. I try to give as much autonomy to them as possible whilst supporting them to achieve their goals. I act as a coach for them and I always make sure their efforts are rewarded.
When I took my position, I wanted
to inspire my teams by switching
from being just a manager to being a leader.
In 2020, when COVID-19 hit, OBS had to meet the most urgent needs for digital services. With hospitals in search of better connectivity and people switching to teleworking, OBS teams had all hands on deck. How did you manage to keep your colleagues motivated and energised during such intense times?
With the arrival of Covid, we faced a unique situation overnight: all of our clients needed better connectivity. At the very beginning of the first lockdown, I had to implement new strategies for keeping in touch with my teams, one of which was introducing daily calls with them.
These daily calls had several benefits. First of all, it allowed me to gain a better understanding of the challenges my teams were facing. Daily calls were also useful to brainstorm and come up with creative ideas to overcome these challenges. Finally, since we were all working from home, we used this time to reconnect with each other and ensure that we still feel close. During the particularly intense times, I had to manage the stress within the teams. I needed to be calm, peaceful and collected to handle the situation properly.
More than a year and a half after the first lockdown, we are still reinventing the way we work. We obviously can not go back to the old system. Where I work, people have embraced a “hybrid work model” where half of the team work from home and the other half is in the office.
We were lucky to have support from the company to provide employees with specific training on the new ways of working and the management of stressful situations.
Managing teams can be stressful, especially when remote work is a “new normal” and every day might feel like an endless marathon. How do you maintain a healthy work-life balance and manage to reconnect with joyful things in life?
I have two sons and I do not want to have to choose between my work and my family. Finding the right balance is indeed one of the main challenges I face; however, I have implemented a few golden rules.
While I am at work, I stay 100% focused on my job and my teams. However, I disconnect from work during the weekend. I know it can be tempting to check your emails during your time off but it is not a healthy option in the long term. I also enjoy listening to music with my sons and completely unplugging from work when I am spending quality time with them.
I am lucky to be working in a company where I have the autonomy to manage my workload. There is trust with my managers. I have goals to achieve but I can manage my time flexibly. As such, I believe I have found the right balance now.
I have two sons and I do not want to
have to choose between my work and my family.
Finding the right balance is indeed
one of the main challenges I face; however,
I have implemented a few golden rules.
You are the participant in the 6th edition of WIL’s Women Talent Pool leadership programme. What led you to join the programme and what do you think are the main challenges and opportunities for the next generation of women leaders?
I am delighted to be a part of the WTP6 programme as it allowed me to meet very inspiring women and learn new things.
For instance, we recently had a Career Development session where I learned precious time and career management techniques. Even though all participants have high-responsibility positions, we all walked away from the event with ideas on how to manage better our work-life balance. Through the programme I also had the chance to take part in workshops, which have been inspiring to get a helicopter view of my skills and learn how to develop them.
As for the future challenges women will face, I do not believe there will be fundamental differences. Women will still need to demonstrate great abilities and knowledge to handle high-responsibility jobs.
If you could share just one important professional or life lesson that you have learnt over the years, what would it be?
Building trustful relationships with stakeholders is a long process, but an important one. If I could share one life lesson I have learned over the years, it would be to stay committed, be brave and be honest in building long-term, trusting professional relationships. My advice is to always say the truth, as people appreciate honesty in others. Finally, never stop building your network. I, myself, still have strong ties with former colleagues and clients, and this has been important for me.
If I could share one life lesson I have learned over the years,
it would be to stay committed, be brave and be honest
in building long-term, trusting professional relationships.
We like to close our interviews with a more fun question: What will be your first holiday destination once all travel restrictions are lifted?
I would definitely go to Italy. I love this country, it is “dolce vita” with the rich culture and exquisite food. I am sensitive to environmental issues, therefore, I would go to Italy by train. Genoa and Turin are the two cities I would like to visit as soon as possible.
Interviewed by Hajar el Baraka
Meet our Talent, Rita Verderosa, Senior Investment Manager of Technology Transfer Fund at CDP Venture Capital SGR. In this interview, she talks about how her strong academic background has helped her in her career, what changes are needed for investment firms to become more diverse and why she is passionate about empowering girls
You have an impressive academic background having obtained a Bachelor’s degree and three Master’s degrees in Finance and Economics. How does having such a strong academic background help you in your current position?
Studying is fundamental for every job or position, even more so for technical jobs like mine. A strong academic background makes it possible to solve critical problems during our daily work. When I started my professional career, my academic background helped me overcome barriers. It gave me critical thinking and hard skills without which I could not do my job. Of course, soft skills are also very important for working in a company. These soft skills could include empathy, the passion you put into your job and the capacity to understand other people.
What does a typical day look like at your job as a Senior Investment Manager at CDP Venture Capital SGR? What makes you proudest to be where you are today?
I deal with the screening, analysis, evaluation and selection of technology transfer funds characterised by a clear value proposition and go to market strategy.
Typically I schedule analysis and due diligence meetings with potential fund managers to select the right people whom to give money to invest in suitable deep tech startups. I also deal with the negotiation of fund rules, in terms of quantitative metrics and governance principles.
The final aim is to boost the Italian technological ecosystem – launching funds means launching new startups and it leads to more job opportunities. I am proud of having a real impact on the economy and creating real value in the marketplace.
in the marketplace.
CDP Venture Capital SGR is committed to accelerating the marketing of high-tech intellectual property via its Technology transfer funds, on which you are working. Can you tell us more about why this work is so important? How do you recognise whether research is worth investing in and how do you transform it into a profitable product?
The Technology Transfer Fund managed by CDP Venture Capital SGR is a multi-compartment fund. We invest directly in pre-seed projects and indirectly - throughout fund of fund facility - financing fund managers who invest in deep tech startups. On the one hand, the aim of the tech transfer fund is to finance intellectual property and derive value from research activities in Italy and all over Europe. Research is the pillar and the source of every type of innovation and intellectual property. In a preseed stage, it’s very difficult to understand if a specific type of research is worth investing in or not. For this reason, we invest in the proof of concept stage (PoC), which is the first laboratory evaluation of the technology; if the PoC is positive, we invest further in seed and early-stage rounds.
On the other hand, there are the tech transfer funds financed by us, that could take a look at PoC and early-stage projects that have already been financed, to invest in furtherly.
Our main aim is to invest in the scale-up of these targets.
A study from Bella Research Group and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation found that investment firms owned by women and minorities manage just 1.3 per cent of the investment industry’s 69$ trillion assets in the US despite being overrepresented in the top quartile of performance. In your view, which changes are needed for the industry to become more diverse and what happens when they do?
In my opinion, women need to have more confidence in their entrepreneurial skills. This should become the new normal. We should no longer be surprised by the results achieved by women, for example, them entering C level positions. A lot of stereotypes would then finally be erased because we would see that women generally are doing well in their jobs and that prejudices are a cultural and social issue.
This should become the new normal.
We should no longer be surprised
by the results achieved by women,
for example, them entering C level positions.
You are one of the participants in the 6th edition of WIL’s Women Talent Pool Leadership programme. Can you tell us why you wanted to participate and what have you gained from this experience?
When I was informed about WIL’s Women Talent Pool Programme, I was very excited because finally, I had found a serious programme dedicated to the training and promotion of female leadership targeting young women. I had never before participated in a programme focused on women’s leadership, particularly coming from a world fully dominated by men in C level positions. I have really appreciated the entire experience. It has been a nice discovery that has changed me in many aspects: I have had the chance to network with diverse women from different sectors and backgrounds.
When I was informed about WIL’s
Women Talent Pool Programme,
I was very excited because finally,
I had found a serious programme
dedicated to the training and promotion
of female leadership targeting young women.
You have been volunteering for more than four years at a school providing an educational and cultural point of reference for female students. Why is it important for you to work on empowering girls through education and how can this lead to achieving gender equality?
During my university studies, I lived in a female college recognised by the Italian Minister of Education, University and Research, where I received a complete education also with reference to soft skills. My role was to be a mentor for young ladies and to work on their empowerment. Based on my experience, one of the major difficulties girls face is feeling underestimated and the fear of doing something wrong. I think it’s really just a cultural issue and, by supporting young girls, we can build the future of female leadership.
Video edited by Dovilė Bogušytė
Interviewed by Hanna Müller
Meet Cecilia Mazzocchi is Deputy General Counsel at Capgemini and the participant of our Women Talent Pool Leadership Programme. In the interview, she discusses making career success a reality, how to bounce back from failures and the impact of having inspiring mentors around you.
You have been Deputy General Counsel at Capgemini Italy for more than 10 years now. What does your day-to-day work look like? Were there any key factors which led to you getting to where you are today?
At Capgemini Italy, we are a small legal team of four people. I work mainly with the financial services market units - banks and insurance companies - and with what we call the CPRD market unit which refers to consumer products, retail, and distribution. As you can imagine, this business is crucial in Italy since we deal heavily with fashion, food and beverage companies.
It was my passion for work that led me to where I am today. I fear neither hard work nor pressure, even in tough situations. I keep a cool head, try to keep in control and maintain team spirit.
Can you tell us about your career path; how did each role lead you towards your current position? And did you plan your career strategically?
Since the beginning of my career, I have worked for Capgemini twice. The firsttime was just after I graduated. It was a very exciting moment because we were in the middle of the integration process after the acquisition of Ernst & Young.
After I passed my bar exam, I decided to work in a law firm to experience a new profession and role. I nevertheless stayed in touch with my former boss from Capgemini and I also kept working with them as an external consultant. I think that every lawyer should have experiences both as in-house and in a legal firm, because it gives you a wider picture and allows you to choose properly what fits you better.
In fact, after some years at the law firm I came back to Capgemini as I was fascinated by the process of following a deal from A to Z, in all its phases and from all angles, not only legal but also from a delivery and business perspective. I cannot say that I really planned my career strategically, I just tried different approaches and followed my interests. In my opinion, being passionate is the best way to achieve career goals.
I cannot say I really planned my career strategically,
I just tried different approaches and followed my interests.
Being passionate is the best way to achieve career goals.
Gender diversity is a critical priority for Capgemini. What are some of the company’s initiatives to provide equal growth opportunities and favourable working conditions for all employees?
In our case, gender diversity works the other way around, since we are an all-female team. Still,I would like to share my personal story. The second time I joined Capgemini, I found out I was pregnant. We had not signed the contract yet and I expected some difficulties in formalising the employment because of my pregnancy. Quite on the contrary, Capgemini was afraid I would not want to join them anymore!
Having three children has not prevented me from continuing my professional path. On the one hand, companies must create equal opportunities for all, but on the other hand, employees must organise themselves adequately to be able to do their job. I wish we heard women saying less often, “I had to choose children or work”. Both the employer and the government must provide all necessary tools and support to allow women to do both.
Who or what inspired you in your career path to get to where you are today and who are your current role models? Should every aspiring leader have a mentor?
It is important to have a mentor, because even in a leading position the exchange with competent people allows you to see things from a different perspective and to change your mind. All my bosses have been an inspiration to me and have always pushed me to do my best. Beyond that, I am absolutely fascinated by the women I have met during the Women Talent Pool Programme, especially my mentor, Magdalena Hauptman. They are a real source of inspiration for me.
Sometimes things just do not work out the way we want them to. What have you learned from those times in your career when things have not gone as you hoped or expected?
This is not new: we are going through tough times. We must cope with a heavy workload and cannot commit our time for trainings or networking, at least not to the extent we would like to. What I do is to try and simplify complex situations. A certain amount of pressure is important to stay motivated and productive, but too much can lead to stress. I break down each project into small assignments: in this way, I understand if I can timely manage all the projects or if I need additional resources to complete the work. I am convinced that every failure, if processed, leads to professional growth. I have always learned a lot from my mistakes. This is a good method to deal with professional failures, to understand what one has done wrong and how to react in a positive way.
What advice would you give your younger self or other aspiring female leaders?
Do the things you like, do them with passion, study, challenge yourself. Don't be lazy. Decide where you want to go and create the necessary path to pursue your goals, and above all, do not be discouraged by failures. We are always reluctant to admit our weaknesses, but we must face them to solve them, if possible, or to find a way to transform them into success.
We like to close our interviews with a question from the Proust questionnaire. The one we have chosen for you is: what is your current state of mind?
From a professional point of view, I am excited because we are going through a major integration process that will help us grow - many challenges but also many opportunities.
From a personal point of view, I am constantly on the move. I have decided to take up my old passions of tennis and sailing again, which I had put away for a while to focus on work. I have discovered that, despite my age, I can do everything well, maybe even better than when I was younger.
Interviewed by Aurélie Doré
Meet our Talent, Mariana Kopecká, EMEA Supply Assurance Manager at Lenovo. In this interview, she talks about what makes her so passionate about her job, why education should be at the core of all gender equality policy, and her desire to strengthen a networking tradition among women. She also shares her tips on how to maintain a healthy work-life balance.
Can you describe your current role as EMEA Supply Assurance Manager at Lenovo? Why you are so passionate about it, and could you share with us one of the major projects you have supervised?
I am leading a team of specialists in the technical field, which supports the global supply chain of Lenovo in EMEA. I have been working for Lenovo for more than ten years: I have held various positions, but this one has given me so many opportunities not only on a professional but also on a personal one.
During the past two years, the IT sector and electronics industry more generally went through a huge revolution. The COVID-19 pandemic created a huge spurt in demand, our daily work changed completely, and we are now living in a new era. From a technical perspective, every single day is a new challenge, particularly as the electronics industry is facing shortages, such as of chips.
We also had to adapt to working from home and my leadership skills needed to change as well. I like meeting people, connecting with them and adapting my management style accordingly. Working in a virtual world deprived me of many of the tools I deploy when I meet people in person, hence, I had to find alternative ways to stay connected to my team.
Adjusting to the COVID-19 crisis has definitively been a milestone in my career. It has helped me not only to move forward in my professional life and shape my leadership skills, but also had a big impact on my personal life since I am the mother of a two-year-old little girl.
I am passionate about my job because I see the progress and real value I can bring, not only to my company but also to the world. As Lenovo is one of the biggest IT leaders, we have a direct role in supporting education, research and healthcare professionals, who are fighting on the frontline of the COVID-19 pandemic. I am proud to be having an impact on our fast-changing world.
I am passionate about my job
because I see the progress and
the real value I can bring,
not only to my company
but also to the world.
Lenovo has recently reinforced its commitment to responsible and gender-equitable artificial intelligence by joining Cercle InterElles, a French-based meta-network of 16 companies across scientific and technological industries. How does this commitment to diversity and inclusion impact your daily work?
I am lucky to work for a company that understands the importance of diversity. Although Lenovo joined Cercle InterElles recently, its commitment is not new: diversity and inclusion are part of our DNA. As a woman, I never felt I had to work harder or fight more to get to where I am now. I always felt like a valid partner in the discussion, and I am proud to work for a company that understands its impact and uses it properly. I appreciate Lenovo’s effort to put D&I at the heart of our corporate values , particularly as I understand that it is not the norm everywhere. We need to keep making our voices heard.
Women are still underrepresented in executive business roles, especially within the IT sector. Was it difficult for you to establish yourself in the tech industry? What in your view can be done to close the gender gap in tech?
I am very proud to work for a company that understands how important it is to recruit people not only for their technical abilities but also for their talent and potential. If I am being honest, establishing myself as a leader was more difficult than establishing myself in the IT sector as a woman. However, I do recognise there is a gender gap in the technology sector, and it must be addressed. Gender discrimination starts in childhood, so we need to first understand our own biases and how we raise our children in order not to reinforce stereotypes. For example, we can encourage them to play with a diverse range of toys regardless of what gender they are “intended for”. Moreover, we need to provide as many opportunities as possible for children to have diverse experiences.
Education plays a big role as well. I have a friend in Austria where it seems these questions are taken heavily into consideration. His daughter who is in sixth grade had a discovery course on robot programming. She loved it, even though she was the only girl in the class. I think this example shows the importance of adapting to our children’s interests, talents and potential, regardless of their gender. Education is the pathway towards gender equality.
Education is the pathway towards gender equality.
You joined WIL Europe as a Talent a few months ago. Why is it important for you to be involved in a network dedicated to female leaders? What have you done or are doing to develop your network?
We as women still have a long way to go to change our behaviour and way of seeing things, especially when it comes to networking. Men still have more experience using networks for career advancement, because they have been doing it for years. Women lack these spaces and there is room for improvement in sharing information, supporting each other, and getting rid of the competition that still lies within us.
Being part of WIL Europe is important to me because I want to invest my time in creating a networking tradition among women which will lead to a more equal system. Women can bring a different energy to the discussion and, in this way, we can all learn and grow together.
As a person with a busy schedule, what do you do to unwind and relax after a workday? Do you play any sports? And if so, to what extent is sport is an integral part of your life?
I am a huge advocate and enthusiast when it comes to work-life balance. What keeps me sane is gardening, CrossFit and Olympic weightlifting. I believe that various activities can improve the quality of life, you just need to find the one that brings you joy.
For me, sport is not about forgetting my daily tasks but mainly about keeping myself in shape and taking care of my body. These activities act like a catalyser that allow me to reduce tension and better handle pressure, so I take them very seriously.
There is a common misconception about working hard: long hours do not necessarily lead to greater productiveness or better results; it is just an illusion. Surviving is not the same as creating, and since passion is feeding our energy, we must identify and nurture it to stay efficient. Working towards those goals with my team is what I care about most. Giving them the opportunity to invest in themselves acts as a real driving force for me. I see the world as a living ecosystem where we all are interdependent and so by helping people around me develop their passion, I contribute to keeping the ecosystem active.
Surviving is not the same as creating,
and since passion is feeding our energy,
we must identify and nature it to stay efficient.
We like to close our interviews with a question from the Proust questionnaire. The one we have chosen for you is: who are your heroes in real life?
I admire all the people around me who are brave enough to step out of their comfort zone, overcome fear, start something new and go after their dreams. Aside from my parents and friends, I was very moved by the story of a woman who used to be very well established in the finance sector and decided to leave the comfort zone to start a new clothing brand.
I am also inspired by public figures like Jacinda Ardern and Sanna Marin. They manage to juggle busy personal and professional lives and this is uplifting to see. Perhaps the most inspiring is their ability to keep their humanity and politeness, even in the most difficult of times.
In this interview, WTP6 Talent Stephanie Langerock tells her what motivates her to serve as Belgian Commissioner for the International Whaling Commission. Inspired by an encounter with humpback whales in Colombia and Cousteau’s films, she has developed a strong commitment to ocean conversation and biodiversity. In her words: stay stubbornly optimistic and incorporate diverse perspectives to drive the green transition!
You are Senior International Relations Officer responsible for Biodiversity at the Belgian Federal Public Service Health, Food Chain Safety and Environment, a role which includes serving as Belgian Commissioner for the International Whaling Commission. Could you tell us more about this Commission and your daily work more broadly, and why you are so passionate about it?
The International Whaling Commission (IWC) was founded more than 75 years ago and is charged with the conservation of cetaceans and the management of whaling. In addition to regulation of whaling, today's IWC works to address a wide range of conservation issues including bycatch and entanglement, ocean noise, pollution and debris, collision between whales and ships, and sustainable whale watching. Besides my role as Belgian Commissioner for the IWC, I am also chair of the IWC Bycatch Mitigation Initiative of which I am very proud as we are bound to start several pilot projects to prevent the accidental catch of cetaceans in fishing gear. As a child of the ocean, I find it very rewarding to contribute to the protection and the conservation of biodiversity and our marine ecosystems.
As a child of the ocean, I find it very
rewarding to contribute to the protection
and the conservation of biodiversity
and our marine ecosystems.
Prior to your career in biodiversity, you worked in different fields, including consulting and transport. What made you take the leap into environmental sustainability and biodiversity?
My career until today has mainly been seizing opportunities when they were offered. Only recently, I started thinking about my personal purpose and how to move my career forward. I have always been interested in many things at the same time, but the central theme of my career is international relations and an affinity with social causes. That is what brought me to Federal Public Service and the World Health Organisation representing Belgium.
I have always been fascinated by the documentaries of Cousteau. When I was 18, I went to Colombia where I really got in touch with nature, both on land and sea. That was when I first saw and heard whales. For me, it was a life-changing experience. At that point, I thought of studying Marine Biology. When I came back home, I returned to my first love, languages and cultures. Later in my career when I returned to work after having a burnout, my current boss asked if I wanted to join the biodiversity team as Belgian Commissioner for the International Whaling Commission. He knew I was intrigued with whales. My interest in nature was triggered again and I did not think twice. My current role helps me to grow and reconnect with nature and with myself.
My current role helps me to grow and
reconnect with nature and with myself.
You describe yourself as someone having a strong sense of fairness and justice. How have these values guided you, both in your private and professional life?
I have always been driven by equality, even when I was at secondary school. I volunteered for several organisations, both with youngsters and elderly people, trying to contribute to the community. Treating everybody fairly and offering equal opportunities is my utmost concern. We need to achieve equity, look at individual needs, respect each other and promote everybody’s uniqueness. I try to live by these values by listening actively and being empathetic.
You strive for the conservation of the oceans and marine biodiversity. How can we keep conversations focused on the ecological transition? Are you optimistic for the future?
First, yes, I am optimistic! Two years ago, I had the opportunity to spend three weeks in Antarctica as part of Homeward Bound, an immersive global leadership programme for women. During our voyage I met Christiana Figueres, the former Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change who is considered as one of the architects of the Paris agreement talked about stubborn optimism.
I think that I have always been a stubborn optimist - I just did not have a name for it. I believe that things can and will get better and that there is always a possibility for success. The climate and biodiversity crises are tough, but I am very much convinced that, as humans, we have everything in our hands to bend the curve and protect and restore nature. We are all dependent on our forests, rivers, oceans, and soils that provide us with the food we eat, the air we breathe, the water we drink.
We need to keep raising awareness. For many people, the ocean is a vast blue hole. For me, Antarctica is the heart, the Amazon are the lungs of our planet, and the ocean is our veins, which connect us all. It is in our own interest to protect and to keep the ocean healthy.
The climate and biodiversity crises are tough,
but I am very much convinced that, as humans,
we have everything in our hands to bend the curve
and protect nature.
What role do women play in building a more sustainable and environmentally friendly society?
Women are half of our society. For me, it is just unimaginable that 50% of our population would not have a voice. It is essential to consider women and men when we talk about sustainability. They both have the right to be around the table when we make environmental, social or economic decisions that have an impact on all of us. We need more diverse perspectives, not only for the green transition but for any kind of social transition. To push boundaries and consider all possible angles, a wider range of influences and opinions is needed. And that is where women play an essential role. So, it is time to raise our voice, and advocate for inclusive, authentic, and empathetic leadership.
We like to close our interviews with a question from the Proust questionnaire. The one we have chosen for you is: what do you consider your greatest achievement?
I would not say that there was one great achievement in my life, but I am currently most proud of the person that I have become. I feel good in my skin contributing to the green transition and creating a more equitable and respectful world where humans can live in harmony with nature.
Video edited by Nadège Serrero
This month, we met Alba Casero Mier, Media Intelligence and Digital Media Manager at Orange Spain. As participant in WIL’s Talent Pool Programme, Alba discussed her passion for Mathematics, what Data & Analysis means for an enterprise, and the importance of risk-taking in decision-making.
Prior to launching your professional career, your studies were focused on Mathematics. What attracted you to this discipline? How were your further career choices affected by your strong mathematical background?
What attracted me to Mathematics was its ability to bring order to what appears to the human eye as chaos. It is like a puzzle in which the pieces fit together and allows us to understand the world around us. Even now, I am sure that if I went back in time, I would go back to studying Mathematics again
Of course, all my decisions (and my opportunities) have been influenced by this mathematical background. On the one hand, since Big Data and analysis are becoming more and more important for companies, many doors have been opened for me. On the other hand, I really like mathematics' application from a less technical, more business-related point of view. I love the global vision and understanding what the discipline can give you in any area of business. In a way, I became a hybrid profile between data and business, which has been guiding my career a lot.
In a way, I became a hybrid profile between
data and business, which has been
guiding my career a lot.
You have had a rich and varied career in data marketing and modeling, which started in Neometrics and has involved working as a Data Analyst and as a Senior Manager in external consultancy firms, as well as in-house. You also have an air traffic controller licence and are currently teaching at ISDI! What have been the most striking differences in your roles, not only in the nature of work itself, but also other factors like group dynamics and leadership techniques? What tips could you give to professionals looking for similar career variation?
The most difficult thing is to adapt to working with such different profiles and objectives. Even when the work is similar, you cannot approach all jobs in the same way. In my role, it is not only important to do a good business analysis but also to know how to explain it in a way that makes people understand it. Otherwise, it is not useful. You cannot explain a mathematical model in the same way when you work in a specialised technical team or when you work in a media agency with marketing people.
The world of air traffic control is very different from the rest. There is much more independent working, leaving you alone and very focused on what you do. While it also has an important teamwork aspect, it is a team that you hardly see. It is more about blind trust since you know that the team has to be there for everything to work.
My best advice would be to try to be empathetic. Empathy is key to being able to adapt to new contexts and teams. In my opinion, adaptation is the key to success. Understanding the position of others, as well as their needs and limitations, will make them understand you much better and generate very enriching synergies in any role.
Understanding the position of others,
as well as their needs and limitations, will make
them understand you much better and generate
very enriching synergies in any role.
You have been Media Intelligence and Digital Media Manager at Orange Spain since September 2019. Could you tell us about some of your biggest milestones during your time there? What has been the greatest lesson you have learned?
At Orange, I have learned to question data more, as well as to be critical and perhaps more cautious. It is easy to make great recommendations based on mathematical models when you are an external company (agency, consultancy, etc.), but everything changes when it is your money and when it is you who must make the final decision and take the risk. As an external company, you propose a recommendation and hope that there are people on the other side who are going to consider it and take everything into account. In a sense, it is much more relaxed.
Certainly, the most difficult thing in Orange has been finding the balance between being brave enough to make decisions and change things, while at the same time being prudent and aware of the risks. In a company as large as Orange, these decisions always affect many people. Being able to reach agreements in areas with such different objectives has also been a very interesting challenge. In terms of a lesson, I think the greatest one has been the fact that even if you go faster alone, you go further as a team.
Even if you go faster alone, you go further as a team.
Where do you see your career taking you within the next ten years?
This is a tricky question! I've been thinking a lot about it in recent weeks. The truth is that, until now, I have progressed without a very clear roadmap, and that has allowed me to be very flexible and surprise myself. When I started studying Mathematics, I never thought I would end up working in marketing and loving it. Since I don't usually make long-term plans, I cannot predict where I will be in 10 years. What I hope is that my work continues to be enjoyable and motivates me as much as it does now. It is also important that it continues to allow me to maintain a balance between my professional and personal life while still generating impact.
There is no doubt that the current pandemic has accelerated the speed at which we are “going digital”, with ever-increasing reliance on technology. What in your view is the role of data and analytics in developing an effective strategy in the post-pandemic economy?
In our case, at Orange, data and analytics have been key when it comes to understanding how the pandemic affects consumer habits like media consumption, digitisation, as well as any new needs. Moreover, it has allowed us to see how these habits have been changing at each stage of the pandemic. This has helped us to gain a better understanding of the business and to adapt as necessary. And as I said before, adapting is the key to success. Data and analytics allow us to adapt to changes in a faster and more reliable way.
As a participant in the 6th edition of WIL’s Women Talent Pool leadership programme, you are joined by 49 other women from a variety of different sectors and industries. What led you to join the program and what have you got out of it so far?
One of the things that caught my attention about the programme was having the opportunity to meet other women in leadership positions. In my environment, it is still not easy to find leading women in more technical areas, for example, in data analytics. Networking with them has been a very enriching experience. I believe that the programme, in addition to helping us develop very important skills from a practical point of view, also offers us a space to share our experiences and support each other.
Out of the events and workshops I have attended, I found them all to be very different. I found the workshop on networking to be particularly useful since networking is not necessarily my strongest point. Now that everything has been moved online, networking has become even more difficult, I found the tips very applicable.
I believe that the programme, in addition
to helping us develop very important skills from
a practical point of view, also offers us a space
to share our experiences and support each other.
We often end our interviews with a question from the Proust Questionnaire. This time, the question is: When and where were you happiest?
In general, I consider myself to be a very happy person, so it is difficult for me to choose just one moment. Perhaps this moment could be when my nephew, Martín, who is now three years old, was born and I saw him for the first time. He was so small and so cute! I have lived far from my family for a long time, and it was very emotional to be able to live this moment with my little sister (who is not so little anymore). I was living in Barcelona and when little Martín decided to come to the world, I took the first flight to get to the hospital on time.
Anyway, I would have an endless list of good moments. You have to make decisions that make you happy!
You have to make decisions that make you happy!
Meet our Talent, Gabriel Brunnich Dunand, UNESCO Project Manager, in charge of the International the Fund for the Promotion of Culture (IFPC). In this interview, she talks about her commitment to women’s rights, children’s rights and education, the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on access to culture, and how data can be used to create gender-sensitive policy and address gender gaps.
Can you describe your current role as UNESCO Project Manager, in charge of the International Fund for the Promotion of Culture (IFPC) and share one of the major initiatives you have supervised?
I have been working at UNESCO for the past 14 years. I am currently a Project Management Officer for the International Fund for the Promotion of Culture (IFPC), which has supported the production and organisation of cultural and artistic projects all over the world, with a focus on gender equality and sustainable development through culture. The Fund has supported over 30 projects around the world, ranging from drama and dance theatre in Palestine to the first African circus arts festival; from peace building theatre in Sri-Lanka to a collaborative environmental art project in South-Africa. There is a lot of diversity within and between the projects, and that has been exciting to see.
I also am responsible for chairing the Fund’s Administrative Council meetings, which means presenting all the findings of the projects, the financial situation, and the strategic direction of the Fund. For the past two years I have also been Secretary of the Working Group on IFPC, which is a consultative mechanism involving Member States, the Fund’s Administrative Council and the UNESCO Secretariat, to rethink the strategic direction of the Fund. I feel proud to have been able to accompany this challenging process, including communicating with the more than 190 stakeholders involved, and to play a part in restructuring the governance of the Fund.
Article 27 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that “everyone has the right freely to participate in the cultural life of the community, to enjoy the arts and to share in scientific advancement and its benefits.” Why is ensuring access to culture for all citizens so important and what can be done to make this a reality?
Cultural rights, which can be described as the right to have access to culture, to participate and enjoy culture, are human rights. Whether we are talking about museums, heritage sites, traditions being passed from one generation to another, or artistic creation, culture has the power to inspire, transform and inform us. Especially in time of crisis, it has a unique role as a coping mechanism and in helping us to become more resilient.
During Covid-19 we have seen how much having access to culture and being able to enjoy culture is often dependent on having access to digital communication tools and networks. The digital divide has been exacerbated by the pandemic. From one day to the next, our reliance on digital communication tools to work, learn and engage with others skyrocketed. Those who have limited, or no access to such tools have effectively been excluded from participating in the online events that have been organised during the pandemic. A concerted effort is needed by governments and the private sector to address the digital divide and internet infrastructure gaps: access to digital tools is a key part in making sure that everyone has access to culture.
Culture has the power to inspire, transform
and inform us. Especially in time of crisis,
it has a unique role as a coping mechanism
and in helping us to become more resilient.
Women, who hold a higher proportion of precarious jobs in the arts and culture sectors, are particularly vulnerable to social and economic insecurity. What in your view can governments do to address the gender gaps in the cultural and creative industries? What has been the impact of the Covid-19 crisis on culture professionals, particularly women?
Women hold a higher proportion of precarious jobs not just in the cultural industry but across sectors. This is partly due to the disproportional amount of time women spend on care giving and domestic work, which has the double burden of being unpaid for the most part, as well as often being invisible when it comes to policy making.
In my view, the only way to reduce the gender gap is to create policy with a gender perspective in mind. And whether it is about culture, education, or health, it all starts with data. We need good data to understand how and where people spend their time. Sex-disaggregated time-use data is particularly key in this sense as it informs policy makers in determining where investments need to be made.
In times of crisis, vulnerable and marginalised communities are often hit the hardest. The UNESCO report “Gender & Creativity: Progress on the Precipice”* notes that without gender sensitive data and policy, Covid-19 could actually have an exceedingly long and regressive impact on gender equality. This is an issue that needs to be addressed now, or else the long-term effects of Covid-19 could be very harmful to the progress that has been made in recent years. Since 2021 is the International Year of Creative Economy for Sustainable Development, I hope it can be a turning point. If governments take the opportunity to invest in and collect data through a gender perspective, policy can be developed in a gender sensitive way that takes into consideration the reality of all people.
Training and mentoring programmes, like WIL’s Women Talent Pool programme, are also key in addressing gender equality. Being able to meet like-minded women, to support one another in developing our professional skills, and have networking opportunities are all crucial.
Finally, general awareness raising on the importance of gender equality is another key piece of the puzzle. Organisations like UNESCO have a key role to play in making people aware about stereotypes and moving beyond them.
The only way to reduce the gender gaps
is to create policy with a gender perspective in mind.
And whether it is about culture, education, or health,
it all starts with data.
As well as culture, you have also worked on projects focused on women and education, including a mission at UNDP where you looked at the impact of rural energy access on women’s empowerment and an experience as an early years’ teacher at a school in the Bronx. Could you tell us more about your personal story and where your commitment to these issues comes from?
My first job, and probably one of the most life changing for me, was teaching preschoolers in a multiservice community centre in the South Bronx in New York Some of the children in my class lived in homeless shelters, some of the mothers were former drug users, and most of the children were dealing with the realities of urban poverty on a daily basis. This was compounded by a lack of access to quality health care, which is very common for marginalised communities. The air quality in the South Bronx is such that many children in this area suffer from some of the highest rates of asthma in the US. This is when I came across the concept of “environmental inequality” or “pollution inequity”.
The resilience of these children and their mothers, however, was truly inspiring. Nevertheless, I found that many of the public policies in place which were intended to help struggling families, were actually counterproductive. I felt the need to go back to school and to study public policy, so that I could try to impact societies on a more systemic level and address some of the challenges that were clearly beyond the scope of what I could achieve in my classroom.
I then moved to France where I got my master’s degree in political science with a focus on development studies. Once I finished my degree, I spent some time in Burkina Faso, Mali and Senegal with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) where I collected data on the impact of energy access on women in rural areas. I also worked in Mali with an association called Djantoli, that focuses on preventive health services for young children.
All of these experiences crystallised for me how important it is to invest in women, not only for families but for society as a whole.
All these experiences crystallised for me how
important it is to invest in women, not only for families
but for society as a whole.
You speak three languages fluently (English, French, and Spanish), and your professional experience has taken you all over the world, including Nicaragua, Burkina Faso, Mali, Senegal, France, and the US. The benefits of international experience have been well-researched and are typically described in terms of the advancement of intercultural skills and competences. How has your experience with and understanding of different cultures impacted your outlook, and career?
I’ve always loved studying languages, travelling and experiencing cultures that are different from my own. Being able to speak another language is a window to connect with other people. The travel I have been able to do through work and my studies has enriched my life enormously, expanded my world view, helped me question who I am and has opened my eyes to other ways of living.
That is one of the reasons why I have loved working at UNESCO. I am in contact with people all over the world, and I usually use two or even three languages each day. I really enjoy the cultural and linguistic diversity. I have also been able to experience what it is like to work with governments that are collaborating together to address topics like peace, sustainable development and gender equality, through education, culture, science and communication. Despite the challenges of intergovernmental processes, it has been very inspiring to see the progress that can be made!
After 14 years working in the cultural sector at UNESCO, I have also come to understand that doing the hard work that is in UNESCO mandate cannot be done by governments alone: the private sector has a key role to play as a partner and stakeholder. Having an open dialogue among different stakeholders is key, and at this point in my career, I am very eager to explore how the private sector can strengthen its role as a key partner and stakeholder in addressing issues such as sustainable development and gender equality. It is very heartening to see how the concept of corporate social responsibility has taken off in the past few years, and how even major companies around the world are considering the triple bottom line of People, Planet and Profits.
At this point in my career, I am very eager to
explore how the private sector can strengthen its role
as a key partner and stakeholder in addressing issues
such as sustainable development and gender equality.
In your spare time, you enjoy composing piano music. Is there a musical composition or artist that particularly moves you and why?
I love many composers. Frederic Chopin and Claude Debussy are among my favourites. Most recently however, I have really been enjoying playing Erik Satie’s Gnossienne n°1. For me, it is like a musical poem that expresses feelings and images that cannot be expressed through words.
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