Interviewed by Anel Arapova
Katrina Anderson is a regulatory lawyer at Osborne Clarke who advises on e-commerce and advertising compliance. Before training as a lawyer, Katrina advised food manufacturers on brand and advertising strategy and ran her own consulting firm. In her interview, Katrina talks about how technology is driving new regulation. She also gives insight into the pressing issues of the food industry, on navigating the challenges of starting a new business, and her thoughts on female leadership. Keep reading to find out more!
You are a regulatory lawyer, advising clients on issues such as e-commerce, product labelling, and advertising compliance. When did you realise that you wanted to be a lawyer and what attracted you to this area of law in particular? Furthermore, how did your interest in business and technology shape your career as a lawyer?
I came into law quite late compared to most of my colleagues. When I left university, I went into brand and advertising strategy consulting for consumer goods companies, particularly in the food and beverage space. I did that for around ten years and really enjoyed my work, as I learned a lot about helping clients address their business problems. However, I realised I was looking for a change and I started to think about other options where I could help clients and advise on business problems. This led me to law.
The type of law that I do is very much about helping clients find pragmatic solutions to legal issues that work for their business. It is also about helping businesses see what new compliance issues are coming so they make informed timely decisions on how to stay up to date with compliance and regulation matters. The skill set I developed before becoming a lawyer provided me with a deep understanding of how business works, which has made me a better lawyer.
E-commerce currently plays a large role in the operation of businesses. How did the business regulations evolve in light of e-commerce’s growing impact?
Regulation has to change and adapt to keep up with ever evolving businesses. The biggest driver of such changes is often technology, and e-commerce is a good example of this. The first time we started seeing specific provisions in regulation related to e-commerce was in the early 2000s. At this time, the main concerns were related to consumer protection and ensuring consumers get the information they need to make informed decisions in a timely manner.
Twenty years later, the world has evolved. Today one of the most pressing concerns is the power of the big technology companies and the disproportionate bargaining power that they have. This is being addressed through regulation. For example, the European Union is now updating e-commerce regulation under the ‘digital single market’ initiative. Moreover, there are new regulations specifically designed to protect small businesses from the power of the platforms that they depend on to sell their goods and services.
Today one of the most pressing concerns is the power of the big technology companies and the disproportionate bargaining power that they have. There are new regulations specifically designed to protect small businesses from the power of the platforms that they depend on to sell their goods and services.
You are part of Osborne Clarke’s food law practice and have been interviewed on topical food law matters by various publications, including The Times. According to you, what is the most pressing matter in food law today? What are the challenges the field faces in light of matters such as climate change and multilateral trade agreements?
The answer to this question largely depends on what kind of business you are. For example, when talking about traditional meat-based businesses, the challenge of new technology such as lab-grown meat is incredibly important. However, this is just one sector of the Food & Beverage industry. When it comes to issues that involve the whole industry, the big focus in the United Kingdom right now is Brexit. Whereas, on an international level, it is more about sustainability.
Currently, there is a big focus on the use of plastics, and we are definitely going to see more initiatives aimed at reducing plastic dependence from companies and regulators in the coming years. However, sustainability is a much bigger debate than just how to reduce the use of plastics. For example, we need to develop more sustainable sources of protein, which would include lab grown meat and alternative sources such as insect protein. However, it is not currently clear how such products can be legally sold in the EU and if they can, how they should be regulated.
Osborne Clarke has adopted a wide diversity approach to its corporate structure. What is this approach? What do you value most about being part of such a team?
In terms of diversity, lawyers as a profession are on a journey. At Osborne Clarke, we have some great examples of successes on that journey. For example, Osborne Clarke’s partnership with WIL shows its commitment to gender diversity. Osborne Clarke has some inspiring female lawyers, who are experts in their areas, leading offices and teams. Our executive board is over 40% female, which is not a common occurrence in the legal world.
Osborne Clarke has some inspiring female lawyers, who are experts in their areas, leading offices and teams. Our executive board is over 40% female, which is not a common occurrence in the legal world.
However, what I value most about Osborne-Clarke’s approach to diversity is that it is not only limited to gender. There are various other initiatives in place that show our commitment to a wider diversity agenda. One such initiative is our mentoring scheme for BAME students which is designed to help them visualize their future in the field of law.
Before becoming a lawyer, you set up your own business providing strategic brand positioning advice to global food manufacturers. What led you to such an initiative? What is the greatest challenge you faced in the business’s creation and how did you manage to overcome it?
During my eight years as part of a large multinational corporate consultancy, I always thought that it would be exciting to set up my own business. I made the decision to retrain and pursue a career in law, but it was a long process. That process gave me the perfect opportunity to set up my own business and I was very lucky to work with some great clients.
The biggest challenge for me was definitely stepping out of an environment of a large company and all the support that gives you. Before, if I needed to send a bill or required a presentation template, there was a process set up for this. With my own company, I had to do everything myself from designing the presentation template to writing the slides to delivering it to the board and then sending the invoice and chasing payment. That experience gave me valuable insight into the challenges of setting up and running your own business. Now, a lot of my clients are technology start-ups and the insight I have into their world means I am able to give them better advice.
Now, a lot of my clients are technology start-ups and the insight I have into their world means I am able to give them better advice.
You are currently participating in the 5th WIL Europe Talent Pool Program (WTP). What does female leadership signify to you and what are the changes and developments you wish to see in the coming years?
I would like it if we got to a point where we spoke about leadership that comprised of males and females, and that we did not need a separate category of “female leadership”. Sadly, we are not there yet. One of the reasons why WIL is so powerful and needed at the moment is because we need an initiative to help women find opportunities for leadership and see a clear route to success.
Lastly, we would like to conclude our interview with a question from the Proust questionnaire: Which historical figure do you most identify with? Why?
Eleanor Roosevelt is my legal heroine. She chaired the committee for the United Nations Commission for Human Rights, which drafted the European Convention on Human Rights, which to this day, remains the bedrock of human rights in Europe.
This month, we interviewed Johanna Van Herreweghen, a participant of the 5th edition of our Women Talent Pool program (WTP) and a Counsel at Osborne Clarke, specialised in Human Resources and Employment Law. Johanna spoke to us about her secondment in Silicon Valley, as well as the digital transformation and its role in Human Resources. In addition, Johanna reflected on the changing role of gender in employment and the value of diversity within companies. Find out more about Johanna by reading the interview below!
You have developed a successful law career and have recently been promoted to Counsel at Osborne Clarke in the international employment team in Brussels. What motivated you to pursue employment law and HR policies?
What I like about employment law and HR is that it combines law and working with people. Specifically, the human relations angle that combines both hard and soft skills. At Osborne Clarke, we mostly work on the employers’ side. Nonetheless, it is very satisfying to help companies roll out an HR management that is good for both employers and their employees.
You had spent a secondment to Osborne Clarke’s Silicon Valley office in 2014. How did work culture differ in California compared to your experience in Europe and what challenges do American companies face when establishing their business in Belgium?
The most obvious aspect of work culture in Silicon Valley is the very dynamic business environment. There, the failure of a business is seen as an opportunity to learn, while in Europe, it could be seen as a negative impact on the rest of someone’s career.
People’s constructive and open-minded mentality surprised me, as even though everyone is very busy, people take the time to give feedback and help each other. I found the entrepreneurial atmosphere very refreshing.
There was actually a lot of respect for work-life balance. For example, business development and networking events were usually scheduled during business hours. Even though the workdays started early, they ended at a reasonable hour too, which was great and unlike Belgium, where networking activities usually take place at night.
Regarding the challenges American companies have when establishing their business in Belgium, they seem to be intimidated by the idea that the employment regulations are much more protective of employees in Belgium compared to the United States. However, after seeking local counsel and being duly informed, dealing with Belgian employment law is not such an issue.
You recently spoke at the AmCham HR committee on the topic of digital transformation in HR. How is the so called 4th industrial revolution with innovative technologies such as blockchain and AI playing a role in human resources?
Digital transformation should be much larger than just an IT project; it should be a business strategy where HR teams play a significant role. On one hand, technologies emerging related to data should help make HR methods easier. On the other hand, HR can have added value in motivating employees to embrace these new technologies, rather than remaining reluctant to use them.
Digital transformation should be much larger than an IT project; it should be a business strategy where HR teams play a significant role.
Technologies such as Artificial Intelligence (AI) can have aninfluence on traditional methods of recruitment, for example by helping to identify and attract talent that might have been overlooked. However, algorithms used by AI can also replicate human bias or create their own. Therefore, it is also important to look at how AI is being programmed and whether the right criteria are being used.
Blockchain technologies are in the rather early stages of use in HR. Essentially, blockchain makes background checks easier by eliminating the necessity for third-party partners in validating the competence of candidates. In Belgium, we are not quite there yet due to the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). However, it is only a matter of time before the implementation of technologies that can respect the GDPR.
What significant legal and operational challenges do you see in the implementation of the digital transformation, especially for cyber security?
The flipside of the digital transformation and all its benefits is the increased risk of cybersecurity and unauthorized data use. Nowadays, cybersecurity is very high on the agenda of many companies which are therefore more inclined to appoint directors with prior digital experience.
Considering these concerns, HR has an important role in educating employees on correct conduct and safety regulations, like password protection and user guidelines. Often, human errors cause cyber breaches and malicious attacks from outside sources. For example, in relation to phishing, many employees do not identify a physing email as suspicious and just click on it,, allowing third parties to gain access to information.
You advise on employment matters, HR policies, and various legal issues. What changes have you seen with gender in the employment relationship?
An increased amount of companies are realizing that a diverse workforce is not just a legal obligation, but a way to make a difference in productivity that also creates real added-value. It is beginning to dawn on employers that a heterogenous group of employees leads to a greater number of different viewpoints. This provides a more accurate reflection of our society and these diverse perspectives also provide new ideas for problem solving and achieving goals.
In general, there has been an (slow) increase in female representation at a higher executive level. What I find particularly interesting is that, at a junior level, and especially with recent law school graduates, there are more female than male lawyers, but in time so many of them tend to leave the Bar and take on a position in-house. . Right now, we could see an active conversation about more diversity and efforts to make sure that the right people, not necessarily just male, are promoted.
Right now, we could see an active conversation about more diversity and efforts to make sure that the right people, not necessarily just male, are promoted.
You are a current participant in the 5 the Edition of our Women Talent Pool Program (WTP). What is your vision of female leadership and specifically the future of female leadership within the digital transformation?
The digital transformation is driven by implementing various new digital technologies in companies. Knowing that women are underrepresented in STEM, I think it is crucial to increase the number of women who are experts in digital technology. Just as AI can replicate the biases of the external world, other new technologies and their implementation in the workplace can mimic the culture of the status quo. It is vital that women are a part of the conception, creation and application of the digital technologies that increasingly shape our world.
In addition, the speed at which changes occur in this era of digital transformation, is unprecedented.
This phenomenon calls for creativity in dealing with change. Throughout the last decades, leadership teams tended to be composed of like-minded individuals focusing on a specific set of skills. By incorporating female leadership and a diverse team, companies can see various perspectives through greater collaboration, allowing them to act more quickly and increasing their competitive advantage in the age of digital transformation.
By incorporating female leadership and a diverse team, companies can see various perspectives through greater collaboration, allowing them to act more quickly and increasing their competitive advantage in the age of digital transformation.
Finally, we always end our interviews with a question inspired by the Proust questionnaire: Which living person do you most admire? I do not really admire one living person, but in general, I really respect and admire people who, regardless of their position and personal ambitions, stay true to their self and to their values. I find this authenticity so refreshing.
“Success by delivering the promise.” Having worked in some of the IT industries’ most innovative companies such as HP and Microsoft, Maggie Anderson, a current participant of the 5th edition of our Women Talent Pool (WTP) program and Business Development Manager at Lenovo Technology Ltd is an inspiring leader in her field. Read the interview below to find out more!
You have worked for some of the most innovative IT industries and across various sectors including education; criminal justice, defence, and transportation. What led you to these career changes?
Becoming an expert in a vertical market is always a good thing, it raises your profile as a subject matter expert. Each sector is different, and the variety always keeps you interested. For me it was important to become familiar with a variety of customers and their specific challenges.
During your career, try to do different job functions and or work in a variety of sectors, this will stand you in good stead throughout your chosen career and give you a real perspective on different parts of the business. In every organisation, I have worked for, I have learnt so much and been able to transfer those skills to new roles. My advice is never stay static and try to broaden your knowledge.
Your son has just started post-secondary education and will soon be joining the workforce. What advice would you give to the younger generation when it comes to making career choices?
The advice I would give to my son and to people who are coming into the workplace is to try and find positions and subjects that they feel passionate about, that really spark their interest. Because at the end of the day, you are spending many hours in the workplace!
For me it was IT, and I feel more passionate about the subject that I am working in now than I did when I first started my career. That is the key point I want to give to my son: narrow down your choices to matters that you get excited about and would get longevity from in your working career!
What do you like best about working for the IT industry and why is advocating for women in IT important to you?
The IT Industry can really change people’s lives through products and services. Not only, is this true in the working environment but in our personal lives too, not to mention our children’s lives. I really enjoy seeing how technology can improve and evolve organisations, where I have had a small part to play.
Everything, we do is now linked to technology and for me this is an exciting time to work in IT. Women should be at the forefront of a fast-changing world, where technology is influencing how we do things. As women, we bring a completely different dynamic to the IT industry and I would like to see more young women entering the IT space as a career choice.
Women should be at the forefront of a fast-changing world, where technology is influencing how we do things.
In particular, few females take on roles selling as external sales representatives in IT. Could you explain why you think this is and what encouragement would you give to young women to move into an external role?
When I first started out in IT, it was a predominantly male dominated career choice and it was rare to see women. Since then, more women have been coming through. We have made lots of strides in specific sectors like HR, Marketing, or internal back office functions. However, too many females are still not making the leap to doing external customer facing sales roles.
I would encourage young women to really look at external sales roles, whether that be in IT or any other industry, and really consider it as a credible career choice. I think sometimes as women we lack the confidence to make that step from the back-office jobs to customer facing roles.
In my career certainly, if you are successful, then you ought to help your female colleagues or extend down the elevator to bring them up. We need to do more mentoring and encourage females to seek external customer roles. I would like to see more advocacy of that, especially in the IT industry.
If you are successful, then you ought to help your female colleagues or extend down the elevator to bring them up.
Do you think it is important to have role models and do you have your own role models for women in STEM?
I absolutely do have role models. I have worked with some great women during my career, real people that I looked up to, and who have been role models for me over the years.
Companies that have buddy systems or mentoring systems in place make a substantial difference. From a mentoring perspective, if you can receive guidance from someone who has been working in the sector that you have a specific interest in, then you can gain considerable knowledge from them. You can learn from their experience, and from their mistakes, go to them for guidance, or even just have someone as a sounding board. It is imperative to find someone you look up to, someone who can steer you through the challenges of the working environment!
It is imperative to find someone you look up to, someone who can steer you through the challenges of the working environment!
Lenovo is a proud sponsor of our Women Talent Pool program, a 12-month leadership program, and you have recently joined the 5th edition. What is your vision of leadership and what makes a good leader according to you?
There are some quintessential leadership qualities. I have been working now in my sector for 25 plus years, and according to me, a good leader is someone inspiring, who I can learn from, who is visible, influential, but above all, someone who is authentic!
Equally, a good leader helps teams and individuals achieve change. This is especially valuable in the IT industry! For example, the nature of the business that Lenovo operates in is very dynamic, but it changes very quickly. A leader is someone who can support people through those changes.
Lastly, we always finalise our interviews with a question from the Proust questionnaire, therefore: What is your personal motto?
My motto is to deliver the promise. If I say I am going to do something, then I make sure that I deliver, that I enact, and instigate what I said I would do.
It is equally indispensable in customer service to not make promises that you cannot deliver. Delivering a promise is always in the back of my mind in conversations, in customer meetings, or in any customer scenario. If this byword is achieved, then I believe that I will have content customers. This is a motto that benefits Lenovo and it also makes me successful.
Cristina Hoffmann, visual artist, researcher, performer, and public speaker discloses her transition from engineer to designer, to multimedia interdisciplinary artist! She discusses leadership and empowerment in her art, the value of uncertainty and change, and even shares a few of her favourite artists. Advice for the upcoming candidates of our 5th Women Talent Pool (WTP) Program is also given! Read below to find out more.
You trained as an engineer, within a decade you became a successful designer and innovator, and then left your corporate career to set up your own art studio. What motivated these transitions?
These evolutions stemmed from a personal process of maturing and self-discovery; in my case each phase was motivated by new burning questions that emerged as I outgrew a specific role.
Engineering taught me how to learn anything by myself, and how to solve very difficult problems; though we were never invited to question the very issues that we were exploring. Hence my move towards design, which goes beyond what is technically feasible, to also address what is meaningful for people, valuable for society, and viable for the company itself. It was a much more holistic approach to creating, and I was lucky to be able to explore it both in academia and the tech industry.
I first moved towards design because it goes beyond what is technically feasible, to also address what is meaningful for people, valuable for society, and viable for the company itself.
Creating things had always been one of my major drives, and at some point, a very strong need manifested. I was yearning for freedom to ask my own questions, to explore larger issues, and to be able to go back to working with all kinds of materials. I wanted to be in contact with the feeling of the works and the transformation, the new creations coming to life. It is one of the biggest thrills for me, and one I will never ever tire of!
It comes as no surprise that your art focuses on human interaction with technology. Can you tell us a bit more about your work? What specific message do you want to convey?
My background has allowed me to work combining very different mediums and depending on the project I experiment with traditional media and new technologies. My artwork tries to blur the boundaries of our definitions of how the world works. For example, in my performance “Cosa Mentale” I connect another artist’s brain to my arm so that his brain controls part of my movements, and thus we explore drawing with two minds and one hand. We do this using brain interfaces, electro-stimulation, drawing and performance (View video here).
So, I like to misuse things in a way that is productive, interesting, and opens up new possibilities. When you alter things that people take for granted, you bring about surprise, stimulate thinking, and encourage others to revisit things they had never questioned before. Though I am not trying to convince anyone of a specific message. I seek to render things visible and to raise questions, but it is important for me that the artwork leaves enough space for everyone to make up their own minds, start conversations, and relish on the work or challenge it as they wish.
You were in the very first WIL Europe Talent Pool Program (WTP), a leadership program for female talents. Do you explore leadership and empowerment in your art as well? What is your vision of female leadership?
I believe you do not ask for permission to lead, but you decide to do so through your actions. It has a dimension of power, but not controlling or coercive power; rather the power of embodying a new way of being and inspiring others to be intrinsically motivated to act, to contribute, and to change things. Leaders are concrete examples of what can be strived for, who someone can be, how life can be lived, how things can be done, what could have value, and what success can mean.
Leaders are concrete examples of what can be strived for, who someone can be, how life can be lived, how things can be done, what could have value, and what success can mean.
I think one of the worst things that we can do to society is to cultivate normative and universal truths, and to put people in a place where they feel they do not belong, that they do not have choices or are not free to act. And so anyone, woman or other, who is not part of the established group that detains the power to impose a single vision of reality, has enormous potential to become a leader.
Leadership also requires generosity and acceptance to be visible and exposed. And I think it emerges from a process where you go deep inside yourself, you look for your own questions, and are brave enough to explore the answers that ring true to you.
In this way it has a lot in common with how I approach making art. For me it is about unveiling that which could remain otherwise invisible, it is about shaping new possibilities. And doing so by cultivating a new and specific attitude towards how you work, how you look at the world and others, and how you interact with both.
Apart from working with the world of art, galleries and museums, you also collaborate with companies and public institutions. Why develop this connection? What can art bring to them?
My interventions touch upon things like empowerment, digital transformation, or technological augmentation, but the main issue I address is dealing with change and uncertainty.
Everyone can relate to the fact that as we become adults, we are supposed to always have answers, though we are constantly faced with not knowing what to do, and not being able to control what will happen next. It is a very difficult feeling, and one that artists constantly provoke in order to make new work, so we become quite good at dealing with it.
Also, in the past it was quite common to have those who knew and decided what should be done, and then those who did the work. But we are increasingly involving citizens and employees in decision-making processes, and we know that jobs based on execution will be replaced by AI, robotics, and automation. In the future, we will be constantly confronted with ever changing situations and environments, and we will be asked to take initiative, to be creative, and to be self-starters, all of which are essential traits for making art.
In the future, we will be constantly confronted with ever changing situations and environments, and we will be asked to take initiative, to be creative, and to be self-starters, all of which are also essential traits for making art.
And so, through performances and collaborative work sessions, I explore these issues with groups of people. Most importantly, we explore how uncertainty is a normal thing to experience, and that difficulty and resistance are not symptoms of failure, but rather essential indicators of good work, which mean that change and transformation are under way.
I go about this in a very practical way. I believe in the power of using art and participation to allow people to live through completely new experiences, rather than just telling them about ideas. As with my other artworks, through these projects (that I like to call “Work-In-Public”) I hope to touch others, to intrigue them, to compel them to stop and engage with the work, to feel, to think… to stir something inside of them. I strive to help them connect with themselves, their imagination, and their own desires.
I wish these experiences would allow participants to realize that they are capable of many things they did not dream they could do, and that even within a specific system, they have much more freedom (and responsibility) than they thought to have impact and transform things.
What is the biggest career lesson you have learnt? What advice would you give to the candidates of the upcoming 5th Edition of our WTP program?
Everything you need you can find inside yourself, learn how to really listen, do not let anybody tell you how life works and what is going to be possible or not for you. You get to define that for yourself.
Be very attentive to who you surround yourself with; they will make up the fabric of your reality. Be connected to the world and to others, look at what inspires you and makes you feel something (good or bad), this is a good starting point to discover your inner voice.
Remember that we all have dead angles, and every situation can be experienced and interpreted in a myriad of ways, which means that if you are stuck you can always look at things completely anew.
Direction and intention are good, but do not over-plan or ever feel trapped. You always have many more possibilities than you thought, and life is always much more creative than anything you could have planned in your head, so stay open and curious.
Lastly, we like to conclude from a question from Proust questionnaire: Who is your favorite artist?
I am not one for single favorites, so I will go for a small sample of the many female artists I admire, who share the trait of never conforming to what others, or their disciplines, dictate they should be or do: Choreographer Pina Bausch, Poet and Writer Maya Angelou, Conceptual and Performance artist Esther Ferrer, Visual artist Rebecca Horn, Painters Marlène Dumas and Maria Lassnig, Musician and Poet Patty Smith.
Since last interviewing Christina, she has taken a research residence at The Centre des Arts, in Ehgien-Les-Bains, France, for the 2019-2020 season. Her engaging series, Spotlight, draws on themes including memory, perception, written word and time, taking the viewer on a magical exploration into a virtual world brimming with light, text and colour. Cristina’s research stems from her career and training as a designer and engineer, with her public projects combining performances and participatory experiences and a fascinating mix of traditional and new media. Find out more about Cristina's residency and Spotlight series here!
Stephanie Gicquel, Long Distance Runner, Polar Explorer, Motivational Speaker and Corporate Lawyer shares some highly unique insight about her 2,045 kilometres expedition across the Antarctic via the South Pole for! Stephanie relays fundamental points which she has learnt throughout her expeditions and talks about her environmentally friendly initiatives. The importance of teamwork and having hobbies outside of work are also discussed! Read below to find out more.
You are the first French woman to have run a marathon around the North Pole by -30 ° C. You have also crossed the Antarctic via the South Pole for 2,045 kilometers in 74 days by -50 ° C, the longest expedition on foot without traction sail done by a woman in Antarctica (Guinness World Records). How did you get into this type of challenging sports and what was your driving motive to pursue these expeditions?
I enjoy adventures and for me this means stepping out of my comfort zone. I therefore initiated and experienced several challenges and have many more yet to come!
I have always been attracted by endurance sports and polar regions – even more so now that I explored Greenland, Spitsbergen, North Pole, Antarctica.
I had read so many books about these regions and at some point felt I had to make my own expeditions in these areas to get closer to the reality and truth of how they actually were.
When I decided to walk 2,045 kilometres across Antarctica, I could have been discouraged numerous times. I had read Reinhold Messner’s book about his expedition across the Antarctica wherein he described his time as the most challenging and painful mountaineering experience- alongside his ascent of mount Everest- he had ever had. Additionally, I could also have been discouraged by the list of adventurers who had died in Antarctica, or when my potential sponsor decided not to fund me because the risk of me dying was too high! Lastly, I was told time and time again that as a woman, this expedition would be impossible! I accumulated all these doubts and decided to transfer them into positive energy which made me work harder.
When I reached my goal to cross Antarctica after walking over 2,045 kilometers, my body weight was down to 39kg. When temperature dropped down to -50°C for several days, I did no longer feel my fingers and toes. When I had to walk longer hours and sleep only 4 to 5 hours to recover, hunger would still wake me up in the middle of the night. I knew what it took me to get there and only a severe injury could have taken me out of Antarctica. I never felt like giving up.
In your books On naît tous aventurier and Across Antarctica expedition as well as in the conferences and workshops you organize, you share some of the key lessons you have learned throughout these expeditions. Could you share some with us? In particular, what lessons can be applied to the professional word?
First key takeaway would be: be focused and passionate. I would actually not have survived two days on the ice in Antarctica if I had not been focused and passionate about this expedition. I think everyone should suss out their own “Antarctica challenge” whatever it may be and then go for it.
Second key takeaway is that no one should be afraid to change. I found out that it does not really matter if this change leads to a success or a failure. Taking a different route is not so much about what you earn, it is mostly about what you learn. If you do not succeed at first, try and try again!
Taking a different path is not so much about what you earn as a result, it is mostly about what you learn along the way.
Third key takeaway is to remember that nothing comes with absolute ease. Working hard, working efficiently, and working together with experts, specialists and a team aiming for a same goal is vital for professional growth.
A fourth key takeaway is optimism. This is key if you need to reach a finish line which is far off! To visualize the steps that are needed for you to get to your desired goal will help you stay motivated and optimistic! For example, I imagined before I did my Antarctica trip that I would have to walk 10 to 16 hours a day everyday despite the strong and cold wind and that my clothes would be permanently frozen with no possibility to change them during weeks. As such, I was better prepared for when these things did happen!
There are actually many other key takeaways from these experiences, but most importantly is to remain self-confidence– it is something you build up overtime. The best way to start is to take the first step and try.
You have founded an association to raise young people’s awareness about the beauty of the polar regions and their importance for the global climate change. Could you tell us more about this initiative and what has drawn you to commit yourself to the environment?
I funded a non-profit charity to promote polar regions whilst also having given talks at the French Ministry of Ecology, COP21, COP22, etc. I frequently visit schools to raise environmental awareness by sharing the beauty of the polar regions and their importance for the global climate change. Every time I go for a polar exploration, one of my main goals is to bring back photos and videos as it can improve people’s understanding and knowledge about the importance of these regions.
Every time I go for a polar exploration, one of my main goals is to bring back photos and videos as it can improve people’s understanding about the importance of these regions!
Alongside being lawyer and teacher, you always found time to do sports. How important is it, do you feel, to have a hobby or a passion alongside work?
I feel like this is a way to keep learning. And at some stage learning is actually the only way to grow.
Even if you are very good at what you are doing and are an expert in your field you can still continue to grow by exploring different environments. By doing so, you may go back to your field of expertise and look at it with different eyes.
You have organized team-building workshops and conferences. What role has teamwork played throughout your professional and personal life?
As mentioned above, working together with a team of experts, specialists and with a team aiming for a same goal is key if you want to progress. Even running is not a solo sport. I would not have won ultra-trails, the 24 Hour French Championships, and would not have been able to prepare efficiently for the World Athletics Championships without a committed team. I am depended on their advice with regards to nutrition, body recovery, adaptation to environmental stresses and so on. The key is to find out and gather the best team members and this does take some time. However, it is more efficient to take more time to build a team upfront rather than struggling alone.
Working together with a team of experts, specialists and a team aiming for the same goal is essential if you want to professionally progress!
For example, I recently prepared and succeeded in the World Marathon Challenge, a challenge to run seven marathons around the world in seven days, together with several sponsors and with the INSEP which is the French national institute for sport and performance. Our goal was notably to collect a maximum of data regarding the adaptation of human body to environmental and climate stresses especially when performing long distance effort.
What future goals are you working towards?
I am now training for and focusing on the 2019 World Athletics Championships (24-hour run). There are many other projects I am thinking about - both in relation to endurance sport and polar regions.
We have tradition at WIL of ending our interviews with a question from Proust’s questionnaire, as such: which living perosn do you most admire?
I am inspired by every single person I meet. We all live interesting adventures and you can therefore always learn from someone else.
Christine Sturma, EMEA Service Delivery Senior Manager at Lenovo, talks about how the Japanese working culture is and how it compares to the European one, how customer service varies per country, the changes the Tech sector has undergone in terms of gender balance and gives examples of what practices Lenovo has put to ensure gender diversity. Lastly, vital qualities of female leadership are shared! Read more below!
You started off your career in Japan, working for 13 years in a Japanese electronics company. What influenced your decision to move to Japan and how did the working styles differ to the European environment you are working in now?
When I started University, the opportunity arose to do a training in Japan with a perquisite that I learn Japanese beforehand. I decided to take up this adventure and endeavor upon a new journey.
Before moving, I took six months of Japanese classes to ensure that I could correspond, at the very least, on a basic level. Once I was in Japan, I worked for three months in an electronic district in Tokyo called Akihabara as a store clerck. This experience allowed me to discover and explore the unique culture of Japan.
This experience left me in awe and consequently motivated me to carry on learning the language and to return at a later date to do my second training, this time in the “Japanese alps”. The company at the time was looking to expand the number of foreign employees and as such, I decided to apply. As being chosen for the position, I spent three years in Tokyo working in International Logistics.
With reference to the working styles, the biggest difference I noticed was that in Europe, individualism is fostered and encouraged whereas in Japan, employees adhere to a collective identity. As this collective identity predominates in the working environment, teamwork is considered vital, so much so, that when decisions need to be made, a consensus is nearly always met. Hierarchy in Japan is very structured. One visible example is the language itself: you do not address the same way a person with higher/lower position, a person older/younger than you. More so, in Japan the language already segregates people; depending on the age of a person and the job title they have, you modify your language accordingly.
In Europe, individualism is fostered and encouraged whereas in Japan, employees adhere to a collective identity.
When working on projects, the Japanese style of work means the process before execution takes a long time, with a lot of negotiating and renegotiating. Comparatively, when the project is put into action, it goes very smoothly as any possible hurdles have rigorously been assessed and resolved beforehand. Aside from this, Japan has a culture of continuous improvement, meaning that if actions don’t go to plan, a thorough analysis will take place to understand why it did not work and how this can be avoided in the future. I transferred this method onto my present European working environment.
After managing different positions in the production environment, you decided to specialize in customer service. Can you tell us about the different positions you have attained wherein customer service played a pivotal role and how these roles varied?
This first mission I had in terms of customer service was to transform a manufacturing workshop into a repair workshop. This meant we had to move from a very linear process to one which was more complex and that required a great deal of decision making. In addition, I had to ensure that the agents were retrained so that they could deliver necessary customer service. The second mission was to develop refurbishment programs across Europe, each time needing to achieve the right balance between the efficiency and speed. These first customer service experiences were though backoffice functions.
After several years, I wanted to experience the front side of customer service. I was approached by Lenovo in 2008, only 2 years after merge with IBM. Lenovo at that time wanted to increase their portfolio of very large customers (so called Global customers) and service was critical. I became a Service account manager for prestigious international customers and built a lot from scratch: Service contracts & SLAs, reportings, customized service design. Once we acquired more customers, I had more people in the team and therefore my responsibilities grew. 5 years later, I was asked to lead the service delivery team covering South of Europe. The foundation of this position is to establish all necessary processes to provide best class customer service in a cost – effective manner for both B2B & B2C markets.
You are leading the Service Delivery organization for the European sub region covering France, Iberia, Italy and Israel for both commercial and consumer Computer product ranges. What does the role entail and how do you adapt your working strategy per country?
My role as Service Delivery organization for the European sub region constitutes enhancing the customers’ satisfaction by improving the quality of our services, identifying new features, building strong relationship with our customers (end customers but also distributors and retailers) while managing yearly budgets and financial objectives.
With regards to adapting the working strategies per country, the differences aren’t so vast. Customers across the countries have similar expectations: fast and high-quality service. In addition, the principle applies to all countries: listen and act upon the demands and concerns of your customers. However, the way to deliver a service will differ per country. This stems from the geographical and cultural differences.
As an example, in Israel, customers don’t like indirect mode of communication, they want to talk to our call center agents. Comparatively, in France, customers tend to go back to their point of sales to share their concerns on their product.
Having worked within the Tech Sector for many years, what changes have you seen the industry undergone with regards to gender balance and what more do you feel can be done to ensure further equality?
Whether it is a result of legislation pressure or because more companies have reached a level of maturity where they have started to realize the benefits of having more diverse workforces, gender balance within the Tech Sector has definitely increased!
Gender balance within the Tech sector has increased because of Legislation pressure and because companies realize the benefits!
To initiate further equality, we need to do more to increase the visibility of female role models. Young girls need to know about influential women in Tech so that they have someone they can look up to. There are enough female role models in the industry and therefore it’s time they are given due recognition. In addition, the traditional working structure needs to evolve so that it is more flexible and facilitating for family life: this will be of benefit for both women and men.
You have been working for over 11 years at Lenovo, a partner of our Women Talent Pool program. What are some of the best practices in terms of gender equality you have observed there?
Through a combination of global and local initiatives, mentoring opportunities, tailored programs for talented women, such as WIL Europe’s Women Talent Pool Program and through a celebration of the World’s Women’s day, Lenovo is tackling gender inequality. I am member of a voluntary group made up of employees from Lenovo where we try and promote diversity within the company.Initially, the group was focusing on gender equality but we have now added more pillars to our mission for more inclusion.
Lenovo is tackling gender inequality through local initiatives, mentoring opportunities, programs and celebrating Women Day!
Being a participant of Women Talent Pool Program, what are the main lessons you have taken away?
The Women Talent Pool Program has equipped me with a strong understanding and a sound knowledge of the skills needed for the future. Specifically, learning about topics such as digital transformation and artificial intelligence, and the ways in which we need to change our leadership styles, has been of huge benefit to me. The various discussions, panel debates and talks about topics of the future has really opened my eyes to the many pressing issues we need to consider.
I have since I joined the program dedicated more time on developing my curiosity on such topics to become an active source of proposal for improvements in my area of expertise, service.
Concluding our interview with a question from Proust’s questionnaire: What is the quality you like the most in female leader?
To answer this question, I thought of a female leader I admire and why. As such, I came up with Simone Veil who I admire for her courage to stand up to a male dominated world and fight for what she believed in. Therefore, the qualities I admire most in a female leader are courage and strength.
« Ma revendication en tant que femme, c'est que ma différence soit prise en compte, que je ne sois pas contrainte de m'adapter au modèle masculin. » Simone Veil.
(My claim as a woman is that my difference is taken into account, that I am not forced to adapt to the masculine model).
Interested in knowing what lessons a successful female leader is passing on to her children? Want to know about the biggest changes Deloitte has undergone, particularly in facilitating female leadership? Eager to know what mobility programs are and the importance of having them, how work experiences can shape your future, and how being proficient in different languages can help shape your professional and personal life? To find out more, read our interview with Céline Wehrle, Senior Manager for Global Employer Services at Deloitte Switzerland and participant in our Women Talent Pool program.
You have been at Deloitte for over 10 years. How has your career developed and what are the biggest changes you have seen in the firm in that time?
After passing the bar exam in France, I started my career at Deloitte in Zurich as a consultant in the Tax department. This was a great opportunity as it allowed me to use my legal expertise and my knowledge of different languages. The international work setting was what drew me in and still excites me today! Being able to take on different roles and collaborate with clients and colleagues from across the world has been very rewarding and a real boost for my career.
Deloitte is meritocratic in its approach and rewards those who are willing to work hard and are open to new things, with many opportunities for professional development. Throughout my time with the firm, I had the chance to support many clients and was always supported by my leaders and recognized for my performance. This led to several promotions and eventually my current position at Senior Manager level.
The biggest changes I have seen at Deloitte relate to our expansion in size and the services we offer. When I started, we had 400-450 employees in Switzerland. Today we have almost 2,000 professionals! In addition, not only do we have a much more diverse client base, but we also work in a much more interconnected way with other Deloitte offices around the world, particularly in Europe.
In Global Employer Services, the team I currently work in at Deloitte, we see fewer employees re-locating as expats together with their families. Cost pressures have pushed international companies to focus on local hiring and contracting. At the same time, we deal with an increasing number of weekly commuters and employees on temporary assignments abroad or with regional travel requirements. The workforce in general is also becoming more flexible, and we see a growing number of set-ups where the traditional employment model is replaced or complemented by freelancers or other flexible arrangements.
The international work setting was what drew me in and still excites me today!
You are supporting multinational firms with their global mobility programs, policies and strategy. What are mobility programs, and why are they important in our professional life today?
A mobility program enables companies to have the right people working in the right location at the right time. It implements a company’s strategy and HR policies for providing a structure and flexibility to send employees to different locations according to skills and career development needs. In practice, this means deciding the right type of assignment (short-term, long-term, permanent move etc.), choosing the employees best fitted for the challenge and giving them the support they need. From an employer perspective, it also means meeting regulatory requirements, such as ensuring that employees and their families have the correct visa and social security information and comply with tax rules. In today’s increasingly globalized world, the number of people working outside their home country or office location is greater than ever. However, the implications are often underestimated and insufficiently factored in – that is where we come in!
Global mobility programs can also further support graduate scheme programs. Multinational companies want to attract and retain the best individuals. For graduates, one of the most effective ways of doing this is through schemes that allow individuals to rotate jobs within the company to see which area is best suited to their expertise and what they want. This may require them to work and move abroad.
A mobility program enables companies to have the right people work in the right location at the right time
Your work experiences have varied, from working for the Director of Mobile Networking Planning, Assistant to a Member of the European Parliament (MEP), supporting the Department fighting tax evasion and working for a number of law firms. These jobs were in Frankfurt, Strasbourg, Lausanne and now Zurich. Did the work styles differ between countries? And how did these different experiences help shape your career path?
Working practices and working hours did not differ much, as I stayed within a Germanic environment. In Germany, organizations are more hierarchical and the working environment is more formal, whereas in Switzerland this is less so, making it easier to engage with people in managerial positions and learn from them.
These different experiences helped me decide what I wanted to avoid as a job and which type of organization I wanted to work in. It encouraged me to think broadly about what type of career I wanted to pursue, with regard to both long-term and short-term prospects. It also gave me an insight into intercultural differences at work. For example, I learned that it’s best to avoid calling colleagues in southern countries very early in the morning. That actually made me think I should be working there because I am not an early bird at all!
You speak five languages: French, German, English, Spanish and Italian. How has this benefited your career and in life in general?
As I grew up in France with a Chilean father, I was brought up speaking both French and Spanish. I studied German, English and Italian at school, and I married a German, so I have been exposed to different languages throughout my life.
Individuals may be experts in their field, but if they don’t speak English, it is hard for them to communicate in an international setting. An ability to speak languages lets you communicate with people globally, which can improve your career prospects and help you form relationships which you wouldn’t otherwise be able to. Some of my best professional relationships are based on the fact that we can have discussions in the other person’s mother tongue– it creates a strong connection with people.
Speaking numerous languages has been extremely useful for me in both professionally and personally, and I strongly recommend the learning of languages!
Deloitte Switzerland is committed to increasing senior female leadership so that it reaches 30% by 2020. Could you explain what Deloitte is doing to accomplish this?
This goal has been supported in practice by a variety of measures, but for me and many of my female colleagues, the important thing is knowing that we work in an environment where reward and recognition are about performance, not gender.
There is a program called Thrive which has been developed for future female leaders to help them improve their visibility, how to be vocal within an organization and how to support their ambition.
New policies have been put in place that allow mothers to stay a bit longer on maternity leave (6 months instead of the 4 months provided by Swiss law) and to smooth the comeback to work. Employees can participate in pre- and post-birth workshops and coaching sessions on the topic of working parents. Parents of young children are allowed to reduce their contract to 80% FTE and they can buy additional holidays based on the number of children they have.
Personally, the extended maternity leave has been of huge benefit for me as I recently had my second child. I was able to take a career break and am now ready to go back to work and perform at the expected level to further advance in my career.
In terms of statistics, senior female leadership stood at 20 % in 2017 when the commitment to the 30% target was made, and we are currently at almost 28% with some time still to go before 2020.
Being a mother of two daughters, what are the most valuable lessons you are passing on?
I try to teach them that being a good person means to do the right thing even when no-one is looking!
I keep reminding them that we are very privileged, living in Western Europe where we take everything for granted – from health support to housing, infrastructure and a strong education system. We recently spent two months in Chile with my daughters, and it was a good lesson for them about what daily reality can be elsewhere.
I also encourage my older daughter to speak out about what she wants, needs, thinks and feels. Most people expect girls to be in the space of feelings only so it takes a strong character to challenge this on a daily basis. And yes, playing soccer and going to a stadium to watch games as a four-year old is OK!
Finally, we always end our interviews with the question: What do you value most in your colleagues?
I appreciate that my colleagues have diverse values and stick to them. When they remain true to what they believe in, they are more clear about what they want. This clarity allows for more constructive dialogue, collaboration, and ultimately stronger outcomes.
Our Talent this month, Antigoni Papanikolaou, Legal & Corporate Affairs Director atMicrosoft Greece, Cyprus and Malt, sheds light on how Artificial Intelligence is affecting the tech sector and will shape the legal profession. She discusses what her role was in the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, what she would be if she wasn’t a lawyer and why, what Microsoft is doing to adhere to GDPR, mentioning qualities of a great leader and a surprising historical figure she identifies with! Read the interview below to find out more!
You have worked as in-house counsel for Coca-Cola Hella SA, Papastratos SA, a Philip Morris Affiliate, and are now presently at Microsoft Hellas SA. What made you move to the digital industry and how have these roles differed?
The main motivation to move from FMCG to the technology sector was the challenge of the new and to grow further as a professional. Also, on a personal level, being a mother, I wanted to be closer and gain a better understanding of the digital world.
Having been an in-house counsel in the FMCG and technology sector didn’t drastically differ. In both cases, you are advising, supporting customers on legal aspects of their activities and bringing a commonsense approach to the table. However, one difference is that I now have a 360 overview of the business as I am being member of the Leadership team of Microsoft Hellas, Cyprus & Malta, which requires me to constantly to stay up to date with the changing technological environment!
Whilst at “Coca-Cola Hellas SA”, Athens, you were involved with the company’s sponsorship of the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens. What were your tasks throughout?
I was the legal counsel of the Olympic Project team which oversaw the activation of The Coca-Cola Company sponsorship to 2004 Athens Olympic Games. My tasks constituted in negotiating and drafting contracts of a world class and high budgeted Olympic activation and Torch Relay program. I was monitoring and ensuring proper implementation of company’s Olympic sponsorship rights and I was a member of the Incident Management Core team.
It was a lifetime experience as I learnt essential and unforgettable skills which have stayed with me throughout my professional life!
As legal counsel of the Olympic Project Team, mytasks constituted drafting contracts of high budgeted Olympic activation and Torch Relay program.
In 2016, you wrote an article named “The Trusted Cloud” wherein you stated the measures taken by Microsoft to ensure the users of your cloud computing system was safe. Since then, the GDPR has come into effect. How has Microsoft developed upon the measures laid out in your article?
As part of Microsoft’s ongoing commitment to privacy, it has made a number of investments and improvements to its data handling practices to support GDPR and the privacy rights of individuals. It is difficult to concisely summarise all that has been done but if you look at Microsoft’s Trust Center, the tools which Microsoft is using are clearly and concisely laid out. With the Trust Center someone can discover the company’s privacy programs best practices and how its approaching regulations in accordance to GDPR Compliance.
With Microsoft’s Trust Center, someone can discover the company’s privacy programs and how its approaching GDPR Compliance!
How do you envision Artificial Intelligence (AI) changing the job of IT lawyers in the future?
All areas of work will in some way be affected by AI. In reference to law, the greatest change thatwill appear is in the handling of data processing, research and transactional aspects of the work. The application of AI will help legal professionals to augment their ingenuity and to devote time and effort to what matters most, leaving behind the procedural type of work. Legal professionals will have a pivotal role to play in the development, formation, interpretation and implementation of new laws that may be needed in the future because of the impact of AI in the society at large.
AI will change the legal profession through its data processing, research and the transactional aspects of the work.
If you wouldn’t be a lawyer, what would you be?
I would like to be a doctor in neuroscience as I would like to do something innovative which could have a positive impact on humans in terms of making their life better. When my high school came to an end, I was torn between whether to pursue a medical or legal career. However, I do not regret for a second the decision to pursue legal studies!
Being part of the Women Talent Pool Program and a member of the Local Leadership Team at Microsoft, means you are exposed to leaders and leadership skills. What do you consider are the factors which distinguish a good leader from a bad one?
What makes a great leader is someone who is foremost visionary and afterwards empathetic and modest!
Lastly, we always conclude our interviews with a question from Proust questionnaire: which historical figure do you most identify with?
I cannot help but to think of the ancient tragedy of Sophocles the name of which I have, “Antigoni”. Antigoni is the daughter of the King Oedipus, king of Thebes, and Jocasta (Oedipus mother and wife), who attempts to bury her brother Polinices against King Creontas’ order because Polinices fought against his own city in an attempt to control. Antigoni is caught and is ordered to be buried alive by her uncle the King.
Antigoni had gone against the law which was imposed by the King and instead followed the “natural” law which was formed on the basis of the societal principles and which honored her dead brother. She ensured he was given a formal funeral and did not allow his body to become food for vultures. She had to balance between what is legal and what was fair, and she had the stamina and strength to accept the consequences of her actions.
This month, WIL talks with our talent Diana Georgescu’s, 4P Consumer Lead for South East Europe, about what her current role entails and what the main differences are between consumers buying methods. Further discussions surrounding the changing hardware industry and Romania’s rapidly advanced Tech ecosystem are included. Additionally, Diana shares the practices put in place by Lenovo to ensure gender equality and provides an authentic answer to what she would most like to have as a talent! Want to know more? Read the interview bellow to find out!
You are currently 4P Consumer Lead for South East Europe at Lenovo. What does this role entail?
The 4P Consumer Lead role was designed from the Philip Kotler theory. This theory believes that the marketing purpose of elevating consumers well-being has to be put at the heart of company strategy and be practiced by all managers, therefore the product, price, place and promotion are all taken into consideration. In practice, this means analyzing market research, market pigmentation, planning in detail and much more! This role draws upon many aspects of the company to ensure that the product at hand satisfies the customer’s needs.
In our department we decide where, why, what and who we sell our products to; we are really at the center of the sales department! Personally, I am responsible for the consumer segment for all of South East Europe, this includes: the Adriatic countries, Greece and Cyprus. The biggest different between these countries is the customers willingness to buy. Customers from Romania are completely different to those in Greece, where the people are looking for lighter and more colorful products.
In our department we decide where, why, what and who we sell our products to; we are at the center of the sales department!
Having over 15 years of experience in the IT&C Hardware sector, what are the biggest changes you have seen the industry undergo?
There are huge differences! Around 10 years ago, there was a greater focus on the technical part of the product, meaning its components, configuration and so forth. Today, we are much more customer centric.
This constitutes a greater consideration for the design, feel, mobility and connectivity! Customers want a product which is light, has a long battery life and of course, strong internet connection. With the easy access to information, people are more informed about the product beforehand. Combine this with our growing digitalized world, displaying products online, with an exception of a few, is essential.
From the product perspective, the PC was the central priority. Now however, mobiles, tablets and then lastly PC’s are dominating the market. Evidently, there is a complete change of the hardware environment.
The Tech ecosystem in Romania has hugely accelerated over the last few years. What do you feel are the factors that account for this growth?
Romania has without a doubt moved quickly, from a country which was associated with the “East”, therefore far away from Technology and Innovation, to a country which is now a forerunner in the IT industry. The IT infrastructure paved the way for the rapid expansion of the Tech ecosystem in Romania. Coming from a country which had no Tech industry, it was easy to implement the newest technologies. This has enabled Romania to obtain the position as the 5th best country in the world for providing internet connection!
Other factors which account for its acceleration are the increased use of English throughout Romania and the mandatory computer license taught throughout schools. These skills have equipped Romanians with the necessary tools to adapt to the increasingly global and digitalized world!
Factors which account for Romania’s accelerated Tech Ecosystem is the increased use of English and the mandatory computer license taught throughout schools.
In your opinion, what are the reasons for Romania having a high number of women in the Tech industry?
When looking at Romania, we have a lot of female representatives within IT industry. This female work ethic stems from our history in which women have had to work throughout the ages, especially so after the war. Whilst growing up, my mother and father were always equal in their tasks. As we weren’t raised in an environment in which industries were either “male” and “female” orientated, we see a high number of females in Romania working for big Tech corporations. As a result of our history, the youth in Romania is drawn to the idea of working for corporations: they understand the financial benefits as well as the great working standards it can offer!
I wasn’t raised in an environment in which industries were either “male” or “female”!
Lenovo is a proud sponsor of our Women Talent Pool program (WTP) and Bloomberg has selected Lenovo for the 2019 Gender-Equality Index, indicating its ongoing commitment to inclusion and diversity. Can you give some examples of ways in which Lenovo has ensured the latter?
Lenovo is based on the values of respect and diversity. As a result, gender equality is at the very core of the company’s policies. As an example, we have an initiative called Lenovo women in leadership which acts as an umbrella in which all activities promoting gender equality are organized. I am the ambassador for South East Europe for WIL and can confirm that we have organized many local gatherings to ensure female leaders are given a platform to promote and inspire. These gatherings also allow younger talents within the company to learn from these leaders and to speak about their actions, developments and achievements.
Aside from this, we have a mentoring system in place in which young professionals within the company can pick either a male of female leader to learn from and to turn to for advice.
Gender equality is at the core of Lenovo’s policies!
You are a participant of the 4th edition of our Women Talent Pool Program (WTP). What has been your highlight so far and what have you learnt?
The WTP program has offered many new perspectives on working environments and career choices. The resources WIL Europe has provided, through workshops, events and discussions has motivated me to share my understanding of the topics surrounding gender diversity, inclusions and equality. I have met so many interesting individuals who have clarified what inclusion and diversity actually means, and ways in which we can establish this within our teams and beyond.
I have also developed a sense of duty in which I feel I need to share the information I have acquired, so that gender equity will prevail, and that unconscious bias will be no more. Therefore, I am now regularly volunteering at high schools and speaking at different events. I promote and share my career path and talk about my experiences and challenges. There comes a point in your personal and professional life that you need to start to give, that is why I want to inspire others with the knowledge I have accumulated throughout my life!
I joined the program not knowing what to expect, but as it now comes to an end, I am thankful for all that I have learnt and advocate this great opportunity to others!
There comes a point in your personal and professional life that you need to start to give.
You have ample experience in managing and leading a team. In your opinion, what makes a good leader?
A great leader is one that can inspire others, through their actions and personalities. So much so that the employees are encouraged to go beyond their usual role and try new methods and practices. A leader is not a manager! They differ in the sense that a leader brings out the best of an employee, whilst a manager is merely assigned by the company and doesn’t necessary possess these indispensable skills!
In a world were there is an abundance of choice, it takes courage to pick a certain direction. A solid leader will offer strength to individuals when they need to choose.
Personally, whatever actions I take I aim to inspire others through my behavior and motivation, this applies in both a professional and private environment!
A great leader is one that can inspire others, through their actions and personalities.
Lastly, we always finalise our interviews with a question from Proust’s questionnaire, therefore: Which talent would you most like to have? Why?
What a great question, this really took me out for my work mindset! When I am satisfied about my career and will make some more time for personal interests, I want to start woodwork!
The talent therefore that I would most like to get in one day is to be a skilled woodworker! I like using raw materials and being part of nature as it gives me a sense of peace and calm. I also grew up watching my grandfather making items out of wood and would therefore like to carry on this legacy.
Nermeen Abou Gazia, CEO, Al Alfi Foundation for Humanitarian Development offers insights into Egypt’s reformed educational polices, specifically so its greater emphasis on a “self-learning” approach. Nermeen explains how Al Alfi Foundation for Humanitarian Development is adopting a three-pillar approach by identifying young talent, investing heavily in youth and women empowerment initiatives and working closely with the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Higher Education, whilst also discussing what entrepreneurship entails and successful management. Read the interview below to find out more!
You are currently the CEO of Al Alfi Foundation for Humanitarian Development. How does a normal working day look like for you?
Having been working for more than 25 years and being a mother of two children, my main priority is finding a work-life balance. I really have two work shifts: one where I am meeting with clients and going to meetings, and the other where I am being a mother taking care of my children.
My work is not a typical 9-5 job and I am not following the micro-management, as I strongly believe in my team and in the importance of ownership. We are a team that is not big in numbers, yet each employee has their own project or initiative which I allow them to execute accordingly. As far as work engagement are concerned, I am available 24/7. Personally, I find this convenient, as the flexibility allows me to multitask and provides me with a balance in life.
I am not following the micro-management, as I strongly believe in my team and in the importance of ownership.
You are currently managing several educational entities and initiatives with regional and international partners. Could you elaborate and explain what these initiatives are?
Essentially, we are working on three central pillars. Firstly, to identify the talents of different students and empower them through enrichment programs, so that we facilitate both the students and teachers. Currently, we are serving more than 150 students in the top international university, which is a considerably large number when comparing it to other NGOs in the Middle East.
Secondly, we strive to have a more horizontal approach because we consider scholarships to have a more vertical approach. The horizontal approach consists of investing heavily in youth and women empowerment initiatives, which we started last year. Additionally, we have gotten involved with both the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Higher Education, in order to conduct and provide a global forum to over 8,000 youth from across Egypt over the course of three days. It is comparable to “Ted Talks”, as we bring in executives who deliver inspiring presentations during this forum to the youth of Egypt.
Lastly, we are working closely with the government, in particular with the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Higher Education in order reach our objectives. For four years now, Egypt has been experiencing complete transformation, so we are striving to support the executive execution of the plan from different perspectives.
You completed your bachelor’s degree in Egypt, master’s degree in Germany and have in-depth understanding of the MENA- Middle East and North African education system. How does their approach to education differ and what aspects of the differing system do you applaud?
Egypt has been going through a large transformation. The main component that German and other international institutions are applying is encouraging the independent “learning” approach and investing in “lifelong” learning. In Egypt, we are striving to adapt this “self-learning” approach whilst simultaneously empowering the youth to develop the competences required to have the ability to work.
In addition, we are trying to implement “lifelong” learning, so that even if one has already finished their degree, they feel empowered to continue learning throughout their life. When I set out to do my masters, I was forty years old, making me the oldest among the others. I wanted to study something that would refresh my knowledge and my learning. The different ways of studying and teaching has been beneficial throughout my career trajectory.
In Egypt, we are striving to adapt this “self-learning approach” seen in mainland Europe, whilst simultaneously empowering the youth to develop the competences required to have the ability to work”.
Could you tell us about the path that led you to become the Vice Board Member to the National Council of Education in Egypt, what the role entails and how Egypt’s educational policies have developed over time?
Although the government and the current president are committed to improving the education system in Egypt, implementation has remained problematic. The population consists of more than 100 million people, meaning that making large scale change requires efforts and inputs across all sectors, boards and industries.
The NGO and I, working closely with the Ministry, are facing a plethora of challenges the community’s acceptance of the change, specifically so in relation to new technologies. The driving force for change is the students themselves, as they are hungry for change and equally so, enthused by new technologies. We have been working from several perspectives in order for Egypt to experience these global changes that are happening and to have the country realize how much potential there is for growth.
The foundation is striving to engage and play a vital role in this transformation, by realizing what is happening globally and bringing it to the community here in Egypt. It is important to note that with education globally, each system is always looking to improve. For this reason, we are not trying to fully imitate another education system, but at the same time, we look to other countries, as we are all in the process of adapting to changes in technology and other factors.
The driving force of Egypt’s change in educational policies are the students, they are hungry for change and enthused by new technologies!
You were the first female Egyptian entrepreneur to be nominated in the women mentoring leadership program 2007 and you are now currently a participant of our Women Talent Pool Programme. From your experience, what is the significance of participating in such programs?
In 2007, I had a wonderful mentor that was a top businesswoman in Sweden who really inspired me during our one month together. On both a personal and professional level, we were very much aligned and therefore still keep in contact. In general, such programs really empower me and give me a network comprised of women from different nationalities and cultures.
These programs have provided me with role models and given me the opportunity to present my country. They have motivated me to want to play a role in empowering future generations later on in life, so that one day, I too can be a mentor.
Program such as WIL have provided me with role models and given me the opportunity to present my country.
How important do you feel it is to foster and facilitate entrepreneurship and do you consider it as a tool to ensure sustainable economic growth and job creation?
Having your own project does not necessarily mean that you are an entrepreneur. For example, I have always considered myself an entrepreneur, even though I am an employee in a job. Being an entrepreneur is having a certain mindset that has no limitations. An entrepreneur is innovative, passionate, adaptable to change as well as creative.
For the organisation, ideas that one may perceive as normal that we are implementing here in Egypt, are new for us! As entrepreneurs, we are striving to change the mindset of the youth and women. This does not mean that we experience success on the first steps, but by working with all of the values mentioned above, initiatives can be achieved.
An entrepreneur is innovative, passionate, adaptable to change as well as creative!
To finalise our interviews, we conclude with a question from Proust, as such: what is a virtue you value most?
Perseverance is the virtue that I value the most. In life, you have to “run it with passion”. For example, last month we had this global forum, and everyone told us that we did not have enough time, as we only had two weeks to prepare. But we made it happen. I look at it and I say, two weeks ago we thought it was impossible, but by believing in ourselves and having perseverance, we made it come to fruition. This is why perseverance is the value that continues to inspire me.
Perseverance is the virtue that I value the most. In life, you have to “run it with passion”.
© European Network for Women in Leadership 2018