Connecting, inspiring and empowering women to lead the way
Interviewed by Vera Jonsdottir
WIL had the chance to interview our talent Jessica Dabrowski, Communications Specialist at Florence School of Regulation Energy & Climate, FSR Global, European University Institute. A Polish American living in Italy, Jessica shares in this interview how her dual-citizenship has influenced her, her work at the Florence School of Regulation, the mission of Lights on Women initiative, an initiative she founded to bring more visibility to women in the energy field, and much more!
You have dual citizenship, both hailing from Poland and the United States and are now living and working in Florence, Italy. How has your background and current country of residence influenced you?
As a first-generation Polish American, I am the product of two cultures melded into one. This has shaped many aspects of my life, from my inherent curiosity and adaptability to my unwavering ability to push the boundaries of my comfort zone. My dual-citizenship opened the door to countless experiences – new places, people, cultures and career opportunities – but it was my multicultural upbringing that gave me the confidence to walk through it.
My Polish roots strongly influenced my decision to move to Europe to pursue a master’s degree in European Union Policy in Florence, Italy. After I graduated, I continued my journey abroad working as a digital strategist in Vancouver, Canada and later remotely from The Hague, Netherlands. This position gave me my first taste of how digitalization is reshaping the way individuals across the globe learn, work, and live, as well as the solutions that will play a role in enabling people to adapt. I became particularly interested in the concept of ‘lifelong learning’ and how digitalization is transforming higher education. So much so that it took me back to Florence to work at the European University Institute’s (EUI) Florence School of Regulation (FSR) to develop a portfolio of online courses, as well as a community and experience that helps global energy professionals connect, exchange and learn.
Nearly seven years after first moving to Florence, I am still here! Moving to Italy taught me how to take changes and challenges in stride, as well as the importance of true independence and re-ordering my priorities. I also learned the value of taking things slow, not an easy feat for someone who grew up right outside of New York City!
You recently transitioned into a new role as Communications Specialist of FSR Global, an initiative of the Florence School of Regulation. Can you tell us about FSR Global and the work you do?
The challenges we face today – from technology and demography to energy and climate – are transforming our societies. These challenges extend beyond borders and require unified efforts to overcome them, all while ensuring no one is left behind. This collaborative approach and vision were fundamental to the creation of FSR Global. Through the initiative, the Florence School of Regulation extends its mission beyond Europe to facilitate the development and delivery of effective energy policy and regulation in Asia, Africa, Latin America, and the Caribbean.
One way we accomplish this is through the FSR Knowledge Hub, a platform that strives to make information about energy policy and regulation open and accessible. Using digital strategies, I connect the dots between the FSR’s three pillars – applied research, policy dialogue and training – and our global community of practitioners, policymakers and students. Working at the nexus of policy and academia, the knowledge we create is often highly technical and complex. Breaking it down and building bridges between our ‘scientific’ and ‘non-scientific’ audience – as well as helping the rest of our cross-functional team (e.g., our researchers) do so – is one of the most important and enriching aspects of my work.
While my responsibilities have spanned across digital learning, content strategy, marketing, and community building, I have considered facilitation my most important role. As a facilitator, I help our team, stakeholders, and community connect, engage and exchange knowledge, channelling their collective abilities to achieve common goals. As workplaces become less hierarchical and more culturally diverse and geographically dispersed, I believe effective facilitation will allow organizations to retain the best expertise and foster the collaboration and creative solutions needed to adapt to the Future of Work.
Building bridges between our ‘scientific’ and ‘non-scientific’ audience is one of the most important and enriching aspects of my work.
You founded the Lights on Women initiative that focuses on bringing visibility to women in the energy field. How does Lights on Women achieve its mission? What inspired you to establish this initiative?
A diverse talent pool will be a key driver of innovative and inclusive solutions to accelerate the energy transition and tackle energy and climate challenges our societies face. Yet the energy sector remains one of the least gender-diverse sectors in the economy.
Many impactful initiatives focus on promoting and encouraging women’s participation in energy. The Lights on Women initiative aimed to complement those initiatives and to find practical solutions to relatively new problems: namely, how to respond to the dynamics of gender inequality within digital platforms.
In this context, I made it a priority to address gender balance within media content and communications at the FSR. We began taking meaningful steps to integrate a gender equality perspective into our online activities and to counteract discriminatory norms, attitudes, and unconscious biases that contribute to the under-representation of women in energy. After our first year, we saw a 30% increase in the representation of women across our dissemination channels.
The Lights on Women initiative was created to shine a light on women’s expertise and make their contributions visible to the wider energy community. Three years later, it has blossomed into much more. Last year, the initiative kicked off its first annual scholarship to support women in energy, particularly in their pursuit of the technical knowledge (training) needed to advance their careers. We also offer the training and tools needed for women to best represent themselves across all forms of digital media, where their expertise can have the most reach. We hope that these targeted actions will empower women to take ownership of their knowledge and encourage them to share it, closing the “confidence-gap” that is often a barrier to participation and in turn, break the cycle that under-representation causes.
A diverse talent pool will be a key driver of innovative and inclusive solutions to accelerate the energy transition and tackle energy and climate challenges our societies face.
In addition to increased visibility, what else can help women reach tier-1 positions?
I believe that seeking out a sponsor within your organization or field at an early stage is key. Sponsors play a more direct role than mentors in the advancement of young professionals, taking meaningful and concrete actions to facilitate their career progression. A more hands-on approach to guidance, endorsements and access are especially important for female professionals, who are not earning leadership positions at the same rate as their male counterparts.
That said, it’s often the sponsors who find you, not the other way around. So how can female professionals attract sponsorship? A good place to start is to nurture relationships within your organization and enlist help; be proactive in finding support and trusted co-workers, ask questions, and invite feedback. Building on this, communicate the substance of your work and value of your achievements, especially to senior colleagues (and encourage the women around you to do the same!). Take credit for your accomplishments and don’t underplay your role in your team’s success.
You are a participant in the fifth Women Talent Pool Program. Could you tell us about your experience and why such programs are necessary?
Programs like the European Network for Women in Leadership and its WTP program play a key role in empowering women and encouraging them to reflect on their potential as leaders. I am very grateful to be a part of a program that promotes the open exchange of diverse experiences and perspectives. The WTP program connects its members with many ambitious women who motivate each other to set the bar high and provide valuable advice on how we can take our careers to the next level. From conferences to webinars offered by the network, it has been incredibly inspiring to learn about the journey’s women have experienced in high-profile positions, the challenges they have faced and the unique ways they overcame them.
Lastly, we like to conclude our interview with a question from the Proust Questionnaire: What is your motto? Why?
I don’t have a motto, per se, but I would say that my perseverance and drive for self-improvement guides me. I like to joke that if one door closes, I’ll find a cracked window to go through. We can plan; we can aim for perfection; we can wait until we are 150% “prepared”, but life is full of uncertainty, and if you’re doing it right, some failure too.
It is important to learn from failures or mistakes without dwelling on them and to focus on the bigger picture to overcome obstacles. Otherwise, we remain stuck at roadblocks instead of taking a detour (or a few) that can eventually put us back on the right road. Franklin D. Roosevelt put it best when he said, “When you come to the end of your rope, tie a knot and hang on.”
I like to joke that if one door closes, I’ll find a cracked window to go through.
Interviewed by Anel Arapova
Khatija Ameerally is a Customer Experience Program Manager at Orange, a role she masterfully acquired after formerly consulting with the Orange Group. As a talent in our WTP Program, Khatija discusses her career in customer experience, her take on a successful strategy, her vision of leadership and more!
You started your career at Orange when you were a student, first as a phone advisor, and then as a saleswoman in an Orange retail location. How did that operational experience prepare you for your future career in Customer Experience?
To work in Customer Experience, it is essential to place yourself in the customers' shoes. It seems obvious, but after having accompanied several companies, in France and abroad, I have first-hand knowledge that it is not inherently natural. Being in direct contact with customers has allowed me to better understand their expectations and needs.
This is also why our frontlines are the key to our business. If you want your customer experience strategy to be effective, a healthy employee experience is essential. Ultimately, happy employees make happy customers.
Ultimately, happy employees make happy customers.
For five years, you worked in Orange Consulting, a consulting subsidiary of Orange Business Services. In particular, you accompanied several companies in their Customer Experience strategies. According to you, what are the key components of a successful Customer Experience strategy and what should be kept in mind when developing one?
I am convinced that developing a strong Customer Experience strategy allows companies to differentiate themselves from their competitors. An effective customer experience begins before they enter a shop and continues long after they leave it.
Customer Journey Mapping is therefore a fantastic tool to assist companies in grasping the “extended” characteristics of the customer experience. Within the organisation, the customer experience strategy should involve all employees, from the salesman to the CEO. Working on customer experience transversally is a key factor of success.
Working on customer experience transversally is a key factor of success.
In 2017, you were promoted to Customer Experience Program Manager at the Group level, giving your career an international dimension. How does working with professionals from other countries enrich your experiences and the overall results of your work products?
Working at an international level with many countries in Europe and Africa allows me to meet colleagues of other cultures and diverse ways of working and engaging in practice sharing, all of which have helped me to develop my professional network and experience.
You are a participant in our 5th edition our Women Talent Pool Program, which “aims to train and promote the next generation of female leaders in Europe.” Why did it seem the right moment for you to take part in such a program and what have been the key takeaways thus far?
Taking part in the Women Talent Pool Program aids in my own professional and personal pursuits, while working together and learning from other female leaders. A colleague encouraged me to apply, explaining that WIL could assist me in exploring topics such as gender equality, which is of great interest to me.
Additionally, during a professional review, I was encouraged to further develop my leadership skills and strategic vision, which was another motivation for applying to the program. WIL events, roundtables, trainings and networking sessions are very useful. When I come to a WIL event, I always feel like I am in a “caring bubble”.
When I come to a WIL event, I always feel like I am in a “caring bubble”.
You have a three-year-old daughter. What lessons and advice on leadership do you want to pass down to her?
I am from Mauritius, a family-oriented culture. It is an important dynamic I wish to keep with my daughter. Recently, I noticed that she was differentiating toys by gender: “Cars are for boys” or “Dolls are for girls,” which I found surprising because this type of behaviour is not practised in our home. External interactions and environments can also shape a child’s worldview.
I may not be able to master everything about my daughter’s environment and interactions, but I will always be here to remind her the most important message I want to pass on to her: everything is possible and she can achieve anything she desires.
I will also tell her that according to me, leadership is a mix between confidence, optimism and engagement:
Proust Questionnaire: Who is your favourite heroine in fiction?
Bridget Jones. Although she met challenges on her path, she ultimately succeeded and married Marc Darcy!
“When I was first old enough to read the newspaper, the area that interested me the most was the business section,” says Elizabeth Oakman, General Manager of EMEA Hotels.com Brand (Expedia Group) and a Talent in our leadership program, when asked about her interest in business. With more than 15 years of experience in consulting and management, Elizabeth discusses the challenges she faced when relocating, her career, and her vision for female leadership. Read our interview to find out more!
You have studied Commerce and began your professional career in Australia. What shaped your interest in Commerce as an academic field and future professional path?
If I think back to when I was young, I always had an interest in commerce. When I was first old enough to read the newspaper, the area that interested me the most was the business section. Particularly, I was really interested in what different companies were doing to shape the lives of their consumers across the world.
After working in generalist consulting for several years, you have joined Deloitte’s Mergers and Acquisitions (M&A) team in London. What were your main professional challenges after moving? How did you overcome them?
There were two big challenges that really came to life during this time of relocation and transition. The first one was the challenge of moving from Melbourne, Australia to London. From a professional perspective, in Melbourne, I was very networked as I worked very hard over the years and was trusted by my peers, partners, and clients. Upon moving to London, I had to push myself outside of my comfort zone to effectively build up my professional network.
The second challenge I encountered at the same time was moving from generalist consulting into Mergers and Acquisitions (M&A). However, I quickly realized that there were a lot of key transferable skills that I was able to apply in the new environment. There were some changes, especially in terms of the level of confidentiality and timelines associated with M&A, but the skills I already had gave me the confidence to jump in. The four years I spent working in M&A ended up being some of the most exciting work I have done in my career overall.
I had to push myself outside of my comfort zone to effectively build up my professional network.
In 2015, you joined the Hotels.com team and by 2018, got promoted to the General manager position. Could you explain how your unique professional and personal experiences shape your leadership? In turn, what professional and personal qualities do you look for in your team?
From the background perspective, I had the unique opportunity of working across a lot of organizations, often with access to senior management. These experiences gave me insight into a lot of different businesses. At the same time, living in multiple countries shaped me from a leadership perspective.
As a leader, I am known as someone who will get things done, but I do that in an environment where people can come to work and be themselves. I really value diversity of thought and backgrounds, while also supporting professional development and growth. The experiences I had early on really made me articulate what draws me to certain businesses, which I try to recreate in my own environment.
For my team, I obviously look for intelligent people. Another key element is emotional intelligence; I value people with drive and self-motivation to achieve the best result for the team and the business. Diversity of backgrounds, thought, and experiences can lead to better decisions from a management and leadership perspective.
Diversity of backgrounds, thought, and experiences can lead to better decisions from a management and leadership perspective.
You work closely with leaders of other Expedia brands, as well as supply businesses, to ensure your product’s relevancy to EMEA consumers. According to you, what is the role of female leadership in your industry? What future developments would you like to observe?
The role of a female leader is to pave the path for those coming up the ranks now, to be a mentor, an inspiration, and to help future generations to learn from the mistakes made prior.
Female leadership is also about being a strong voice to drive for equality, in terms of 50/50 male to female leadership. It shouldn’t only be on Boards, but also the executive teams, filtering right down through the organization. I want to see it not only in my industry, but across the board and I am determined not to stop until I see that, as we will all be better off in an equal environment.
The role of a female leader is to pave the path for those coming up the ranks now, to be a mentor, to be an inspiration, and to help future generations to learn from the mistakes made prior.
In your professional career, did you have a female role model whose leadership and personal qualities stand out to you?
Early on in my career, it was a struggle because there weren’t many senior women with a profile that stood out to me. The good news is that years later, I have been tremendously lucky to work with some amazing female senior leaders. I have quite a lot of role models, one of them being Ariane Gorin, a and alumni of WIL’s talent pool programme who works for my organization. The characteristics I look for in a role model include the ability to deliver business results while remaining authentic. A leader is someone who has the courage to be himself or herself and remain human.
In conclusion, we always end our interviews with a question from the Proust Questionnaire: When and where are you the happiest?
My sister Lucy, who I haven’t seen in two years, is visiting me in London this week. I am currently the happiest sitting on the couch at home, having coffee and catching up with her.
“Your initiatives give us a moment of fresh air!” In this interview, Astrik Gabrielyan, Talent Manager Europe at Orange shares her perspective on having a reversed role as a Talent in our leadership program, on how she recognises and develops emerging leaders, cultural adaptation and much more!
Your career background consists of a psychology degree, 16 years of professional experience with 11 years in HR, Design, and implementation of HR programs (Talent management, Career development, Performance Management, Learning and Development). How have these programs been applied to your own career? How has Orange developed since you joined the organisation 10 years ago in Armenia?
When my experience with Orange started in Armenia in 2009, it was a start-up company that we created from scratch. We had one year to recruit a team and build up a network and technical aspects. Each of us created our roles, processes, and procedures. Even the French executives noted it was an unbelievable project.
The start-up process is unique because it allows space for creativity and is a major stage for learning by doing and designing on the go. It also matches my character well, because I love this process of creation, deployment, and results: making the abstract idea into a project with concrete measurable results.
One of the first work experiences I had was in a special bookstore in Yerevan, Armenia, dedicated to art, history and contemporary literature, where I was a sales consultant. Starting a career with customer service jobs – sales or anything that directly interacts with the customer – is an important stage for developing interpersonal competencies and shaping a sensibility to understand the needs of your stakeholders. It was a perfect job also because one of my hobbies is reading and to do my job well it was required to read those interesting books.
You have an international life and career, in which you accompany high potentials based in six different European countries to become leaders all the while you yourself live in another country. What is it like to help leaders develop internationally?
It’s incredibly inspirational, enriching and challenging at the same time. In order to support someone, first you need to understand the person and his/her individual need, and that’s where one has to be open and careful to decode the behaviours, way of communication, gestures, humour, that are all different culturally. My background in Psychology helps me a lot.
I believe, any job that you do should be about giving and receiving, mutually growing. You need to give your best to the role and then you can receive a result. That is the way you learn and grow.
Any job that you do should be about giving
and receiving. You need to give to this job, to the roll
and then you receive. That is the way you learn and grow.
You therefore are constantly facing cultural diversity and different mindsets. How do you adapt your life to better understand another culture?
Everything starts with one’s intentions and beliefs. If you are open to learning and discovering new cultures, then it gives you energy, otherwise it’ll be quite a challenge.
I think my Armenian background is of help either. Geographically and historically, Armenia is on the crossroads, we are neither Europe nor Asia and thus have values and behaviours from both sides. At the same time, we have strong relations and historical links with Russia, a Slavic culture, and Iran to our south, an oriental culture. This historical background gives Armenians who are attentive to it sensitivity to different diverse cultures.
Your workstyle comprises: taking a role of catalyst in the projects and ability to create links and synergies between different kind of stakeholders. Could you tell us about some of your achievements that have given you such recognition?
In my daily role, I do talent identification, development, and coaching. Plus, I deploy different projects linked to our strategic priorities: e.g. career engagement, mentoring. These projects involve managing a community across eight countries. I need to synchronise eight different mindsets and ways of thinking, and even eight different holiday seasons!
We develop young talents to become leaders. For example, in 2018, we had 12 talents from eight countries; all representing different domains, and who did not know each other when selected. We combined them into one team with six months to work on a business subject given by the sponsors. My role as a project manager is to synchronize all stakeholders and to create an atmosphere in which everyone is aware of their role, the project mission and engaged in delivering the expected results, at the same time I need to make sure they grow individually and as a team.
You specialise in leadership coaching. How do you identify future leaders? What qualities do they embody?
In all companies and businesses, we imagine common traits of leaders. Someone who has strategic vision, who can lead, motivate and engage. At the same time, each company has their own model of leadership. Yet, the model of a leader is ever evolving in this fast pace world. Learning abilities, open and curious mind-set, or being a change agent, are becoming more and more demanded competencies and take a key place in the leadership model.
Learning abilities, open and curious mindset or being a change agent, are becoming more and more demanded competencies and take a key place in the leadership model.
You are now participating in the 5th edition of our Women Talent Pool Program (WTP). What do you hope to take away from this program?
As a talent manager usually, I match my talents with the program that would best fit their development plan. Yet this year, I was nicely surprised when my manager told me it was my turn. It’s a great recognition for me.
WIL is a place to learn, to get inspired, enlarge my network, and to share. WIL is a valuable platform to meet already successful women who are an inspiration in terms of leadership. Seeing strong women leaders who are succeeding, conveys the idea and feeling that I can do it also.
It is also an opportunity to exchange with professionals from other internationally recognized companies, like Lenovo, Microsoft, UNESCO, or the European Parliament. These exchanges have been inspiring because part of my interest is to discover how other companies are dealing with common global challenges. I try to get this inspiration online, but it is different when you meet the concrete person from another company culture and discover how else the work could be done. Your initiatives give us a moment of fresh air!
Seeing strong women leaders who are succeeding, conveys the idea and feeling that I can do it also.
Lastly, we like to conclude our interview with a question from the Proust questionnaire: What is the quality you like most in female leaders? Why?
There is this humoristic quote: “What can a woman make from nothing? A hat, a salad, and a scandal.” Well, maybe it’s not the most correct quote to be cited, but this notion shows the infinite range and richness of female creativity.
Female leaders often use their intuition to be creative and adapting. In leadership roles, you must find answers and solutions, that do not go from A to C but from A to Z. This is what is different for women. I have seen this in practice and do not need neuroscience to confirm that.
Read more about Astrik here!
“HR is the heart of this organization.” What developments have shaped HR? How can a psychology background benefit HR? And what role does HR play in fostering effective businesses? Anna Bowtruczuck, HR Director at Lingaro talks about the above, efficient cross-cultural management, and more in this month’s interview! Also discover what Anna believes to be her greatest achievement!
You hold a master’s degree in psychology, and you have completed postgraduate studies in management. How did you go from Psychology to Human Resources (HR) and how does Psychology apply to a HA Career?
I chose to study psychology without having a specific idea of what I would like to do in the future. Most of my closest friends from high school decided to study medicine or law. As for me, I had a strong feeling that studying the human mind would broaden my horizons and inspire me to take my ideal career path.
During my studies, I began to see myself more as a businesswoman than a therapist. After doing an internship in a bank’s HR department, I thought this was an excellent direction to take.
Fundamentally, HR involves dealing with people and its essence lies in understanding the person in front of you. You need to be able to observe their behavioural attributes and conduct yourself accordingly. Of course, processes, competencies and technology all come into play; but ultimately it is all about people. A good knowledge of psychology is additionally helpful when you are choosing the right person for a key role or advising a manager about how to deal with team members.
Fundamentally, HR involves dealing with peopleand its essence lies in understanding
the person in front of you.
You need to be able to observe their behavioural attributes
and conduct yourself accordingly.
You started your career in HR in 2006 before joining Lingaro in 2012. What major developments have you observed within the industry?
There are several developments regarding the IT industry that I would like to mention. First, the war for talent is more competitive than ever. Winning it requires much more than simply offering a better salary, because current candidates consider a sophisticated variety of factors.
Second, when I was starting my career, everyone dreamed of working in a big international corporation. Today, many talented people prefer working in innovative start-ups, preferably providing solutions that have a positive impact on society. With that said, having a sense of purpose is becoming more important for younger generations.
Third, there is great demand for candidates who are open to change, hungry for new knowledge, and comfortable taking on different roles. There are a lot of new technologies and solutions available on the market –including open-source ones –that people can use both in their private lives and for business purposes. It is essential to be able to adapt to this rapid pace of change. The fact that you joined a company to work with a specific technology does not guarantee that you will still be working with that same technology in a year’s time. For example, in 2006 it was far from certain that cloud technologies would be so popular just a few years later.
As a company, you need to know how to deal with a growing amount of data and have people with a flexible mindset. As a result, successful HR departments are not just doing administrative work anymore. They are playing a key role in executing their companies’ strategies.
Finally, I would like to mention that I am delighted by the growing number of young women going into IT. Currently, almost 30% of Lingarians are women. We are exceptionally proud that this is a result of organic growth and a focus on finding top talent – not hiring based on quotas! Whereas, when I was starting my career, it was very rare to find a woman in the IT world.
At Lingaro, you have played a key role in the doubling of the company’s headcount, as well as other major expansions in the field of knowledge sharing. In a general sense, what role does HR play in fostering effective businesses?
An HR team should be ready to respond effectively to the dynamically changing business and labour markets. HR should never become a bottleneck to business growth. Moreover, HR should not only keep up with the changes but also take initiative and be proactive. In a modern company, HR cannot merely be a support department solving tickets in a locked room cut off from the rest of the business and people around it. It needs to stay in touch with people, be the heart of the organization, and guard its values.
There is an important additional point to mention here. To play such a key role, HR needs the support of the entire organization and its culture. At Lingaro, we are driven by a set of Core Values that include “Autonomy, No Barriers, and Collaboration”. The management board makes HR a key factor in strategic planning and major business decisions. Our CEOs sit in our open space with everyone else to stay in touch with all the people and ideas moving around our office. We avoid unnecessary procedures and silos and give our people a great deal of autonomy. Partnership, mutual trust, inspiration, and commitment are the basis for HR’s good relationship with the rest of the business.
Partnership, mutual trust, inspiration,
and commitment are the basis for HR’s good relationship
with the rest of the business.
You have been a vital part of designing agile talent management processes for Lingaro’s teams in Poland and the Philippines. According to you, what aspects ensure efficient cross-cultural management the most?
You need to have authentic deep respect for whomever you are working with. Also, do not make any assumptions while you build your understanding through questions. Keep an open mind and do not fall into the trap of thinking that there is one “normal and accepted” way of doing things. From an organizational perspective, at Lingaro, we help reinforce a respectful, outward looking attitude by acting in line with our Core Value of No Barriers, recruiting people with the right attitude, and supporting our team of diversity and inclusion ambassadors. Additionally, we make an effort to ensure that people from our different sites have time to meet face to face and hold cross-cultural trainings – especially for team leaders!
Keep an open mind
and do not fall into the trap of thinking
that there is one “normal and accepted”
way of doing things.
However, most importantly, it is by “walking the talk” because if people notice that you use big and beautiful words about diversity but then behave differently, it is all over.
You are an ambassador for an open-minded and value-driven leadership approach in HR. How does your enthusiasm for these values influence Lingaro’s unique company culture?
I live by these values every day. I truly believe that these values are the key ingredients of our unique growth recipe as we continue to expand quickly, open new sites, and bring new customers onboard. You cannot expect people to believe in values just because you put them on the wall. You need to lead by example and make sure that values are taken into consideration while making any business decisions, as well as those concerning promotions and awards.
You are now participating in the 5th edition of our Women Talent Pool Program (WTP). Why did you feel like this was the right time to join? What do you hope to take away from the program?
I am thrilled to have spent the majority of my career at Lingaro. However, in my role it is crucial to know how other companies are approaching certain issues and learn from their experiences. It is also a great opportunity to build a network of businesswomen with whom I can stay in touch after finishing the program.
Lastly, we like to conclude our interview with a question from the Proust questionnaire: What do you consider your greatest achievement? Why?
My greatest achievement has been building a team of passionate people at Lingaro. In fact, this is a work in progress! I am proud of the way we are doing business. HR is the heart of this organization. Here, people know that they can come and share ideas, concerns and – most importantly – be heard. All other achievements are less important.
Find out more about Anna, here!
“We educate girls to shape a changing world,” was the motto at the all-girl school Diane Nicolas, Senior Legal Counsel in Mergers and Acquisitions at Orange, attended in the United States. From girl power to acquisitions of promising companies and the importance of role models, read more of our interview with Diane Nicolas!
You started your career as a lawyer in the Mergers and Acquisitions (M&A) Department of a leading French international law firm and have joined Orange five years ago. What lessons have you learnt along your professional career development and how do you expect they will help your career path?
I have been fortunate in my career to work on a wide variety of transactions, in terms of countries involved, business fields, and size of the deals—up to 12 billion pounds. Through these operations, I have learnt the importance of thorough preparation, teamwork and keeping an open mind.
When you enter negotiations, you must be prepared for surprises, whether good or bad! I remember a transaction in which after entering into a binding agreement for the purchase of a family-owned company, one of the selling family members sadly passed away before the deal was completed. We had to learn all about heritance rules in a foreign country and negotiate with the trustee of the Estate and ended up making the deal possible to the benefit of everyone involved.
There are also other setbacks to deal with like finalising contractual documents with Chinese counterparts in a hotel suite in Africa, with a deadline to sign everything before a press conference involving State dignitaries, in the midst of power outages!
Such kind of surprises and circumstances require you both to be very prepared and to be ready to work through the unexpected with your teammates while keeping the same level of requirement for excellence and quality and never losing sight of your end-game. Learning this has been crucial for every step in my career path.
Moreover, you have several experiences living abroad, including 3 years in the USA as a teenager, 1 year in the UK as a student, and 6 months in Hong Kong as a young professional. How did this international experience give your career a competitive advantage and why would you recommend experience abroad to others?
Living abroad widens your perspective. It is also an amazing opportunity to get out of your comfort zone and start from a blank page, all of which are key skills when working to reach a deal!
Getting out of my comfort zone and trying to understand the other person’s perspective has helped me in my career tremendously because I have had to negotiate with people from many nationalities (English, German, Greek, Chinese, American, or Senegalese amongst others), and with diverse cultural and professional backgrounds, both in-house and on the other side of the negotiations table.
In one transaction a few years back I worked on a deal with a group composed exclusively of men who would not shake a woman’s hand. Although it may have been unsettling, I could understand that and adapt my behaviour in order smoothen the process and bring the deal forward. After working together, they showed that they valued my expertise and input, and they contacted me afterwards for questions they had in other deals they contemplated. I hoped I contributed to change their mind on professional women!
More generally, it has been key for me to be able to understand different expectations and “languages” of all parties that may be involved in a transaction. Even when negotiating parties are from the same country, sometimes entrepreneurs who have put their heart and soul – and savings – into a company have different expectations than, say, corporate finance teams or managers of business units who have the challenge to integrate a new business, or yet again IT, brand, or legal experts. In turn, board members, investment bankers, or lawyers, also all speak slightly different languages. You have to be able to understand them all and take their perspective into your own work in order to strike a deal taking into account everyone’s input.
You have co-piloted strategic acquisitions and divestments for Orange alongside finance M&A and business development teams, and coordinated legal matters. What in your opinion is the key to successful negotiations?
To have a successful negotiation you must have a clear mandate and know your boundaries and core values. You must also be able to communicate your intentions and key drivers.
Negotiating is being able to find the common ground even though you do not have the same points of view or the same interests. If everybody is truthful as to where they come from and what they expect, then that can lead to a successful negotiation and make the best deal for everyone in the long run.
Negotiating is being able to find the common ground even though you do not have the same points of view or the same interests.
While in the USA, you attended an all-girl high school that gave you an early introduction to the concept of “girl power”. How did this introduction to female empowerment seen in the United States compare to what you have seen in France where you are now based as an experienced professional?
At the beginning, the notion of girl power was theoretical for me and it was a non-issue. In addition, in France, I had grown accustomed to mixed education, so I was circumspect of the promise that going to an all-girl school for a few years would be good for growth and self-assertion. Yet my school was nothing like I apprehended: it was open-minded and centred on girl empowerment. Their motto was: “We educate girls to shape a changing world.” I found that having small classes with only girls, as a self-conscious developing teen, freed everyone!
We learned to be strong, self-reliant, grow together, and to aim high and explore whatever opportunities were out there. This, in addition to the proverbial positive attitude in the US convinced me that girls and women in the professional world should aim for anything they want to. That was 20 years ago, when it was not as trendy as it is right now!
It taught me that as women we have a particular voice that is valuable and needs to be heard. We need to push for women equality, representation in boards, in top management, and in management executives. I have seen how powerful it is to have women visible in management positions in terms of example-setting. It is key to set the example of what is possible so that it will become natural!
I have seen how powerful it is to have women visible in management positions in terms of example-setting. It is key to set the example of what is possible so that it will to become natural!
You are a current Talent in the 5th edition of our Women in Talent Pool program (WTP). What motivated you to partake in this program and what is your vision of female leadership?
I am thrilled to be part of this program and excited to learn and grow from other women by sharing experiences. We have great women leaders at Orange. Our group, like many others, strives to have even more top women managers, which is a great positive evolution.
In my experience, women leaders are very agile and thorough. They tend to show grace under pressure. They are also pragmatic, meaning that they rarely let themselves be burdened by oversized egos. When I negotiate deals for and alongside strong women I am amazed by their ability to lead people, all the while being very flexible and hearing the team’s feedback and growing on that.
You have two young children and are an enthusiastic traveller. What advice do you have to share to our network on maintain a satisfying work life balance?
The answer is to know your values and set your priorities. If you find that your everyday life is not in line with them, then you need to reshuffle your cards. If somehow you lose your balance, then reset your priorities by asking yourself what you want and what is in line with your core values. A parent’s role may take precedence sometimes. For example, my son opened his forehead at school while I was in a big meeting recently. It was not even a question, I got out!
If you find that your everyday life is not in line with your values and priorities, then you need to reshuffle your cards.
Lastly, we would like to conclude our interview with a question from the Proust questionnaire: What do you value most in your colleagues? Why?
What I value most in my colleagues is how competent and trustworthy they are both from a professional and from a human perspective. In M&A we often find ourselves in high pressure situations with tough deadlines and high stakes. Under these circumstances, having reliable colleagues is key!
After five years at Orange, I am still amazed every day by the level of expertise, talent, engagement of the individuals working throughout the group. In many domains, I have found that even on very specific questions you will most certainly find someone in the group with high-level up-to-date answers.
In addition to that, the motto at Orange is “human inside” and you see it every day in the way people behave.
That makes me proud to be part of the company and team. It sets an example and inspires me to be better every day. As a plus, we do also know how to have fun and celebrate victories large and small!
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!
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