In recognition of my passion for supporting and promoting the advancement of women in business and technology, and of my leadership role in this capacity within our firm, I was asked by Isabelle Roux-Chenu Founder Women@Capgemini and Group General Counsel to organize an event that would present a panel of women leaders discussing the importance of making bold choices to achieve success in business. It was an honor to be asked to do this and the event was held at Capgemini’s corporate headquarters in Tilsitt, Paris on July 7, 2015. Isabelle was the host and together we moderated the panel discussion. The panelists were successful women executives and leaders representing diverse cultural, generational, and professional backgrounds and experiences. They were:
- Hélène Barnekow, CEO Sweden at TeliaSonera
- Nutan Wozencroft, Chief Financial Officer at UNESCO
- Katherine Corich, Global CEO & Founder of Sysdoc Group
- Aurélie Sykes-Darmon founding member of WoMen’Up
Each panelist was asked to discuss the challenges she has faced in her professional and personal journey and the bold actions she sometimes needed to take to address those challenges. The result was a fascinating discussion filled with useful and practical insights, some commonalities, and a mutual understanding of each woman’s unique path.
Challenges across cultures and generations
Hélène explained her perspective on the power and impact of more diverse teams. She stated that “in today’s digital world anything can be replicated. To differentiate yourself in the market companies need to ensure they have leadership teams with diverse perspectives thereby instilling fertile ground to drive innovation solutions, cultivating collaboration, and delivering new levels of success”. Recently promoted from Chief Commercial Officer to CEO of TeliaSonera Sweden, Hélène discussed some of the bold steps she has taken to transform her teams by including more women and requiring that at least one woman be included on every short list when recruiting managers. Now, as CEO, she can ensure her vision is implemented more broadly across the organization.
Nutan shared her experience of cultural and social obstacles as a woman of Indian origin born in Austria and educated in England. She chose to follow an unconventional career path with the intent to broaden her skills, beginning as a trainee accountant at a medium-sized firm to gain experience in many types of enterprises and different areas of finance. Frequently finding herself to be the only female and the only ethnic minority in the room, Nutan realized that it was important to define her own working style. Following a long stint as a Financial Controller of a large international charity, she worked as a consultant focusing on strategic planning and change management, impacting countries like Malawi, Kenya, Bangladesh, Vietnam, and South Africa.
When Katherine started working, she found very few role models to provide guidance. About the time she was starting her own business, she decided she wanted to get a pilot’s license. She was told that women couldn’t be pilots. [This was at a time when women did not become pilots.] Rather than give in to that view, she used her own money to learn what it takes to manage a plane and what is required for being a great pilot ultimately becoming a licensed commercial pilot. Key to both: a structure that enabled the pilot to systematically make sure the plane was in good flying condition and all appropriate steps were done prior to takeoff. Katherine used that sense of order to convince her boss to improve their risk management procedures at the London Stock Exchange. She went on to create her own consulting firm – Sysdoc Group, which now has a consultant reach in over 72 countries. Katherine brought that kind of orderliness to her business, implementing policies that provided guidance and creating a healthy environment to empower her employees. She finds these practices are in line with the younger generation’s expectations and are in fact attracting more male employees.
Aurélie shared her thoughts from the point of view of a young woman working as a consultant in the television industry and an active member of WoMen’Up. WoMen’Up is an organization that deals with gender balance issues within the corporate world from the point of view of “Gen Y” or “Millennials” – the generation of people born in the late 90’s and early 2000’s. Based on a survey titled “What do men think?” taken by WoMen’Up in partnership with the consulting group Mazars, she explained that “Millennials” have long been exposed to gender balance issues and are thus much more favorably included to having women in the corporate world and working with diverse teams.
Closing the discussion, Katherine reminded all women to know their personal and professional worth and to negotiate their careers with confidence based on this knowledge. And Nutan added: “It was interesting to see that, despite our different backgrounds and cultures, we (as women leaders) upheld common principles. I feel strongly that as women in position of influence we must think about the policies and management ethos that we promote and whether they limit access. Being a role model is good, but we really need women leaders that advance the cause for ordinary women.”
The question for senior women leaders is- What can you do to support other women to be successful in whatever they choose to do? As for male leaders- What can you do to raise awareness of and reduce subtle biases that hinder advancement of women in your organization and elsewhere? In case you’d like some guidance, here are some useful resources:
- NCWIT’s pamphlet, Male Advocates & Allies: Promoting Gender Diversity in Technology Workplaces– which is applicable outside of technology
- Men Advocating for Real Change [MARC], sponsored by Catalyst.