“The water that flows drop by drop wears the rock” - Theocritus
The idea underlying this series of interviews is simple: inspire bright women to embrace not only their career but life as a whole, holistically, because Everything
This is why we have asked Superwomen to share their impressive personal and professional experiences. Their paths show that giving up feminine codes, family or other passions to achieve a successful career are no musts.
Saskia Van Uffelen (GFI Corporate Vice President Benelux and Digital Champion Belgium), Martine Tempels (Senior Vice President Telenet), Elke Jorens
(Snr. Director (Head of Talent Acquisition EMEA at Microsoft, Nathalie Erdmanis (Director Strategic Marketing, Branding, Press/Reputation & Data Analytics
at AG Insurance), Muriel De Lathouwer (CEO and Non-Executive Director),
Hanane Taidi (Director General at TIC Council) have accepted to take part in
this transmission, sharing their inspirational experiences and advice in answering the following questionnaire.
Other superwomen will join our survey and we will share the story of their bright path as pioneers who pave the way for other bright women of the future.
Finally, let’s acknowledge that many surveys, conferences and think thanks address the issue of women’s place in the corporate world and this contribution
is one of them! Yes, women still remain significantly underrepresented and companies need to change the way they hire and promote female employees.
In our society, the educational system urgently needs to adjust. Social bias must be identified and undercut, women raised to be more self-confident,
and motivated to choose STEM or other demanding orientations.
Within corporations, this will go from subtle to heavy changes cultural and structural.
The role of talents hunters is also crucial. Indeed, bright female candidates that
we identify as promising talents and fit for our clients’ high-level positions would often admit they not believe in themselves as we reach out to them. Hence,
we need to be convincing and make them believe that yes, they are perfectly able to take this extra step further.
We are confident that the future is bright and that the world is already evolving thanks to all generations’ contributions.
Hopefully other superwomen and supermen will be inspired, create and find new paths to a more inclusive world.
This month we will start with Hanane Taidi’s input.
1. How would you describe your career?
In one word: eventful! When I reflect back on how my career evolved, it feels like
a rollercoaster ride. The first years of my career were rather unplanned for and
I have bumped along and made my share of wrong professional choices.
However, in hindsight, I have no regrets as every wrong choice or bad decision have become a stepping stone contributing to getting me to where I am today. My career has been a winding path punctuated by encounters of key people in my life who have provided me with opportunities for growth, development and challenges. When I look back on my career, my favourite poem comes to mind, Robert Frost’s The Road Not Taken and specially the last stanza:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I took the one less travelled by. And that made all the difference.
2. What are the reasons that pushed you to pursue a career up to a senior management role?
My personality, I guess. Those who know me would describe me as ambitious, perfectionist, hard-working, tenacious, impatient, tough and some other colourful adjectives! I admit to some and deny other! It is true that since a very young age,
I was competitive and always wanted to be the best in class, at least in what I was good at! Another aspect of my personality which has potentially influenced the way my career unfolded is a strong sense of independence and autonomy. I have always enjoyed making my own decisions, calling the shots and not waiting for permission to do things. When I was not in a managerial role, I very often took
the stand to proceed with an idea, a project or an initiative and rather ask for forgiveness than permission! I was lucky to have been surrounded by bosses/mentors who encouraged this behaviour and were selfless enough to take the blame when things went wrong and to give me the credit when success was achieved.
3. Do you have a personal hero, a person who inspired you?
I have been inspired by many persons in my life, some of my heroes are the likes
of Martin Luther King or Mahatma Ghandi for their tenacity, determination or charisma. On a more down to earth level, when I am going through difficult or challenging times, I think of my maternal grand-mother who always had a smile and kind word for me regardless of the ordeals she went through. Her ambition
in life was to see her grand-daughters get a good education that would enable them to be independent women. I remember with fondness how she beamed
at me when I announced my school results or how she waited anxiously with me when I was at college to hear the end-year results. She was an illiterate woman who was pushed into a loveless, unhappy marriage at a ridiculously young age,
yet unlike other women of her generation, she wanted more for her grand-daughters than marriage and family as the ultimate achievement in life.
She proudly spoke of her grand-daughters who graduated from university and earned a living, it was her own victory on life. My grand-mother and women like her all over the world are the real heroes with an amazing resilience and humanity, they are the ones to be honoured for the dreams they have sacrificed so we can achieve ours.
4. What is the most important quality to be a successful professional?
Is it different for women?
If we define professional success as climbing the corporate ladder, it is difficult to sum the drivers to one quality, there are many soft skills that are necessary and can be developed for someone to be successful. As to women, there is one quality that does come to mind and that is self-confidence. In my experience, I came across brilliant and talented women and I noticed that they have one trait in common: modesty! When it came to apply for a more senior role, they would hesitate and question their ability to do the job as they would see themselves still lacking a 20% experience or knowledge needed for the role. A male colleague however would jump on the opportunity with only 50% qualification, being confident that he will develop in the role and bridge the gap! Women in general would be less prone to taking such an approach, that is what I mean by self-confidence.
5. How do you balance your professional and your personal life? What choices have you faced in that scope? People on whom you could/can rely?
My husband and I have worked as a team for our marriage and family. We were equally involved in the education of our daughters and filled in for each other each time one of us was working late or travelling. We were very lucky to be able to build a network of friends and neighbours who helped us to pick up our daughters or drive them to extra-curricular activities when we were both unavailable. That’s one of the advantages of living in a small village! My parents came also to the rescue quite regularly, especially during the long summer breaks! My daughters are grown up by now and technology has made our lives much easier enabling us to be constantly in touch through facetime/messenger/Whatsapp etc. But when our girls were young, the choices we made were not
the easiest. On the one hand, we are lucky enough in Belgium to have a good infrastructure of day-cares and nurseries and after school activities. On the other hand, this meant that we had to put our babies as of four months old in full time day-care. During these years, the feeling of guilt was overwhelming. The regular question that my daughters asked me was, when will you pick me up at “parent’s time?” (l’heure des parents) which was early afternoon when school finished. My daughters were usually among the last children to be picked up. Each time they asked, it broke my heart and I felt as the worst mother on earth. There is also that judgemental look of society on working mothers that translated into something like: you are a selfish monster outsourcing the care of your children to strangers
so you can pursue a career. So, it wasn’t easy, but today, I look at my daughters and I see these wonderful, smart, funny, independent young adults and I think, whilst I will always regret not having spent enough time with them, I have no worries to make as to whom they have turned out to be or what their contributions to society will be.
6. What is your experience as a woman in the professional world?
I have been particularly lucky to be surrounded by decent people. The majority of those that gave me a helping hand, encouraged me or pushed me forward were men. I didn’t feel particularly discriminated against or refused opportunities that were otherwise given to male colleagues. This being said, there is an undeniable feeling of not being taken seriously the first time I meet someone. The looks that
I usually get are either one of surprise or mild amusement. It takes the first couple of minutes to get people to overcome their unconscious biases whatever these are. Note that I am burdened with a couple of triggers for a lot of unconscious biases and clichés! Not only am I a woman, I am rather petite, I have a foreign look and I don’t look my age!
7. What is your experience as a woman in your particular company?
In the association I am leading, the overwhelming majority of the team is female, however, the team is multicultural and brings a wealth of diversity in thinking, working and interacting with each other. As an association, the industry we represent is similar to other industries in the sense that the senior management
is mainly male dominated. The question of diversity and inclusion is high on the agenda of our members and most of them have plans to increase women presence at the most senior levels. In my experience, the focus should be on getting the right person for the right job regardless of gender, ethnicity or religious beliefs etc.
8. Do you think there are values which are typically feminine or masculine?
In the affirmative, do you think that it is necessary to give up the former in favour of the latter to succeed professionally?
I believe there are soft skills that come naturally to women than to men and
vice-versa. In my opinion, there is nothing to be dismissed, one should be true
to oneself and to one’s own values. Embracing someone else’s values for sake of career achievement will ultimately backfire by making one miserable and unsuccessful in the long run. For women particularly, we shouldn’t dismiss our feminine or “girly” side to pretend to be tough in order to survive in a business environment. On the contrary, women have a natural feel for empathy and inclusion which are critical skills when you are leading a team. Women are intuitive and we should embrace and trust our “gut feeling”. It is all right to want to be factual and to rationalise a decision but more often than not, I found that the “gut feeling” had it right from the start! It takes a lot of work on oneself and introspection to find out who we are, the next step is then to find the courage to embrace ourselves and be authentic in our working environment just as we are
in the private sphere.
9. What solution would you see to the lack of women in certain sectors (IT, science) or certain positions?
What puzzles me on this specific issue is the fact that there is no shortage of skilled women with the required academic STEM skills, according to several studies, there are as many female graduates from STEM subjects in universities as male, sometimes even more. The question to ask then is why don’t they make
it to the leadership roles in these sectors?
There are several laudable initiatives launched by the business sector, political institutions, universities or other public private partnerships around the world to encourage girls to embrace STEM education and to attract female talents to this sector. But I believe that there are still some efforts to be done to create a shift in mindset and to make these sectors attractive for women. A lot of progress is done especially in the Scandinavian countries to accommodate dual carriers, encouraging parental leaves for fathers, enabling flexible working hours and home office. These practises are spreading slowly but surely to the rest of Europe and, in my opinion, would level the playing field for female in the long run in all sectors.
10. What do you recommend in terms of gender equality?
Recently, I came across a very interesting article in the Harvard Business review
by Thomas Chamorro-Premuzic entitled “As Long as We Associate Leadership with Masculinity, Women Will be Overlooked”. The article argues that as long we associate leadership with masculine features, the performance of female leaders will be evaluated more negatively than their male counterparts. The fascinating part is that this conclusion is the same regardless whether the evaluator is male
or female. This is where the unconscious biases come into play. There is a huge educational effort that needs to be undertaken by society to overcome the unconscious biases. This effort starts at home where chores should be gender neutral and parents aren’t associated to specific tasks but are interchangeable when it comes to the distribution of house chores, child care and other responsibilities that traditionally are allocated to the mother. Overcoming unconscious biases is a major undertaking, it goes without saying that the educational institutions have a major role to play to support this societal shift starting at a very early age in schools and throughout the education cycle.
When I hear the testimonials of the victims of the #metoo movement, I am appalled and can’t fathom how women in the 21st century are still not safe on their universities campuses or their working places. And we have to challenge
the institutions to act swiftly to ensure a safe environment for their students or employees and not hush up these assaults to protect their reputation at the expense of the victims.
Last but not least, I think that the toy and gaming industry still needs to take its share of responsibility and to ensure that toys are gender neutral. Take a look at the shelves of any toys’ retailer, the “pink girls” shelves are larded with kitchen related toys, cleaning chores or babies care; While the toys requiring logic and strategic thinking are mainly in the “blue boys” sections. Boys should be introduced to the world of dolls and babies to develop their empathy and caring skills, girls should be able to choose to play with trucks and racing cars if they
11. What is the message you would like to send to women in younger generations in order to encourage them on their path to a successful career and life?
The same message that I give my daughters, chase your dreams but not chimeras! The sky should be the limit but both feet should be firmly grounded!
So how to differentiate between dreams and chimeras, how to stay grounded?
In my opining, it is key to know oneself and remain true to it. We often try to get approval and bend ourselves out of shape to fit in a given societal mould. Once, you know who you are and define your purpose, then you will unleash the passion that will be your drive, your resilience and determination to reach your goals. Never let failure get in the way of your determination because you will fail and repeatedly, that is how you will grow and how you will develop as a person and as a professional. As Churchill put it: “Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.”
12. What is your corporation’s commitment to the advancement of women’s careers?
As I said, our team is female dominated, so we invest in the continuous training of the team (including male colleagues!), we encourage them to leave their comfort zone and take measured risk so they know that there is always a safety net that were are holding for them in case they fail. We also encourage self-knowledge to be able to identify the next steps each wish to take in their respective careers.
For example, we organise a retreat once a year where we bring in a coach who facilitates an interactive workshop based on the “Process Communications Management” (PCM) to help each understand each other’s strengths and weaknesses, the negative aspects of our personalities when under stress. In the last two years, this has become extremely helpful to help establish a smooth cooperation amongst the team and to improve interaction.
The annual review sessions are an open feedback giving opportunities where we identify areas for development and nail areas where the team member excels which very much helps the thinking process in identifying the next steps in their career planning.
We have also implemented solutions to enable a flexible working environment such as home office or flexible working hours.
13. How do you see head-hunters can help to bring balance at senior level /top management positions?
The head-hunting companies play a crucial role in creating this paradigm shift that will advance diversity and inclusion at senior levels and which hopefully will help shatter the glass-ceiling.
Some ideas which I am sure, head-hunting companies have in place or at least are considering, could be:
a) To work closely with HR departments and the talent management teams to develop awareness-raising initiatives amongst the current decision-makers as to the benefits of bringing diversity and gender parity to senior leaderships positions and board-rooms.
b) To engage with women candidates to help them overcome the “impostor syndrome” and build confidence that would allow them to seize opportunities to further promote their careers.
c) To engage with female leaders to develop mentoring programmes and promote networking and solidarity amongst women. Help current women leaders embrace their feminity and reconnect with their authentic leadership style that encompasses empathy, inclusion and compassion.
d) To partner with universities to address female students and help them to map and acquire the soft skills that would enable them to navigate the corporate politics and to plan their careers before they leave university (a trait specific
Muriel De Lathouwer - CEO; Board Member
1. How would you describe your career?
I would describe my career like a jungle gym rather than a straight ladder. I didn’t plan my career; I followed my passion and my guts. The « ligne rouge» is the need to have impact, work with great multicultural teams, play with innovation and find the right balance between career and family.
I studied nuclear engineering as I was fascinated by quantum physics and supra conductivity. But I didn’t intend to pursue a career in a nuclear plant.
I started my career at Andersen Consulting (now Accenture) as I was excited to bring competitive advantage to the business through information technology, moreover in an international environment. After my MBA at INSEAD, McKinsey was the perfect place to address top strategic topics in high tech and telecom, working with incredibly talented colleagues across the globe. Being the Chief Marketing officer of the mobile operator BASE, knowing very well the telecom industry but without being a Marketeer, was a great opportunity. Then, with my pregnancy, I realized that I needed more time for my family and myself and decided to step back.
Nevertheless, a few years later, I became the CEO of EVS, a global leader in the broadcast industry listed on Euronext. More recently, I have resigned to go on
4 months sailing trip with my family in the Caribbean. Today, I have on one side a corporate activity with multiple mandates in the board of international listed and private companies (CFE, Shurgard, Olympia group) and an entrepreneurial activity in the Belgian digital and technology ecosystem as Operating partner of W.IN.G (Walloon investment fund in digital start-ups), member of the Deep Tech investment as well as vice-president of Coderdojo Belgium.
2. What are the reasons that pushed you to pursue a career up to a senior management role?
I love to have impact, to learn new skills with the aim to become a better human being and a better leader. So logically, when you get in your comfort zone, you look for what’s next.
This being said, I didn’t really plan to become a CMO, a CEO or a board member.
I had the chance to be asked to fulfill those positions, to have people trusting me, even if in some cases I would probably not have dared to apply proactively as
I was not sure to be ready.
3. What is the most important quality to be a successful professional? Is it different for women?
For me, the most important quality is to be authentic. Say what you do and do what you say. Admit if you are wrong even if it hurts your ego. Never take the credit for someone else. Trust is key.
This quality is as important for man and woman but women have the advantage to be generally less concerned with their ego.
4. How do you balance your professional and your personal life? What choices have you faced in that scope? People on whom you could/can rely?
I am the type of person who gives 300%. I am passionate by my job and could easily work 70 hours/week. Therefore, I have organized my time to work from home one day a week, which enables me to bring my daughter to school, to do some physical activity and to have lunch with my husband or a friend.
I also took a break to spend more time with my family, like for instance
the 4 months sailing trip.
5. What solution would you see to the lack of women in certain sectors (IT, science) or certain positions?
The first step is to tackle the issue at the root: the education. Too few girls decide to go for scientific, IT or engineering studies. It has to do with gender bias. Even toys are reinforcing those bias. My daughter loves the Lego technics as much as her Barbies. She enjoys to create necklaces but also to do scientific experiences.
I am board member of Coderdojo Belgium, an association that organize free coding workshop for children from 7-18 years old. The aim is to have children realize and experience that coding is cool and fun and to invite more children,
and especially girls, to develop digital skills. We even have a special event to attract girls called “cool girls code”. I strongly believe in the impact of those initiatives to change mentalities.
6. What do you recommend in terms of gender equality?
The first priority is to support women, give them confidence that they can get to
a senior position and that it’s compatible with having a family.
7. How do you see head-hunters can help to bring balance at senior level / top management positions?
When considering a promotion, men will typically consider that if they fulfill 60% of the criteria, they can go for it and will learn the others on the job, while women will typically not apply acknowledging there is a gap with their experience.
Therefore, taking into account this bias, it’s important to ensure that for each promotion or new position, the short list of candidates includes also women,
even if they didn’t apply proactively.
8. What do you recommend in terms of gender equality?
Providing mentors to women in the middle management to help them in their career, address their fears and give them advices, can also be very helpful.
Another recommendation concerns flexibility of the working hours. By allowing both men and women, to work 4/5th, to do some home working, it allows women (and men) to better combine family and work and to dare to take more responsibilities, to consider a promotion knowing that it will be compatible with their desire to be present for their children.
9. What is the message you would like to send to women in younger generations in order to encourage them on their path to a successful career and life?
Have fun, follow your passion, dare to take risks !