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The session was opened by Agnès Pannier-Runacher, the Minister Delegate for Industry of France, highlighting the importance of passing the torch from one woman leader to the next woman leader. She emphasized that while women inclusiveness has made a progress nowadays, there will be another fight for other minorities, coloured people, gay people, and disabled people.

Valeria Palermi, Editor in Chief of D-La Repubblica, bridged the opening and started off asking the role model for each of the panellists. Marie-Christine Lombard, CEO of Geodis, mentioned that while she saw her mother, who was a managing director of an insurance company in France back in the 1950s, as a role model, she also noticed that there are “not so many women mentor professionally”. Jeanne Pollés, the Managing Director/ President of Philip Morris France, shared that there was no woman in the leadership position back when she was joining Philip Morris around 30 years ago. Several (male) leaders, however, trusted her and gave her a chance to learn and developed her level of self-confidence. Méka Brunel, the CEO of Gecina, echoed similar comment. She shared that as a woman engineer around 35 years ago, a lot of men had been quite hard with her and put her in challenging areas. However, she also admitted that it was a challenge for men at that time to take a decision and actually gave a chance to woman to have a responsibility on site, despite her capability (as an engineer).

Valeria further inquired about any glass-ceiling that the panellists might have faced during their careers. While all the panellists did not mention any particular personal glass-ceiling, Marie-Christine Lombard mentioned that she faced peers jealousy when she was taking the leadership position, which she noticed would be a different case if she were a man.

When asked about advices for young woman leader, Méka Brunel answered precisely, “Don’t be shy, move on, ask questions. People can sometimes be nice and don’t always say no.” She also added that women should have a choice and should accept that they are not superwomen, that they are human beings who do mistakes and need support. Jeanne Pollés echoed the message, highlighting that women tend to show perfection because they have to show that the company has taken a right decision to give them the position/level of job. She mentioned that this mindset should be shifted. “Don’t be shy to ask for feedback from people you trust,” she advised. Marie-Christine Lombard closed the question by suggesting women to know their unique talents and leverage from them. “Don’t be a generalist, try to know exactly what you are excellent at, take a risk in being a leader, keep your energy level high and know what is your passion.”

As the last question, Valeria asked about the potential exclusiveness of women from leadership in the future. Marie-Christine Lombard was the first who firmly stated that she is against the idea of the work from home as a new norm since it will isolate employees and destroy the value of work collectively. She also noticed that this working arrangement will put women in more danger because it will trigger loss in creativity, inspiration, and iterative incremental arrangement of tasks/activities. Méka Brunel showed her similar opinion that staying at home will make women feel that they have to do everything, which brought us back to her previous comment about women’s mindset that it is mandatory to be superwomen.

By Anna Pozniakoff

As part of our efforts to engage young and emerging leaders, students and alumni from HEC attended and reflected on sessions over the course of the three-day Women’s Forum Global Meeting. Opinions expressed are solely writers’ own and do not express the views or opinions of the Women’s Forum.