Mar 7 , 2023 read
At Novelis, International Women's Rights Day is an opportunity for us to showcase our exemplary record of supporting women's success in the workplace. We currently have a near 50% gender parity, which is not always common in the tech industry where women often struggle to make their mark.
In line with the women who inspire us daily, we would like to share interviews with female entrepreneurs and CEOs who share their experiences and recommendations for young girls who are the women of tomorrow in tech.
Angélique Gérard, a graduate of INSEAD, is President of the Stem Academy and Special Advisor to the ILIAD Group, of which she was director of the Free subscriber relationship for 22 years, and president of 8 subsidiaries, as well as a member of the executive committee of Iliad (holding), of which she is a founding executive. A conference speaker and business angel very involved in following the entrepreneurs she supports (Top 5 French female business angels 2017, Les Échos and Forbes in 2018), she joined the supervisory board of Europcar in 2015 and then that of Babilou in 2017, the leading group of corporate and community daycares in France. Awarded numerous times for her initiatives ("Customer Experience Palm 2015", "Director Customer Palm 2015", "Hope Leadership Award 2015", "Digital Woman of the Year 2016"), she was noticed by the Choiseul Institute, which awarded her first place in the "100 French economy leaders under 40" ranking in 2015, succeeding Emmanuel MACRON at the top of the list. In October 2017, she was awarded the knight's insignia of the National Order of Merit. Angélique GÉRARD is the author of "For the end of sexism - Feminism in the post #MeToo era" and "Customer experience, a story of emotions" published by Eyrolles. In 2020, Angélique GERARD was ranked among the 40 most inspiring French women.
Question 1: What did you want to do when you were a child and what do you do today?
It's not very common, but the introverted and wise little girl I was wanted to be a soldier, to join the army. I wanted to enlist early, at the age of 16, but my parents opposed it. Nevertheless, I clung to my dreams, but my life changed when I turned 18 due to the responsibilities I had to suddenly take on, when, following a family tragedy, I became the breadwinner.
I took on significant responsibilities at a very young age, and it's probably this tough and unexpected start in the professional world that somehow programmed me to always move forward without looking back. I explain this in my book "Pour la fin du sexisme" (For the end of sexism), work that naturally became a central and fundamental value for me - a true reference point.
It wasn't written that I would pursue a career as a leader. I landed by chance in the telecommunications sector. The field of customer relations, on the other hand, is not the result of chance, I am convinced of that. My sensitivity and the importance of humanizing each relationship with sincerity opened the doors to a career that was obvious to me.
Even if I keep in a corner of my mind - and my heart - the desire to embark on a course at the Institut des Hautes Études de Défense Nationale, or to join the École de Guerre, this dream is behind me.
Being a military woman or a leader. The common thread between my childhood dreams and my experience as a leader is perhaps materialized by the challenge to be taken up about a culture that confines women in a pattern without freedom or perspective. An ambition-challenge that I unconsciously took up. Being where patriarchal culture doesn't expect me to be. Taking responsibility for paving the way for new aspirations and offering the freedom to break down barriers related to social origins or gender.
Question 2: What difficulties have you encountered to get where you are today?
I couldn't achieve that childhood dream, and I plunged into work. As a woman, despite this work binge, I didn't expect to have to overperform so much and always must prove that I could take on a new responsibility.
The relationship between femininity and the body plays an important role in the company, especially when the environment is culturally masculine. I had to assert myself in a male-dominated techno universe where I was considered a collaborator who could be made to work as needed. Like most women, I have been the victim of sexist behavior, from the most insidious to the most unabashed. Inexcusable and traumatic situations, but I used them as a springboard to elevate myself - a bit like when we welcome an unpleasant emotion to transform it into positive energy - to draw strength to nourish my ambitions and my fulfillment.
Pushed repeatedly to my limits, I accelerated my learning, both in terms of skills and understanding of our culture. This context ultimately encouraged me to assert myself and stand out more quickly.
Another obstacle, now well known, also got in my way: the impostor syndrome. As an autodidact, I was trusted from the beginning of my career. But over the years, victories, and experiences, I felt this inexplicable need to materialize a legitimacy that had been granted to me by default.
A feeling of impostor syndrome that grew with the responsibilities I was given. As a woman, marked by an education riddled with injunctions to prove our worth, I may have unconsciously wished to anticipate future attacks. INSEAD, the Multimedia Institute, HEC... I decided to invest in my education to alleviate a discomfort that stems directly from what our culture conveys.
Studies show that women borrow less than men, but when they do, they invest twice as much in education. I believe that investing in education remains an excellent way to progress and broaden our range of possibilities, and each completed course opens the door to a new field rich in learning opportunities...
Question 3: What advice would you give to your younger self to achieve your dreams?
The world of work is undergoing a complete transformation, and the future is barely palpable. Ethicist in AI, psydesigner, egoteller, tele-surgeon... 85% of the jobs in 2030 do not exist yet. I teach my children to know themselves as best they can, and to take the time to listen to themselves above all else. I avoid as much as possible the pressures that have plagued past generations.
Curiosity and critical thinking will be their best weapons to forge a path towards what I consider essential: personal fulfillment and balance, in connection with human beings and in respect of the environment.
When one knows oneself perfectly, it is easier to go towards others and explore the personal and professional paths that attract us naturally. I advocate for an open mind to always evolve with respect for oneself and others. And thus, find the balance that suits us and the path that is most aligned with our values.
Question 4: Another piece of advice for young girls who hesitate to pursue a career in science?
Once again, without any pressure, if the world of science appeals to them, I simply invite them to inform themselves. Joining women's circles to exchange ideas, meet new people, find mentors, and more. Take time for sisterhood, but also for introspection, feelings. Recognize (or re-recognize) their strengths, weaknesses, explore their values, develop their ambitions, discover their role models. And have a good understanding of the context and situation of women who work in fields culturally dominated by men, in order to never be a victim but rather an example, prepare to transmit. Know that they represent a real asset. By integrating a male-dominated environment, they bring an indispensable key to any organization: the diversity necessary for performance. According to the OECD, projects led by mixed teams have a wider impact and result in greater economic gains. Be prepared to be an actor of change and aware that the science and technology field is evolving, undergoing a transition towards more balance and transparency.
Science and technology jobs are indeed promising and well-paying, and we desperately need more women in this sector because we cannot continue to develop tools that exclude half of the planet.
There is an urgent need to change our culture to no longer exclude women from these careers. And the benefits are numerous. If the underrepresentation of women in these fields hinders their chances of pursuing a professional career, it also weakens the vitality of the French economy. Indeed, this imbalance represents a considerable loss in terms of growth, innovation, diversity of content, creativity, and attractiveness of the country.