International Women’s Day serves a distinct purpose: putting conversations about women’s achievements and gender equality issues into the limelight.
To add to the conversation, we interviewed a few of the outstanding HEC Executive MBA women. These women are executives, entrepreneurs, rocket scientists, philanthropists, and government leaders – andhave shattered all manner of proverbial glass ceilings put before them. They are high achievers, like all HEC EMBA participants and alumni.
Here, they share the advice and wisdom that they wish they known when their own remarkable careers began.
Maria Morozova, EMBA ‘22, Industry Director, Branding at Google
“Your preferences, strengths, and weaknesses matter; acknowledging them will help you to deliberately build your career and to be happy every day at work.”
What advice would I give to my younger self? Since I’m only getting younger each year, these three points would definitely work for me now, in the past, and in the future:
- Dedicate time to raise your self-awareness. Your preferences, strengths, and weaknesses matter; acknowledging them will help you to deliberately build your career and to be happy every day at work.
- Focus on your strengths rather than weaknesses. Taking your strengths for granted and spending most of your time on trying to eliminate your weaknesses will lead you to a very moderate result and a low level of confidence.
- Find a mentor. Getting guidance and having meaningful dialogue with someone you respect — or, ideally, admire — will be invaluable for you to get to the next level of self-understanding over and over again.
Maryse Lokossou, EMBA ’21, Chief of Staff for the President of the West African Development Bank
“I have always made continuous training a focus of my career development; this has allowed me to complete my range of skills over time, to open doors for myself, and to equip myself with the tools I needed to adapt to new challenges.”
Even from the beginning of my career, I knew I needed to give myself the tools to seize any opportunities that came my way.
As a result, I have always made continuous training a focus of my career development; this has allowed me to complete my range of skills over time, to open doors for myself, and to equip myself with the tools I needed to adapt to new challenges.
Due to this philosophy, I have had a coherent and diverse career path: I started my career in the banking sector in France, before joining the team of the Minister of Economy and Finance in Benin as a technical advisor in charge of international financing. Today, I am Chief of Staff of the President of the WADB.
Getting there has involved building and maintaining a network, participating in many meetings as well as many coaching sessions by mentors, and making deliberate academic choices like joining the HEC Executive MBA Program.
Dr. Donatella Ponziani, EMBA ’18, Downstream Gateway Officer, European Space Agency
“Don’t give up on your beliefs — fight for them! Never forget that your voice should be always heard.”
The ability to speak up and defend my beliefs is something that I only acquired with age and a few frustrating experiences.
When I was younger, I was afraid of other people’s judgment, and I was always looking to make everybody happy — sometimes to the detriment of my own happiness.
With time, I understood that this attitude was not beneficial to me nor to the people I was working with. I can still feel the satisfaction of my first fearless “I DO NOT AGREE!”
Don’t give up on your beliefs — fight for them! Never forget that your voice should be always heard. Sometimes you will be right, sometimes you will be wrong, but you will always be part of the game!
Mallika Mathur-Lhéritier, EMBA ’20, Chief Transformation Officer, RCI Bank and Services
“Throughout my career, I have always taken the road less travelled. And indeed, that has made all the difference.”
I have always loved these words by the American poet, Robert Frost:
“Two roads diverged in a wood and I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.”
Throughout my career, I have always taken the road less travelled. And indeed, that has made all the difference. The journey is far from over and continues to be enriching, rewarding, joyful and humbling! Hence the advice I would give to my younger self would be the following:
- Embrace change as a constant and familiar companion, and you’ll find yourself becoming an agent of change.
- Adopt and maintain a learning mindset, and you’ll find that the more you learn, the more you will want to learn.
- Take risks, and step outside of your comfort zone, and you’ll find that your courage, effort, and persistence will pay off in the long term.
- Define and make time for your personal must-haves, and you’ll find yourself living a more fulfilled and complete life!
Muthumari Duraisamy, EMBA ’20, Director Global Controlling, Coty
“Success will knock on the door when you help others — both in the workplace as well as in your personal life.”
Explore opportunities and move anywhere in the world that lets you pursue your passion.
Trust in yourself that you can compete with men. Real success takes time, so do not give up. Success will knock on the door when you help others — both in the workplace as well as in your personal life.
Mentoring young women will give you a real sense of purpose. Create leaders (out of both women and men), in the image you wanted to be when you were young.
Most importantly, give back to society with the goal of eradicating poverty, bettering education, and improving sustainability. I hope that we won’t have to recognize a “Women’s Day” by 2030, because by then everyone should have equal opportunities and pay.
Renata Leite, EMBA ’22, Former Global Marketing Executive at L’Oréal, LVMH and Natura & Co.
“Take care of your energy. It is your main asset, so protect it as much as you possibly can.”
If you have a strong work ethic, courage, and loyalty, you’re off to a good start.
Here are three useful pieces of advice that would’ve made my own career journey much smoother if I’d learned them earlier:
- Take care of your energy. It is your main asset, so protect it as much as you possibly can. There are people with whom you should deal with your brain and others with whom you should deal with your heart. Not everybody should have the “full you”. The sooner you learn that, the better.
- Listen, “hold your horses,” and then act. Situational intelligence will help you more than you could ever imagine.
- Don’t be long where you don’t belong. If it’s not bringing you joy, it’s not worth your time.
Take care, keep being yourself, and you will do great, I promise!
Bola Bardet, EMBA ’18, Founder & CEO at Susu
“Work, work, work. There is no shortcut to success.”
Here are my 7 commandments to myself as a woman, a mom, and a startup entrepreneur, which is exactly what I would be telling my younger self:
- Listen to your gut. Be bold, take risks when you are younger — have very little to lose.
- Work, work, work. There is no shortcut to success. Be consistent, patient, and determined. Hard work always pays off.
- Attitude is your No. 1 skill. Smile, be friendly and respectful to everyone, demonstrate a “can-do” attitude, and promote positive energy around you.
- When launching a new venture, make sure you hire the best lawyer, the best financial advisor, and find yourself the best GP doctor in town.
- As they say in the world of startups, “cashflow is more important than your mother.” (Ok, maybe let’s say the 2nd most important, after your mother.)
- As an entrepreneur: in the bad times, perseverance is key. In good times, humility with your success, empathy, and being grateful are key.
- Whatever your dream job is, learn to code first.
Dr. Bogdana Coudsy, EMBA ’22, VP & Head of Global Medical Franchise, Sanofi-Pasteur
“As a woman, don’t be afraid to turn the ignition on a career driven by your hopes and ambitions, and guided by your sense of purpose.”
I think of road trips as a very good career metaphor.
I’d tell the younger me to go forth and dare. Plan for a distant and attractive destination well beyond the horizon, and just drive (but pay attention to the road)! Use what you have learned, trust yourself, continue to learn and keep trying to improve yourself. The more that you drive, the more you will learn from what you see, and the better driver you will become.
Sometimes, I improvised. I took side roads as opposed to highways, and unplanned adventures and pit stops happened, but if you continue toward your destination, taking the good from the people you meet, and accumulating experiences, you’ll advance surely and proudly — and you’ll never get bored.
As a woman, don’t be afraid to turn the ignition on a career driven by your hopes and ambitions, and guided by your sense of purpose. You can start in first gear, but afterward, let ambition guide you as you put the pedal to the floor and accelerate.
Stuti Dubey, EMBA ’22, Founder & Director, EKSTASI; Co-Founder & Chief Strategy Officer, MukkaMaar
“…don’t take those put-downs personally; they are lobbed at the most successful people, so learn early on to let those roll off you.”
What I would tell my younger self (if I could):
First of all, don’t feel apologetic about being a woman in a male-dominated business world. Don’t slouch, don’t hesitate, don’t speak softer than you normally would just because you’re a woman. What matters are facts, observations, plans, and execution. If you are perceived as “shrill” when in fact you’re really just driven, don’t take those put-downs personally; they are lobbed at the most successful people, so learn early on to let those roll off you.
Early on in my professional life, I worked hard — very hard – for almost every waking hour. I think I have succeeded professionally: by and large, my coworkers see me through the lens of my successes.
What I realize now, and didn’t consider at the beginning of my career, is that I should have allocated an hour a day for both mental and physical health. This is not an inordinate amount of time, but I would have thought it madness. But having a reasonable, immutable, incompressible time slot for my (off-work) self — a daily breather that wouldn’t have jeopardized my career goals — wouldn’t just have made me a happier person, but more efficient at work!
Sonia Edouardoury, EMBA ’22, Board Member, Django Girls
“We only see the end result or the actual situation of someone’s success but we don’t see the hard work that was done to there.”
The advice I would give my younger self in general is:
- We tend only to see the end result or the actual situation of someone’s success, but we don’t see the hard work that was done before.
- The path to get to success is not linear; it’s anything BUT linear, and that path is not easy. Sometimes we even have to take some steps backward to move ahead.
- An important point that I always try to stress is to find both a mentor and a sponsor early on in your career. A mentor is someone who guides you when you’re in the room; a sponsor is someone who speaks on your behalf when you’re not in the room. It can be the same person or a different one.
- Be sure to take on difficult tasks and projects you are not necessarily qualified for. As women, we tend to feel the impostor syndrome more than our male counterparts. You will learn as you go. As a leader, you don’t necessarily need to be a specialist in every discipline, delegate to the specialists instead.
- Call people out on their conscious or unconscious biases; don’t let it influence the team negatively.
- Above all take time for yourself, have fun along the way, and do your best!
More CEOs of Fortune Global 500 companies have graduated from HEC Paris than any other university in Europe, and nearly 4,000 graduates are currently CEOs, CFOs, or have founded their own companies. According to the Financial Times, the HEC Paris Executive MBA is ranked #1 in Europe and #3 in the world; click here to learn more. If you’re ready to take the next step in your EMBA journey, introduce yourself here.