International Women’s Day puts conversations about gender equality issues and women’s achievement into the limelight. It is, in every respect, an effort to #breakthebias.
It is also an opportunity to celebrate. Among other things, this celebration encompasses the many forms and the endless shades of women’s achievement.
Apt that achievement—a thing done with effort, skill, or an abundance of courage—means different things to different people.
Some pursue achievement in the long road to professional fulfillment; others do so closer to home. Still more, weathering the turbulence of the recent past, seek a deft mélange of both. Achievement is also, in whichever way you define it, a pre-requisite to HEC Paris EMBA admission.
Each participant can point to and expertly articulate a healthy dose of achievement before even walking into an HEC Executive MBA classroom. Chances are that each participant can also point to the counsel of key individuals—mentors of all stripes— who helped them project their careers to ever loftier heights.
To add color to the conversation on International Women’s Day, we asked a few women of the most recent EMBA track to reflect on the impact, advice, and wisdom of the women who they count as their own mentors.
This is what they had to say.
I would love to highlight my English teacher, Ms. Darejan, from my childhood. Women in Georgia had to go through a lot in the 90’s – not just economically, but socially as well.
Ms. Darejan was a single parent who also managed to impact the lives of the young children she taught. She did so in more ways than simply sharing the theoretical knowledge of a foreign language (English). She, with her parent-like approach, transferred important values to her little students.
Her charisma and her free spirit was present every time she entered the classroom. Her attitude towards life in general was contagious – fearless, always positive, and always ready to get back on her feet no matter what life would put her through.
“Never ever give up.” She always encouraged us with this moto, and I always try to pass it on to the young woman around me.
In Africa, we say that it takes a village to raise a child. It is with this in mind that I cannot single out one woman for this piece.
My village expanded beyond my mom and sisters, and I am now surrounded by women who support me, encourage me to rise to achieve my full potential, listen to my fears and push me to go for my dreams— my women tribe was expanded on the first day of class at HEC Paris. I am humbled by the strength, intelligence, resilience, determination, finesse, and grace of my HEC EMBA sisterhood.
If I were to distil all that I have learnt from all the women in my village including those women I lead, it would be to “occupy the space that is ours, support each other in this act of occupation and most importantly make space for and support other women as they achieve their maximum potential.”
If we support each other and encourage each other to be the great leaders of tomorrow, the HEC EMBA classes of the future will look different than what they look like today.
‘Wathint’Abafazi Wathint’imbokodo’, which means, “You strike a woman, you strike a rock”
Looking back at the first part of my professional life as an officer in the French Gendarmerie, I must say I came across very few female models because it is SUCH a male-dominated world. Only 10% of Gendarmerie officers are female; only 1% arer represented in the highest ranks.
And yet, every successful female officer I have met has had an influence on me, to strengthen my own certitude that I could become a successful leader. Nevertheless, the one who really taught me to trust myself as a woman was….my mother.
My mother belongs to the first generation who worked and raised the children with very little help from husbands. She had 4 daughers. My mother worked in a hospital, then took years off to raise us before resuming work in a retirement center. Now, as a working mother of 2 children, I know how demanding it is. Our mothers lead the way for us to stand on equal footing at work with men, and we now make sure we stand equally at home too.
Our children will have other challenges I am sure, so let us handle this one for them!
Everyone needs someone to believe in them. I was brought up by an incredibly resourceful and strong woman, my mother, who always supported me. Whatever I wanted to become, she was with me making plans how to achieve my dreams. I changed my mind many times but every time she would give me her full support and be excited about my ideas. Because she knew that by supporting me unconditionally, I would stay true to myself and eventually find my path. Just showing support is so simple, but telling someone “I know you can do it” can help them climb a mountain.
This is what I would like to pass on, to my children, to my team, to my mentees: I believe in you!
I learned about determination and the miracles women build every day from my mother.
She is a woman who sets no boundaries for ambitions: “time will pass, and so do unseized opportunities” she says to me every time I contemplate the magical formula of life balance.
It can be easy sometimes to settle for convenience, justifying it with the many hats styled for us women, to wear. My mother is my greatest inspiration because she sets an example of what a successful intellectual woman can achieve.
I believe that strong women inspire other women with empathy.
The “hidden advantage” for women in leadership roles includes our emotional intelligence. I learned from my mother, my sister, and many successful women in my life that every once in a while, we should introduce a new positive shock, change or challenge, to grow from our safety zones, to learning and growth zones.
The woman who has inspired me my whole life is my “Angel Mom.” All that I am today I owe to her.
She was a working mother of three kids and my role model from day one.
She had a positive impact on my life personally and professionally. I always admired her strength and the power she had in successfully balancing her career with family. She taught me how to be confident and how to fight for my rights, no matter what. She supported me, believed in me and always pushed me to try for more. She showed me that through hard work, a woman can conquer anything.
I carry these words—her words —with me wherever I go, telling them to every woman in my life:
“You are brave, you are capable and you can do anything your heart desires.”
Mom has been an inspiration in ways more than one.
She was a fiercely strong and an independent woman. She believed in abundance of success and always encouraged me to focus on learning over fretting over someone else’s success.
In our professional lives, it can be hard to see others who are more successful than yourself. Ask yourself what you can learn and how you can improve. To the many girls and women around me: I reiterate my learnings, as well as telling them to support one another as opposed to dwelling over what you lack.
Ask for help and advice, while offering your own.
I was always blessed to have been surrounded by strong women.
Just to name a few: my mom, my best friend, and my boss, who is also one of my mentors, Yacine Lotaut— an extraordinary leader and friend. I knew that an EMBA would suit my needs for professional and personal growth, but I had always been more focused on what I was lacking rather than on how to achieve my dreams.
Yacine knew how to listen to my fears before addressing them by proposing smaller steps, concrete actions, including accompanying me all through the HEC Paris admission process. Most importantly of all, she believed in me, and enabled me to believe in myself also, encouraging me to embark upon the EMBA journey, which has proven to be amazing so far.
More CEOs of Fortune Global 500 companies have graduated from HEC Paris than any other university in Europe. Nearly 4,000 graduates are currently CEOs, CFOs, or have founded their own companies. According to the Financial Times, the HEC Paris offers the best EMBA program in the world; click here to learn more.
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