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Tuesday 11 December 2012

Women in Business Panel Discussion

Women in Business Panel Discussion
15th November 2012 - ESCP Europe Business School, London

ESCP Europe Business School hosted its first 'Women in Business' panel discussion, to coincide with the arrival of the current cohort of Executive MBA students at its London campus.

The panellists were:

  • Sylvie Freund Pickavance (88), Business Director - Value Retail Management, Value Retail PLC

  • Cécile Nagel CFA (99), Head of Strategic Planning, London Stock Exchange Group (LSEG) and UK Alumni of the Year 2012

  • Cathy Pichant, Managing Director, Global Sales Division Head of Commercial Strategy & Business Development (Fixed Income Markets), Credit Agricole Investment Bank

  • Christine Brown-Quinn, Managing Director, Women in Business Consulting Ltd

Penny Copleston (MBA 2012) moderated the session for us.

The theme was about getting to the top: to identify the keys to the 'C-suite' of 'Chief' jobs.

Here are some highlights of the discussion:

Personal Turning Points for the Panellists
Sylvie and Cecile described their career progression as a process of discovery and increasing knowledge, with the need for fresh challenges. Sylvie added that she has always had an instinct towards persuading others and wanting to make things better: to make a difference.

For Christine and Cathy, there had been key turning points in their professions that turned their paths on an upward trajectory. In Christine's case a senior consultant in her firm told her she was smart, but too shy and advised her to speak up or she would never be heard – to be a player – and she realised that she wanted to do it. She learnt to not only do a good job but let people know what she had done. From working in a peripheral role in the City, she did her MBA and moved, as a late starter into the banking industry in a client sales and marketing role. While she lacked the experience and jargon, she was better at explaining and influencing.

Cathy's career matured in a series of upward steps in classic sales and marketing roles in the consumer goods industry. Bedridden for some months, she began to re-evaluate her professional situation and realised she had been very passive. She decided to transform her career by taking an MBA and changing industry, setting her mind on a particular division of investment banking, something nobody believed she had any hope of achieving. Equipped with self-belief, she put hours of effort into sending out CVs and networking with people, deciding that the right business person (not the HR) would eventually like her enough to give her a chance. A year on this happened and she got the job she had targeted.

Networking and Self-promotion: Women need to do more!
The panel generally agreed that women were reluctant to put themselves forward because they lack confidence and, in the back of the head, think the idea is not elegant. They are less likely to take credit for their achievements and also often end up in jobs with low visibility and not enough pay, because they weren't thinking about visibility at the outset. Instead they should target jobs that are more interesting for their careers.

The panellists all agreed, however, that no matter how hard you work, there is more to it than just the output. Building a network, influencing people embedded in the organisation and ensuring people know what they have done are all key to getting on. This is something men do far more easily.

Penny added that women need to understand the network and the system in a company.

Christine suggested that women think about how others who are as (or less) good than oneself have managed to get on in the organisation.

Women could be better at negotiating salaries
All the panellists agreed that, compared with men, women are generally worse at negotiating good salaries. They have a tendency to be passive in performance reviews and salary negotiations, not feeling confident enough to push for a good deal, but assuming (often wrongly) that working hard to do a good job will be enough to guarantee a pay rise and promotion.

Many women in this situation achieve the best pay rises when they move company, even though the chances are they could have succeeded in asking for the same salary in the current company. Men are more likely to ask for more than is offered, persist, and negotiate far better deals on the overall package.

Male dominated industries and cultures can be a problem
In some jobs women are made to feel 'different'. Cathy did not find this at all in the FMCG business, but did on entering investment banking and realised she would have to engage in building her network and taking a more up-front approach to self-promotion. Sylvie, despite having experienced working life in Asia, was nonetheless floored when reporting to an all-male board of directors of the organisation that had bought the company she was running in France. They did not know how to 'place' her, being unfamiliar with dealing with a woman and she had no network to harness in Japan, nor access to company politics and lobbying.

Trying to do it all
Cathy advised women to avoid the 'dual day' effect of trying to focus on a career and working full time with trying to do everything for a family and home at the same time – she said ensuring the provision of good childcare and housekeeping were essential.

Cathy said that women must realise that they can drive their career and take their destiny in hand, not be passive, and think 'what's next?'.

What would they have liked to know when they were younger?
Cecile said that of particular significance to her was realising that the linear progress through her education, was not the way working life would or should go; that career paths have their ups and downs and it doesn't mean that there is anything wrong, but you have to learn to manage.

Christine did not realise that she should drive her own professional development, and thinks she was naive to assume that the company would look after her. She wished she had started pushing at a younger age.

Cathy agreed with Christine. Since she started pushing her own career, she has had four jobs, each a promotion, in the course of only six years: because she wanted it. Prior to that, she had been more accepting and passive, only gaining good salary rises on changing company. She said that women must realise that they can drive their career and take their destiny in hand, not be passive: think 'what's next?'.

Sylvie said that, for her, it was the importance of building a network. She had benefited from having a good mentor in Hong Kong and when that person moved on, it left a big gap for her.

Further advice
Cecile warned against being too emotional and prone to getting upset at work. She advised against running to the boss if there's a problem, saying it is better to think of ways to deal with a problematic situation – and this can also help build a network. Chris added that it is best to avoid being personal, when it is a business problem.

Sylvie said you need to be determined and push to succeed. You need to know who you are and where to go, and then inspire others to follow you. If you fail, you try again and use different techniques the next time.
Cathy emphasised the importance of connecting with people in a target industry or company – 'interviewing' them over a coffee helps to learn the language and jargon of the industry and to know how to look right for the targeted role.

The discussion was rich, but time was limited and there were many topics left untouched.

The EMBA team are planning similar events to build the ESCP Europe women's network when the EMBA students visit each campus. Next stop: Madrid!

You can view pictures from the event on our Flickr page.

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