Four women’s influence on my career

Today is International Women’s Day and I want to take this opportunity to reflect upon a few women that have influenced my professional life.

Many, many years ago I did an HR internship at French car manufacturer Renault. The company was very advanced in terms of HR practices, being studied in all business schools like mine especially for their people best practices. At the time, Marie-Christine Caubet was leading the Sales force across the country (over 12,000 people if I remember well), the only female at this level of responsibility. MC2, as she was nicknamed, was greatly respected and even a bit feared in this male-dominated environment. She was a fiercely intelligent woman with great presence and charisma. She was not afraid to make difficult decisions but did not overplay on the “tough as nails” aspects. I was lucky to attend a few meetings with her, and she impressed me by her charisma, her self-confidence, her poise and her ability to command the attention of the room without having to exert much effort.

Even though she was not an HR person, she became an important role model for me, as I could see that a woman could “make it” even in a macho environment like car manufacturing. She could be respected, her ideas listened to and implemented. She did not have to play upon her “feminine side” nor pretend to be one of the boys in order to achieve that.


A few years later, I became a full-time Compensation & Benefits manager and landed a role at a massive semi-governmental organisation. The HR Director, Danielle R., was my first female manager. She had been appointed because of her acquaintance with a (then) rising politician who could be useful for the company’s lobbying efforts.  Her knowledge of HR was limited, which would have been OK… if she had not pretended to know everything and refused to ask any question. This led her to make wrong decisions on the job, which she could have avoided if she had relied on her team members’ advice. As a result, the team could sense she did not feel confident enough to acknowledge her own limits. She tried to compensate this by being very tough on people, routinel making employees of all levels, male and female, cry in her office. The team turnover was huge, with staff asking for internal transfer out and professionals resigning at a massive rate in HR (15 departures out of 19 employees in 18 months !).

She taught me everything I did not want to be : uncaring, afraid to ask questions, unable to recognise my mistakes and blaming others for them. I also learned from her the importance  and the impact that a direct manager had on their team members. The line manager is the most important component in an employee’s perception of their job, their company, and directly drives engagement levels. Through her disastrous management style, she taught me to focus on being a good manager to my own team, being inclusive, looking for advice when needed, and letting my people shine in their own right.


Transitioning to ladies who are part of my life today, I would like to pay tribute to my dear friend Soraya Salem. Soraya and I have know each other since the beginning of our careers, when we met at the HR department of the French HQ of Philips Consumer Products. We were the only two young professionals in the department, and rapidly hit it off on a personal level.

Sixteen years on, there are many things I admire about Soraya. If I put it very bluntly, being a black muslim girl from an immigrant Algerian family in one of the toughest areas of France was definitely not stacking the odds in her favour in terms of her career prospects. Add to it that her family was not able to afford for higher education, and the picture gets even bleaker.Yet Soraya rose above all challenges, paid for her education by working and studying at the same time, and eventually chose to specialise in Compensation & Benefits. After a few years of experience in France where she had to fight blatant and/or passive discrimination, she successfully moved to the UK where her careeer blossomed.

Today she is one of the few people that I turn to when I want to discuss C&B challenges. She is always willing to take on a new challenge, and has always been able to establish meaningful relationships with the business side of her organisations : she is defintely not one of the Compensation people who live in their ivory tower far from the realities of the business ! But beyond her marvelous sense of humour and the quality of her insights, what Soraya taught me is that if you are focused enough, if you have enough drive, you can grow beyond society’s expectations.


… which leads me to the final person I want to mention today. Her name is Asma Al Nuaimi and she is a UAE National who works on my team. Asma is a strong female, a force to be reckoned with. She has been exposed to many aspects of HR in her career to date, and has chosen to specialise in Compensation & Benefits. That in itself puts her apart in terms of career choices for UAE Nationals.

She is fully expressed socially and does not hesitate to discuss her opinions and ideas in the workplace, including with the top management of the organisation. She also feels confident enough to acknowledge her limits, and has made a conscious decision to learn and grow her skills. She is eager to incorporate new knowledge and asks for opportunities to work on stretching assignments. I have really pushed her out of her comfort zone a few times, and even though I could see that she did not necessarily feel sure that she could achieve everything, she took the challenges… and delivered !

Through her vibrant contribution to my team, Asma reminds me every day that female Emiratis have an important role to play in the economic future of the UAE. Beyond her curiosity, open-mindedness, capacity to give advice to others, and assertiveness, I see in her a woman whom I am proud to call my friend, and delighted to work with every day.

Most Compensation & Benefits professionals are expats in the GCC – I urge you to find at least one Asma in each of your companies. The region has a whole generation of females who are willing to contribute to the workplace while maintaining their all-important role at the centre of the family structure. Engage with them, and you will create a triple win situation, for you, for your employee, and for your country of residence.


Remember, Ginger Rogers did everything Fred Astaire did, but backwards and in high heels.

(Faith Whittlesay)

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  1. Ayesha Asad says

    Love this one… It remains a world where we must celebrate one specific day for Women, even though all 365 days are ours to shine and leave our print on the world around us, wherever we are on the globe. Only yesterday I was in touch with someone to share my resume and he asked me questions that no one asks a man…. what does your spouse do, how old are your children, as well as “how old are you”? , we are looking for an energetic person for this role… The fight still remains harder for women… no matter where we are in this big world…
    Always great to read your blogs…

    • I agree Ayesha, unfortunately in this world, as females we still face discrimination that males don’t. It’s even worse in emerging countries where there is less protection. The questions that you were asked yesterday would be totally illegal in France, and not a single recruiter (agency or in-house) would dare to even ask any of these questions !
      Thanks for being a regular reader of my blog !

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