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HEC Trajectoires Launches Gender Diversity Award

The 12th edition of the Trajectoires Awards saw HEC au Féminin team up with the Women’s Forum for the Economy and Society for the very first time. Despite a chilly November 13 Paris night, the event enjoyed a strong turnout, dominated by the chosen theme, “Change Makers”.

12th edition of the Trajectoires Awards - nov. 2018

Highlight of the evening? A “Mixité” award, or gender diversity category, in honor of the men who have struggled for parity within their company – a first in the 11-year history of the awards. The gathering also featured a rich pickings of workshops, speed monitoring and inspiring role-models.

“In the past there’s been a cruel dearth of women leaders to inspire us. These evenings help us to rectify this imbalance.” Lea Brasier de Thuy’s eyes glitter with conviction shortly after she shared her experience with a large circle of women entrepreneurs. The participants are gathered in one of the four workshops organized to discuss the challenges and successes facing women in professional business circles. In her presentation, De Thuy drew from a two-year global odyssey she had undertaken as part of her HEC degree in which she and two fellow students met “52 remarkable women”  and put down their testimony in a book and film“Things are progressing, slowly but surely,” says the 2017 graduate with a conviction beyond her age. “Sure, we came back from our travels with more questions than answers but there is a new-found confidence that women entrepreneurs can have the same impact as men in business. That voyage was a real game-changer for me. I saw inspiring examples of women leadership and invested this energy into projects like Espérances Banlieue .”

Change Makers and their Social Impact

Lea Brasier de Thuy was one amongst dozens of women sharing their change-making experiences at the gargantuan MK2 venue in the Paris 13th  district. The evening was attended by around 300 people and began with four 90-minute workshops. They debated issues as varied as how women can invent innovating business models in firms to how they can engage in positive social impact within the work environment. The former featured HEC Paris affiliate professor Laurence Lehman Ortega (H93), a strategy and business policy specialist, known for the co-authorship of “Odyssey 3.14 Reinvent your Business Model”. For her, part of being a change-maker in business is integrating empathy in notions of design thinking. “Empathy towards your clients, notably,” she told the circle of entrepreneurs. “If you don’t include an emotional approach, you can’t expect successful transactions. Secondly,” she went on, “you need to work as a team if you want to innovate. It’s through adversity, confrontation and response that you create. And the more diverse the group, the richer its feedback. This is what I call Emotional Intelligence. It’s a soft skill that’s hard to teach to new students. Executive managers or students after the gap year have no trouble understanding this, it’s a skill that’s part of their apprenticeship.”  Ortega’s approach, co-developed with Hélène Musikas after ten years of research and consulting can now be found online.

“We are aiming to create new women networks and have HEC feed in their academic excellence to spread it globally,” comments Evelyne Kuoh (H84), the president of the organizing HEC au Féminin structure which is part of HEC Alumni. “These are people making an active contribution to a more open, agile and meaningful business sector. They help change the rules of the game, its business models and the vision of gender equity. As a result, they invent new jobs and services, allowing companies to increase their social impact.”

Bringing the Two Sexes Together

Kuoh’s decision to choose “change-makers” as a theme underlines this recurrent quality ever since the Trajectoires Awards were first introduced in 2007. “These awards irrigate a drive for better gender balance in the enterprise,” said Marie-Jo Zimmermann, who has been at the heart of legislation for more female representation in administration and supervisory boards. The veteran MP was struck by the lack of recognition for the milestones achieved in a relatively short space of time: “Within a decade, for example, the board of directors of the CAC 40 companies have gone from 12% to 40% women representation. That’s nothing short of a revolution.”

Parity has been reached in Danone’s executive committee, cleanly divided between three men and three women. Its chief executive Emmanuel Faber (H86) lauded this fact as he delivered a strong message to those assembled. Faber underlined the original aspirations being incarnated by the millennium women entering his multinational company. “They are forcing us to think gender equality differently. This is an opportunity we must seize so as all of us, men and women, benefit from this parity.”

Trajectoires Awards - Philippe Berterottière

Faber’s invitation for both sexes to work together to improve gender balance resonated with the decision to add a 2018 award celebrating the men who have best promoted diversity inside their companies. Its maiden winner, Philippe Berterottière (H82), runs Gaztransport & Technigaz after a career at Airbus, Matra and Arianespace. “These are mainly masculine universes but I’ve always felt the absence of parity to be an anachronism,” he told an enthusiastic audience. Clearly moved by the award, Berterottière shared his pride at having feminized his international firm. “Only 2% of engineers were women when I arrived,” he said in accepting the prize. “There are now 25% and we’re thriving as a result. Let me be clear: it’s dangerous not to shake up companies and move them in this direction.”

Trajectories of Today…and Tomorrow?

The two other Trajectoires winners in 2018 were Michèle Azalbert (H92), nicknamed Mme Hydrogène for her work in the Hydrogen Business Unit of the ENGIE electricity company; and Julie Ranty (H10) who oversaw the digital transformation of Viva Technology in the space of three short years. But Ranty was also at the heart of the company’s feminization, pushing the parity of female speakers up to close to 50%. “You are the bridge-heads, the young role models that HEC students look up to,” declared Frederic Jousset (H92), the new president of HEC Alumni and CEO of Webhelp, as he presented the large round Trajectoires trophy in the Creation category.

Trajectoires Awards - Sarah Ouattara

These laureates are inspiring role-models for entrepreneur Sarah Ouattara. In 2016, the 34-year-old set up an ambitious, US-inspired company offering caretaker services, wellbeing pauses and catering events. Its launch coincided with her graduation from the HEC Stand Up program designed to accompany young women entrepreneurs from popular quarters like the Paris suburb of Saint-Denis. “When we start out, we sometimes limit our ambitions, don’t aim far enough,”  Ouattara explains. “Seeing the successes of these women can only fuel our own visions and break down these self-imposed barriers.”  The ambitious founder of Samara Facilities has anchored her work in Saint-Denis from where she hails. “But we’re looking to expand further. We’ve already won contracts with the SNCF, Vinci Enterprise and Société Générale. Currently, we’re being incubated by HEC at Station F, so the adventure goes on.” Given the meteoric rise of the women entrepreneurs rewarded at the Trajectoires evening, who would wager against Sarah Ouattara one day following the distinguished careers of the trailblazers that were distinguished in November?