At the occasion of the International Women's Day (March 8), our ESSEC team had the opportunity to interview amazing female leaders who fought to break the glass ceiling, challenge themselves and explore an ocean of opportunities by pursuing an Executive MBA program at ESSEC.
In this interview, we met with Helene SOUILLARD, a business lawyer and ESSEC & Mannheim Executive MBA alumna, who shares her thoughts on the International Women's Day and on being a woman in an EMBA program at ESSEC...
Can you tell us about yourself in few lines?
Helene SOUILLARD: I am a passionate, independent and practical person who likes challenges and loves people in all of their diversity.
What did you dream of doing when you were a little girl?
H.S : I grew-up dreaming of becoming a doctor, like my father, whose vocation and dedication inspired me. I wanted to take care of people’s health. I was also fascinated by the mechanism of our extraordinary human body. However, when I was about to finish high-school, it was too hard to look at injuries... despites all the efforts to overcome my sensibility. So, I gave-up on becoming a doctor. Then, I decided to change my professional path and studied law: I realized that almost every year I used to be the spokesperson for the class, I used to stand for the left aside, and would want to understand how life in society works.
What do you do now?
H.S : I take care of people and of French and foreign enterprises’ legal rights and interests mainly as a deal and peace-maker business lawyer. But I also fight for justice if and when necessary. I am also part of an NGO called Envol Enfants de Madagascar which aims at helping kids from Madagascar.
What does women’s day represent to you?
H.S : Negatively, women’s day represents a necessary step in the worldly fight for women’s rights and gender equality, which shouldn’t even exist: there isn’t any Men’s day! Positively, it is a solemn way to honour the determination and fight of all women before us to change women’s conditions for better, in their own eyes, in the eyes of men, and of all societies around the world formerly built by and for men. It represents all women’s struggles over time and little and big victories obtained so far for us. It also represents our responsibility in transmission and continuation of the fight in a noble way. Although I am a woman, I am first and foremost a human being. My gender status was never an issue or a hindrance to my choices. However, I sometimes felt from a few people (men or women), that a gender repartition of tasks, attitudes or level of education should guide my decisions.
Do you think there are challenges specific to women, while pursuing an EMBA?
H.S : I think that this shouldn’t be an issue, yet I observe that some women have to make firm decisions for themselves, because men wouldn’t specifically encourage them to pursue an EMBA. Indeed, there can be specific challenges to women, at the moment of deciding to pursue an EMBA (if they don’t get support from their family or company) and then, during the course of the EMBA to successfully manage work life, family life and academic life
Are there any advantages of being a woman, while pursuing an EMBA?
H.S : Of course, there are many advantages of being a woman, in bringing different angles of analysis, generally having a good inclusive leadership, being empathetic and good listeners, and of course being very competent technically speaking. It is a privilege being a woman, while pursuing an EMBA.
Which powerful woman do you admire the most? Why?
H.S : Michelle Obama. This extraordinary and brilliant woman of strong convictions is an incredible inspiration for her path career as a lawyer, but most importantly, for the values she relentlessly communicates and the way she motivates and inclusively empowers people all around the globe. She genuinely fights for noble causes, for education, for health combating obesity, and alongside her husband for healthcare for all. She is spontaneous, natural, compassionate, courageous, witty, humble, unstoppable, inspiring trust and respect, dedication and hard work. She has a pragmatic approach of leadership, leading people to joyfully accomplish their everyday duty with integrity, wholeheartedly, and gratitude, because nothing in life is granted. She is truly inspiring.
Do you think there is a stereotype attached to female leaders?
H.S : Generally speaking, women are viewed as being empathetic, intuitive, inclusive, good listeners and multitasking competent. They are also deemed to be less showy, more subtle power, or conversely sometimes stereotyped by men as seductive, schemer, unstable, overemotional or bossy.
What advice would you give women considering an EMBA program?
H.S : Do not hesitate to enroll in an EMBA journey! Beyond the excellence of an academic program with a holistic view across business, you may take the chance of becoming a better version of yourself and being more impactful in society. Consider the worldly known slogans (which I apply to myself): “Just do it” and “Yes we can” :)
On International Women’s Day, what is the most important message you want to send out to women thinking about their careers?
H.S : Stephen Covey said: “We are the creative force of our life, and through our own decisions rather than our conditions, if we carefully learn to do certain things, we can accomplish those goals”.
#DIVERSITY #EXCELLENCE #EMPOWERING
Because diversity among the candidates and the professors bring inclusiveness, openness, mindfulness, creativity, humility, which creates a suitable environment for excellence in academic and soft skills, which in turns necessarily empowers people who will repeat the process as a virtuous circle.
From the International Women's day interview series, don't miss:
- Olga SEMENENKO, Entrepreneur, Consultant, Author, ESSEC Executive MBA Alumna, class of 2020
- Ania DIAZ ESPINOSA, Head of Logistics & Transport Domain, Information Systems, ESSEC Executive MBA Alumna, class of 2021
- Raquel NAVALON DE LA ROSA, Business Consultant, Manager, ESSEC Executive MBA Alumna, class of 2021
Register to our upcoming event, with a special focus on women: