As we celebrate International Women’s Day, we discover the stories and celebrate the Women of ESSEC SMIB over the week!
To start off the series, Prof. Anne-Flore Maman Larraufie, Ph.D., Academic Director of the Master in Strategy & Management of International Business (SMIB), tells us more about what it means to be a woman in consulting and shares her advice on achieving career success.
Tell us about yourself.
I am Anne-Flore Maman Larraufie, and I have a diverse background integrating experiences I have built up across my academic and professional life. They all tie in with each other in a logical manner, even if it might not seem as such at first glance! I started as an engineer and officer in the French Army, then studied business up to the Ph.D. level.
My professional life is made up of several aspects, the first one being the academic side: I head several programs at ESSEC: the Master in Strategy & Management of International Business (SMIB), the Executive MS in International Business Development (IBD), and the Master 2 in Management of the Fragrance and Cosmetic Industries.
Secondly, there is the entrepreneurial side: I founded my company SémioConsult when I was doing my Ph.D. My Ph.D. focused on counterfeiting and I then became an expert on Made in France. My technical expertise is in Strategic Branding and Client Experience Management.
Finally, there is the theoretical/expert aspect: I continue to do academic research, which enriches my knowledge and expertise. I balance my research between theory and practice, as I find it important to groom professionals and make research outcomes available to companies and the industry. It is essential to bridge the gap between the academic side and the practical side of things.
Today, we celebrate International Women's Day. What does being a woman in consulting and academia mean to you?
I guess it means bringing a different perspective on how things can be done. Women generally display a more analytical mindset, always trying to be detail-oriented. Such a natural character trait is a key soft skill for consulting.
Apart from that, I would say that women are often used to “listening” to other people and for them, it is easier to put themselves in someone else’s shoes, to temper things and take a step back. Again, this is very useful in consulting, especially in terms of working with clients and understanding their needs.
In academia, I don’t think it changes things very much, especially since I am now teaching in a business school.
Did you enter the industry with any preconceptions and have these changed since then?
Not that much. To be honest, my unusual background of having studied at Saint-Cyr (French military school), studying in the SMIB, doing a Ph.D. focused on Counterfeiting and then entering academia and consulting trained me to be the “unusual” person in some ways and I’m fine with it.
Maybe one thing I thought was that people would expect me to behave in a certain way, dressing in perhaps more conservative men-inspired outfits. However, I’ve always managed to remain true to myself and it has never been an issue.
I believe authenticity is key and at the end of the day what you deliver is what matters. How you deliver it with your feminine sense of empathy is definitely a plus but not an expectation.
How do you think we can encourage more females to fulfill their goals of entering the consulting industry and why do you think this is important?
Research on diversity shows that the more diverse your teams are, the more efficient they become. So, I do believe it is important for consulting companies to attract female talents. Besides, there is so much to accomplish in these companies to pave the way for others that I believe entering the industry now can only be also self-rewarding.
However, it is not only limited to being a woman. I trust that having values perceived to be feminine or not rejecting one’s feminine side is also very fruitful for men, like it is for women at some point not to turn their back towards values perceived to be masculine such as decision-making skills.
At the end of the day, having a good balance is what brings equilibrium and success to companies!
What advice would you have for aspiring female graduates of the SMIB?
I would have 2 tips that are closely linked.
Firstly, be passionate about what you are doing! Don’t forget that this is something you’re going to do for the rest of your life, and it should be something that you love. Stop trying to plan things for the future; discover what resonates with you, go for it and believe in yourself.
Secondly, instead of thinking with your head, think with your heart.
In terms of gender equality, it is key to normalize things. We should stop pointing out that a woman is earning a good living, has a good job, or is part of a masculine industry. We have to tell ourselves and see it as normal. Otherwise, females will continue to be in a minority situation.
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