[How to diversify your team] – Tip #5 Let them talk!

Today, I’d like to address the issue of speaking up in companies.

If at first sight, this issue might seem secondary, the unequal relationship to speech between genders has many consequences. This cause is very much linked to that of work recognition.        

For example, when male employees speak up in meetings, or promote their work to their hierarchy more than their female counterparts, they appear more involved, and will be more easily considered for a promotion when the time comes.

If I use the term “men”, it is to lighten the text and avoid the very heavy saying “a somewhat significant share of men, or at least a greater share than that of women”. There are obviously important contrasts within the male (and female) gender, starting with introverts and extroverts. Women are therefore far from being the only ones who would benefit from a change in mindset.   

Inequality in the relationship to speech is at the root of many other inequalities, which is why it is so important to tackle it. Additionally, companies will benefit from promoting (and prevent from losing) great employees who are not sufficiently recognized. They will also gain more from their contributions.    

Now that I have come to this conclusion, a question remains:         

What can be done to solve this problem?

As stated earlier, women generally speak up less in meetings than men. There are two main reasons for this. The first is that they will only express an opinion if they consider themselves very competent on the subject. The second reason is related to what is called “manterrupting”.

For those who are not familiar with this term, here is the definition, which I gave in TIP#3: “The regular cutting off of women’s voices in meetings not only denies their competence, but also allows men to take ownership their ideas. A word has even been coined to define this phenomenon, which is far more common than it seems: manterrupting. “.        

Thus, being accustomed to having their voices cut off, women are more hesitant to speak up.

The good news is that it is quite simple to improve this situation. Just stay cautious during the meeting and go around the table regularly, asking those who have not yet spoken to give their opinions. This way you will get a real diversity of thoughts, instead only listening to those who are more expansive.

When someone expresses an original idea or even one that goes against the grain of the status quo, don’t fall into the “it will never work” trap. Innovation is based on the variety of ideas and therefore requires being open to unconventional ideas.

As for the issue of cutting people off, even though this is more often the result of an unconscious act rather than a bad intention, it must be treated with my famous “zero tolerance”. I once worked with a very enthusiastic man who had the habit of systematically cutting off his female colleagues. Why women? Certainly out of impatience, because they spoke with a small, timid voice, which was easy to interrupt. After asking him several times to stop doing it, I ended up playing the provocation card: “I know that you think, as a man, that your voice matters more than women’s, but I would like to listen to them.” I didn’t mean it of course, but it had the merit of opening his eyes to his inappropriate behavior, which never happened again.

Another equally effective option is to ask everyone to share their opinion by email, or in person (during a one-on-one meetings) for those who have difficulty expressing ideas in writing. This allows for input from employees who are uncomfortable in public and won’t speak up in a meeting.

Don’t miss out on diversity of thought and speech.

Speech is a crucial issue in the fight for the cause of women. Companies would benefit a lot from listening more to their employees. Recognizing everyone’s work for what it’s worth (and not for the share of talking in a conversation) is also about being more fair. After all, if there’s one thing we’re learning in the age of social media, it’s that it’s not always the people who take up the most space in the public arena who deserve the most to be heard. 

[How to diversify your team] – Tip #4 Zero Tolerance

I keep saying how important it is to apply the zero tolerance rule.

But why zero tolerance? Why not accept small deviations that don’t hurt anyone?

The great advantage of zero tolerance is that it removes any room for doubt, it eliminates any grey area. Let’s take the example of alcohol consumption. At parties, we regularly ask ourselves: “I had 3 drinks in 5 hours, I am 60 kilos, am I within the limit? (You have 1 hour.)” Whereas if you take the option of not drinking at all, you don’t even have to ask yourself those questions, and you can enjoy the evening without taking any risks (and at this point, I’ve lost half of the readers.)

For sexism, the principle is the same.

We tend to judge the relevance of a comment (gossipy or “borderline”) by our own experience, except that it’s really important to understand that the level of acceptance will depend very strongly on the person we’re talking to, their past and their potential previous traumas. A person who has been harassed will certainly be much more sensitive to biased remarks. 
In the same way, one should not assume that just because a slightly biased joke seems to be well taken, that it doesn’t cover a deeper problem.

It is very difficult to differentiate between a person who appreciates a joke because he or she went to engineering school (for example) and is accustomed to this humor, and one who will keep quiet to fit in with the group, but feels strongly attacked. So, you might ask, how do you do it? Well, simply by refraining from making potentially sexist jokes. Try using the famous “would I say that in front of my sister/mother/wife?” trick.

The accumulation of these jokes not only puts the majority of women in an uncomfortable position, it sustains a culture where women are only welcome if they adapt to the group.
Indeed, if the only way to be accepted by a group is to abide by the prevailing sexist humor, you run the risk of not having the true diversity of thought that is so important to the team and for which women were recruited.

And I’m going to pause for a few seconds to give you time to hit me with the killer argument, “We can’t say anything anymore! “
You might think, and rightly so, that it brings good spirit to make jokes in a team, and I’m the first to do so, but it shouldn’t be at the expense of one category of people, especially if that category is underrepresented in a group. So I’m certainly not suggesting that we stop using humor in the office, but that we avoid topics that may offend others.

It is the role of each and every one of us to stop these practices.

Managers have a crucial role to play. The minimum, of course, is to set an example, but in addition to that, we have to make sure that everyone is aligned with the Zero Tolerance principle.

About 15 years ago, I was the Angola director of my company. Very quickly, I had been very clear on the fact that I wanted to be informed immediately of any incident that had to do with ethics, no matter how minor and regardless of the person’s position.
I was told one day that one of the young female engineers had literally broken down on the oil rig where she was assigned. She was regularly the victim of jokes, like the one time she found her safety boots painted in pink… Being a woman on a drilling platform requires a lot of strength of character, and I could totally understand that falling apart must’ve startled her, and made her feel like she wasn’t good enough. Each joke taken individually can potentially be accepted, but the accumulation, on top of the particular circumstance of being the only woman in the middle of the sea, in the middle of 80 good men, makes it much more complicated.

When she came to my office, not only did I believe her, reassuring her that her reaction was completely legitimate, but above all I acted. I called the director of the drilling company, who immediately decided to act on his end.
In another similar case, not knowing how to contact the manager of the company involved in the complaint, I simply went to his office, unannounced, to tell him about the incident. Once the initial surprise passed, he also took action.

These incidents sent a very strong message to the teams that not only these behaviors were unacceptable in our company, but also that victims would be listened to if they encountered a problem.

I realize that these are pretty extreme cases and I imagine that the majority of readers have never been on a rig or are not in a similar managerial position, but the principle remains the same, regardless of the work environment. Any incident should be treated with the appropriate level of severity, no matter how minor it may seem, and at the right level of the hierarchy.

So I suggest that you take a moment to observe what is going on in your department, keeping an eye out for non-inclusive behaviors, to not only correct your own behavior but also to explain to your colleagues how theirs may be offensive. The general atmosphere of the team will be much better.

[How to diversify your team] – Tip #3 Fighting ordinary sexism

In my tip#2 on welcoming women into your teams, I very quickly touched on the subject that upsets people, the elephant in the office, the one that is so deeply rooted in our habits that it will take a real commitment from each and every one of us to fight it… I’m talking about the ordinary sexism. As for the rest, the only acceptable tolerance is zero tolerance. But here, the main difficulty will be to know how to recognize it.

It is not the very clear inappropriate comments that do the most harm. These are easy to identify, and are generally unanimously condemned by the team members. In the end, they are quite easy to eliminate if you decide to really tackle the problem, by making the company’s position on the issue clear.

Ordinary sexism is more insidious, it’s hidden in the little phrases, the little comments that go unnoticed but can hurt the people they are addressed to. It is all the more difficult to combat because most actors are not aware that they are taking part in it and think they are being humorous – at worst.

Let’s look at some examples.

The benevolent paternalism of giving more explanation to a woman than to a man, which may, in turn, give the impression to other team members, but also to herself, that she is not up to the task.

Comments about the supposed unavailability of a woman with children, said without malice, imply that a woman cannot take on the same workload as a man and therefore cannot have the same level of responsibility. We can add to this category questions such as “how are things with the children, it is not too hard balancing work and family life? “

Inappropriate remarks about women’s emotions, which immediately discredit a woman who expresses a disagreement. This gives an almost systematic advantage to the opponent in an argument (the worst in my opinion being the expression: “that famous time of the month”). A classic example is the now famous ‘calm down (…) To be President of the Republic, you have to be calm’ that Nicolas Sarkozy addressed to Ségolène Royal during the 2007 inter-party debate, implying that she had a propensity for anger, and therefore was not fit to be President (whose response is equally well known: ‘there are angers that are perfectly healthy’).

The regular cutting off of women speaking in meetings, which not only denies their competence, but also leads men to take ownership of their ideas. A word has even been coined to define this phenomenon, which is much more common than it seems: manterrupting. One of the first studies on this subject goes back to 1975. It was conducted by sociologists Don Zimmerman and Candace West, who examined 31 conversations. They concluded that there were 8 times as many interruptions in male-female discussions as in male-male discussions, and in 98% of cases in the male-female direction. Many statistics analysing the exchange of words in broadcasted debates (or equivalent) are published regularly, and they show that the problem is not fading over time.

And what about the way conversations around the coffee machine are perceived? Where men would solve big strategic problems, and women would gossip.

We could go on with the list (and I invite you to add examples in the comments), but let’s spend a few minutes together to see how each of us can act at our level to fight against this ordinary sexism.

I’m repeating myself, and I will repeat it as often as necessary, the only acceptable tolerance is zero tolerance. We don’t let anything go by, and correct anybody who does one of the things listed above. For example, you ask the colleague who interrupted a woman to let her speak, you react to inappropriate jokes, you explain why a certain behaviour is unacceptable.       

You could argue that women themselves could make it known when behaviour is inappropriate. However, it can be difficult for a young recruit with little experience or for an employee who is facing her line manager to respond. It is therefore necessary to intervene when you are in a position to do so.

And if you’re wondering how to differentiate between sexist and non-sexist behaviour, so that you don’t subconsciously participate in it, here’s a simple tip: before you make a remark to a woman, ask yourself: would you say it to a man? If the answer is no, it is very likely that it would be better not to say it.

All that’s left is to train yourself to recognise ordinary sexism, and then apply yourself to never tolerate it.

[How to diversify your team] – Tip #2 Welcoming diversity

If you’ve applied the tips I gave in the previous article, you should now have several new female recruits! The question now is how to integrate them into the different departments. How do you ensure that they enjoy working in their respective teams? That’s what we’ll look at together in today’s article.

Let’s start with welcoming new recruits

1. Choosing the team

If you are in an industry that hires a majority of men, taking care of the composition of new teams can be a trickier task than it seems. How do you ensure that your new female hires will feel comfortable in the departments they will be joining?            

Whenever possible, it is best to place a female employee in a team with one or more other female colleagues. Being the only (or even the first) woman in an all-male group can be very intimidating, especially for someone who is not used to it. So contrary to what one might think, it is better to group women together than to try to cover as many departments as possible by placing them one by one.

2. A welcoming workplace

Another “basic” tip is to make sure that the environment is welcoming. For example, you can start by removing calendars or other posters of naked women (a situation I was regularly confronted with when I started working on oil rigs)… More seriously, as I’m assuming that this is now a thing of the past, it is better to check that what is displayed is not offensive, even under the pretence of humor – the infamous humor that excuses everything.

3. A successful first day at work

Next, welcoming the new hire will play a determining role. First impressions are difficult to change. It is therefore important to prepare the arrival of the new employee. At the very least, you should go around the department to introduce the newcomer, explain the roles of each person and also plan meetings with the people who will be able to help her in her mission. This is part of the general good practices, which many people already apply. Another good practice is to appoint a reference person to whom the new recruit can turn for any question, and especially to make sure that this person is favourable to the arrival of diversity in his or her department.

But, as usual, it would be too easy to stop at a welcoming workplace and a successful first day. It is absolutely necessary to make sure that the team spirit is truly inclusive and to do so, you must not tolerate any sexist remarks.

This requires combating ordinary sexism, which is at the heart of the problem, but I will not address here, as it will benefit from a future dedicated article.

So, you will have to act proactively to ensure that the first impression made through your good preparation and welcome is confirmed over time.

First of all, the only acceptable tolerance on the subject of sexism is zero tolerance. The basic principle is to not let anything get past you. Indeed, it starts with a little joke, then you get used to it, and it drifts easily. The question is then to decide what is acceptable or not. Zero tolerance helps to avoid dilemmas and will make everyone’s life easier.

Second, it is not enough to rely on management or other women to ensure that everyone behaves properly. While it is important that the tone be set and that the company publicly express its inclusive policy, it is everyone’s responsibility to enforce it.

One method that has been used with some success is unconscious bias training. I am one of those people who believes that most of these behaviors are due to ignorance rather than actual malice. Let’s give everyone a chance to learn and understand what can be done to behave better.

Finally, don’t hesitate to repeat things that should be obvious… Because if they were really obvious, I wouldn’t have to write these articles!

In conclusion, with the proper preparation, the arrival of your new female recruits in your department can only go well. It is important to pay attention to the behaviors of different team members and to intervene when they are likely to create an uncomfortable climate, so that all of us in our respective companies can work in pleasant and respectful conditions. And considering the amount of time we all spend at work, it would be a lot nicer!

If this seems so complicated that you’re wondering: “Why bother? “, tell yourself that it usually doesn’t last long and that the atmosphere will only be better in the end for everybody.

[How to diversify your team] – Tip#1 Diversify your recruitment

People often ask me to share tips and tricks to promote diversity at the workplace. I’m going to walk you through the methods that allowed me to increase the number of women in my team for each of my roles.

And because it is trendy to do Top 10s, I am starting a series of 10 articles, to explain meticulously, step by step, the mechanism I use, so that anyone, man or woman, can use it at their level.

For the first article of this series, let’s start by the beginning: recruitment.

Or rather: how to recruit more women?

« I would like to hire more women in my team, but I can’t find any. » Who has never heard this infamous excuse?

Indeed, the best way to prevent diversity from increasing is to deny any responsibility and make no changes to the method used to find talent. Denial being just one step before the policy of burying our heads in the sand like an ostrich.

More seriously, if you’ve already had that thought, we’re going to determine together the best path to follow to solve the problem.

  1. The company’s brand image

First, it’s essential to analyse the image that your company reflects and to ask yourself, in full transparency, if a woman could relate to it. When you work in a typically male-oriented industry, like the ones I’ve worked in (oil & gas and construction), it doesn’t seem that obvious. Yet sometimes, little is needed to change a company’s image, such as ensuring that every publication presents a true diversity, both on the company website and on social media, that the company has published a non-discrimination policy…etc. This underlines the idea that gender equality plays an important role for the company.

This could be out of your reach, but it’s certainly possible to get the message across to HR or the communications department.

2. The job posting

You might be under the impression that changing your company’s image is out of your control. This question remains: What can you do at your level?

This tip is for anyone who manages a team, however small it may be, and who has (or will have) a position to fill. I’ve always managed to have more diversity in my teams, by using a simple trick. When I’m looking for someone new for a role, I always request that there be a true diversity in the candidates selected by HR. The word « request » is not an exaggeration, because I have no issue blocking the recruitment process if it’s not met.

Therefore, HR must receive enough candidates to ensure that there isn’t a unique profile. And we’re going to help them.

The first step is to make sure that the job posting and the vocabulary used is truly inclusive, such as using “man or woman” in the text.

But don’t get too excited, it doesn’t stop there. The topic of diversity has been studied widely and there are a lot of readings online on cognitive biases. It’s thus important to understand them to make sure that your job posting is suitable for everyone.

For instance, with equal qualifications, approximately 20% less women apply for a role. This is a known phenomenon, often a consequence of the way women were raised, leading them to apply to a role only if their qualifications meet 100% of the requirements. A man will more frequently take more risks. Therefore, without lowering the threshold for required skills, it could be beneficial to review the job description to remove skills that aren’t crucial, such as « at least 10 years of experience in that sector » but instead focus in explaining the role in detail.

Women continue to be the main accountable spouse in charge of children’s education and the majority of household chores. Explaining in the job description that the role could have flexible hours, be partially remote, or even be part-time (most jobs are completely doable part-time, at 80% or 90% capacity), would remove an additional obstacle in these candidacies.

If the role is for an entry-level graduate, it’s important to make sure that students who are fresh out of university want to work for your company. It’s not that difficult, but it requires some time. The most efficient way is to find female employees who’d be willing to run regular conferences or presentations on campuses. They could then highlight their company’s gender-inclusive policy in their speech, and how amazing it is to work there as a woman.

There you have it. Thanks to your spectacular job with the job posting and the substantive work in universities, you now have plenty of female candidates.

After this step comes the long-awaited moment of the job interview.

  1. The job interview

30 years ago, when I decided that I wanted to become a field engineer on an oil rig, the recruiter asked me what my mother thought of my career choice. I had answered « would you ask men this question? No? Then you’ll understand that I refuse to answer it. »

I’m optimist and I’m sure that 30 years later, we’ve made a lot of progress, and that recruiters – apart from very few exceptions, no longer ask inappropriate questions on possible future children for instance, or questions from another era.

But avoiding sexist questions is the bare minimum and is definitely not enough – that’d be too easy.

Our own subconscious biases are a lot more insidious. We all tend to hire people that are similar to us, with whom we have created affinities, and who correspond to the members of our usual network. But is that really the best way to build a team that represents diversity in its way of thinking or approaching problems? And this isn’t about parity, but rather how interesting it is to have people with different backgrounds, nationalities, and opinions within the same team. So it’s important to overcome this bias. Being aware of it is the first essential step, but it’s still not enough. Another way to be more impartial during the interview is to ask very different people to be a part of the recruitment process. And of course, be open and ready to take « risks » to recruit people with unique profiles.

At this point, there’s nothing left but to select a candidate. If at the end of the process, it so happens that the best candidate for the role is a man, then of course hire him! The purpose of this article is to make sure that during the interview process, qualified female candidates were given the opportunity to apply, and not only men. Who knows, this might prevent you from missing out on your company’s next CEO!

But the recruitment part isn’t all of it, and we’ll see together in the next article the best methods to keep the women in your team!

Advice to my daughter #3 – How to manage emotions at work

Hello my daughter,

The three months are coming to an end. Did you follow my advice? What project did you implement to show your project management skills? Did you manage to convince your colleagues that several approaches existed for the same job? During our last conversation, you told me that you had progressed on all these points, and I’m very proud of you.

But along the way, you learned a lot about yourself and your relationship to work, which was the real objective of the exercise.


Last week, you couldn’t help but make a sour remark to Robert, taking the risk of ruining months of efforts forcing yourself to think before you speak.

Last month, you couldn’t hold back your tears in front of your manager, who refused to listen to what you had to say about potential improvements to your project’s methodology.

Essentially, you’re quite emotional and it affects you in the workplace, and I know it can be uncomfortable for you, which is why we’re talking about it today.

As expected, after you got hired, you spent a lot of time monitoring your speech to make sure you wouldn’t offend your new colleagues. It was a difficult exercise for you, but since you were there to watch and learn, it was quite easy for you to keep your thoughts and emotions to yourself. However, you’re now the actress of your professional life, and you can’t afford to stay in the background. During reunions, your opinion is just as important as someone else’s. If you feel like a decision could hinder the success of a project, you need to put yourself out there and voice your worries. Unfortunately, being more expressive makes controlling your emotions all the more difficult.

So, how do you control your emotions at work?

Difficult question. First, you have to learn to tame them. There are a lot of methods that are more or less adapted to your personality. They vary from yoga to meditation to puzzles (that’s more my thing). By asking your colleagues, friends, or favorite search engine, I’m sure you’ll find all the information you need from people who are a lot more competent than me on this subject matter.

If you’re at work, there are several fairly easy tips you can put in place.

First, put things into perspective. Yes I know, easier said than done! But you can really “dedramatize” if you take a step back and consider calmly the real impact of the action you led or the reaction you created. What’s the consequence of this mistake you’re obsessing over? Aren’t you making a big deal out of nothing?
Another infallible method is that famous adage that tells you to sleep on it. An email that gets on your nerves in the evening will be a lot less offensive when you read it again in the morning. During that time, you’ll have taken the time to evaluate the options and find a solution that you hadn’t thought of the night before.

At work, difficult meetings are a breeding ground for anger to arise (an unpleasant colleague, a poorly executed project, etc.). In that case, the method I use regularly is to prepare my “confrontations” meticulously and go in with all my arguments ready. Oten, what makes you angry during these meetings is a feeling of powerlessness, or the impression that you weren’t prepared enough. When you arrive knowing your file like the back of your hand and having analyzed all the options, you can lead a serene discussion, based on proven arguments and not feelings. This makes all the difference!

But if all of this doesn’t work, then once again…put things into perspective.

 Is it really that bad to cry in public? Yes, I know, in today’s  society, it’s not very well seen, because you have to be super strong to face the professional world and stay stone-faced at all times. “
However, customs can change (I’m referring you to my article on “a new style of leadership” where I talk more about it). It’s very possible to create a workspace where emotions aren’t excluded and where a collaborate who cries is not weak, but rather someone who isn’t afraid of showing their emotions in public. Emotions are an integral part of who we are and hiding them should be as incongruous as trying to hide our intellectual abilities, for instance.

Once you’ve accepted that, things are easier.

One time, I started crying in my boss’ office because of exhaustion. I had been doing the work of two people for a few weeks and I couldn’t see the light at the end of the tunnel. I decided to make my boss face his responsibilities, but I couldn’t hold my tears back. But instead of running away, I decided to accept them. I told him: “Listen to what I’m saying, don’t get distracted by my tears, the content of my speech is still the same” and I ended the meeting like that. So here’s my advice for the week. Learning to control your emotions can always be useful. But if they’re overflowing, accept them, don’t try to hide them.

Even when you have tears running down your face, keep your head up!

Advice to my daughter – You signed your first contract.

You’ve just finished your trial period and you’ve finally received your first contract – the infamous Graal. I know that you’re relieved, ecstatic, after this little victory. However, you’re still very aware that life is starting now and that the challenges to come are at least as hard as the past ones. Thus, once you’ve celebrated on social media, called your best friend, and drank champagne with your family (in this order), it’s time to prepare for the next step.


Your colleagues appreciate you, they consider you like a young girl who is really motivated and brings a bit of fresh air to this slightly dusty service. A few even went to the bar with you to celebrate your new contract.

Now that you’ve managed to fit in, it’s finally time for you to make your mark in the service. So far, you were mainly there to learn, but now it’s important for you to prove that you bring some added value to the team.

Normally, you’ve already identified your allies. Those who will defend you when you say something dumb, who are infinitely patient when you ask a million questions (I know how annoying you can be in those moments) and who always find time to help you in your training. This first group is like a little cocoon where you feel good, and you’re welcome in all circumstances. However, there are also other types of colleagues. This second group is made of the neutral ones, those who ignore you because: “You understand, miss, we’ve seen a lot of young ones like you. We are still here and we have better things to do than to waste our time with this new recrue who may not make it past Spring.”

They’re not even the worst. There’s a third group of colleagues, more negative, who have decided to make your life hell, because for them, welcoming a novice rhymes with hazing: “She needs to suffer as much as we did when we started, following this wonderful tradition that we’ve created”

There’s your new challenge. Conquering the recalcitrants.

Why? Because during the first three months, you learned everything you needed to know from the first group. Now, you need to get to know the second group, and even the third one. This is going to require more patience, and you’ll need to be more strategic, but it’s a sinequanone condition to expand your circle of acquaintances and prove that you have what it takes to be a leader. With the first group, it was easy, almost anyone can be friends with them, but you now have to put your leadership skills forward and prove that you can be a part of any team.

There are several proven successful methods, like going for coffee breaks, asking about Sunday activities, knowing the children’s names, and even the grandchildren if needed, and showing an increasing interest in their projects. I’m not saying that it should be forced, or that you have to be a hypocrite! No, just remember that we’re all human and that if someone is a bit cold, it may only be because they don’t know you.

Is it all? No, not at all, that would be too easy.

You were humble during your training and you tried to avoid being seen as the pedantic young girl who thinks she knows it all. It’s a great quality, which people sometimes forget about, and I’m proud of you. But now, it’s time to show what you’re worth. If you don’t want to be seen as the ‘nice little one’ forever, who’s agreeable to work with and always there to help, but that no-one can imagine in a leadership role – even in the far far future, then it’s time to act now, before you get put in that box. And believe me, it’s so difficult to get rid of such a label that you often end up identifying with it and acting as is expected of you, entering a vicious cycle.

You’re seeing the company with fresh eyes. You graduated from a great engineering school. Clearly, since you arrived, you must’ve seen a lot of things that have shocked you or surprised you, and your head must be buzzing with ideas to improve current processes, both in the working life and in the projects that you’ve studied. No?

But you’re scared. Scared that your ideas might be stupid, or worse, that what you say might embarrass you in front of your colleagues. Afraid of being the one who’s going to question the established order and particularly afraid of confronting Robert, the guardian of traditions. You know that there’s little room to maneuver, and Robert has accepted you but he’s keeping an eye on you and was very clear about the fact that your youthful charm won’t lower his harsh judgment on your competencies.

It’s now time to step out of your comfort zone. You can keep using your angelic air to ask questions on the processes that are more and more precise and inquisitive. And slowly, you’ll start suggesting ideas for improvement.

And to make sure that you’ll actually do it – that you won’t spend the next ten years in your little cocoon, regretting the fact that you didn’t shake the system, I have a challenge for you. You pick whichever project you want, you give yourself three months (or less, but not more), and you come back to me. When I say ‘come back to me’, I won’t get offended if you’d rather do this challenge with a friend.

And in three months, we meet up. If you won, dinner’s on me, if not, dinner’s on you, in my favorite restaurant. This project is yours – it could be, for instance, to get rid of all the plastic bottles in the office, or it could be something more in line with the industrial processes. It really doesn’t matter.

What matters is to start a ‘disruptive’ project, with a measurable objective, with a reasonable deadline, to prove that you have the power to change things when you put your heart into it.

Good luck (this would be a good time to shake hands) and see you in three months.

Should we invent a new leadership style?

For a long time, we asked female leaders to act… like men. For a long time, the only women that managed to reach key positions were the pioneers, who opened and led the way with a machete (yes, I’m talking about the jungle of companies) and who only had men as models. So, to feel accepted in this very masculine world, they replicated their behaviors on their colleagues.

And when women started becoming models for the new generation, it was no surprise that they had a management style that was… masculine.

I’m writing these things because I’ve been there myself!

First of all, what do we mean by feminine management and masculine management? I’m against the idea of giving different genres to management. In my opinion, a person’s skills are not related to their sex. Yes, women tend to show more empathy, whereas men are generally more authoritative. However, it’s only a general sentiment, and there’s no absolute rule! It’s also difficult to tell if these tendencies are “natural” personality traits, stemming from the evolution of our species, or if they’re the result of young boys and girls feeling the need to conform to society’s expectations – but that’s a whole other topic.

The problem today lies in the fact that society has established a certain leadership style as being the one that all managers should follow. Every day, new books are issued, explaining how to be a good leader, the 10 things that big leaders do every morning before 7am, the 8 habits of people who succeed, and so on.

As a result, an ideal of leadership is created, often by supermen, sometimes by superwomen, who manage to build teams, motivate them, understand them, have time to work out 1 hour every morning, do yoga and meditation in the evening, and are obviously very charismatic and always confident. Leaders who never get angry, who coach their teams, reassure them, explain things, who give guidance without micromanaging… I mean, you know…

So after the myth of the “perfect woman”: that one who succeeds in her career, raises wonderful kids who are happy and succeed in life, all the while cooking the best gratin tofu in the world (boeuf bourguignon is no longer trending) on sundays… please welcome the injunction of the perfect leader.

However, this perfect leader comes out of a mold, which was cast and lovely carved by generations of leaders… mostly men.

So why do I find this problematic? First of all, because as is the idea of the “perfect woman”, this model is inaccessible to many, which tends to dissuade rather than inspire. Women will be particularly reticent because most of them aren’t going to recognize themselves in this model, ultimately putting a brake on their career.

The second reason is that, in an attempt to become the perfect leader, a lot of people are going to begin working on themselves to conform to the model. In that case, what happens to diversity? How can we talk about mixity and diversity, if we end up with clones in all the positions at the top of the ladder?

So, why don’t we stop with this injunction? Why don’t we say: “Become the leader that you want to be, stay true to yourself” and then, companies will adapt.

Remember my infamous “silent talents”? These women who are everywhere in the company, but that we don’t know, because they’re working hard silently. They do an amazing job without talking about it, without putting themselves forward. These women that I often mention in my articles, that need to be fetched during the nomination of new managers. They have to be on the list, just as much as those who fit the classic profile of the superleader.

Let’s pretend that you did a nice prospecting job to find atypical profiles and that you’ve now come to the conclusion that this “silent talent” is clearly the best for this manager’s position, so, naturally, you promote her to the new job because she deserves it.

What’s next?

You went to get her, because she perfectly fits the profile that you need for this job. Are you now going to make her change her style in order to fit the skills of the classic leader? I hope not, it would be appalling – not only would she not be able to offer her full potential, because all of her energy will be focused on becoming somebody else, but also, she would be unhappy and would most likely quit. Would that be reasonable?

I recommend you read this article from Fast Company: « Telling women to be more confident is a stupid idea ».

What if we tried the opposite for once? What if we accepted an atypical leader and waited instead for the company to adapt? What if we gave diversity a true chance?

My team of No Super-Chickens

This title is a reference to an excellent TEDx that explains why a team of “super-chickens” doesn’t work.

If you take a look at the teams that I created or led over the years, you’ll find all types of profiles. People with very different careers, life experiences and diplomas. Some are more visionary, they excel at coming up with new ideas that will create huge improvements, but they’re incapable of sending an email without getting the date or the recipient wrong. On the other hand, there are the very rigorous ones, who don’t feel comfortable implementing a new idea or going off the beaten track. Others like to entertain people, are a little crazy, and make sure there’s always a positive vibe. However, often, there’s no superstar, everyone is important, and no team member is more valuable than the other.

Here’s an excerpt of the TEDx:

“An evolutionary biologist at Purdue University named William Muir studied chickens. He was interested in productivity — I think it’s something that concerns all of us — but it’s easy to measure in chickens because you just count the eggs. He wanted to know what could make his chickens more productive, so he devised a beautiful experiment. Chickens live in groups, so first of all, he selected just an average flock, and he let it alone for six generations. But then he created a second group of the individually most productive chickens — you could call them superchickens — and he put them together in a superflock, and each generation, he selected only the most productive for breeding.

After six generations had passed, what did he find? Well, the first group, the average group, was doing just fine. They were all plump and fully feathered and egg production had increased dramatically. What about the second group? Well, all but three were dead. They’d pecked the rest to death. The individually productive chickens had only achieved their success by suppressing the productivity of the rest. “

When putting together a team, it could be tempting to look for superstars, industry prodigies. However, before doing that, think it through for a minute. A team performs well when the members want to work together towards a common goal, and that only happens when they feel like they’re all equal. Adding a superstar drastically increases the risk of creating a spirit of competition, which is not always positive and may decrease the productivity of others.

The other trap to avoid is trying to “clone” ourselves – in other words, trying to recruit people that have ideas, visions and personality traits that are similar to mine. After all, I am the best. So, a person that looks like me will inevitably be better than others. However, this “clone” that I’m bringing into the team, will he be able to defy me, will he know my weaknesses? It seems quite unlikely, because he’ll probably have the same ones! It’s normal to appreciate people that are similar to us. Working with an employee that approves of everything we say, rather than working with one that challenges us, is definitely nicer, but not necessarily beneficial for the overall team performances. To invent, innovate, create, you need counter-powers, ideas that go against the flow.

What makes the success of a team is its diversity, the different ways of thinking. If diversity has become a challenge of society, it’s because there’s now enough data that shows that companies with higher diversity performs better. The same goes for teams.

When putting your team together, don’t just take into account each individual’s relationship skills (soft skills), but also ask yourself which common traits you’re looking for. That has to be your priority when selecting a candidate. It’s only after that list is established and shared with recruiters that you can start looking at their technical competencies, experience, knowledge, and diploma. In that order, and not the other way around.

Don’t forget that it’s a lot easier to learn a technical skill than it is to change mindsets.

I’m going to end this article with the conclusion of the Ted Talk: “… we won’t solve our problems if we expect it to be solved by a few supermen or superwomen. Now we need everybody, because it is only when we accept that everybody has value that we will liberate the energy and imagination and momentum we need to create the best beyond measure. “

Reference: Margaret Heffernan’s Ted Talk: Why it is time to forget the pecking order at work

Recipe 9 : get out of your ivory tower

In the last article, we talked about how difficult it can be to settle into a first management position, and how few people are prepared for the stress they’re about to face.

To handle the situation, some will stay in their offices and isolate themselves. Comfortable offices, between the coffee machine and the canteen, in which it’s tempting to stay.

It’s easy to spend time answering emails, preparing powerpoints, establishing strategies and doing all the things that will make us look good in front of higher management.  We become very productive, active and visible to impress management.

Except that…

By not going to see what happens in real life, we forget. We come up with beautiful theories, that look great on paper, but are completely impossible to implement in real life.

The human parameter disappeared from the strategy. These infamous people don’t always react as anticipated in the strategy. They have different cultures depending on the country of origin, different life experiences, and annoyingly tend to act differently than predicted by statistics.

In the designer world, it’s the difference between what they call design and user experience. A lot of energy and money is spent to gather user feedback, because it’s the only way to guarantee product success.

As a manager, there’s no need to spend a massive amount of money on consumer behavior studies or to read hundreds of pages of studies written by specialized cabinets. No, none of that. There’s a method which is a lot simpler and consists of leaving your office to visit plants. Spending time with people who work on the field and finding out what motivates them is the best way to test your ideas and see if they’ll be successful.

The problem with the ivory tower is that we end up believing that our strategy is optimal, because we spent a lot of time working on it, defending it in front of high management, and doing nice powerpoints with pretty colors, ultimately convincing ourselves that we hold THE only truth. However, we don’t know if it would pass the user test, and that’s often how we build a wall of incomprehension between those who determine the strategies, and those who are in charge of implementing them.

In my current Health and Safety position, I see it every day. The trap to avoid is the infamous “tick the box syndrome”. A project is beautiful and convincing, but completely inadequate with the operational needs, and difficult to implement. Employees will then very quickly find a way to work around it. The probability that this doesn’t happen is directly correlated to the time spent on site. The photo illustrating this article shows it very clearly. It’s almost impossible, and very much unproductive, to force a user to take a path we designed if there’s a more practical one. The question should rather be: why would we want to enforce this path and not the more logical and fitted one, while obtaining the same result – if not a better one. Often, the answer doesn’t exist, because it doesn’t come from a place of purposeful harm, but rather from incomprehension as a result of a lack of communications between operational people and decision-makers…who forgot to get out of their offices!

To conclude, if you don’t get out of your ivory tower for the reasons mentioned above, do it at least to oxygenate your brain, to search for new ideas and to make connections with people in real life. We quickly start liking these trips, with people who often go out of their way to welcome you, happy to finally be able to exchange with corporate. So… Dare to do it!