Podcast

Lauren Stiebing 25 June 2019

Authentic Leadership and Breaking Through the Glass-ceiling with Myriam Cohen-Welgryn

Even the smallest actions can make a difference in the long term, specially when it comes to the gender issues. Confronting our unconscious biases, is essential to tackle the gender pay gap and gender parity concerns, as well as making sure we protect and include of all types of individuals within modern companies and society. To expand a bit more on the how’s and what’s of this topic we have invited Myriam Cohen-Welgryn the former President at Mars Pet care Europe to share with us some tips on how to help females reach their full potential.

Topics covered in this podcast:

  • Authentic leadership and breaking through the glass-ceiling
  • The importance of strong support systems for women
  • How biases effect our day to day activities
  • Tips on neutralizing those biases within company dynamics

[Music]

Lauren:

Hi, I’m Lauren Stiebing and welcome to this episode of the Career Success podcast. Unconscious bias, gender pay gap, and gender parity are terms we are all familiar with, but it can all seem a bit overwhelming for one individual or even a group of individuals to take on these issues. Today, we’ve invited Myriam Cohen-Welgryn, the current president of Mars Petcare Europe to demonstrate how even the smallest actions can make a big difference. Welcome Myriam.

Myriam:

Welcome Lauren.

Lauren:

So yeah, I had the great pleasure of listening to you discuss the topic of Authentic Leadership at the LEAD event in London in late 2018 and I know you also recently wrote a book about women breaking through the glass ceiling. What inspired you to write about this topic?

Myriam:

Well Lauren, I care about women and about helping women to break the glass ceiling, I think for three reasons: first, because I believe that being away can help them by making this testimonial, I can drive awareness and therefore I can contribute to help women.  As a woman over the last 30 years, obviously I had to cope with a lot of the obstacles that we as women generally face at the workplace. And when I started working, I thought these gender issues at work were a question of the past, but then I discovered gradually that there were less and less women around me at the table. We now start to know why this is happening and we just need to work on it. The second reason, also, the reason why I’m so interested in helping women, is that I am a mother of three daughters and I’m very proud of them and I would like them to evolve and grow in a world where they can achieve their professional goals, irrespective of their genders. Yeah, that would be the most important reason.

Lauren:

Okay, and also during the LEAD event, you discussed how important, your he, meaning your partner, has been to your success. This is something that I haven’t discussed that much in the past by other successful women. Why do you think more females don’t mention this?

Myriam:

Oh, I don’t know. As I explained in my book, I have a husband who has been absolutely key to my career and I would never have accomplished what I’ve accomplished without him. I feel that it’s important to pay this tribute to him and by the way he didn’t consider he was helping me. He was just sharing the load, which makes a big, big difference. To why it is not often mentioned.  Well, maybe that’s because he believes that superwoman exists, you know. They believe they didn’t need to ask for help and that they will be able to cope with the entire load they had. I think it’s a very important notion here. We as women, we need to stop pretending that we are super women and we need to accept that there is no such thing as a superwoman. We need to get up and sometimes maybe they don’t mention the “he” because the “he” is not just sharing the load.  Simply lot of men, don’t help. So that could be a second reason and that leads me to the answer I often give when I’m answering that question, which is that this is why it’s very important to put and ensure your “he”. Nothing is more important than choosing the person that you’ll share your life and would not only agree to let you become who you want to become but also do his best to help you. That would be my last comment on this subject

Lauren:

And also, I remember someone in the audience challenging you when you stated that women are co-responsible for the glass ceiling. Can you explain what you mean by that?

Myriam:

Yes, yes.  I truly believe that women are co-responsible for the glass ceiling. What I mean by that is that, you know new science use have proven that brain is biased. In most of the situations when we need to take a decision, our brain puts in judge, it moves into a Meta magic   mode without even asking your conscious brain to make the trade of he has to make. This is just to avoid being overloaded with all the hundreds and dozens of decisions, difficult decisions you need to make all the time. And to be able to do that, you know, the brain simplifies things and keeps referring to what he has experienced in the past. And that creates all kinds of biases that are transmitted from generation to generation. And obviously which translate to the behaviors that women and men have when they are at work. So, we had different patterns that we find at work and that we can work on. As a matter of fact in my book, I have identified where I have quote the five mistakes that we can work on. So, for instance, women tend to suffer from over positions and a behavior of it’s never good enough. We also believe that you don’t have to say what we do because we believe that they will notice what we do. You know, unfortunately at work they do not notice. You have to say what you do. You’re no longer, you know at school where you clearly know how many points you’re going to get for that exam and then it’s an objective kind of measurement. You need to go and say what you are doing. Women tend not to do that.

On the bias, it is very spread that to accept the challenge or to raise the hand for promotion, we need to be fully ready, we need to almost master all what is needed to take the new job and that puts us at a disadvantage versus men. There  is another one that alert us a lot  is that is really to what you were saying about the he and the sharing the load with the partners or the people you share your life with is that we’re not sharing the load. This is a very important eminent.  When you share the loads, you are more available and when you are more available, you can do more things at work.

Lauren:

And the second point of the discussion which really stood out to me is that companies have the duty to neutralize unconscious bias as well. I think it’s a big statement and it’s a statement that everyone agrees with, but how can companies really achieve this?

Myriam:

Sure. First, I want to comment on the statement. It’s a statement I like to say in a lay of strong way because I think that yes, when women have bias, we can work on it. It’s great, but it will never be enough. I really believe that companies have the duty to neutralize the bias. Why is a duty? It is a duty because first, the  business case is clear,  it is been proven and now we don’t count the number of studies that have proven that when you have higher numbers of  women in teaching, you have better decisions, you have better innovations, you have better profit. Now that the business case is clear, and companies are here to optimize the results: so, performance increase when you have diversity and the obviously female diversity is one of the obvious diversity. And so, then the question becomes the how, is your first question and I thinking that, yeah, again, we’ve made the last progress. We’ve experienced a lot of things and we’re more or less known what is working.

So, we know that organizing female networking, which allow female to express their fears, to realize that they’re not the only one to feel what they feel and to organize how they can help each other. I mean, we know that this is working very well. The other element on the how is mentoring, you know, to have women work on their bias. I mean, mentoring sessions can be a fantastic because they can allow women to better read the rules of the company and therefore go beyond their bias. In the end, the rule of companies has been written by males for males and that means that they will take into consideration the bias, the male bias, but not that much the female bias.  The tried mentors can play a critical role to have women to identify the basis that they had and then understand how they can overcome them.

The last element I would like to mention and the how is the quotas.  I know this one is a bit polemical and not everybody agrees with this. As a matter of fact, at the beginning of my career, I was deadly against it because I was still believing that it would be enough to be good. Now, I know that when there are structural biases, while rules can help, and that’s why I’m now the vain favor of quotas. We have seen that when you put quotas things change. The best example is the, the law that has been put in 2012 in France has radically changed the percentage of females in both. We’ve moved from 17% to 42% in less than five years. It works to change the status quo and to, let’s say, force everyone to understand that we need to overcome biases and that we need to neutralize the biases that the companies have without even knowing it by definition.

Lauren:

Well, Myriam, thank you so much for joining us today, and I hope our listeners have learned some key tips on how to really help females reach their full potential.

Myriam:

Thank you very much, Lauren.

[Music].