Podcast

Daniel Torres Dwyer 04 March 2019

International Women’s Day Feature with Anne Engerant

With International Women’s day coming up, we wanted to do a special edition of the Podcast. The role of women in business a topic that is becoming more and more a top priority for companies, but also one where there’s still a major ongoing debate and not necessarily a consensus yet. To discuss this, we’ve invited Anne Engerant, currently SVP of RB Health in Latin America.

Anne joined RB in France, her home country, in 1997, after five years spent at P&G and a two-year sabbatical between her first two maternities during which she went back to university to and worked with NGOs taking care of homeless people and Aids affected persons.
After the birth of her third daughter, in 2000 and another sabbatical spent at writing a novel, she moved in 2001 to UK to lead the European business for AirWick. She was promoted as Regional Marketing Director for South Asia in 2003, based in New Delhi (India). Here she turned India into a growth machine and … conceived her fourth daughter.
After a seven month long maternity break in France, she moved back to UK in 2007 as Global Category Director Sustainability to shape, with a cross functional team, the RB Carbon 20 Program aiming at reducing RB´s carbon footprint. Sustainability is a family passion. Anne´s husband is a gardener from the Royal Horticulture Society of England and a Beekeeper from the Royal Beekeeping Society of Belgium.
In 2008 Anne was promoted General Manager of Belgium where she spent two years before moving back to UK as Global Category Director for AirWick and then the RB sore throat business (Strepsils, Graneodin).
She (finally?) moved to Mexico in 2014 to complete the integration of the BMS Health brands and factory and put the business to double digit growth.
In 2018, she got promoted as SVP latam health and led the integration of Mead Johnson acquisition and the creation of the RB Health business unit across Latam.

Main topics covered in the Podcast:

  • How women’s position in business has changed throughout the years
  • How Anne and RB have encouraged the promotion of female talent
  • The evolution of the topic in the next years
  • Actions to be taken to promote gender diversity within an organization

Daniel:

Hi! I’m Daniel Torres Dwyer and welcome to this special edition of the LS International’s “Career Success Podcast”. With international women coming up we are hosting this special edition of the podcast dedicated to the topics of female empowerment and business and gender diversity as a whole. And for this we have invited probably the best guest we could have, at least within consumer goods who is Anne Engerant, currently the SVP of RB, Reckitt Benckiser held for Latin America. Why is she the best guest we could have? Well, she has lived in France which is her home country, UK, India, Belgium and currently in Mexico. She has gone through 4 maternity leaves, two long period sabbaticals, in which she has studied, helped the homeless, and people affected by AIDS and even wrote a novel. I am very happy to have her here, to discuss this topic with us.

Hi Anne! Thanks for joining us today!

Anne:

Thank you!

Daniel:

No, it’s our pleasure and thanks for being her in this special International Women’s day podcast.

Anne:

My pleasure!

Daniel:

Excellent, so I wanted to ask you, first of all how have possibilities for women to advance in business evolved since you entered the business?

Anne:

You know, I entered the workforce nearly 30 years ago, so it’s quite a long time, it is nearly a generation away. If I reflect on that time, I think that a lot and at the same time very little has changed. If you think about it, if I try to put some model around my answer, I see that women are suffering from 4 main issues. The first one is, you know, the attitude of the society, the perception of the society about woman.

Daniel:

Yeah,

Anne:

The second one, would be, you know, real issues that woman are confronted to, as a woman even more when they become a mother. And I’m going to elaborate on that one. The third one is all the unconscious bias, you know, from, from others, especially men, you know, around them in the workforce.

And the last one and not always do least unfortunately, is, you know, the lack of confidence from a woman themselves. So, you know, in 30 years, if I start with the first one, which is the societal, the, the attitude of the society. I think here a lot has changed. And if I take my personal case, you know, I, I’ve, I’ve been a expad for 18 years now and my husband followed me, uh, and, and taking care of the kids, we have four children. So it was his main job, you know, to be the home dad, if I may say.

In my first move we went in the UK was actually the only home dad, which was not that easy for him because you have to, you know, you’re quite alone with a group of women at the, at the exit of the school and a, and you have to live your, your live of home a home dad alone.

So that was, you know, our first move. Then in our second move, we went to India and there was actually two others home dads, you know, who were not working. We should in India because you know, it’s a country, we usually give only one working visa. So you know, you should go with a working wife, you can’t work yourself, but it was already, you know, a bit better.

And now you know, after a lot of movement, uh, you know, we are in Mexico and a strange as it may be, you know, there is a group of I think 10 to 15 men who don’t work. Who are there to accompany their wives.

Daniel:

Oh wow, that is a change.

Anne:

A big change, which clearly help releasing the tension that you can have in a couple when, uh, you know, the, the, the, the woman is the one that decides to have the career. So, it clearly makes the things easier. You know, it enables your path now to, to have different occupations and uh, and you know, the way people look at you is completely different. So I think on, on that first point, which is the attitude of the society I see a lot of change.

On the second point, which is, you know, the real issues that woman or mothers, are confronted too even more. I think here also, a lot of things have changed because you know, more and more companies in their program to help develop women in the workforce, you know, are putting in place programs where you have more flexibility, uh, which is absolutely key, you know, as a, as a woman or a mother. Flexibility to have longer maternity leave and as a result, you know, come back on you when you feel you’re really ready. That’s, that’s a big change. And unfortunately, I have also to touch on the, on the policies around sexual harassment, which is a reality woman have been confronted to. And here again, you know, I see the shootings, the “Me Too” movement, uh, companies are more and more strict in terms of no tolerance.

Daniel:

Ohh really?

Anne:

Yes, much more supportive of, uh, much more admitting that it’s an issue and much more supportive of woman.

Daniel:

Oh, that is interesting I didn´t know that the “Me Too” movement had a direct impact on business.

Anne:

Absolutely. Absolutely. Because you know, let’s not close our eyes. Now if I go to the third point, which is the unconscious bias from, from others and especially men. I think here again, you know, companies are trying to do a lot, you know, are running programs to make people more conscious of unconscious bias. But I think this will take a bit more time, you know, because it’s unconscious. You don’t solve it easily. So, you know, I think it’s a, I think we are just at the beginning of the change on that topic.

Daniel:

Yeah, it makes sense.

Anne:

And on the last one, which is the, the lack of confidence, you know, the attitude of the woman themselves, so, it is kind of self-inflicted issue. I think this one, unfortunately is the one which will take, I mean, which is just the beginning, and will we need even more time to really see a change.

There are, there are things happening, you know, companies like mine are these in a lot of support groups, mentoring programs, you know, to help women, understand better know they can be more confident, more successful, more, uh, assertive in the way they work. But you know, it’s not something which is easy to change. So maybe we’ll need another generation, I mean that’s my perception.

Daniel:

That’s really interesting. How are you encouraging your organization to be more gender diverse then?

Anne:

Clearly, you know, RB which is Reckitt Benckiser, my company is really trying, you know, push that a topic of gender diversity. We are having a program which is called “Dare”, you know, to really encapsulate everything we do for, for woman and men, you know, to try and, and help gender diversity. There are things like flexibility. Uh, I spoke a about it so you know, a longer paid maternity leave opportunity for the woman to decide to prolong the maternity leave, unpaid but with the reassurance that you know, she will have a job when she comes back. Keeping her in touch during our maternity leave and like, you know, ability for her to keep her computer, emails or phone, you know, which may sound stupid, but it’s really key to secure, that when you come back you are not completely disconnected and you’ve missed out let’s say six months or one year of the company time. So that’s one. Flexibility in terms of working hours. There is also something we call go fast, go slow career. So you know, the opportunity for a, for a woman or a young mothers to decide that, you know, okay she will take things easy during that year and when she is back with a small baby and she cannot, you know, commit to the company as much as she did in the past or she will do in the future.

There is, you know, mentoring uh, support groups I spoke about. So, you know, we, we try to have mentors or talk from inside the company. You, you’re using, you know, a woman succeed in the organization as a role model to share their personal experience, but also, you know, Mentor, External Mentor, you know, for all our top female talents, you know, to, to secure that, uh, uh, you know, they are encouraged in that career. Also, mentoring men. And so, you know, so that they understand better, you know, the uh, the specificity of female leadership. Ultimately, we say, you know, a culture, he’s who you promote.

Daniel:

Ah, that is a good point of view, I guess.

Anne:

Absolutely. So, in fact, you know, there is a who you promote or who you asked to go. So you know, there is zero tolerance for sexual harassments or uh, that that’s, you know, something that is very visible in the company. There is more and more discussion around, the concept of share of promotion. So we not only look at, you know, how many female, you have a different level of the organization, but we look at the shelf promotion of female versus male and we try to correct that by securing that from every single interview we have at least a woman, you know, presented as a candidate. We are not yet applying quotas, but you know, it’s going towards the concept of really trying to consciously help promote women in the organization.

Daniel:

Yeah, no, that’s great. And if you can do that even without quotas, that’s fantastic as well. I think.

Anne:

Yeah, the quota question is a difficult one but yeah, you know if you completely, uh, refuse to consider that, you know, quota or shared promotion, numbers can help, you know, I see you’re never going to solve it. So you find the right balance between, you know, uh, giving the impression that women are promoted just because they are a woman, which is not right. But at the same time, those being consciously aware that if you don’t correct the bias, you know, you will never ever be able to solve it. You’re not going to make great progress neither.

Daniel:

No, I agree completely. And actually, how do you see this a topic or if you’d like to see it that way, issue evolving in the next years?

Anne:

I wish I could say it’s going to get better and better. There’s a lot of work happening inside companies and outside in the society too, to try and push that topic of gender diversity. But unfortunately, when you look at the history of humanity, you can see that unfortunately, you woman, you know, very often suffered from, uh, it’s not a linear progression. It’s like cycles. It goes up and down. So, each time there is a economic crises or political or religious tensions, you know, uh, we have to recognize that women are very often, you know, the first one to suffer and things can go backwards on the topic of gender diversity. You know, we have unfortunate the illustration of that point in some, uh, uh, Arabic countries, you know, where women were really, uh, quite highly empowered and, and you know, each went backwards to work to an extreme situation.

So, I have to say I’m worried because, you know, we have big changes coming. That’s, you know, the society and the economy will have to face, you know, specially with the issue of climate change, which really, I think it will dramatically change the economy and the society. And I’m, I’m afraid that, you know, a woman may be at risk and I don’t know what will happen, but, um, I think it is a topic which we need to keep closely in our house, you know, so that we don’t go backwards. Personally, I have four daughters, so as a mom, I’m really, I would love to say that, you know, uh, we are on a positive trend and since we continue to be better and better, but we need to watch out.

Daniel:

No, that’s a very interesting point of view. And if most companies today, well considering that most companies, they’re dominated by males, who should be driving this transformation, or how can the woman at the bottom drive this? Maybe you can give us evidence of your own experiences as well and driving your career.

Anne:

Let me, let me start by saying that, why are companies driving this topic? You know, even if as you say they are today mainly dominated by males. I think that for me, there are two top reasons for them to do that. The first one is an economic one, it has been proven that the more diverse a company is the more successful it becomes. There is a direct correlation between diversity, not on only gender, diversity but you know, cultural ethnicity, religion, uh, diversity and the success of the company, especially in our new world, which is completely global and you know, for which the capacity to, to adapt is absolutely key to, to make a company successful. That’s the, the main reason why, you know, even if a company’s dominated by males, they want to drive that topic because it will make them successful.

The second I think reasons why they are driving this topic is, you know, it’s because it’s a way to attract the, the young workforce more and more, you know, the youngsters, the millennials are selecting a company they want to work for based on the right there are like, how good  a company is for the government, for the society. And I think this is becoming a criterion which is more and more important. I think there could be another reason also why companies are dominated by males. I hope that one day, you know, consumers will also give her to, uh, start to vote with their purchasing. We see happening on the system where more and more, you know, consumers are deciding which brands now going to use, you know, depending on who these brands are good for the environment and the society. So why not think about the world where, you know, uh, consumers start to also select our brand based on the, on the gender diversity criteria, you know, which will be published by companies or brands.

I think it has started to happen in, in some niche segments. There are companies that are more and more created by women for women. You know, like for example, yesterday we announced, the acquisition of Supreme, uh, which is a smaller ecommerce focused company founded by moms’ entrepreneurs in 2005, focused on a pre and post-natal healthcare needs, you know, for mothers and woman. Uh, so it was really, you know, something which starts, it was started by some moms, for moms. It’s a niche, but it’s an example of, you know, how we can push the boundaries and, and, and really select a company or a brand do to a, not gender diversity, but you know, like gender focused I would say.

Daniel:

Absolutely. And any insight on, on how like women maybe that are not in the board yet, maybe, one, two levels below, how can they drive that? Any recommendations you would give?

Anne:

Yeah. So, I think it starts, you know, as I said, it starts by the new recruits, you know, the new entrance in the company. You can really decide, you know in the interview, they can really start to ask questions about gender diversity. I think we completely always underestimate the power that, you know, people we want to recruit in companies can have in a company. So, you know, I would encourage every new entrance to ask that question in an interview to show you know, that it’s important for them. And then once you’ve joined the company, it’s about participating to the programs that already exist in the company and, you know, showing your interest and if those programs don’t exist, really having the courage to, uh, go and see, you know, your HR department or your direction or the top people in the company to suggest to do things for you. If I look at my own case, you know, I’ve been, so 22 years at RB, which was, I think we can say a few examples of a male dominated company. I mentioned this “Dare” program, which already today exist in the company and it’s very, very important. But this program was, was put in place on in 2016, so it is quite recently. So, if I take my own example, you know, I did the two breaks, two sabbaticals, uh, in, uh, in my career,

Daniel:

Ok, well that is great. I am sure lots of people listening will be jealous to hear that and then reach SVP level, Anne.

Anne:

Indeed. And, uh, you know, that was not an easy negotiation. The first time I was in France, I just had my, uh, my girl number three, and I wanted to take a year off. I had to be really convincing, tell them I would go away and then come back to take time off, and that I will be fully committed when they come back. So that was one negotiation.

And then, uh, when I was in India in a 2006, you know, I, uh, again, wanted to take some time off. I had just completed three years in India, there was a lot of focus on my work, a lot of sacrifice for the family, because you know usually, I was spending the summer alone in India while they were back in France. I talked to my direction and said, you know what, before you move me to the next, I’d like to take at least six months off, you know, and have time with my three girls and you know, something else.

I had to, uh, go up to the CEO at this time to negotiate these exceptions, which was a bit easier because I hadn’t done it too once already.

Daniel:

Yeah, you knew it had worked.

Anne:

Yeah, exactly. But you know, I managed to, uh, to negotiate it and, um, and get an agreement and, uh, and then I fell pregnant. So, I had take a maternity leave because I got pregnant.

Daniel:

That’s very good for planning.

Anne:

But you know, I mean, beyond these personal examples, I’ve seen that nothing is impossible, that it depends you. If you don’t have that kind of programs, talk to your management, find your HR… fight for your rights. For sure, do it at the right moment. It would have been really stupid of me to ask for a sabbatical after one year in the job is you go that, you know, you’re willing to create the on how destruction, but you know, because you know you are going to create a lot of disruption. Try to find the good time and start this conversation. And if they don’t accept to listen to you, change company.

Daniel:

That’s, that’s a great advice. And Anne, I have to thank you a lot for this great advice and I would say even inspirational advice, at least for me. So thanks a lot for being here with us today on this special edition of the “Career’ Success Podcast.”

Anne:

Thank you. As you can see, it’s a, it’s a topic which is really close to my heart as a professional and as a mom of four daughters.

Daniel:

Yes, that is why we thought of you. And thanks to all our listeners for joining us today and we’ll see you in the next edition of the podcast.

Anne:

Thank you.