Real advice on how diversity groups can succeed

Posted on: October 15, 2015 by

The 7 Traits of Highly successful women within Atos

In the previous blog in this series, I explored why diversity is important to business, and it was clear that to be competitive and innovative in today’s marketplace we need to leverage a diverse workforce to harness disruptive thinking and creativity.

We now know that diversity is not just the moral thing to do but also imperative to business success, however what I wanted to know is how can women and other groups achieve success?

To answer this question I set about identifying 6 successful women across the globe within Atos who had been there and done it, and would share their stories, advice and guidance on how they smashed the glass ceiling to take their place at the boardroom table.

When I asked Ursula Morgenstern who was recently promoted from CEO UK and Ireland to Global head of Systems Integration and Business Consulting, to share her story, she started from the beginning and explained that she studied a MBA degree as she thought it would be a good way to travel the world and work which was important to her. When Ursula started her career she worked in a small software company and took the opportunity to come to the UK to set up the company’s first subsidiary. Her next role whilst in the UK was at KPMG consulting, which was acquired by Atos where Ursula held a variety of roles in the Systems Integration including management roles for sectors, customer practices and package solutions business units. Ursula rose through the ranks to Senior Vice President of Systems Integration, following which she became responsible for Private Sector Markets, after this she was appointed to UK and Ireland Chief Operating Officer, and in 2012 she was appointed as the CEO UK and Ireland, and finally in 2015 she was secured the position of Global head of Systems Integration and Business Consulting. Ursula described this journey as a natural progression in a fast changing organisation where opportunities are in abundance.

Intrigued by this impressive career path, I asked Ursula what advise she would give to someone looking to achieve success and progression in their career:

“I received great advice from my boss when I was promoted previously, they said to enjoy today but tomorrow, act like you have already been promoted to the next role you want to secure. When you have been promoted, it is because you are ready for that role and are being rewarded for what you are already capable of. So immediately look to develop to be capable for your next role. Put yourself in your bosses’ shoes, it ensures you are reacting in the right way, a more mature way, and from your bosses’ perspective. This will enable you to resolve issues before you escalate to your boss, it is good practice – ask yourself, what would my boss do in this situation? This will help you to develop your decision making”.

Nathalie Pousin, Chief Administrative Officer of North America Operations said on the face of it, it looks like she has had a linear career path, having started her career as an analyst being promoted into Group Reporting Roles followed by Chief Financial Officer positions, a Chief Operating Officer position and finally Chief Administrative Officer. However this is not the case as she has always made moves to allow herself to see things from a different environment whether it be a different country, or a different industry.

Nathalie’s roadmap to success echoed that of Ursula, she recommended those who want to achieve success should follow the one level up principle, where you always try to put yourself into the shoes of management by asking yourself, for example what expectations management have of your job? Is the quality of your work what management would expect? What solution would management expect? This allows for self-reflection and evaluation of your role to aid improvement.

Nathalie’s second piece of advice is that she has always looked to extend her role by going beyond its official boundaries to make it permanently moving:

“You have a scope of work but whenever possible one should try to work on projects that will extend your skills and the competency of the organisation, you do this by asking yourself ‘how do I contribute to the wider picture?’ You can do this by working on projects which widen your skills and knowledge – this is a core quality of the Atos environment and beneficial to people development”.

Lisa Coleman, CEO for Worldline UK&I described a similar approach to her career as Nathalie did, she described a career broad in scope, but always following the principle of being forward in progress, in the sense she sought more responsibility or more development to push herself to widen her skills and knowledge. Lisa’s career has spanned bids delivery, different market, service operations and project management functions, as well as client facing and public facing roles. Lisa has gained a broad exposure to different things, which have allowed her to develop in different directions. She described being an expert or being a generalist is down to the individual, if you want to be a CEO or hold an executive position you need to get maximum exposure, however if your career path is very specific you need to develop expertise, there is no right or wrong answer it is down to what the individual wants, what motivates them and what their career path is. Lisa said knowing where you are strong and where you are not, and having the team around you who fill those gaps is the key to success. Lisa advised:

“Learn from everyone around you; learn what is good and what is bad. Even learning what not to do is good. Don’t be afraid to try something new, even if it feels uncomfortable, new learning experiences will allow you to develop. Understand what motivates you; you don’t need a precise career plan for the next 15 years, as plans are there to change, so the best thing you can do is to be flexible. If there is an interesting opportunity don’t be afraid to take it”.

Sophie Proust who recently transferred into Atos as part of the acquisition of the company Bull, and is now Senior Vice President of Research and Development for Big Data and Security joined Bull as a trainee from engineering school. During her first 10 years of employment Sophie was involved in Software Development, and started managing teams and by the end of those years interacting with partners. Following this Sophie moved into marketing and pre-sales and R&D within this domain and then took a different direction and joined the Bull hardware design team. Sophie stated that she has always had a fairly direct career path in that she has remained in the development domain, however within this domain she has held a variety of positions which have helped her to develop.

The advice that Sophie shared to help enable others to take the first step on their journey to the top floor was to always be in the place that you want to be. Sophie explained that she has always been given the chance to have the job she wanted to be in; as she chose to progress where she fitted naturally, where she enjoyed working, where she could give her knowledge and expertise, at the same time as having room to develop and progress. In these types of roles you perform well and are recognised for opportunity. Sophie said it is healthy to change roles approximately every 3 years, when you feel you have got everything you can develop from your current position.

Marianne Hewlett, Chief Marketing Officer for Benelux and Nordics started her career in marketing communications, she then took a side step into sustainability, wellbeing@work and the HR area. Marianne told me that she never really pursued a career as such; instead she agreed with the view of Sophie that to succeed you need to pursue the direction you are interested in, and what you want to learn about. For Marianne as she performed well in these roles she progressed upwards, however this was a secondary bi-product, as she was focused on the content of the role rather than where it would get her. It was clear that Marianne was less focused on breaking the glass ceiling and more interested in following her passion, this passion then organically led to her success. Marianne said there is the discussion on whether success will make you happy, but actually if you are happy in your work success will normally follow as it gives you more fulfilment and enjoyment.

The advice Marianne gave on navigating her way to the boardroom was that:

“You have to stand out to be noticed – if you don’t dare to speak up, or dare to go for what you believe in, it will not happen. You have to go for what is your strength and what you believe in, sometimes you have to stick your neck out and sometimes there is risk. Even small things will help you stand out, for example whenever you go to management meetings, especially the more senior where the majority is male, there is a corporate outfit of dark suits and ties, I will try to wear something colourful, do not conform, as Marilyn Monroe said women who seek to be like men lack ambition.”

Marianne agreed with the rhetoric written in diversity literature than women tend to suffer from imposter syndrome, where they lack confidence and are insecure about their ability, which is usually down to attitude. Marianne said she recognised this in herself in some situations, and advised that to overcome this it is always good to have a mentor or sponsor either inside or outside of the organisation who you can talk openly with about your concerns or insecurities. They can help you overcome these insecurities, and if this person is of sufficient seniority they can also open up new opportunities to you as you discuss your career aspirations.

Maria Pernas, Senior Vice President, Deputy Group General Counsel who is currently also leading the implementation of the Atos Group Diversity Program under the Wellbeing@work said that there are three keys to success:

“To succeed you have to work hard, think big and enjoy. First, work hard as there is no professional success without strong work ethic. Secondly, think big and look at the next step as in order to succeed, we need to start by thinking that everything is possible and that we have the capabilities to go one step further and get there where we want to get. Finally, enjoy as professional success is only worth it if you are really enjoying what you are doing”.

There is a running theme throughout the advice provided which highlights the worth of continual self-reflection. Holding up the mirror to review your effectiveness, rather than just doing things the way you have always done them. It is about questioning, in a positive way, what you do and why you do it, and then deciding if there is a better, more mature way to approach the same situation.

It was also clear that our successful women in Atos are always looking at ways to develop themselves, either by stretching in their current role, taking on more seniority, moving into a totally new area, or even looking to develop their international experience by moving to a new country.

I also found it interesting to see that although there were some trends with our successful women’s approach to success, they all seemed to take a slightly different approach, with some clearly driven by ambition, who have executed a perfect linear career path and others achieving success by following the path which peaks their interest most or develop them further. From this I can see that there is no one size fits all for success, it is about understanding what your personal drivers are, and how you can make your career fit that.

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