To celebrate International Women’s Day, INSEAD today (March 8) shared the stories of six outstanding alumnae who are leaders in their industries.
INSEAD profiled the women as part of its Limitless 2022 Campaign, which seeks to celebrate “women who have dared to push beyond their own limits and conquer obstacles in their lives to create positive change.” These six women–a Citi vice president, a founder, a deep technology and space chief executive, a finance professional, an Allianz executive, and a sustainability solutions consultant–spoke with INSEAD about the breaking through the constraints that limit our potential. The school asked each of them what it means to be “limitless.”
“Being limitless is about limitless strength – in having the strength to pursue our aspirations, to uplift others, and to make planetary-wide changes for the benefit of humanity,” says Lynette Tan, chief executive of Singapore Space & Technology Ltd, and an INSEAD executive EMBA candidate from 2021.
Excerpts of the women’s conversations can be found below, or you can read more about their stories here.
Kritika Singh, Citi
Being a woman in the mainly male-dominated banking industry – is challenging. There’s also a shortage of women senior role models — although this is changing.
The common notion in the workplace seems to be: if a male colleague is aggressive, he is just ambitious, and this is good for the business. On the other hand, if a female banker speaks up, she is often labelled as the ‘aggressive or hormonal one’. While this is certainly not how most people think, this sentiment might come across in casual comments and has effectively been normalised.
Early on in my career, I must admit that this fear of being labelled did influence how I approached certain situations; and my trajectory might have been different had I been more assertive about my ambitions. However, I have been lucky to have developed a strong set of sponsors by personally investing time in these mentor-mentee relationships.
If I can offer some advice:
- To network more, develop a rapport with people who you feel will make a difference to your career; and be good to people
- Increase your visibility so that the management notices that you are good at your work and have ambitions and let them take charge of some of these responsibilities
Limitless for me would be to remain hungry all the time. Metaphorically, I feel this for me means being curious all the time. This also ties into my belief of picking up new skills, changing roles or jobs, taking advice from someone who has more experience than you, trying a new dish, learning to drive, visiting a new country. The day you feel full, is the day you will stop pushing to be better.
Jane Bertch, Founder, La Cuisine Paris
Executive Master in Change, 2019
Accept yourself as you are. Know that this beautiful mosaic of ‘you’ is made of all the experiences you have.
One of the belief systems I have heard in my life is the importance of ‘fitting in’. I think women tend to suffer this on a different level, particularly when they find themselves in an industry where people look very different from themselves.
While I agree with the principle of being harmonious with your ecosystem, I think this is often mistaken with the need to be in utter compliance and in the process, you can lose your authentic self. This can be particularly dangerous in situations where you felt at odds with your core values.
Another thing I have seen is that leaders need to appear strong and directive and showing vulnerability can undermine that. I credit my time on the EMC programme for allowing me to understand and appreciate the sheer power and freedom of being vulnerable.
To the contrary of what you might believe, you can actually build confidence amongst those around you when you are strong enough to admit that you do not have all the answers. Being vulnerable allows us to be seen as a ‘whole’, rather than spending energy and time trying to hide or cover up areas of ourselves.
Being limitless means reminding yourself of that very precious right we all have, self-actualisation – seeking people, places, things and experiences that keep you constantly growing, constantly expanding. It means continually challenging those obstacles and barriers around you – the highest of which you may have placed yourself.
Being limitless means, every day, pushing even just a millimeter past where you were yesterday.
Lynette Tan, Chief Executive, Singapore Space & Technology Ltd
I was fortunate to have spent my formative years in an environment which allowed me access to the best education possible, regardless of gender. This is in sharp contrast to the professional field I have chosen. The deep technology and space sector is traditionally much more male-dominated. In spite of this, I have been very fortunate to have supporters, mentors and positive anchors throughout my life who were ‘gender blind’ and have always encouraged me to pursue my dreams.
In the deep technology and space sector, the gender barriers can appear even more daunting. Not only is it male-dominated, but it is a relatively small community. I eventually realised that at the end of the day, if we are guided by strong values, to do good, to be fair, to respect others, we become open to the inequalities and challenges around us and we would inevitably become change agents.
So I have spent the better part of my professional life trying to be a change agent – getting colleagues to see past the gender label, while bringing more people – women and men – into the industry.
This is one of the main reasons why I launched Space Faculty. It focuses on building the next tech titans who will design our future world – starting from Space. It is critical that our next generation of tech leaders are grounded by good values, who are sensitive to the challenges we face as humanity, who are gender blind so that we can collectively build a better, sustainable future with planetary wide impact.
I want to break down the barrier to entry into the industry as early as possible and the only way to ensure a lasting impact is to start from the very beginning – to start cultivating talent for the industry from five to 75 years old, and bring more women – and men – into the sector
Being limitless is about limitless strength – in having the strength to pursue our aspirations, to uplift others, and to make planetary-wide changes for the benefit of humanity.
Linda Guemne Jouonang, Finance Specialist at ENGIE
When women have a sense of belonging, they can really do anything.
For women who are seeking opportunities, and who want to progress in their personal and professional lives, I recommend that you have a support system who is not only willing to bet on your talent and navigate through the advancement of your career, but also to help you juggle work and time with your family. This could be your partner, your family, sometimes even your coworkers or employees. Everything around you works like an eco-system, everyone has a role to play.
Limitless to me, means that everything is possible. If I were to give my younger self advice it would be to stay true to yourself. If you want to do something, do it. If you want to touch the sky, touch the sky. Because at the end, all that matters is you.
Ouiza Bechar, Head of Digital Distribution & Customer Experience at Allianz
When I was young, I was convinced that your identity and your origin were one and the same thing. A person’s origin would dictate who you would become in the future. Over time I realised they weren’t, and overcoming this was really the key element for me.
Identity is built over time through the people that you meet, through the circumstances of life, and the opportunities that you will have. At the end, you are probably a very different person compared to where you originally came from.
As a young woman and growing up in Algeria, I was extremely tempted by this ultra-simplistic way of looking at things; but I quickly discovered that change, especially in people, is inevitable.
For women in particular, change is absolutely constant and a natural part of the cycle of life. You adapt as you grow professionally and personally to satisfy your need for experiences and to reach a certain level of happiness.
For me it’s really about getting rid of or to ignore judgment. And try to understand who you are, what you like, what you don’t like and be open to try things that you think you may like. To the point that even if you excel or fail, the most important thing is to try and not stop at the first obstacle.
Limitless to me means that you need to be fearless about acknowledging that you don’t know a number of things, but also that you are fearless in the process of learning them. It also means that you need to be fearless about failure and change.
Jacques Muriel, Sustainability Solutions Consultant for Engie Impact
I am still at the beginning of my career so I have been quite fortunate to not have met any major hurdles due to being a woman. I also come from a very supportive family that values my happiness whether it fits within gender norms or not.
There have been some instances however where I felt that being a young woman, in particular a woman belonging to a minority, made me less credible in the eyes of some of my coworkers. While I am not naïve and know these factors affect the way I am perceived, I do feel like the best way to deal with it at such an early stage in my career is to focus on proving those people wrong.
For a long time, as someone from the French Caribbean, I felt like I did not fit in any commonly accepted boxes. For years, I struggled with what this complex identity meant. But throughout my journey, studying in France, Korea, and Singapore, I realised that I could share the love of my island with my childhood friends from Martinique, have the same silliness and humour as an Argentinian woman raised in Spain holding the French nationality, or the same ambitions and values as an Asian-American wanting to launch his career in Singapore.
While I’m proud of being a Black young French Caribbean woman, these attributes tied to my roots are not what defines me. This is the reason I love being abroad, the reason I wanted to start an international career in places where people do not know anything about the French Caribbean, and the reason I absolutely loved my experience at INSEAD. People get to know me as an individual without preconceived ideas.
Over the years, I learned to stop trying to fit into people’s mental images of where I come from. Because you are confronted with new cultures and living new experiences as you mature, it does not make you belong less to your original community. I feel like the contribution I can personally make is showcasing that you don’t need to fit into a set of checkboxes to understand a person’s identity.
Being limitless means to not let social constructs or stereotypes decide what you can achieve. While it is important to know your roots and be realistic of how others perceive you, they should not become mental barriers you create for yourself.
It means to be intellectually curious, to look for new perspectives and experiences in our daily lives.
Comments or questions about this article? Email us.