2021 International Women's Day - Podcast (part1)
Hello everybody, my name is Isabelle Pavelic and I am the Human Resources Director of Veolia Water Technologies I am very pleased to launch this first podcast of VWT dedicated to the 2021 International Women’s Day. International Women’s Day is an opportunity to evaluate the current situation of women in the world and more specifically in the workplace. For this special occasion, I am pleased to welcome in visioconference 4 representatives of VWT, women and men, from different geographical areas. In this first part, we will discuss their general feelings about this day and the place of women in the workplace. I am therefore very pleased to welcome : Rana Aoun, CFO of VWT Middle East Brandy Nussbaum, Sales Manager at AnoxKaldnes, VWT Sweden Fabiano Guittis, Project Execution Director in VWT LATAM, Brasil And Benoit Gagné, CEO of VWT Canada.
Hello everybody and welcome to this first podcast of VWT. My first question is very simple: what does this day mean to you ? Has it become part of everyday life ? Does it generate a particular reaction ? Do you think it is still necessary to have a day dedicated to women ? Perhaps we will give the floor first to a man. Benoit, could you tell us your opinion ? Yes for sure. So good morning, good afternoon or good night. I hope you are doing well. I would say, absolutely yes, I mean. And it’s not just one day. We can see that
it’s a day to allow us to raise awareness about the fight for gender parity. There’s also other dates like June 23rd which is the International Day of Women in Engineering in Canada. December 6th which unfortunately remind us the violence against women and a tragedy, really a tragedy of the polytechnique school in Montreal which I would see several of my colleagues of VWT Canada and I personally have experienced and it’s probably the one that it is the most deeply rooted in me.
Thank you Benoît, it is very linked with the Canada context. Fabiano, perhaps a point for Latin America ? Yes for sure. Thank you Isabelle, so hello everyone. Well, in Latin America the rate of violence against women, including domestic violence, is very, very high. When it comes to job opportunities, pay, labor policies and so on, Latin America is still far behind many other developed regions. So I think that there is still a lot to be done around here in order to lower the violence rates and to reach gender equality. And I think that Women's day is a very key date and I think it will continue to play a crucial role in this fight around here in Latin America Thank you so much Fabiano for this point.
If I come back to Brandy and Rana, do you have another point of view on this subject ? Have you observed a change in the feeling of this day over time ? I should outline that this day has been officially in existence for 44 years for United Nation eyes. Did you see some change on the ways this day is received ? Brandy perhaps ? Yes sure, thanks Isabelle and thank you for having me join this podcast. To be honest, I was also surprised by the 44 years. I actually had no idea it had been so long. I’ve personally been working in this industry for more than 20 years, 18 of those with Veolia.
To be honest, I don’t even really remember being aware of the fact that there was this International Women’s Day, until maybe the last 10 years or so. For me I’m not sure if Women’s Day was the cause but I have definitely observed a change in our industry from how it was when I first entered it. I believe that there is much much more awareness now and I believe this is a result produced by strong and confident women mentors and leaders as much as it is by having a day of recognition. We need our women leaders and the generations they represent to be present, visible and heard every day but we also need the strong support and voices of our male counterparts across our organization.
So this day is still very useful. Rana, in the Middle East ? So, I just want to add that the Middle East is slightly slower than the other regions. This day is only celebrated in multinational companies. It is not yet popular on a larger scale.
So, for me, I think it’s important to have this day dedicated to women, just to have the opportunity to acknowledge that there is still a lot to be done in terms of gender equality in the region. Thank you, thank you. So this podcast makes sense still today. Has this day brought concrete changes in your life, professional or personal ? And if not, what caused changes in your life ? Brandy ? Sure thanks, I’m happy to take this again Isabelle. It feels like a long time ago that I started in this industry, I was quite young. Being young and a woman in a technical position definitely brought about some challenges.
But definitely in the last 20 years, the workforce in this industry has changed a lot. Where I once felt maybe odd or unique or different it’s really no longer the case. Of course it’s different from region to region. I appreciate that. But I can see that the industry is filled with strong women leaders but even more so there is definitely an insurgence of young technical women. But for me personally, I grew up in a way that didn’t discriminate on gender. I was raised on a farm with no brothers so there was definitely no gender assigned to tasks whether it was baking bread, helping to fix machinery, the work had to be done.
So I realize that not all young women have this type of childhood so we need to find other ways to encourage the breakdown of stereotypes. Everyone should feel supported and encouraged to enter whatever area of interest they have, regardless of these historical biases. Ok, thank you so much Brandy. It shows that education and the way we are taking
care of our children also has an impact. Rana, does this day change something in your professional life ? In my professional life, no, I don’t think that this day brought changes. It’s more the chance to work in a multinational company where I got proper training.... If you want, it’s like the result of continuous managerial support but of course a lot of hard work from my side. Ok thank you If you want however on the personal level if you want both, only the professional one ? Yes both, let’s go Ok, so, for the personal side, yes it caused a lot of changes. Because when I listen to interviews done by working women, it motivates me and it reduces the guilt feeling that I have towards my family.
In fact there is a lot of pressure coming from society on us and we end up feeling as if we have to choose between our family and our career. In my case, I don’t want to choose, I want them both. Yes, I think you’re right. I just notice that feeling guilty is not specifically for women. It is a feeling which could be shared by men also. Choosing both, that means professional and personal life is not a question of men or women no ? Benoit ? Well, I think we have, which is good, we have different vision.
I mean what Rana said, and Brandy. For me, personally, I was lucky in a way, in a sense that all through my career, I started at university, I was surrounded by a good balance where women and men were balanced and as an example, the chemical engineering at polytechnic school, there was only one class: 30 students but 50% of women. My partner, my study partner was a woman too. That was great and when I moved on to VWT years after, I was still surrounded by women. Because when I took the lead of the technical services and I was in charge of fill service, let’s start up and piloting.
The amazing thing is that I have more women to recruit than men. And it was supposed to be more a men job, apparently. But it was not the case at all. And they were great, they were excellent. It was very surprising, I think.
And personally my own family, I’m also lucky because I have two nice children, a boy and a girl So balanced! Well-balanced too! Ok, thank you Benoît. If we come back to connect with the professional sphere, can you tell us if you felt that being a man or a woman has affected you in either position you have had or have today? Rana? Yes, sure being a woman in an extremely dominated male environment made me face a lot of difficulties in fact, such as being accepted by the team members, by colleagues, by customers, by the suppliers. Even some times, it was very difficult to make my opinion credible during meetings led by a majority of men. I had sometimes to repeat my questions many times, just to be listened to. But these challenges can be overcome just by working hard, by having propre attitude, and by experience. For me I think women should choose a job that they like
and be ready to fight, of course, in a smart way to reach their goals. But don’t you think that one day the aim is not to be able to fight? Exactly, this is what I’m trying to reach, but we’re still far. At least, in Lebanon and the region. Thank you Rana. Brandy, does it have an effect on your position today or in the past? Yes, absolutely. I remember so distinctly those early years when I would work on a presentation. I was still very young, and I was going to present Actiflo, and I was working on a presentation, and the table was more surrounded by middle-aged white men and that was scary, intimidating. You can’t help but for sure feel self doubt in those situations. But I guess many young
men in similar positions would probably feel the same way. It’s not unique to just being a woman. Being young is also a challenge starting up a career and working in a different industry. But when you have a job to do, of course, you find a way to persevere and there’s no better way to level the playing whether it is gender related or language related or cultural related or whatever led you by being very good at what you do. I don’t believe that I have ever used my gender as an
excuse or a cratch, and I prefer to see myself as what I was saying, my strength, my talent. And I’m sure some of what your talent is unique I can just end with one sort of a funny anecdote. I would say that one funny thing about being a woman in a man’s industry, which is quite different from many other places, is that you don’t find long lines at the women's bathroom. At least, not used to. Now I find many more women at the toilet today than when I started out but the first years many more lines at the men’s bathroom in a male dominated industry. So it is a little bit funny anecdote, I would say. Thank you Brandy. I think there is one point which is key in your testimony. Ok having doubt is quite normal when you are young as a man or as a woman when you are beginning your professional life.
It is rather sane to have some doubts actually. What is a little bit more questioning is having to struggle to be seen when you are not the oldest. I would like to know Benoît, how do you feel about that? Do you think that being a man has affected your position or not? It is not an easy question to answer because, I mean, being a man, you know what I mean, it is kind of an opportunistic approach, in a way that I was lucky enough to have that opportunity in VWT and yes because it was a lot men surrounding me, when we had the opportunity to grow there were not a lot a women in the company. I was lucky enough to grow from step 1, it's like a scale, you know. When I had a chance to hire people, we wanted to have more women. That’s why we did when we were able to do it. We did that. But it’s not cool that women, the pool is not enough big. That’s maybe a challenge.
Yes, thank you so much Benoît. Coming back to you Rana, what happened in your mind when you accepted a certain position in your past or your current one. What triggered you to accept a certain position? Many things triggered me to accept: my ambition, the fact that I like exploring new challenges, high responsibilities, working with new colleagues, new teams, building new skills.
But despite all those positive points, it was not easy to apply to a new position, to move from my comfort zone. Always not sure if I will be apt to the requirements of the new position. Sorry to interrupt, but do you think these feelings would have been different if you have been a man? Yes I think so. At least I feel if it was my team, my colleagues and my husband yes. I feel, when they want to take the job, they will not look at how much skill they need to have, they will say : ok I will take the risk, I will jump, I will see what would happen later on. Concerning me, No, I wanted to be sure 100% that I will be apt to the requirements of the new job. Yes it would be different if I were a man. So it is also linked with self-confidence actually.
Yes, it is. On the other hand, Brandy, do you think that being a woman could bring an advantage in your current position? If yes, why? First of all, I’d like to say that I completely agree with Rana. I think it’s very natural a woman has these self-doubts, I think it’s actually been shown in quite a few studies as well. But in terms of advantages, we are different, right? There are some advantages that things make us different that bring these advantages. But the answer I might give might be a little bit surprising to you. It’s not maybe standard reasons that you might normally think about,
but it is something that I observed, whether it’s right or it’s wrong, it’s something that I observed over my career in this industry in a way that women have advantage over men. I think you might be surprised to hear but what I have observed is that men often get stereotyped in one type of position in this industry actually. For example, a man who has always been behind a desk or a typical white-collar position might find it difficult to be accepted on construction sites or maybe his point of view will not be taken seriously. But my own personal experience as well as what I’ve seen, I believe, this is easier for a woman. I don’t really have a good reason why. I think women are able to sort of fit into different situations or adopt different personas to fit this situation. I’m not advocating that we’re trying to be false, we are acting a bad way. It’s somehow easier for us to adapt or maybe men are easier to accept that we change the way that we are for the situation that we are working in. I’ve seen women going from a
construction site to a board room. I’ve seen it with my own eyes. And I’m not sure that you see quite as much or maybe with this much acceptance on the men's side. I could be right or wrong, this is simply an observation that I had from my own personal experience and things that I have seen. Perhaps, this is not linked with the fact to be a man or a woman but to the skills of being able to adapt to a new context and to other people. Yeah, actually I guess that is the message, Isabelle, to be able to adapt and to bring a solid skill set of talent to your job and being able to adapt. I think it’s very important.
And maybe women have a little bit more capability to adapt in these situations. I’m not sure if it’s true or not but just something that I had observed. Thank you so much. And thank you so much all of you to be so open in your answers.
It was very interesting to have their impression on whether a dedicated day to women is still relevant. Next time, you’ll find out which actions have been put in place within Veolia Water Technologies and our challenges for the future.