International Women’s Day Conference 2015

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It was with a sense of excitement and anticipation that guests flocked to the Hôtel de Charost on the evening of 17th March 2015. A yearly affair that comprises chitchat, canapés and a corporate colloquy, International Women’s Day at the Residence of the British Ambassador is always a prestigious event, and the 2015 edition, of which the theme was ‘What Is the Future for Women in Business?’ was not to be missed. This year’s event marked the tenth anniversary of the first conference organised by the Franco-British Chamber of Commerce & Industry in honour of ‘IWD’, and guests and sponsors were once again delighted to spend their soirée at the Ambassador’s British bijou in the eighth arrondissement of Paris.

Following the swift circulation of badges and the usual exchange of pre-conference pleasantries, attendees were escorted into the famous salle de bal to take their seats. After introductions from His Excellency Sir Peter Ricketts and the President of the Franco-British Chamber, Bob Lewis, the floor was left vacant for an absorbing discussion which involved the participation of Pierre-André de Chalendar (Chairman and CEO, Saint-Gobain), Estelle Brachlianoff (Senior Executive VP, VEOLIA) and Ghislaine Ottenheimer (Editor-in-chief, Challenges). The nature of International Women’s Day, where the objective is to champion diversity, freedom and equality, was well represented on the guest-list, as a varied range of professionals and professions arrived through the Embassy doors to contribute to the evening’s proceedings. Indeed, the theme of networking, a feature of the panel discussion in the context of contacts and connections, was an important aspect of the event itself, and the FBCCI was honoured to play its customary role as connection-facilitator during the cocktail reception that followed.

The testimonies themselves were engaging and insightful. Ghislaine Ottenheimer, an experienced and well-travelled journalist acting in a moderating capacity, ensured that the talking stick alternated regularly between the two speakers. On the subject of ambition, Mme. Brachlianoff was very forthright in her remarks that aspiring female leaders ought to ‘prendre des risques’ in order to gain the confidence of their contemporaries. M. de Chalendar, noting that countries in Eastern Europe, South East Asia and North America tend to excel in recruiting women, asserted that diversity is the ‘élément clé’ to a company’s success. And while the latter admitted that large-scale recruitment of women in business ‘ne peut pas se faire du jour au lendemain’, he was anxious to stress that organisations and male attitudes need to change.

Perhaps inevitably, the maternal role of women slipped into the conversation, and both Mme. Brachlianoff and M. de Chalendar agreed that both partners should aim to share the demands of weekday parenting. Such was Mme. Brachlianoff’s passion that she was held up as a role model by certain members of the audience, and our own General Manager, Catherine Le Yaouanc, was keen to echo the toolkit for female leaders of ‘s’imposer, se former et rester naturelle.’  The moderator, Mme. Ottenheimer, was an animated figure throughout, and her ‘nous le valons bien’ quip was a concise yet pertinent symbol of the future for women in industry and wider society.

It was the FBBCI’s pleasure to organise this event in association with BT, Barclays and UKTI. Kara Owen, Minister Plenipotentiary to France, closed the debate before guests departed willingly to sample the nibbles and enjoy a much-needed G&T in the company of colleagues and contemporaries. We extend our gratitude to the Embassy for their hosting activities and superb townhouse venue. We additionally thank our guests and sponsors for their support and enthusiasm throughout the whole process; we are already looking forward to next year’s event!

As part of our recent conferences on women’s role in business we have, in assocation with W.W.I.R.E. & DAREto, compiled a White Paper on Executive Women in Real Estate.

We invite you to read and share our published document, which has been presented to both Industry and Government entities, HERE.