Sylvie Moreau Q+A

In your opinion, what qualities make a “Power Woman”?

To me, a Power Woman is someone who knows her value and is not afraid to show it. As women, we are so often told even from a young age to not show off, that it’s not “nice” for a girl to aim too high, while our male peers are taught the opposite. I am a firm believer that it’s important, especially for women, to be bold in ambition as well as loud and proud when it comes to our personal and our professional achievements.

Do you believe that there is any gender specific role for women to play in the Covid-19 pandemic? Do you believe the response to the Covid-19 pandemic highlights & emphasizes the natural resilience of women?

Women have been, in general, true heroes in managing this pandemic, with more than their fair share of representation on the front lines working in the health care system and hospitals, as well as in grocery stores. For office workers like my team, as an eternal optimist, I was hoping that the confinement and working from home would mean that the burden working women carry to look after the home and the family would become more visible to men. Unfortunately, quite the opposite happened as the pandemic turned out to stretch women even more than they already were, as they largely took on all the extra work of having the whole family at home – including home schooling. We need to use this crisis as a catalyst to discuss and change the way things are done in the home and equally share the load! 

With all the different issues one could focus on, how do you balance your efforts in pursuit of gender equality? Is it a global approach or a specific issue that you are passionate about?

My personal approach is to do what I can to help my female colleagues to thrive professionally and personally. Common wisdom to the question, “can women have it all?” is always the same – No. But I believe differently; that women can have it all and I’ve taken time to mentor women on how to achieve this.

The key steps for me are:
• To define what “all” means to you
• To learn to set boundaries
• To get the right level of help at home
• To flex your time to make your professional + private life work
• To make time for yourself for “self-care”

I’ve written more about the topic on LinkedIn. https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/can-we-have-all-sylvie-moreau/

What do you think is the number one action we, as a society, can take toward empowering women and gender equality? (e.g. affirmative action)?

Diversity and inclusion should be promoted more holistically. The commitment and availability required for leadership positions are generally very difficult to make compatible with the societal constraints to which women are often more exposed. Companies have their role to play by allowing a climate favoring flexibility of work. What is essential is a radical change in culture and values in society: showcasing female models, promoting sharing of domestic tasks amongst different genders, and avoiding cultural stereotypes.

Can you tell us a short story in which you encountered a block due to your gender?

I feel lucky because I feel that through my career, I’ve been treated equally to my male colleagues.  However, there is a big lesson I’ve learned – women need to express their ambition as much as men do. I lived this firsthand in my career. On my path to General Manager (GM) at P&G, a very big milestone, it became clear to me that my expected promotion to GM would not happen if I didn’t voice my ambition. There was clearly too much competition and my silence along with those of my business sisters was way too convenient compared to the declared ambition of men. It became clear that one of my overly ambitious male colleagues would be promoted while I would stand still. I decided to declare my ambition my way to our common boss, who I was close to. Because I had never been utterly formal with him on my career expectations, I told him casually one day that what would mean the world to me was to become GM before I turned forty.  He delivered one month ahead of the implied target. I am convinced my promotion might not have happened if I had not voiced my expectation.

Do you think that asking about previous salary requirements in job interviews contributes to the pay gap between women and men? Should we push for a nationwide ban?

Yes, I do believe that inquiring about previous salary history perpetuates the ongoing difference in pay between men and women. More relevant for a discussion with a potential new hire is not about what they made in the past, but what they’re looking to make in their new role. Women are too often afraid to ask for what they know they’re worth.  

There are many studies that support the idea that a female presence in the boardroom increases the bottom line and leads to healthier work environments. What can we do to continue to support and enhance the growth and presence of women in high profile positions?

I do believe in paying it forward and I am continually active in mentoring others.

I have been lucky enough to be immersed in a corporate culture that defines success both as growing sales, and growing people. Early on in my career, I have recognized the power of developing people as THE way to achieve our business goals and sustainable results. I believe you rise by lifting others. I have been, and I am still deliberate to surround myself with an outstanding and diverse group of people, and to coach my team so they thrive below me. 

I think, as top leaders, we can support women in their careers by almost “micromanaging” the talent and promotion process, knowing that it’s not the loudest person who may be the best for the job. It may be that quiet, hard working woman in the back of the room, who for some reason doesn’t dare to raise her hand. Therefore, I believe strongly in empowering and mentoring other women.

Was there a defining moment or experience in your life that led you to where you are today? What was it?

Yes, and there’s a big lesson I’ve learned, and the lesson is that it’s not who you are that’s holding you back. It’s who you think you are not. 

Let me share with you an example of this, linked to my last P&G promotion to lead the professional business, when it didn’t even occur to me that I was ready and it took someone else to believe in me and tell me that. 

Here’s what happened.

As I was getting ready to leave for the autumn school break with my family, Adil, my then boss, told me that he was leaving the company for a great opportunity in another company. He said that we would discuss the succession plan and how we would make it work once I’m back. During my vacation I had done all the possible permutations on how we could manage the business and team after he left, but never did it even occur to me that I could fully take over from him. Yet this is exactly what happened. When I got back, he called me in his office and told me that he wanted me to succeed him. He went on to tell me all the reasons why he thought I was the right person for the job. Only then I could see it. To this day, I feel grateful that he believed in me more than I believed in myself. I would have missed out on a great opportunity, just because I didn’t see myself being perfectly ready for that role just yet. We often have a somewhat distorted view of ourselves and our capabilities. I’m not saying you should be arrogant or think way too highly of yourself – do base this in some reality, feedback and healthy self-assessment. But don’t be focused on what you think you are not. This can especially be true for women; for some reason, we tend to have less faith in what we are capable of and for sure we are capable of a lot.

Have you seen changes in the political landscape for women over the past few years? If so, what are they?

Despite all the progress that has been made in the last years, it doesn’t take much effort to see that women are still grossly underrepresented in politics today and I’m a believer that more women in governmental roles will mean better lives for the women of our world. 

Women in politics face many of the same challenges as women looking to climb the corporate ladder. Challenges such as ensuring balance of work in the home and with childcare, do not discriminate between job type. 

In fact, it shouldn’t surprise us that the countries that have the highest percentage of women in governmental leadership roles, also tend to be those countries with some of the best policies related to social security and parental leave. The Nordic region comes to mind in this case. I recently read that these countries have an average of 44% of female representation in government, as opposed to 28% in the rest of Europe. 

Is “Education, education and education” one of the top three responsibilities of a civilized society? If so, why is it prohibitively expensive? If not, why not?

Without a doubt, education is an essential responsibility of society and it should be a basic human right for all, regardless of gender. That mindset hasn’t always been around, as evidenced in my own family history.

I was lucky that in my immediate family we all had the opportunity to be educated. My twin sister is a doctor, and my younger brother an engineer. But it wasn’t the same for my father’s generation. 

My father also had a twin sister (yes, twins run in the family,) and between the two of them, they did not have the same chance at education. Their parents were farmers, so leaving school at fifteen was the norm. When the schoolteacher discovered my dad was intelligent, he pushed my grandparents to send him to a boarding school to go to high school. Eventually he did very well in his studies and went into medicine, while his sister who did not have the same chances, left school at fifteen, and did not have the same life opportunities. I think it explains why he really pushed his three children equally to get educated and work hard. It’s also a mentality that I have shared and passed down to my daughter.

If you could have someone else’s job for a day, who and what would it be? Why?

I believe I would be a journalist. I love to communicate, share, exchange. When I was a child in France, I was fascinated by Christine Ockrent, an icon of the evening news. I even wrote to her to express my admiration and to ask for advice on how to “become like her.” She sent me back a handwritten response. Imagine how happy I was!

What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given? 

I’ve received many great pieces of advice – too many to count. But probably the most powerful was to follow my passion.

Passion happens without success, but true success never happens without passion. Linked to this, I came across one of the most profound and powerful models about self-fulfillment: a Japanese concept called “Ikigai,” which captures the reason for being for one’s soul. It is this magic place when you can combine what you love, what you are good at, what you can be paid for, and what makes a difference to the world. I can say in my role as President of the Professional Beauty division at Coty, I am blessed to be able to combine my personal passion with my profession.

What is your favorite book?

The book that had the most impact on my life, without a doubt, is Au Bonheur des Dames (The Ladies Paradise) by Emile Zola. This is a French classic, first published in 1883 telling the story of a young woman who goes to Paris to work in a very innovative department store. For someone coming from the countryside like me, with parents working as a doctor and a teacher, this book opened my eyes to new horizons and triggered my interest in business.  

What do you most value in your friends?

Character. I see it is a combination of integrity, selflessness, understanding, courage, loyalty, and respect. Friends with character are a pleasure to be around and share happiness with. They are truthful and comfortable with themselves, along with being dependable and resourceful in tough times. 

Which trait do you find most uncomfortable in yourself? In others?

It is exceedingly difficult for me to stay silent… I tend to take up too much space. I would like to be a better listener.  

In others, I have little patience for mean and nasty people. I prefer people who are genuine, positive, thankful, and always assume good intent.

What do you consider the most overrated virtue?

Hope. This feel-good virtue lures people in so far as it can prevent us from taking effective action ourselves. I prefer to believe in intentionality and taking responsibility for change.