Our vision on …

IWD 2022: top female executives share their insights

For International Women’s Day, we asked five of the UK’s leading female business executives to share insights into their own career journeys and to give their best pieces of advice for aspiring businesswomen in 2022

Rising to the challenge

Kelly Becker, Zone President of Schneider Electric UK & I, Almila Acan Kahvecioglu, Managing Director of TotalEnergies Marketing UK, Alia Hawa, Managing Director of L’Occitane UK & I, Frances Weston, Managing Director of Econocom North America, UK & I, and Fabienne Viala, Chair and Country Manager of Bouygues Construction in the UK, shared their experiences of how they had overcome the main challenges of their careers.

“Achieving a healthy work-life balance is my biggest professional challenge,” said Acan Kahvecioglu. “I succeed in keeping the right balance by organising my time in a methodical way and applying some routines. It is not easy to deal with all the responsibilities we have as women, but it is possible to accommodate everything if we are well organised.”

Women in business often struggle to strike the right balance between professional and personal responsibilities but challenges can also come from external circumstances and internal organisation. “The biggest challenge of my career was starting at Econocom one week before Covid hit, on 12th March 2020,” said Weston.

“My biggest challenge has always been leading new teams,” said Becker. “Sometimes you inherit teams that maybe didn’t work together, or weren’t performing well together, so transforming them into high-performing units is always a challenge.”

Aiming high to achieve success

All of the executives said that a strong sense of self-belief had spurred them on in their careers and helped them to secure their biggest achievements.

“If I hadn’t taken a risk and decided to come to the UK, I wouldn’t be in my current role as Managing Director, which is definitely the biggest achievement of my career,” said Hawa. “Since I took on this role, we have managed to grow the business despite Brexit and a global pandemic. I’m very proud of the team that we have built, and to see that it’s a very caring team: a team of leaders that cares for their people and for the people that work for them.”

“My biggest achievement has always been leading diverse teams to success,” said Viala. "Strengthening cooperation between all the parts of the company and using our combined expertise to deliver complex projects has brought a lot of benefits to our clients - and for our employees, it has put collaboration at the heart of our culture and made us even stronger"

While ambition is important, staying true to one’s personal code of ethics is key to achieving success: “You can be really skilled at what you do, but if you don’t have integrity and strong ethics and values, you won’t get very far. It’s good to have ambitions, but you need to know your values and ethics and be kind to people” said Hawa.

This strong sense of personal integrity will help businesswomen to advance on to further achievements.

“Don’t be intimidated or frustrated by your mistakes: learn from them and be better next time,” said Acan Kahvecioglu. “I have never thought that being a woman was a barrier; on the contrary, I see it as a strength. I hope that the leading female executives of tomorrow will see things the same way.”

Inspirational women

Interestingly, four out of five of the executives mentioned their mothers when asked to name a woman who had inspired them, perhaps a reflection of the lack of females in leadership roles when they were growing up. “The only woman who has really inspired me throughout my career has been my mom. She has had wonderful trajectory having worked for the Rockefeller family, the UN, as well as the Nelson Mandela Foundation,” said Frances Weston.

 “Besides the fact that she inspired me by starting her own fashion business when I was five years old, my mother gave me the values that I embody today. She’s extremely hard-working and very resilient and has always told me she believes in me,” Hawa said. Kelly Becker to add: “My mother always fought for what she thought I needed as I was growing up.”

Fabienne Viala also mentioned another role model for aspiring businesswomen: the late American-British lawyer Barbara Judge, who rose to become the first female chairman of the Institute of Directors. “Lady Judge was a tireless advocate for women’s rights in business and provided mentoring, help and support to many women, particularly young women, in her professional circle.”

No doubt these five remarkable women will inspire the next generation of women business leaders.

Share this page Share on FacebookShare on TwitterShare on Linkedin