Post-event reports

  • 04 Jul 2013 12:31 | Deleted user
    We are delighted to inform our members about the 1st  Geneva International Women Entrepreneurs Forum that will take place on July 4th and 5th, organized by
    Dr. Ingrid I. Vanore-Speer, association des Femmes Chefs d'Entreprises Mondiales (FCEM),

    Public: CHF 280.-
    CFE & OWIT members: CHF 250.-
    Dîner de Gala: CHF 140.-


  • 01 Jul 2013 12:30 | Deleted user
    Opening up opportunities for women through Customs reform and modernization

    On July 1, 2013, the World Customs Organization will host an inaugural “Women in Customs, Trade Leadership Conference”. A diverse and exciting range of speakers from within and outside of the Customs community has been assembled, and the WCO is expecting a diverse and professional audience from the Customs, diplomatic, trade and private sector communities.  In particular, the WCO is pleased to announce the two keynote speakers for the Conference.

    To read more visit:
  • 27 Jun 2013 18:30 | Deleted user
    On June 27, 2013 we had our summer party at a beach between Nyon and Geneva, surrounded by the beautiful landscape and the charming atmosphere of Lake Leman. The weather was on our side because it did not rain. Although it was not too hot, the great energy circulating between us, as well as the desire to share a fun evening together, created a very beautiful and lovely ambiance, which made us forget about the cooler weather.

    The purpose of the party, for members and non members, was to spend a pleasant and informal evening all together. It was a great success and we had many attendees. The idea of the Canadian picnic was for everyone to bring some food to share. I think sharing is one of the great merits of OWIT.

    The party started around at 7 pm, in front of a charming and enchanting sunset we laid some tables cloths and put out the food: bread, cakes, pasta, meat, wine. Everything was really tempting. While we were eating we chatted amongst ourselves, and met and discovered new people; the atmosphere was amazing: friendly, full of positive energy, full of the desire, that unites all of us, of sharing experiences and learning from others.

    We did a game all together in a circle, the energy flowing was tangible. 

    I went home motivated and satisfied with the evening and I believe that others went home with a great memory of the party as well.

    Martina Tassini
    MarCom Volunteer
  • 20 Jun 2013 07:02 | Deleted user

    About this time every year women of OWIT Lake Geneva gather to talk about “business”! On May 22nd, 2013 we got together in a very cozy Metropole Cafe to elect our new Executive Board, talk about the lessons from 2012, and last but not least, discuss the future of our association. How exciting! Beyond doubt it was a great evening!

    The core of the event, of course, was the election of our new Executive Board! Eight very enthusiastic and experienced ladies took the challenge to lead our association forward. Next year should be a piece of cake looking at the amount of knowledge they are all bringing along – legal, finance, marketing, project management, professional coaching, supply chain, you name it. All elected with majority of votes were Caroline Brenot and Violette Ruppanner as Co-Presidents of OWIT, Nasya Dimitrova as Executive Vice-President in charge of Membership and Volunteers, Agnieszka Majszczyk as Vice President in charge of Events, Nzinga Blankendal as Vice-President in charge of Marketing and Communication, and Catherine Gambotto as Treasurer in charge of Finance and Operations. We wish them all success in their journey of co-creating the future of OWIT Lake Geneva. Go Ladies!

    What were the highlights of 2012?
    Last year was exceptionally energetic with many accomplishments! We organized several successful events and networking meetings, giving our members and non-members the opportunity to both develop and network. We were able to launch four wonderful project groups, which are focused on helping women establishing their own business, promoting female leaders, focusing on mentoring prospects, and outreaching to smaller cities. Please don’t forget that in order to execute those initiatives in 2013 we need volunteers!!!

    In conclusion, we had the pleasure to host two very special guests at our AGM this year. Giovanna Beaulieu joined us representing Room to Read, OWIT’s preferred charity, which tries to transform the lives of children in developing countries focusing on the importance of quality education. We strongly encourage you to donate! Isabel Contreras, the Founder and Director of Life Motivations closed the meeting with positive thinking workshop making everyone energized and inspired by following her lively and dynamic work out.
    We all look forward to this promising year and we hope that we can exceed our expectation once again in 2013!

    By Ania Ferdyn
    MarCom Volunteer

  • 24 May 2013 11:25 | Deleted user
    What was kicked off during the OWIT World Café in March, was continued in a dynamic and interactive Action Café two months later: 20 enthusiastic women literally rolled up their sleeves and turned their project ideas into concrete action!

    “How might we as an association fulfil our highest potential for our members and have a positive impact on the world around us?” Such was the initial question that allowed some challenging projects ideas to take shape while the World Café.

    During the Action Café, four OWIT projects were selected and broken down into rolling actions plans. The overall aim of all projects is to provide a platform where women (and men) can share their experiences, exchange their ideas and knowledge, learn from each other – and all this in a relaxed atmosphere!

    What an inspiring evening for everyone! Project owners and contributors brainstormed together on how to give life to those projects outlines – and this approach worked incredibly well! Here are the four projects that will be in the centre of interest over the coming months:


    1. “Promote women who make a difference!” – that is the core essence of the OWIT Female Leadership project, fully in line with the association’s purpose to foster the advancement of women. OWIT wants to identify “TOP women”, connect to them and have them share their experience and “recipe for success”. And the idea is also to offer them a platform as a speaker where they can present themselves and shine differently! OWIT will define some criteria and will set up an award to value the achievement of an outstanding woman!

    2. How can we make OWIT as a sustainable association more attractive to both existing members as well as potential new members? The Membership engagement project puts the focus on the three pillars: talent pool, mentoring and buddying. First step will be identifying and outlining the various skills of our members and setting up a transparent talent pool to interconnect people in a better way. Once identified, those skills will be – in a second step – at the heart of an efficient mentoring system: the mentor will help its mentee to tackle a challenge and will help her grow, certainly a beneficial experience for both! And last but not least, a subtle buddying approach to make newbies feel at ease and get them on board in a smooth way. OWIT is open to everyone and wants to help women to develop.

    3. Do OWIT Lake Geneva’s activities need to be limited to Geneva and Lausanne? No, the OWIT Get Together project will explore ways how to bring the association’s spirit to a wider circle by outreaching to smaller cities. It is about connecting members by region or by interest proposing them to organize their own get-togethers: hosting topical parties in your home community, organising some local social or cultural get-togethers, jointly attending a business event in your region … there are no limits apart from the creativity and motivation of our OWIT members. It might also be worthwhile to organize a side event along with an official cultural or sports event in the region, such as the Montreux Jazz Festival, a regional Slow-up or a Bicycle event. Let us use our members as passionate ambassadors who spread the word about OWIT and bring people together!

    4. And finally, the Developing your small business project aims at helping women who are interested in self-employment and are facing a huge amount of questions. You are an expat living in Switzerland and cannot see the wood for the trees? Where to start, which regulations to respect, which risks to take into account, which mistakes to avoid – OWIT will gather and provide plenty of useful information and will interconnect experienced business owners and potential company founders. An open door evening will be a start to encourage and give support to women who are about to take this step.

    We all look very much forward to the next round of the Action Café to hear about the groups’ progress. This will also bring some visibility on how we can interlink projects and foster an on-going transversal exchange in-between members and groups.

    The OWIT project groups are open to everyone who is willing to help driving our association’s aims. Have you been inspired by one particular project? Then don’t hesitate to contact us – - your fresh ideas and motivation are welcome!

    Petra Kummer
    Communications Team Volunteer

    Action Café
  • 26 Apr 2013 06:20 | Anonymous
    Sustainability and Sustainable Development – buzz words in everyone’s mouth. But can a bank put sustainability into practice? Is a company in the field of luxury goods able to build a sustainable business model? And what can a business school do to reconcile economy and sustainability aspects?

    A fascinating panel discussion, jointly hosted by the International University of Geneva (IUC) and the Organization of Women in International Trade (OWIT - Lake Geneva), brought clarity to some burning questions. The complex topic could be tackled from different angles thanks to the good representation of services, luxury goods, an international organisation and a university institution.

    Dr Claude Martin, Chancellor of IUG and Chairman of the International Sustainability Innovation Council of Switzerland recalled the initial definition of the concept: We should meet the needs of the current generation without comprising the needs of future generations – so the need to live within the biophysical limits of our planet. Over the last decades, the discussion on economic, environmental and social aspects of sustainability has shifted from purely minimizing the impact to beating new paths and turning the economy.

    Focussing on ethical banking, fairness and transparency, Martin Rohner, General Manager of the Alternative Bank Switzerland (ABS) outlined the social responsibility of a value-based bank. What matters to ABS is where the money comes from and what it is used for, which requires a detailed assessment of the entire business model of a potential customer. Its traditional core business are ecological, social and sustainable financings, namely in the fields of renewable energies, social housing or ecological construction. In terms of transparency, all loans are published including amount and purpose! A divers board, gender balance and equal pay make the difference. And living the values in daily life stretches to using bikes or public transport. Concessions have to be made to the demands of the modern customer, but key is to stick to the extremely strict ethical standards – hence, no extraordinary business growth over the last 20 years. However, since the 2008 financial crises, people have started to care more about ethical banking.

    Can sustainability and luxury goods go hand in hand? Since the creation of her company, the guiding theme for Giselle Rufer, Founder, President & CEO of the Swiss watch brand Delance, has always been: Respecting the tradition and passing on its flame without preserving the ashes - and this involves particularly the respect for people, for their talent and for our blue planet. The woman entrepreneur underlines her commitment to women empowerment, not least because women are more aware of the need for sustainability. For the production of the Delance masterpieces, the finest materials and most talented craftswomen are selected, while making sure that raw materials come from a controlled production wherever possible. No excess, no waste and a minimalist marketing, those parameters express Gisele Rufer’s conviction that sustainability is a way of life.

    Looking at the landscape of business schools, the message to embed sustainability at the heart of business is more important than ever. Carolina Moeller, WWF Head of Business Education One Planet Leaders Team, presented a joint programme of WWF and IMD that brings together cutting edge business and sustainability knowledge. Based on the 3-legged stool planet – profit – people, it concentrates on the question of how sustainability can drive innovation and growth. This requires a radical and creative rethink of your business purpose and strategy, of processes and technologies, of your markets and audiences. The One Planet MBA creates an understanding of why we do need action, what the business opportunity is on an organisational level and - last but not least - makes the business leaders aware of the power in their hands to drive change: by bringing their values more into the business, a new balance can be achieved.

    For sure, there is no absolute state of sustainability, but we are all called upon to contribute to solving some of the threatening world problems. Companies need to realize that they are able to shift the market! And the consumer power should never be underestimated: regulations have often been put into place following the driving force of some courageous pioneers.

    There is no better way to sum up this need to think differently than by the following anecdote:
    A teaching assistant went running to Albert Einstein. „Excuse me, Sir, it's about the test you have just handed out. It’s the same as three months ago. “Yes,” said Einstein, “but don’t you worry, I changed the answers.”
    A lively and interactive Q&A part confirmed that this was another outstanding OWIT event and a rewarding and enriching experience for the participants!

    Petra Kummer
    Communications Team Volunteer
  • 27 Feb 2013 21:08 | Anonymous
    What do we do when the questions concerning our careers are becoming difficult to answer? How do we position ourselves uniquely in today’s job market? Some of us want to change jobs or are in transition period already, some of us realize that they work way too much and need help on how to build a life-work balance, others strive to become influential leaders but it is just not happening. Nowadays, those career subjects are becoming part of our daily life and getting little guidance on how to get where we want to be can be incredibly supportive.

    Once again the annual Mentorship Cafe event hosted by OWIT Lake Geneva ended up being exceptionally successful. More then 40 women had the chance to meet and benefit from the wisdom of 6 extraordinary mentors who offered guidance on topics concerning leadership, networking, work-life balance and job transitions.

    Our wonderful mentors, business professionals, astonishing women were Carolyn J. Lutz giving the best tips on how to Network, Amy Carroll speaking about the Art & Science of Positive Influence, Diana Ritchie uncovering the Secrets of Finding a Job, Sue Johnson instructing on how to Manage the Bubbles of Work, Life and Yourself, Elena Pancé-Petrova coaching on Transition and Change, and Dr. Madelon Evers training on how to Walk your Talk to get a Powerful Leadership Role. Everyone of them was extremely knowledgeable and we thank them for taking their time to be our guests.

    The atmosphere and energy flow in the room was great. Based on several comments from the participants, all attendees got their questions answered and they are ready to apply the teachings and instructions in order to achieve their career goals.

    One of our members said “The event was very interesting and useful as the mentors were experienced women from several fields. The atmosphere was very energetic as all the participants were eager to learn from the mentors, from each other and to ask all their questions. 

    In the group “Managing the bubbles of work, life and yourself” we were challenged to draw three circles that were linked and each one represented the size of the importance of each topic in your life; a very confronting exercise! However this motivated us to think about the questions whether or not we were happy and if we would like to change anything in our life. And when changing something you have to compromise and commit to sticking by your choice. 

    I really liked this topic as it gave us a lot of food for thought. I can definitely recommend this event to other professional women. There was a very diverse choice of topics ranging from networking to leadership and transition. “

    To sum it all up, after attending the OWIT Mentorship Cafe we can definitely say that the “difficult” questions concerning our careers are more explicable today. The help of our mentors was priceless for many of us. We are truly looking forward to apply the principles received during this year Mentorship Cafe and save the date on our calendars to do it again next year!
  • 30 Jan 2013 19:00 | Anonymous
    On 17 January 2013 it was that time of the year again; time for OWIT Lake Geneva’s Annual Networking Happy Dinner! Over fifty people, including members and non-members, some of whom brought their partners, gathered at the cosy restaurant l’Adresse in Geneva. The evening started with everyone drawing a number that would determine where everyone was to be seated; a perfect way to ensure that the networking evening was off to a good start.

    The evening’s speaker was Terri O’Brien, Director in Supply Chain Operations at Johnson & Johnson. She emphasized the importance of being happy at work, to say what you think and make a change. She left us with some food for thought: ‘What makes you happy at work?”.

    The overall feeling during the evening was very positive and it was found to be both interesting and rewarding. All members have very diverse reasons for joining OWIT and its events. New member Jennifer Hawkins joined because of positive experiences with OWIT’s Washington DC’s chapter and women who have been a member longer such as Ionna Foka says that she would advise all women who come to Geneva to join OWIT because of the friendly, genuine open atmosphere and the fact that it is very good for professional networking: “Through people you get to know corporations and a country’s professional environment!” For Caroline Mahner it’s inspiring to learn what people do for a living as this creates new perspectives on working and living while increasing one's networking skills.

    New member Ania Ferdyn admitted she did not know what to expect of the evening but found the atmosphere very relaxing and energizing because of all the conversations with many positive minded business women. As she said: “There is no better place to make quality connections, cultivate relationships and get to know so many unusual, bright professional women in our region!”

    Nzinga Blankendal
    Communications Volunteer
  • 20 Sep 2012 10:52 | Anonymous
    Geneva is considered to be one of the major hubs of world commodity trading. It is currently home to more than 400 companies who have set up their headquarters or international offices in this picturesque city. If you add service companies directly linked to this industry such as lawyers, fiduciaries and auditors, around 8,000 employees are generated in this sector.

    Impressively, a third of world trade in crude oil and products takes place in Geneva. It is number one worldwide in grains and oil seeds trading and the finance of commodity trading and number one in Europe for sugar and cotton (along with London).

    On a rainy evening on Wednesday 12 September, OWIT Lake Geneva and WISTA Switzerland hosted a talk at Thomson Reuters with a panel of experts from this field.

    Claire Doole, Founder and Principal, ClearViewMedia moderated the event and kicked off proceedings by asking about the daily life of a commodity trader. Natacha Medina Garcia, Sugar Risk Management Marketer, Cargill, gave the audience a female insight from the front line. Natacha is very passionate about her work saying organisation is key, with a very early start to spend quality time with her 10 year old son - the most important part of her day. Starting work at 8am, she studies the market news and prepares for meetings that are central to her daily decision making process. Decisions depend on the views of the rest of the team, global supply and demand, financial structures, news headlines and more, involving copious amounts of reading for accurate information.

    Ole Siig, Asset Owner and specialist in Commodities and Energy at Thomson Reuters, provided information from a trade and trade finance position. He helped explain what people pay for when they turn to Thomson Reuters for their expertise. Detailed information on fundamentals, exchange rates, shipping costs, power production and supply and demand, to name but a few, are all factors to be considered when making a decision in any part of this business such as where a mineral deposit may be, what markets are shifting and more importantly the direction they are going in.
    Ole went on to suggest that Environmental, Social and Corporate Governance – ESG, is another important consideration for many in the sector today as this sets out the main areas of concern in measuring the sustainability and ethical impact of an investment in a company or business. Naturally, every company wants to optimise these benefits from farmer to trader, and investors are growing ever more interested in this area, highlighting the continued importance of its development.

    Hans-Peter Egler, Head Sustainable trade, Economic Cooperation and Development, State Secretariat for Economic Affairs SECO, took this consideration further, delving a little deeper with his expertise. The use of pesticides and chemicals is monitored, often requiring the retraining of farmers to produce crops in a different way. Not all products have to be organic but they do need to be sustainable. It is essential that the right conditions are in place for produce to grow and they must meet standards as quality is the pillar product. In this respect, sustainable produce is a living data as we are learning new things every day in order to keep the system relevant.

    Companies that are at the forefront of this continued advance such as Unilever and Nestle deliver products that will be sustainable in the long term and do not put one supply chain up against another, reducing the threat of competition. Reputation for a leading brand is its most valuable asset.

    Alongside sustainability under the wider ethical umbrella are worker’s rights. Do these large multinational companies really care about them? Hans-Peter explained that well treated workers are more engaged and allied towards a company. Although better working conditions can be considered as an extra cost to a company, it is far better to invest in this as it can dramatically affect the quality of a product. For example in garment production: if the quality is not up to standard, this in itself would prove to be an extra cost – however if the workers have good working conditions, the final product will likely be of a higher quality.

    Next up was Robert McCunn, Consultant at ARBIS LLP: Robert gave an insight into the role of law and regulatory framework in trade and trade finance. He demonstrated how complex a structure a single oil sale transaction might be. Every step of the way there are opportunities for hedging risk management including such factors as; Will the deal go through? Will the goods be shipped on time if at all and necessary payments made? Much like what Hans-Peter touched on, he again explained that it is in the interest of an investor to ensure that conditions are good and workers are sufficiently well paid to guarantee a contract for the next however many years. He stressed that a successful business should be built over a long period of time, meaning good risk management to be essential, and with such a fragile market, sustainable commodities are vital. The aim is to not maximise, but to optimise profits.

    Magalie Dubosson Torbay, Professor, Geneva School of Business Administration gave an educational perspective, discussing why there is reluctance from women to become involved in trading. Finance trading has the image of being a male dominated world that women are not attracted to. This could be an ethical issue as women by nature are more concerned about the consequences of this. A few years ago one of her best students wrote her BA thesis on the ethical speculation of trading and now works for Cargill supporting the derivatives department. Many women don’t work on the front line; they work in support roles, but this can open the door for them to work on the trading floor if they have the drive and ambition to do so.

    Natacha contributed to this topic suggesting that if men have 50 per cent of the skills required for a role they will go for it where as women are more likely to hold back if they don’t think they have all requirements. There are many obstacles for women – historically a male would be the first choice for a trading role, but this mind-set is now changing and it is acknowledged that females bring value and balance to a trading team. Natacha believes that you shouldn’t debate about gender and assume that women should take on certain roles; the key is to have the courage to think ‘Why not? Let’s go for it!’ a message that more females should endeavour to embrace when considering the broader trading environment.

    Robert supported this with the notion that there are plenty of opportunities for women and if there was a glass ceiling for women, it has gone. He said, ‘A little bit of pressure goes a long way. You need guts to push a little and to keep pushing.’

    The panel were then asked; Is Geneva going to maintain its status as a trading hub, knowing that Singapore is gaining momentum? Robert commented that if you take risk management into consideration, Switzerland is far more secure than London, Spain, Italy and Greece and it is very convenient for travelling around Europe where as Singapore is far away.
    Jeremy Davis, representing GTSA and a member of the audience, contributed to this topic. He commented that international trade is active 24 hours per day spanning many global time zones, so to participate you need to bebest placed to serve both the east and the west. Asia services the east, the U.S services the west and Europe services both, resulting in a huge demand for businesses locating in central Europe. Switzerland’s political stand in the world is non-aligned, therefore people trust its impartiality and are willing to invest. Tax and banking in Geneva are also important factors – with Switzerland not being part of the Eurozone they are not in danger of being dragged down by EU taxation and the Euro currency. Singapore is certainly seen as a threat but the companies that are out there tend to be subsidiaries of companies based in Geneva.

    Overall, this event provided a fascinating insight into commodity trading in the hub of Geneva. With ever changing and evolving policies being put into in place, and the endeavours of women to attempt to infiltrate into this ‘man’s world’, it is interesting to learn how this sometimes heavily criticised industry is dealing with the challenges it faces in order to advance into a more sustainable and ethically moral environment.
    Author: Clare Richardson
  • 29 Jun 2012 10:58 | Anonymous

    Life throws many career transitions and/or transformations at us, both expected and profoundly surprising. How can we navigate these transitions successfull?

    This well-attended, energizing evening in the beautiful Dare to Glow loft in Geneva provides clues on how to face today’s tumultuous job market. To make mid-career decisions now more than ever, you need to clearly understand who you are, what your goals are and the path you want to take to reach those goals. When in transition, nothing should be left to chance; you need to have a strategy on how to evolve professionally, survive and succeed!

    The keys are in our stories.

    Moderator Hulya Kurt, Global Project Manager for Customer Experience, EMEA, of Thomson Reuters, ignites panelists’ personal stories to help us emulate fruitful strategies.

    Carolina Rodriguez Barros, Founder and Director of Dare to Glow, inspires us to create a life that is aligned with our newly discovered self. Gently reminding us of the importance of having the right mindset, she puts the crises we face into context, “In Spain, withdrawing your life savings could be difficult…” She advises to stop and reflect when shaken by life; “difficult conditions are an opportunity to reinvent yourself – it is all too easy to get caught in an “activity trap” that gives the illusion of control yet achieves nothing. Instead, pause, and go back to what you fundamentally want to do”.

    Jennifer Borrer is a boutique recruitment and executive search agency owner, and Strategy Coach at IMD; a leading business school. Through her lenses of a recruiter, a career strategy coach, as well as a seasoned professional who built her career on three continents, Jennifer shared her experience spanning 15 years in five steps, from newly minted finance graduate in Montreal to headhunter in Lausanne. Her career grew through natural, incremental, transitions, such as moving laterally between companies while keeping the same role; and several challenging – transformational – breakthroughs where “the key to success is being strategic enough to create new opportunity”. While the first change draws on transferable skills, the second entails strategically creating something that doesn’t yet exist. “Look for a gap in the market, create a value proposition – even if it means acquiring new skills”.

    Violette Ruppanner, Partner at Strategos SA; Founder and Director at Azay Management & Advisory, has lived on three different continents, worked in Asian, American and Swiss cultures, and is President of OWIT Lake Geneva, a highly visible non-profit association in the international community of Lac Leman. Her magic ingredients are networking and gaining support. She recounts earning one of her earliest jobs in Vietnam, by taking advantage of an informal event provided by her company, to chat with the Vice President and, upon hearing of the opening – blurted “If you are looking for someone – I’m ready!”, Violette affirms, “SAY what you want; speak up, show you are available and interested – and you might just be at the right place, at the right time”. Once established, cherish your relations: Violette adapted her style to better relate to her bosses’ needs for recognition.

    Men, she believes, network better as they are provided enabling contexts, such as military service, and consider networking an integral part of their jobs. Women should emulate them and strategically build ‘networking’ into their work plan or job search. Everyone has a network: family, alumni groups, acquaintances, etc. When meeting people “never discount yourself with the usual boring response of ‘I’m not looking now’, ‘I’m not in a job right now’ or ‘I’m a housewife’. Remember all the exciting things you do – even if it’s not for money – such as volunteering or caring for your family. Bring your business cards, knowledge of what you can offer; passions, and stories about the fun activities you do, and don’t be shy to talk: you will bring value to somebody. The key is to combine your skills with your network. Find the right connections, share yours. Take your stories and business cards to your network. Be authentic, balance give and take, and accept help graciously”.

    “Networking is invaluable at every stage in your career; for ideas, connections, and help. It helps you fall back on your feet in difficult times. And remember: only the traces of love we leave in people’s hearts will stay after we depart this world”

    Pamela Grant, Managing Partner of Performance Development Partners’ Geneva office, and Master Coach specializing in career transitions, believes your ideal career can often be found by going back to your roots (at age 5, she was praised for helping her classmates). Pamela’s 16 year career at the World Wildlife Fund in seven different jobs shows the importance of constantly being marketable. There are no jobs for life now, and this makes life more interesting. She got all her jobs through network introductions and the kindness and support of people who believed in her; even if she didn’t yet have the skills; she could acquire them. It is about having the courage to accept challenges and move beyond your comfort zone. Not much of her career was planned, but having the skills, motivation and ability to fit with a company was inestimable. For example, her first manager’s kindness opened her way to the World Wildlife Fund. Seeing opportunities there for improvements, she made suggestions which she was often asked to implement. Her most daunting promotion was being asked to become head of Human Resources. Despite her great fear, as she had zero experience (and 30 minutes to make up her mind), she accepted. Attuned to the difficulties of managing people – especially worldwide – she wisely asked for, and received, the training necessary for her credibility in this role.

    Pamela’s 4-point philosophy is:
    1. We need people in our lives – help others and hopefully it will come back. We all have an amazing story and can learn something from everyone who crosses our path.
    2. Create opportunities – for your company and yourself.
    3. Work on yourself – your resources and values; work in a job you believe in.
    4. Dare take on the job – even if you don’t have the skills, but just the motivation and resources to succeed.
    “Step out of your comfort zone! If you prepare, opportunity will come. Successful people are people with options.”

    Mind the traps

    Several barriers hinder transitions. The first is mental. Carolina warns “Don’t fall into the ‘identity trap’. You are not just your university degree: look at your whole self; your physical, intellectual, emotional strengths, and continue positive activities like attending events and keeping fit. Don’t give up just because you don’t have a job anymore”. She gently reminds us that “transition is the best teacher; we learn from life, not books”.

    “The best way to succeed is to dare to glow, be unique, be yourself – network, build relations, tell your story, know who you are. Knowing your story helps you connect from a different place”.

    “Choose to lead the change in your life rather than push through mindlessly. Once you aim right, answers will be found in the doing....”

    Unfortunately, fearing change and loss of control, we often fall into the frantic ‘doing’ mode… Instead; pause and reconnect with who you are… who can I become next? Analyze what’s missing in your life, your values.

    Don’t feel guilty networking or claim you have no time; give yourself time. We don’t have men’s physical strength or network – but women have singular abilities, such as sharing wisdom from an authentic place without fear of judgment.

    Pamela adds that we need to make ourselves visible and ask for the recognition we deserve, and convince our partners to support us. Women often say that they would like to stop/start working but ‘my husband doesn’t want me to’. The panel agrees that the support of their significant others has been key to their success, while Carolina notes that sometimes we refuse support out of a misplaced need for self-sufficiency. “Women: bear to share your workload and responsibilities.”

    Impress your headhunter

    Jennifer Borrer provides first-hand insight into the mind of a headhunter. Contrary to widespread misconceptions; and although in practice boundaries can blur, headhunters are not career coaches or outplacement agencies (Jennifer uses her job strategy coaching skills for IMD career services, but not as a recruiter). Never assume – like many do – that they will magically “read your mind” and know what’s right for you.

    They depend on the jobs their clients mandate them and seek the best fit for their client’s needs in terms of skills, behavioral competencies, cultural fit, and shared values. It is not necessarily about finding an ‘exact’ match by ticking boxes in a job description, but rather knowing the client’s and candidate’s needs deeply.

    Thus, aim to let them know EXACTLY where you add value. What specifically are you looking for in your next role/company? Be efficient, on time: have CV, certificates and references ready. Be helpful: provide that list of ideal jobs or companies. Provide success stories of past transitions, ask questions. Know your limits and put your cards on the table. One of Jennifer’s best candidates was a CEO who realized his limits and sat down with her to tailor his job to keep parts he loved and eliminate the rest. She knew exactly how to help him.

    “Your headhunter is your ally and representative in the marketplace and needs to be fluent in knowing your qualifications, skills, and motivations. So be effective, honest, be yourself and know who you are” – Jennifer Borrer
    Finally, in assessing your chosen path, recruiters will look at your potential-to-risk ratio in three areas: are you changing your title, industry or geography? Changing three is the riskiest, two is medium risk and one is doable – it all depends on the industry. You may consider accepting 2-3 smaller steps up the ladder towards your ideal goal to lessen the perceived risk.

    Too old? How do I transition as an older woman?

    Pamela draws on her experience as a career coach, who has set up the 50+ Autrement network at the Career Women’s Forum. “Sadly, the reality for Geneva is that the age limit is now 35 in some cases for women, and 45 for men. The only way to confront this is through your own attitude; don’t be afraid you will never get a job again: be a fighter! Companies are looking for ‘25 year olds with 25 years of experience’ – you will get hired for your skills, motivation and if you fit. You have the first two, so prove you fit”. An inspiring example is that of a 61 year old who joined a company as personal assistant and rapidly became Vice President, as the value she brings matters more than her age.

    While not belittling the challenges, Pamela states the only way to beat discrimination is to fight back – for example, by joining a movement such as 50+ Autrement, which helps companies look at people differently, and see older people’s unique added value. “Fight, believe in yourself and find the right fit”, she concludes.

    “The value you provide matters more than your age”

    Remove your age from your CV if you believe it’s a barrier, Jennifer adds. Shifting through hundreds of CVs, recruiters process by elimination. Remove reasons for them to eliminate you! Your goal: get face to face. Then, as Carolina says, you can showcase your unique selling proposition: “Embrace and accept your uniqueness and show up as your own brand – which is the outer expression of your inner skills. Our visual impression, voice, and how we enter a room counts. Get the visual part of communication right – know how to power dress, get out of your comfort zone, and improve!”

    Shattering the glass in big organizations; on being a ‘superwoman’ or How do women market themselves in big organizations, what does it take to succeed?

    Hulya notes that her large company has many highly skilled women, who are never denied a job they want. They just don’t dare apply for senior jobs. They fear they can’t maintain their life-work balance, and wish to stay on the safe side.

    Pamela adds that one of the unique women she knows who made it to the very top, a highly competent specialist in a rare field, complains it is very, very, lonely there, and being the only woman prompted her to resign. Another super woman declined the presidency of a huge local company, to take a lesser role which allows her to care for her handicapped husband and two kids. It takes impressive skills to manage a family, a high powered job and travel. Very few women are prepared for the huge cost; such as high divorce rates. Societal values need to change. At the moment, men rely on women to get ahead in their careers, yet women find less of that same support. Violette concurs that among her role models was the current State Secretary, whom she believed reached that position because she had a supportive husband. She says, “There are always trade-offs and the choice is ours, we can sometimes control more than we believe. Letting go of the need to control everything can make it easier – trust yourself and know your limits. Moments of doubt are normal”.

    “A supportive partner is key”, says Jennifer, “and don’t be afraid to seize opportunities”. In one of her transitions she was terrified as she knew nothing about human resources, but took the job and made it happen.

    Carolina adds, “it’s important not to self-excuse because we believe in a ‘glass ceiling’. Reframe, believe it is possible to break through”.

    Succeed in a male-dominated environment

    Responding to remarks that Switzerland is an attractive yet male-dominated environment compared with North America, with many women weary of trying to break through, especially when ‘45 with 2 children’… Pamela responds there is no real answer, but there are female-friendly jobs, for example in human resources. She remembers insisting on hiring a woman when a company blatantly disregarded the CVs she proposed, favouring male ones. “Go for companies that value diversity, say “damn it, we’re worth it” and remember we offer different things at different ages. We are all part of the solution – stand up for what’s right”.

    Recruiters often have no prejudice, adds Jennifer, but few women apply for director roles.

    An audience member quips that she faces the opposite challenge: she is a single, over-45 high flier, who now welcomes a simpler life. In her experience, companies do promote women, provide coaching etc, but a top job can be lonely and friendless. Women tend to have more empathy than men, which means these competitive contexts are hard ball for women. She notes wistfully that men are raised to compete, then drink together at the pub. Men seem relaxed about competition, not her.

    Carolina adds, “This means there is space for women to find solutions. Be careful how you frame the issue, if you view progression as a “fight” it will remain a fight. It is a shame that some women who get senior positions become louder, meaner, less compassionate, as they have had to fight their way up by emulating men. Why not go forth the way you are, with confident self-assurance instead?”

    Is there a magic potion to enhance self-confidence?

    Pamela wants us to laugh – it’s contagious. Pretend you are confident, if you believe it, everyone else will. Even if you are terrified; it’s about how you appear externally. But beware the fine line between bluff and blatant lie, confidence and arrogance/pretentiousness that is not to be crossed: remain authentic. Just be confident and surround yourself with positive people. Violette agrees that it is about finding the right balance between authenticity and pretense/play, and taking an improvisation course can pay enormous dividends as it helps you with your body language and enhances your credibility.

    Carolina concludes by sharing an approach for generating self-confidence. “You know how to do it. Be clear about who you are, get new experiences/skills and remember to build on your past successes”. Self-mastery is being aware of how thoughts trigger emotions, which in turn trigger actions, with the resulting feedback flowing back into our belief system. So watch your thoughts positive and negative, and see how changing your thoughts improves your emotions and then how you show up differently.

    As for their take-away advice: Pam says “trust people more quickly” and Carolina concurs, “Listen to yourself and trust people and life in general, there’s a reason for everything.” Jennifer and Violette emphasizes the importance of stopping the busyness to take time to reflect – then act to break down elephantine tasks bit by bit to achieve our desired success!
    Author: Katia Kerswell


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