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International Women’s Day 2021 Challenge: Carolle Foissaud’ journey in the Industry and Energy

In celebration of this year’s International Women's Day, for inspiration we turned to Carolle Foissaud, Managing Director of the Bouygues Energies & Services, Energy and Industry division, to understand what inspired her to succeed in such a unique environment. Aged 54, Carolle speaks to us about her career path, tells us about some of her personality traits and explains what it’s like to work for an international business with more than 2,000 employees. Here is what Carolle has to say... 

Carolle, can you tell us about your background in a few words? 

I have an engineering background (graduated from Ecole Polytechnique in 1986 and from Telecom Paris in 1991). After graduating, I joined Thales, a French multinational aerospace and defence company, as a systems design engineer to work on one of the component parts of the Rafale aircraft. A few years later, I took on a position as a design engineer at AREVA NP, a French multinational group specialising in nuclear power and renewable energy. Then, I gradually moved on up in the AREVA group, becoming Chairperson and CEO of TechnicAtome, a company specialising in nuclear reactors for naval propulsion systems, nuclear boilers for submarines and French aircraft carriers.. . In short, I moved forward in my career in a mainly industrial and nuclear environment that, it must be said, was rather male dominated. 

And then I went from nuclear power into industry. I joined Bouygues Energies et Services in September 2017 as Managing Director of the international Energy and Industry division with more than 2,000 staff. It's an exciting field of activity because it includes decarbonised energies, particularly through photovoltaic farms, and pure industry, with great challenges regarding Industry 4.0 and booming markets such as Data Centers... to outline, some great challenges, with an international dimension and a scope of around €600 million. 

So, to sum up, it's been a career path as an engineer, and a business manager in a complex environment in the field of energy and industry. 

Why did you choose to study and work in the field of industry?  

I have always been impressed by large scale industrial equipment, the high level of technicality, the complexity of implementation and the processes involved. With men and women who are passionate about their work and the products they make. I must admit that just looking at a nuclear submarine, that concentrated piece of technology, on its supports before it is launched is a beautiful and even a moving sight. 

In these businesses, I think I can say that being a woman has never held me back. For me, respect is everything. Man or woman, worker or manager, what counts is to respect each person's skills and to let them express themselves because everyone has their part to play in the company. 

As a woman working in a male dominated industry, what advice would you have for others women? 

If I had to give women advice and, more specifically, encourage them to take on a position of responsibility, I would say, "It's not because you are a woman that you are less successful in such a position. The most important thing is to believe in what you are doing and to want to do it! You are just as capable of succeeding as a man as long as you have the right skills”. Trust yourself and move forward: "Always see through what you want to do, even if it means journeying into the unknown, have confidence in yourself". 

What do you like most about your job? 

The challenge, but behind this notion of challenge, what I like most is the human adventure side of things: having a direction to go in, explaining the meaning of what we do, getting others to want to go in that same direction, and above all going in that direction as a team and succeeding together. 

As things stand, our business is right at the heart of the challenges we face today: decarbonised energies, green energies (hydrogen, photovoltaics...) and in the field of industry, with our Industry 4.0 solutions for more automation, decarbonisation and digitalisation of our clients' plants. Giving meaning to what we do, also means being up to date and not going against the tide. That's how we get the troops on board. 

What is the main factor that helped you succeed in your career as a female leader? 

I would say that the main factor for success is, above all, having a stable family situation or a stabilising environment outside of work, without it, it is more complicated to achieve success. You also need determination, the will to succeed and to have good people around you, because you can't do anything just by yourself. Having good people around you mean choosing your team well so that everyone finds his or her place so that the team moves forward in the adventure that lies before you. In short, you need to know how to juggle between what is good for the collective and the individual. 

What has your greatest achievement been? 

One of my greatest achievements was to be able to turn around a situation with a collective in which people came out of it stronger. It was a great victory. 

Another one, currently, within our Energy and Industry division, relates to development: we are combining our strengths, our English and French skills in Data Centres, and we have structured ourselves internally to be able to seek out new markets in Europe (Germany and Switzerland, in particular) and to develop internationally over the longer term. So, while we haven't yet “converted the try”, so to speak, I am convinced that we are going about it in the right way and will make a success of it. 

On a more personal note… 

Who is your favourite female leader? 

I have three iconic women in mind who inspire me with their charisma and the values they embody. The first is Christine LAGARDE: she is a woman I adore for her elegance, charisma and aura, in addition to being very relevant and intelligent in her words. She holds a very important and strategic position. In 2010, I attended one of her "Women’s Forum" talks, she is a class act ... she truly inspires me. 

The second is Christine ARRON, the French athlete, European 100m champion and record holder since 1998, European champion in the 4x100m the same year, and world champion in the 4 × 100m in 2003. I was lucky enough to meet her in an Areva meeting. What I like about her is her level of performance, her elegance and her fluidity. She's the fastest woman in the world from a flying start... When you see her running, she makes it all look simple, it’s so fluid and yet there’s a great deal of work that goes into it all! And when we saw her at the 1998 European Athletics Championships, on the 4x100 m relay event. She launched herself into a legendary home straight run that allowed her to overtake her Russian competitor from more than 5 meters behind and she won. It was truly spectacular and just plain beautiful! 

Finally, the last iconic woman to whom I owe a great deal is my grandmother, for her human qualities, her generosity and her devotion. 

What is your motto? 

“Never give up on anything!” is my motto. It is indeed a bit of a leitmotiv for me. When you are in a leadership position, you have to have a certain tenacity and resilience to stay on course. Success is based on your mental state and your state of mind, in short, qualities that are similar to those needed in the world of sports... . Whether it’s in the sports, or the professional world, it just makes perfect sense! 

What have you seen recently that made you smile? 

The character Arsène Lupin, played by Omar Sy, made me smile a lot! It's both funny and subtle. There is an impertinent side to it that I like, while at the same time, it has a lot of depth. What I like is that he fights against injustice, another subject that is close to my heart, and he does so with tact and strategy. 

What recharges your batteries outside of work? 

My children, I have two of them who are between 20 and 30 years old. They are full of energy, life and the desire to get things done... full of new ideas and so very rejuvenating! And they are proactive with regards to climate issues, which constantly challenges me in my daily life leading me to review my lifestyle for the future of the planet and their future. 

And finally, what does International Women's Day mean for you? 

International Women's day goes hand in hand with gender diversity... 15 years ago, Anne LAUVERGEON set up a quota system at Areva to ensure a better balance between men and women. I think, unfortunately, we - and I am speaking on behalf of women and men - may have to resort to quotas to get things moving. , We will have succeeded when we are no longer constrained by these quotas and when the gender mix is achieved naturally in Management Committees or in professional organizations. 

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