Women: On the road for professional fulfilment

Prof. Viviane de Beaufort, spokeswoman on gender equality, researcher, and Director of the European Center for law and Economics and Women ESSEC programmes, joins battle to focus on the barriers to knock down and the road to take for women seeking fulfilment in the world of work.  

If you want to read only a extract- Read this :  Génération Startuppeuse or the new era, Eyrolles- 2017 written with the support of Marine de Beaufort whom she quotes: ‘We grew up with mothers, career models, but not always fulfilled women. As a reaction, we rooted the desire to succeed professionally, excluding the issue of being a stay-at-home mother/housewife, but having at heart not to sacrifice our personal lives. This manifests itself 1 – by the desire to have purpose in one’s job. 2 – to prioritize one’s personal life, and 3 – and as such find innovative solutions to manage all that’, in   https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/inter-g%C3%A9n%C3%A9rationnel-bienveillant-le-salut-viviane-de-beaufort/ by Marine de Beaufort and her mother.


If you want to read the entire article:

A question of non-belief?

Some may express surprise at the professional predicament of women in developed countries. After all, the skills are there, the qualifications are there, and increasingly the law is there to ensure that women have both the credibility and the weight to achieve career success. But inequalities persist. Could it simply be a lack of self-belief that holds women back?

For Viviane de Beaufort, an obvious initial reason is that of cultural factors, although less present in Anglo-Saxon cultures more at ease with money and generally more egalitarian. ‘From generation to generation in many countries,’ she states, ‘including continental Europe, a sharing of roles and tasks between men and women has been transmitted that is clearly borrowed from the tradition that man goes out to hunt while the woman takes care of the home.’ This is often relayed in religions which, to an extent, codify these traditions. ‘As such, this doesn’t signify that a woman lacks self-confidence,’ asserts de Beaufort, ‘but that she can lack confidence within a male environment such as business where the model was created without her.’ It can be observed that in exceptional events and periods of history – from yearly harvest time to wartime – this distribution of tasks and roles explodes with women being recognised as able and sometimes being ordered to take over the load of tasks otherwise allotted to men. Food for thought.


Is it the right time to be optimistic?

Viviane de Beaufort has consecrated more than thirty years of her life to the women’s cause and gender equality. While delighted that things have generally changed for the better, she notes that there is a long way to go, notably in terms of equal pay and career promotion. ‘Are these laws and new egalitarian precepts the result of a change in mentalities, or the result of economic pressure which has led to a penury of talent, and linked to demography?’ she asks, with slight irony. Three things have to be taken into account on the road to career fulfilment, she asserts. Firstly, the individual needs of the modern-day couple and the understanding that either partner – whether male or female – would have the right to pursue professional ambitions, even if this meant that the man would step down from the limelight and take care of the home. Secondly, the political and regulatory will to think and act equality, and therefore provide the means for parents to structure an equal double career. And lastly, the question of whether we economically require all a population to be active and at work. ‘I’d love to know if, in 15 or 20 years’ time,’ states de Beaufort, ‘with the potential arrival of sophisticated robots and machines able to replace a part or all of human work, it will have an impact on this scenario?’


Do women necessarily need success stories?

When asked the question, Viviane de Beaufort points to the frequent claim that there is a general lack in feminine role models. ‘It is true,’ she states, ‘that to project oneself as a leader, female entrepreneur, director, data scientists, etc., female models are useful.’ However, she believes that for the generations to come – GENY, then Z – the issue is not necessarily a blocking point. For her, women have access to the world as a universe via the web – and therefore finding a role model is easier. In addition, men and women of these new generations do not have the same conception of success than those of older generations. The book Génération Startuppeuse or the new era[1] was written in 2017 with the special support of her daughter, Marine de Beaufort[2] whom she quotes: ‘We grew up with mothers, career models, but not always fulfilled women. As a reaction, we rooted the desire to succeed professionally, excluding the issue of being a stay-at-home mother/housewife, but having at heart not to sacrifice our personal lives. This manifests itself 1 – by the desire to have purpose in one’s job. 2 – to prioritize one’s personal life, and 3 – and as such find innovative solutions to manage all that’[3].

A further point is that women’s relationship with power and ambition appears to be different today. In the research on Women and Power undertaken 2011[4], and developed since then, the majority of women no longer appear to be interested in power per se but rather achieving something that power can bring symbolically. Women today are team players who do not hesitate to put themselves into question. They thus take part in breaking the now-obsolete dominant vertical model, notably under attack from the GENY which no longer recognises hierarchical power but accepts that of an exemplary model. ‘Many men today,’ states de Beaufort, ‘are turning away from what I call the royal leader model to embrace a collective leadership that is more respectful of others, whoever he/she may be. And this is good news.’


3 obstacles to reaching professional fulfilment

While today’s context appears more or less favourable for women to achieve professional and personal fulfilment, Viviane de Beaufort identifies three factors that remain challenges to be overcome. The first for women is lack of self-confidence or the so-called imposter complex, linked not to the fact of their gender but that they still represent the minority in areas of power – including leadership, entrepreneurship, the tech world, finance and politics. It is the same complex that bears down on other minority groups through their origins or social background and that leads to behaviours such as demanding less, expecting others to recognise them on merit, and not asking for more.

A second factor is what de Beaufort calls the complex of the ‘nice little girl’ that is created by girl/boy education. There are greater demands on a girl to the extent that she ends up integrating limiting behaviours. For example, that she should be good and well-behaved, not raise her voice, not make waves. This type of education naturally reduces the chances of a woman to be able to affirm herself in a competitive world for both fear of upsetting others and fear of being liked and appreciated.

And finally, the third complex is that of the ‘good pupil’ that weighs upon women and still leads to those having reached top positions – administrators, directors or emeritus professors – doubting their skills and always searching for what they lack or what they haven’t done well enough, rather than focusing on everything they have achieved and do remarkably. ‘In some ways,’ states de Beaufort, ‘we are our worst enemies.’


And life’s specific challenges for women too

It can be argued that women face additional challenges to cater with that have either been ingrained through historical-cultural factors or simply those attributed to physical fact of gender. ‘The enduring difficulty is the objective to structure a so-called family responsibility and career ambition,’ says Viviane de Beaufort. ‘The parental model of sharing tasks is evolving and notably with Millennials, but there’s still a long way to go. In France,’ she continues, ‘we have the real chance to be able to demand to try both. In other countries, including those not so far, such as Germany, the culture slows this down by even creating a feeling of guilt among mothers and they therefore make a choice – and the macro consequences in terms of an ageing population are obvious in addition to, and on top of, personal frustration.’ The fact that biologically women aren’t the same – ‘luckily’ adds de Beaufort – also has an impact. The existing model for working life and achievement is very much built to a masculine tune, with maternity, age or the menopause being considered as hindrances or even weaknesses, both by men, the system and women alike. Viviane de Beaufort also adds a newer phenomenon and one that looks very likely to grow in developed countries: looking after our old folk and ascendants. It is proven that apart from looking after their children, 90% of women assume the care of elderly parents who live increasingly longer.



When asked to provide her own story to the top, Viviane de Beaufort tends to think that she’s not a good example. ‘My commitment above the norm carries me and pushes me to lead a lot of actions and initiatives for the “cause”[5]. But I don’t consider that I’m “successful” in the business sense. For example, I’ve never known how to negotiate a pay package: that bothers me in as much as I carry out more than a third of my activities totally free of charge, only rarely raise the question, and have difficulties replying if it’s asked me. It’s a very particular posture which I don’t recommend,’ she continues, viewing it as an extreme that necessarily leads to working on projects for others, as well as cultivating a workaholic approach and giving returns that are much less in value than the effort it demands. ‘That may suit some people,’ adds de Beaufort, ‘but it’s atypical. However, my clear-headedness enables me to talk about and help others to avoid repeating this picture. You’ve got to be aware of your value and in a world hallmarked by the logic of the market. Knowing your right price is a real problem for women and even young women – hence the necessity to train them. It’s what we now do at ESSEC.’

For Viviane de Beaufort, there are three key pieces of advice for women seeking fulfilment: listening to your inner voice, your inner music, whatever those around you or ‘those in the know’ say is the first of those. Secondly, never compare yourself and believe in your unique added value – and therefore acquire self-assurance. And lastly, cultivate your differences as an asset rather than conforming to system which in any case is imploding – in the future, only a person’s unique characteristics will count. And those who are able to vaunt their individuality will call the tune.

A key message is that the default stereotypes that women have for long been saddled with in their relationship to power – risk avoidance, too great a sensitivity and empathy for others, etc. – will be heavily impacted by the context of the modern workplace. An environment in which agility, teamwork, inventiveness, and trust in others will make all the difference. And factors that will trigger the driving force for action and acceleration to create models that are less vertical and more resilient, more agile and sustainable, and founded on humankind and humanity. ‘Let your boys express their sensitivity rather than telling them “you must be strong and not cry!”’ states Viviane de Beaufort. ‘It’s time to end these categorizations at the youngest age with toys and clothes – at home, at school, and in the media.’


[1] ‘Génération Startuppeuse ou la nouvelle ère’, Eyrolles, 2017. Viviane de Beaufort with the support of Marine de Beaufort

[2] https://www.linkedin.com/in/marine-de-beaufort-6030a71a/

[3] Transmettre ou tout simplement Partager entre générations ? 4 mains mère-fille, https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/inter-g%C3%A9n%C3%A9rationnel-bienveillant-le-salut-viviane-de-beaufort/ by Marine de Beaufort and her mother

[4] ‘Femmes et pouvoir : tabou ou nouveau modèle de gouvernance ?’ October 2012, Viviane de Beaufort, Professor at ESSEC Business School, Director of  the ECLE and “ Governance, Gender and Empowerment programme, founder of ‘Women Be European-Board Ready’, (with the help of Boyden Executive Search).

[5] gender.vivianedebeaufort.fr