Women in EA: Interview with Francine Abgrall

Women in EA: Interview with Francine Abgrall

September 8, 2020
Our Women in EA series features interviews with women in management positions in Europ Assistance, discussing their career and developments regarding gender equality. Today we speak to Francine Abgrall, the Group Head of Travel Business Line.

Why do you believe gender diversity is important in the workplace?

A lot of studies – including some conducted by McKinsey and others – emphasize the value of gender diversity. I believe in those studies. They demonstrate a correlation between having more women on company boards and improved financial results. They analyze causes and effects, showing how an increased female presence makes a genuine difference in the workplace. The real question becomes: why does it make a difference? I think it’s because men and women employ different leadership styles, enabling their people to work in different ways. Versatility adds value to the company.

What prevents more women from rising to top positions?

There are a number of factors. The first is society, where women need childcare solutions and financial support designed to help them better balance motherhood with work. Another factor can be found in company support systems, which need to make it possible for women to be promoted even while on maternity leave and not penalize them for dedicating time to their families. A lot of progress has been made on this front, especially concerning equal pay, which is now almost a non-issue.

Then there are subtler factors like mindset and bias. Some are structural, for example the “mini-me” syndrome, when managers choose to promote employees who are similar to themselves, often in gender and race. Right now there are more men at the top, and they are more likely to promote a male “mini-me” than a woman.

Another big challenge is female bias surrounding work and motherhood. If you focus on work, others assume you are sacrificing family. If you focus on family, they assume you aren’t ambitious enough to be successful at work. These kinds of biases hold women back and make it very difficult for them to help one another.

What can we do to get rid of these biases?

I think the first step is to be aware of them. Then you can take action and address them, for example holding blind interviews, or making sure other women participate in evaluation processes so that biases are somewhat neutralized. In addition to that, quotas are a helpful tool in the short-term; female workplace quotas are no different than men being promoted because they’re part of the “boys’ club.”. But, ultimately we need to build systems that are fair in their own right.

What advice can you offer young women in our company?

Follow your passion. Work for what you are interested in, and don’t let any obstacles get in your way. It can be a nonstop battle and it may tire you out sometimes, so manage your stamina, but there are always new lessons to be learned along the way!