I first learned about Clara Gaymard 10 years ago. She's an incredibly accomplished businesswoman, and she manages it all while being a mom of 9 kids! Clara worked really hard to build her career in parallel to everything else. She recently founded a new investment vehicle (RAISE) with Gonzague de Blignieres, a successful financial advisor. Together, they're taking an innovative approach: 50% of their carried interest will go to help social organizations in France.
You're considered to be one of the world's most powerful women. What is one piece of advice you have for women who want to make their mark in the business world?
I wish I knew! I have only tried to follow a few rules: serve a project, a vision, or an ambition that is bigger than yourself. Believe in what and who you trust and do your best. And don't try to have all the answers, just try and see what happens. Life is full of surprises for women who have open arms.
Women have to overcome two obstacles.
First, no self-censorship! Don't wait for people to allow you to have your own ideas and vision, and don't try to find too many excuses in what doesn't work for women today. Of course, some things in the legal or cultural background of any country still have to change. But the biggest change will come from women themselves: take your fear under your arms with you and continue your journey! It is difficult to kill the fear, but you can use it as a tool to make you more accurate.
Second, don't apologize for being a woman. Of course, men and women are different: differences in the way we look at the outside world, differences in the way we interact with other human beings or relate to our inner self. And guess what? That's an opportunity for the business world. Diversity - whether it derives from academic background, cultural, social, gender - is key to success, because it allows you to adapt to a wider array of events that occur in your in your business environment. It is about you to decide if you want to be part of the future.
You sit on the board of a number of nonprofits. What is one cause you support that is very meaningful to you?
With Gonzague de Blignières, we decided to create RAISE, a company that helps companies to grow. Our shareholders are the biggest and most successful companies in France. We invest in medium size companies and give returns to our shareholders. But we, the team, give fifty percent of our profits to a foundation dedicated to entrepreneurship. I have been the chairperson of RAISE Foundation since 2013, and we have an ecosystem of 1200 young entrepreneurs. We provide them financial assistance (100000€ loans), networking opportunities with other entrepreneurs and potential clients, and several mentorship or expertise programs.
Our goal is to create a lasting cultural change in favor of entrepreneurship. For instance, we recently published a study called David and Goliath about the relations between growing start-ups and big French corporations. In France, compared to other countries such as Germany, there is no sense of a common purpose between companies that differ in age and size: the Davids have to take their chance, and the Goliaths have to give them a chance!
Can you tell me more about the Women's Forum for the Economy and Society? What would you do to promote more women in senior leadership positions?
The Women's Forum for the Economy and Society was created in 2005 by a group of international women business leaders. Its aim is to bring together ambitious women from every corner of the world, through an annual session and other events. One key point to understand: this forum is not about how the world sees women, but rather about how women see the world. Women often have to perform certain tasks that men know less about: as women, we have acquired some cognitive and relational strengths - the so-called "soft-skills" business pundits write and talk about - that allows us to make a real difference in the world, locally and globally.
What we are already doing to promote women is to rely on examples so that every ambitious woman is encouraged to take her chance: in the 2015 edition of the Women's forum, there were 1300 participants from 76 countries, including 250 speakers and 26 political figures from around the world.
In an interview with Forbes, you mentioned that having a family and being a mother was very important to you. How has motherhood shaped you as a leader?
Building a career and building a family at the same time shaped me as a leader with distinctive skills. I really believe that having a family gives you very useful and practical skills in business: how to anticipate, to delegate and give responsibilities and empowerment, resist to the unpredicted, and among all others, be a good listener. A lot of business leaders tend to give all their available attention to showing their analytical skills and building political coalitions with actors within the company and in the outside environment, instead of dedicating their talents to what really matters : have the good vision and empower the people around you to make it happen.
Raising nine children while building a career gave me something more: a sense of how to create consensus and of the importance of small rituals, a sense of kindness and of pushing every person around me to its fullest potential. Our innovation-driven era needs more diverse leaders: motherhood shaped me as a leader who can encourage people around me to be leaders of their own kind!
Finally, do you think by doing good, you're more successful?
Who dreams to be the richest of the cemetery? I am not doing good to be successful. I am trying to do my best to be happy and help the people around me to accomplish their dreams, here and now. If that is a definition of success, yes: doing good is the way to be successful. The fact that the question is asked shows how much progress still has to be made. Being successful is not about how much you earn, but about what you do - including what you do with the money you've earned.
The ancient Greeks had a word to express a notion that blends our need to rebel, and our need to create an enduring legacy for the ages: thumos. In Plato's theory of the human psyche, thumos is more than ambition: it is passion, courage, and aspiration. Thumos refers to our own distinctive aspirations, to our own chance to create a legacy. Doing good - something that will last longer than our individual lives - is not a condition towards more success, but a condition of any successful life!