Emmanuelle Jardat: “The biggest challenge in the future of women’s leadership is mobility”

Eve, Le Blog Dernières contributions, Développement personnel, Egalité professionnelle, Leadership, Responsabilité Sociale, Rôles modèles


Emmanuelle Jardat is Director of Innovation and CSR for the “entreprises France” department at Orange.

She is also the mother of five children, a teacher at the Centrale school, creator of women’s networks, blogger, author of a cookery book, the list goes on.

Active, enthusiastic, generous and open-minded, she believes that “joy is an essential value” in our existence (and therefore also in work) and thinks that promoting women’s leadership always “benefits everyone”. 



EVE le blog: Hello Emmanuelle. As you know, the EVE blog is keen to find out about women’s career paths at the company. Would you tell us about yours? Let’s start with your qualifications.

Emmanuelle Jardat: I am a pure product of the French meritocracy: I’m the daughter of a primary school teacher, I majored in sciences at high school because it was the broadest option. Then I did a prépa (Foundation studies for prestigious French higher education institutions – Ed) at Janson de Sailly and later joined Centrale (ed: A prestigious French higher education institution – Ed). When I graduated, I was hired by Accenture, where I actually was responsible for the France Télécom account. Then I started having children!



EVE le blog: What a hectic start! Newly graduated, only just setting out on your career, and you decide to start a family…

Emmanuelle Jardat: Yes, first of all because I wanted to have lots of children, so why not start early? (laughs) and also because I had already realized that balancing work life and family life would be something challenging and I knew I should have my children before my career really took off, so that I wouldn’t find myself like all the other women at 35 who I saw cringing in exasperation when they were offered the very best move of their career right when they had decided to start a family! So yes, I had had two children before I turned 25.

Well, as you’ll see, the rest of my story will show that it isn’t that easy to shake off the career/baby dilemma that hits during the thirties! Because meanwhile, I started at a new company and got a new husband…



EVE le blog: Let’s talk about your new company then, to begin with…

Emmanuelle Jardat: At the end of the 1990s I was poached by Alcatel. It was a boom period for the Telecoms industry: everything was moving very fast, everything was strategic, everything was exciting.

A few months after I arrived, I found out that a team was working on an offer for some African countries. I had never done sales nor worked in telecoms but I was really hoping to work internationally and I was very motivated. I was given the job and after a year I was named Development Director for the whole of Africa and the Middle East, then I set up the export business for China.

Then came the merger between Alcatel and Lucent, which caused a great amount of worry internally: many positions were duplicated and we didn’t know how each person was going to find their role in the reshuffle. I had recently remarried and was pregnant with my third child. I was slightly worried about what I was going to come back to after my maternity leave. In fact, one day I was on an airplane looking for a comfortable seat that would fit my large belly, and I found myself next to a man looking for a seat that would fit his long legs. It was Pascal Homsy, VP for the France Télécom-Orange account at Alcatel. He offered me a job as Commercial Sales Director for Africa and the Middle East.

We also talked about the astounding conversion of Orange. I greatly admire the dynamism of this company, the way in which it has been able to transform itself so quickly, overcome such a difficult slump and start again on incredibly solid ground… I admired it so much that after 10 years with Alcatel, when I felt the need to move again, it was a natural decision: Orange was where I wanted to be!



EVE le blog: Did you make a spontaneous application?

Emmanuelle Jardat: Yes, by focusing on my international experience. I was lucky, a “global sales” department was being created at Orange Business Service and it was suggested that I take the helm. There was also one line on my CV that struck Patricia Waldron-Werner (VP HR for OBS – Ed): I had created the women’s network at Alactel-Lucent and she wanted me to do the same at OBS.



EVE le blog: What gave you the idea to create a women’s network at Alcatel?

Emmanuelle Jardat: That’s a good question. Because in the early 2000s, when I started getting interested in the evolution of women’s careers at the company and when I heard people talking about “women’s networks”, it really annoyed me. I said to myself: “But the human resources departments are underplaying a question that should be theirs to answer!”

Then during a Diaphora training course, I attended a conference given by Avivah Cox-Wittenberg and I understood that to make things change, organizations needed to get a hold of the subject of professional equality, offer opportunities to women, and that women themselves needed to work on their self confidence and think about using networks to take these opportunities.

So yes, it made sense to build a network which would allow women to talk to and support each other and would also be an expert representative to discuss the issues with HR. I’m very proud of setting up the Alactel-Lucent network and I was quite simply delighted when I was asked to set up another one at Orange Business Service. So much so that this one triggered great enthusiasm, women in the company poured lots of energy into it and management played along very well.



EVE le blog: Do you have the feeling that what you do for the network is spreading through the business?

Emmanuelle Jardat: There was actually a symbolic event happening in my career at that time: I was offered the position of Director at the company’s agency in Lille, which was a very big challenge… And I’d just found out that I was expecting my fourth child!

I was upfront about it: I announced my pregnancy, I understood if they wanted to take back their offer given that just a few weeks later I would be taking maternity leave. But Orange confirmed that the job would be mine! And would you believe it, the fifth little one decided to put in an appearance the following year. Commuting between Paris and Lille started to pose a real challenge with five children, including three young ones. A position at the headquarters was looking attractive.



EVE le blog: What were they offering?

Emmanuelle Jardat: They spoke to me about setting up a new “Innovation and CSR” department for OBS. I was a little suspicious at first: would it be a cushy dead-end job or the real strategic element I had been promised?

I was given carte blanche, so it was worth a try. In fact, as soon as I got involved, I discovered that it was both exciting and completely strategic, because it affected the company’s long-term vision. I also discovered that in this sector, people are incredibly interesting, committed, optimistic and so on. Basically I’ve been indulging in complete professional enjoyment since October last year.



EVE le blog: Lastly, your plan to have children first and a career second didn’t actually turn out as you had planned. You’ve been doing both at the same time for the last 20 years!

Emmanuelle Jardat: Yes, and I love it! Obviously, you know, you need to run a tight ship to balance a family life with a demanding job. But actually it allows you to develop surprising qualities: you become a master of efficiency when you are a parent in a big family! You also develop a sixth sense for ergonomics! I have always said that the inventor of the “control-alt-delete” function never had to work with a baby in their arms. Over the years I have learned how to do everything with just five fingers (laughs): I have even written a cookery book using one hand that gets passed around my friends!


EVE le blog: Children make you innovative!

Emmanuelle Jardat: They make you innovative because they are innovative. They are spontaneously creative: when something doesn’t exist, they don’t just take it as a given, they try to invent it. And they do this happily, which I believe is an essential value in life and at work. Children are a real source of inspiration. In fact the logo for my department is one of my son’s drawings!


EVE le blog: Do you think that the work-life balance is a key issue for professional equality and women’s leadership?

Emmanuelle Jardat: It’s an important matter that affects men and women, at every level of responsibility. For women’s leadership in particular, I think there is a key issue to work on and that is mobility. Being available to travel for a day, a week or for an expatriation, this is more important than ever in a career. And yet, when you take a plane from Paris to London in the morning, the only women on board are the flight attendants! There is some real progress to made in this area.

I would also like to create a “mobile women” network. I’ve got lots of ideas, but during my years of experience setting up networks, I have realized one thing: what works is what comes from the women themselves, what they build together, with a real sense of open innovation. Women are innovative for each other and it is obvious that each time they take a step forward for their professional status, particularly by making the world of work friendlier, it benefits everyone.

There are some real opportunities in the promotion of women’s leadership that can truly benefit everyone.



Interview by Marie Donzel, for the EVE blog.

Translation : Ruth Simpson.