Cisco Women’s Professional Development Day: My Career Journey as a Woman

Cisco Women's Professional Development Day

Cisco Women’s Professional Development Day

On the morning of August 25, I presented to the Cisco Chief Strategy Office, Women’s Professional Development Day.  I thought I would share the notes I used to prepare for the presentation. If you have any questions, feel free to ask in a comment!

Watch the video of my presentation:

Cisco Women’s Professional Development Day Overview of Talk

You have in front of you someone that many people would categorize as a rare specimen. You could think that this is because there is something a bit odd about a French women, working for a British corporation dedicated to helping people learn English. Actually, unfortunately, I am rare because I  am the CEO of a 300 person subsidiary of a public company.

When I started my career at 22, I believed I could do anything, get any job. I did not believe that women needed any special attention to have successful career.

Today, as a CEO, I am now acutely aware of the challenges women face in the workplace, and strongly believe we need to proactively help women to succeed at every level in the workplace.

What life experiences changed my mind? What lessons could I give to my 22 year old self?

My career journey as a woman

Work Before kids

My mother has always been, and continues to be, the greatest influence on my life. She was always a working mother (and a hard working mother) and despite difficult moments she always managed to get back on track and succeed, giving me a sense that she (and women in general) are invincible.

I started realizing there were differences when I got closer to motherhood. In Europe, around 28 years old people expect you to have a baby sometime soon.

I was working at Oracle at that time. I decided to make my first real-estate investment to build a house for my mother who, after she retired, did not have high income.

While planning for it, it was clear my current job would not allow me to do everything I wanted. Deep inside me I knew I was worth more, that I could bring more value. I felt I was under-valued.

I had the choice to accept the status quo and delay my life projects, or to take a risk and leave a comfortable position to join another company.

I decided to prepare my resume and post it online. It also helped that a head hunter called me with an offer to join an innovative startup. I jumped on it immediately.

When I announced to my boss I was leaving for a new opportunity, he tried to convince me to stay.  He told me that I was a great talent for the company. Then he played with my womanly fears: “We appreciate you. You have a very stable environment here to have your first child. You are welcome to stay in your current role.” I was shocked, to say the least. This was the first time someone said out loud that motherhood would keep my career as a status quo, and that men were more likely to get promotions than someone who wanted to have a child.  I realized that, my boss and still friend, while not wanting to harm me in anyway, could negatively impact my career. Sheryl Sandberg, in Lean In, put a name on it: Cultural bias.

What I would tell my 22 year old self or my daughter? Believe yourself. Do everything you can to continue to grow, and when you believe you are underutilized, make a move.

Work After Having Children

Later in my career, when I gave birth to my first child, I was fortunate to be living in France with the benefits afforded to working mothers in the French healthcare system, and funded daycare.  When I had my second child in the U.S., I had the chance to work for Microsoft which offered great maternity leave. I was advanced enough in my career to be financially independent. I did not have to ask myself the question: “Shall I quit my job because the economics don’t make sense?”

While most people cannot choose the country of their choice to have kids, they can select states, or companies to work for in the US.

What I would tell my 22 years old self?  Work for a company that cares and that has favorable benefits regarding flexibility, maternity and childcare. It could make or break a career.

However, right about that time my family expressed a desire to relocate from Seattle to California to pursue one of our dreams. As I was having my second child, California seemed like the right place to raise him. With clear a clear goal in mind, I came to my boss to announce to him that not only was I pregnant– you can imagine how happy he was–but also that I was moving to California.

I did not know if I could stay in my job working remotely, but in any case, I believed I could always find a solution. 3 months after moving to Silicon Valley, and after many hours of negotiation, I ended up bringing my family to California.

About a year later, I decided that going back-and-forth to Seattle was costing my family too much, so I started to search for a more local role. While Microsoft had my heart, most of their commercial leadership roles where in Seattle. So I started to look at what could be next. It was clear to me that it needed to be in a field where I could have social impact. When I came across the opportunity to work for Pearson, leading the team designated to deliver digital technology designed to increase access and efficacy of education, I jumped in. I started as a general manager, and 2 months after I was offered the CEO role, at 37 years old.

What I would tell my 22 year old self? Have a clear goal and go get it. Don’t always plan for everything–and align your passion to your work. You can make wonders happen.

But how can we accelerate?
As the leader of my company, I am now more empowered, and can act in my sphere of influence: I can work on the benefits for new mothers, build in flexibility for both male and female employees, and recruit a more diverse leadership team– however, there are unfortunately way too few other female executives to create the perfect storm.

As it will takes time to bring more women to the top of our public companies, I started to take a look at how else I could help move the needle. I decided to invest outside of my day job. Life does not stop when the work day ends.

First, I engaged in a support group, or what we call a “Lean In Circle.” We started by having a theme around transitions in our career. We listen to each other, we challenge each other, we offer support and most importantly, we offer a safe environment where we discuss the un-discussable. In the last three years all members changed roles to a better one, and we keep transitioning!

Second, I looked at the private companies, and specifically entrepreneurs, to work with. I was shocked by the low number of women who successfully received funding. Studies have shown that a more gender-diverse angel network encourages more women entrepreneurs to pitch.

So without any investment banking background I looked at how I could get engaged with investing. About a year ago I found Pipeline Fellowship, a program where you learn how to be angel investor, and where members fund women-lead social startups. In two days I will have another three companies presenting their projects, and probably will close some new investments.

For those of you in interested in becoming angel investors, keep in mind that this is a long-term, relational process. The investor generally plays a role in the development of the company, whether that means an opening, or a rolodex, or actual hands-on advising. If you are ready to apply your capabilities or your assets to a start-up,  you too can become an investor and help push the envelope.

I look forward to meeting, connecting and learning from this new community.

Thank you!

Japan’s ASCII Raises Good Questions About English Proficiency Assessment

Good Questions About English Proficiency Assessment - ASCII Coverage of Pearson English Business Solutions

ASCII Coverage of Pearson English Business Solutions

Good Questions About English Proficiency Assessment – ASCII Coverage of Pearson English Business Solutions

It’s always interesting to see the International perspective on learning English. This week Japan’s ASCII looked at TOEIC, from the Education Testing Service, which is primarily used in Japan and South Korea to gauge English proficiency.

I think Mr. Morita has a point, in that TOEIC only tests one aspect of English proficiency. At Pearson English, we believe that organizations need to empower individuals to attain proficiency that matches their work, the context of the job. The like the idea of “Language Strategy” because we see language as a strategic capability, just like manufacturing or retail storefronts. If you don’t recognize the strategic importance of language, and you fail to invest to make it a world-class capability, you risk that your organization will loose out to those that do.

Here is a translation of the entire ASCII article (for the original click here).


Date: 2015/07/10

Tips on when a colleague brags about their TOEIC score

It is common that a colleague brags about their TOEIC score. Personally, I do not have a high score so I get impressed, but at the same time, I question the real value of achieving a high TOEIC score.

According to the  Silicon Valley-based e-learning company which provides “Pearson English Business Solutions”, unfortunately TOEIC is not a score that is recognized globally.

Most TOEIC students are from Japan and South Korea. Even taking out the average value of the score, it’s hard to say this is a global test.

You might say that it is good as a basis for calculating the basic level of English skill, but it is not sufficient to measure how well one can communicate/interact within multinational companies. Pearson also provides TOEIC course, but it’s only positioned as part of their education offerings.

Pearson is a company that has been providing English education as a part of human resource management solutions. It provides solutions as part of human resource assessment and development for the human resources department.

The need of English skill/vocabulary differs among diverse departments or careers – For example when giving a presentation or providing customer support in English.

Pearson’s solution is adopted by various multinational corporations. This is because all of the employees are required to be able to communicate at the same level.

For example, Pearson has been adopted by information companies such as Thomson Reuters. Apparently they position English education as “Language Strategy” in order to win competition. It is an amazing world.

Pearson has also conducted various tests as part of the English education. Since the solution itself is employed in multinational companies, Pearson is proud that the evaluation of the score has become global in nature.

Leadership and Management: It’s Time to Teach Empowerment

Leadership Diagram Shows Vision Values Empowerment and Encouragement

Leadership and Management: It’s Time to Teach Empowerment

Management was the role that imposed the discipline and managed the process. Managers were taught to think like this. And the only model they had until they started work was the education system — and previously it was about the authority.

We live in a world in which employees are expecting to be influenced, motivated, and enabled to contribute toward the effectiveness and success of a common goal. We often call this leadership.

I think our current issues of enabling future leaders versus managers goes back to education as designed for the Ford assembly-line system and the industrial age.  
We often still teach one subject at a time, one class following another, one teacher lecturing many students.

Remember, I’m French! I like a little process, or else it’s chaos, but sometimes, sometimes you just have to let people go so they can explore.

Do students really need that level of authority? Do the students need a manager to tell them what to do? Do they really need detailed instructions for everything? When there is a project, there is a beginning and an end, and a lot of stuff that goes in between that is about negotiating your way toward a goal. Especially if it’s something new. How do you manage to do a project that nobody has done before?

I’m not sure that a person who is managing and leading you is the person who has to manage the process. If you are building a house with a plan and certain entry ways, think about the leader as the one who creates the context for people who need to do the details. She says, here’s the budget and the general idea, but all of you, architects and builders and craftspeople, go do what you do best within these guidelines. They create a creative community in the moment and the leader helps that community come together. Yes, you have to have people who know how to hang cabinets, and a vision to align with; they could hang the mismatched cabinets on-time and within budget, and they could be good managers, but they wouldn’t be helping create something wonderful–they would just be following a disconnected process.

In France and more Latin cultures, there is not as much process as I find in the US. People just think. They do what they think is the right thing. Too often people fall back on the process and say I failed because it wasn’t in the process. I say, just think. Empower people and let them do what needs to be done. People need to think critically, fail and learn from those failures. Just think and you might succeed at the first trial, or you can fail and learn and try it again! You don’t need process for everything.

If we go back to education, you have to start with thinking and empowerment at a very young age. If you empower someone trapped by process thinking, they won’t know what to do. They were raised with rules and instructions, limits and constraints, and they can’t just be empowered out of that. We have to help educate people on how to be empowered. I don’t think a manager can do that, only a leader can create the environment that supports empowerment.

My Takeaways from EdTech Europe

Karine Allouche Salanon attending EdTech Europe. Image used by permission of The PIE News.  (C) The PIE News 2015.

Karine Allouche Salanon attending EdTech Europe. Image used by permission of The PIE News. (C) The PIE News 2015.

On June 17, 2015 I had the pleasure of attending and presenting at EdTech Europe in London. As you can see by all of the great coverage already posted on my blog, there was a lot of interest in what these great leaders in education had to say, including my co-panelists John Martin of Sanoma Learning, Rob Grimshaw of TES Global and John Harber of EDGE EdTech.

I had six takeaways from these sessions that I think are important for anyone looking to transform education.

  1. Digitization is not the final end game. The end game is the value you deliver to the learner. While technology can provide great new experiences, those experiences are only as good as the learning they impart and the engagement they drive. We have to constantly remind ourselves that we learn in many ways, and aligning our businesses with only one approach to learning will not realize the potential for learners or the business.
  2. Learning is the overall experience. If digitization is just part of the experience, so too is content. We must think about all of the elements of the learning experience in order to provide the most impact to our learners.
  3. Don’t think of online just as a video or a course: focus on the whole learning experience, including the teacher. Flipped classrooms have taught us not that teachers are less relevant once they lecture, but that their most critical value comes when helping students integrate basic facts and ideas. We need to be cautious about thinking that broadcasting is the best answer in delivering education over networks. We also need to make sure that teachers have an opportunity to engage students, to answer their questions — and to continue their own learning.
  4. The power of digitally enabled human interaction in digital engagement. Learning is a collaborative experience, and we need to design our digital learning experiences so that they not only have the capabilities common to classrooms, but unique capabilities that can only be delivered in digital environments. Flying through space, examining a famous painting up close, or connecting with a native speaker in realtime when learning a language are examples of experiences that enhance learning and are really only available through digital technology.
  5. The importance of peer-to-peer engagement in online learning. If MOOCs have taught us anything, they have taught us that it is difficult to engage students in largely passive ways. I have already talked about the importance integrating teaching and teachers into the digital model, but we also have to create really wonderful ways for students to engage with each other. Thinking about learning as part of a community of learners fundamentally changes the way we learn and can greatly enhance the motivation to keep learning.
  6. Private equity investment is a “critical player” for education technology. As governments around the world struggle with budgets and the delivery of basic human services, education often becomes a key target in discretionary spending cuts. If we want to continue to see innovation in learning, we need to recognize that education is a business, and that investments of private equity will be crucial to transforming rhetoric about education into reality.

To this last point Benjamin Vedrenne-Cloquet of IBIS Capital, a large investment group specializing in EdTech pointed out that only 3% of funding is going to the education industry today. Of that 35% is going to digital components. He can see this increasing 12 times, but it might take as much at 5 times to realize a return on investments. Education is a slower technology than something like social media or digital photography. It has a slower adoption curve and a lower return rate, but there is nothing wrong with, as Vedrenne-Cloquet points out, “attracting patient capital.”

But despite the relatively slow adoption of education technology, we have to realize that the markets into which students graduate are changing at a very rapid pace.

The skill gaps we see today will not be the same skill gaps in five years. It is important that we create technologies that can help adapt learning experiences to new needs, both in terms of content, and in terms of learners. Non-traditional students are perhaps the biggest growth segment of learners: single parents, those over the age of 25 and people with day jobs.

If we want our economies to thrive, we must meet the needs of these students because we are going to see their ranks growing. They are already contributing as workers in the economy, and are now also learners looking to find ways to make sure they can continue to contribute. Those of us in the education industry must find ways to meet those needs. That is our real value to society and the economy.

EdTech Europe provided a great platform for discussion. I look forward to continuing the dialog here on my blog, and in other conferences.

The original image and its associated article at The PIE News can be found here: Karine Allouche Salanon, CEO, Pearson English Business Solutions.