International Women's Day on March 8th was the occasion to discuss how we contribute to the #allforequal movement, with several women and men of Criteo sharing personal stories and thoughts to foster the debate.
One of these stories was particularly intimate, moving, and powerful, all at once. Gracefully told by Marthe Seguin, Criteo's Chief of Staff.
What I’m going to say next will probably sound terrible.
I am a feminist and last year, when I gave birth to a little boy, I felt relieved.
I felt relieved because my journey as an ambitious ethnically mixed woman, with parents from two different social backgrounds, often felt difficult, sometimes even painful, while in many ways, I have it way easier than many. Diversity requires effort, it’s not a given.
If you were expecting a positive, “vanilla”, corporate-proof gender equality speech, this is not what you will get from me today. Of course we could talk at length about equal pay and equal access to leadership, measures to address the glass ceiling like mentorship or quotas. All of these are very important and much needed. The struggle though, isn’t just at work; it’s at home, in society, within ourselves. Looking at my son, I first thought, he wouldn’t have to experience the self-doubt, the tears, the humiliation, the alienation I’ve experienced as a woman.
A long time ago, I asked my parents why there had never been women presidents in France. I don’t remember their response, but they found mine funny. I said I should then be the first French female President. It was 1991 and I was 5. I don’t want to be President today. There are many reasons to that. But I’d like to point out something… “President” isn’t really a dream that gets nurtured when you’re a little girl.
Have you seen the video “Be a lady” with Miranda from Sex and the City? If you haven’t, please watch it. It repeats all the sentences you hear as a woman, multiple and contradictory injunctions of what you should or should not be. Being a president is not mentioned. In fact, a lot of the instructions are about our external appearance, a long-term asset one would say.
I often tell myself that if I ticked all the boxes to “be a lady”… first, it’d be a miracle if I didn’t go completely crazy; second, I certainly wouldn’t have any time and energy left to take more responsibilities at work, grow my career, take part into shaping the life of society. Indeed, trying my best to look 20 when I’ll be 50 is a full-time job, with high risk and probably low return. (Brackets: What aging means for women in society is actually another frightening chapter ahead…)
That being said, freeing oneself from the injunctions that weigh on women, does create space to imagine alternatives worlds. Some folks could actually be afraid of that. They should. It took me a lot of time and energy to get to a place in which I feel better. As far as I remember, the “Be a lady” guidelines were a prison I’d rather avoid… And I desperately tried to find role models. Female role models I could connect with seemed nowhere to be found. Artists in museums, celebrated writers, big bosses, heroes in movies, people with power… were always men. So, I referred to men as models.
I spent a few years thinking that because the world belonged to men, if I wanted to get a shot at being an active part of it, I should behave like one. I don’t think I was super geared for the task and I never even went close to joining the boy’s club. What I succeeded in doing is to alienate myself further, hurting big time my self-confidence. You see, I felt everything I liked, did, was actually good at, and that was usually associated with being female had less value than any attribute associated with men. I couldn’t play “tom boy” and resented myself for being raised and socialized as a girl.
And there’s all these “little” sentences I heard growing-up and even today, that made me feel scared, not at my place, frustrated, disgusted, dominated, unworthy, unhappy:
“You cannot go out because girls are physically vulnerable. You could get raped.”
“You think you’re smart. Men do not like smart women.”
“You’re too dominant, no one will ever want you.”
Interesting one. A college friend who had the honesty of saying: “I would feel uncomfortable if my girlfriend earned more than I did.”
“You’re too uptight. We can’t even joke with you. When I was working at the ministry, interns we slept with…AHAHA” – HA..
“Don’t talk about your period, it’s disgusting”
“It’s ok if you don’t want to invest in your Maths skills. I agree, it’s more a boy’s thing.”
“The day you’ll accept to use your feminine attributes for power, you’ll get everything you want” – Great advice!
“Don’t be such a mummy!”; “Don’t be such a baby!”
“The problem with feminism, is that it’s the children who suffer…”
“Your career is just a break before your life as a mom…” – “Your priorities will change, you’ll see” let’s pause here. And what if my priorities do not change? And what if I do not want kids?... See my point?
“I won’t lie to you, someone on maternity leave isn’t practical for anyone”
“You should never show your weaknesses, nor your emotions. Leaders need to be strong.”
“You’re overreacting, this has nothing to do with sexism.”
“You’re too soft…”
“You’re too emotional…”
I am emotional.
A few years ago, I was raising money for some friends’ in San Francisco. It seemed exciting, I was thrilled by the opportunity. After a third potential investor answered my pitch with an invitation to go for a date, I locked myself in the toilet and cried. The men I worked with were surprised. They thought it was flattering. They said: “Go have dinner with him and then get the check-book out”. My self-confidence went further down the drain. All I wanted was to be competent and recognized for it. I felt reduced to being… a piece of meat… oops, I mean a girl.
When a teacher cornered me into having dinner with him for a recommendation letter, it hurt further my self-esteem… what could possibly be worth what he’d write in that letter? I wasn’t physically abused, but I felt rage grow in me.
You might be thinking “no big deal”. Indeed, all of these things are micro-aggressions, you can certainly pass through, joke through, even run through life totally unaware of.
And you know what is one of the hardest hurdles to overcome for me. It’s all the dismissive answers I systematically get when I open-up, the “are you sure this really is a problem?”, “this happens to guys too” or the usual references to extreme oppressions some women experience that make mine look petty, irrelevant.
You might also think, if it was so bad, how did you get where you are now? Very good question! Because even if there is so much to do, there’s a lot of hope. I look behind and see how much gender equality has progressed over the last 100 years. There are many signals that we are going in the right direction:
Events like the one we’re in now raise awareness and push us to rally and take action. The presence of men in the room is heart lifting.
Countries and companies implementing equal parental leave for men and women go beyond my deepest hopes. Measures as such are a very big deal for what happens at home and in the workplace and for what will happen in the future. Think about this: What does it mean to let women’s careers only be impacted by parenthood? What does it mean to keep men outside of it?
Listening to women freeing their speech with #metoo and seeing feminicides being considered as a society phenomenon and no longer miscellaneous unfortunate news items are also important milestones to ensure that one day, women will not grow up feeling threatened or weak.
This hope fuels my motivation.
The journey was difficult but I got great support along the way from women and men. People that believed in me more than I did and provided me with guidance, energy. They are teachers, family, boyfriends, friends, peers, bosses… who helped me become a better me. That’s why being an ally for diversity is so wonderful: you can change the course of a person’s life.
I also got where I am because at Criteo, I’ve found a rather healthy environment for women. For example, I can say that guaranteeing the salary of an employee during maternity leave, does make a difference. I’ve also experienced that becoming a parent was not necessarily a hurdle to career growth. I got promoted into the Chief of Staff role right after getting back from maternity leave. I am not the only one here for whom it was the case. We need to display these stories more. Last but not least, we are tech company with a woman CEO! How cool is that! I’m certainly not saying that Criteo is a perfect environment. There’s still a lot to do, but I’d like to emphasize that in this company we can talk about these things without being dismissed.
I’ll ensure I’ll do my part to transform these words in actions.
For me today, making the world more equal, more diverse and inclusive gives me purpose. On a bad day I tell myself: “be the example you want to see”. What I want to see are girls that do not give up on their ambitions.
Yet, when I gave birth to a little boy I felt relieved. I felt relieved because the idea of raising a daughter so she could live up to her full potential, with equal chances, and grow into a fulfilled, happy young adult, felt like an almost impossible task. I was a bit short-sighted to think so. Raising a boy to ensure he’s an acting part of that picture isn’t really much easier.
I question myself every day and I encourage everyone here to do so. I’ve read and listened at length about the question of gender equality but haven’t totally wrapped my head around what and why things are still so wrong and where we should even start to solve them.
Some things are clear though, and I will put all my heart transmitting these three principles to my son: Respect. Curiosity. Allyship.
It’s important to be respectful, truly respectful, of women, and everybody really. I don’t want to tell him: please do not harm, abuse, discriminate, dismiss. Respect takes consideration, empathy, care.
I’ll encourage him to be open, to be curious and always look at diversity as an enrichment. It’s about seeking and listening to other perspectives, making room for them, absorbing them. I’ll learn with him about our own bias and fight them, challenge stereotypes, ensure we broaden our perceptions and opportunities.
I’ll invite him to be an ally to diversity, to advocate, to improve the situation. It takes so much energy to challenge the status quo, habits, dominant point of views. Like in nature, there are actions to take to make sure diversity can exist and blossom.
I hope you can make these three principles yours too.
Chief of Staff
Marthe Seguin, Chief of Staff to Criteo CEO Megan Clarken, is in charge of providing support to the leadership team and facilitating execution across the organization. She joined Criteo’s Commercial team 6 years ago as an Account Strategist after graduating with a MBA. She is passionate about long-term value creation for businesses and both building and steering high performing teams to address bold missions in fast-paced, ever-changing, multicultural environments. She is a true believer in diversity as she was brought up with two different cultures: her mother is Singaporean, her father French, and she grew up in many different places. She is an avid learner of diversity, and is always happy to recommend the latest podcast, documentary or article she has come across.