Hello Estelle! This year you celebrated 21 years with Bouygues. It is the anniversary of a rich and varied career in a range of positions, from price studies to works, from works to sales and then quality/environment. Can you tell us a bit more about your career?
When I was a child and people asked me what I wanted to do when I grew up, I would always say something heroic like a firefighter. What I wanted most was a job that impressed me, and that’s always been the case with civil works!
While I was studying geotechnical civil engineering, I already wanted to join Bouygues. It didn't happen for my first internship because in 1997 the company was not yet hiring women to work on-site as skilled workers. But I didn’t give up on my goal of joining the group and I tried again the following year. Armed with my determination, I went to meet a Bouygues Human Resources manager at a student forum, with the firm intention of asserting my skills. It worked and I joined the technical department of Norpac – now Bouygues Bâtiment Nord Est – whose expertise at the time extended to civil works and construction. After this internship, I did my final year project there, and then I was hired in the price studies department.
Even though I was interested in this field, what I really wanted to do was to work on civil engineering structures! I pushed my project with the company and four years later, I finally joined a major worksite as a site supervisor. In early 2005, it was still pretty rare to see a woman doing this job.
When I moved to a large project in France, I thrived and learned a lot but I still wanted to be the only person in charge on site. Therefore, to have greater autonomy, I started on another, much smaller site so that I could be the sole site supervisor. I achieved all the goals I had set myself. They were actually more ambitious than those set by my bosses!
Once I had achieved these goals, I wanted to have a better work-life balance and turned to another side of the business that interested me: sales. As I was changing jobs, Bouygues Travaux Publics Régions France was being structured. Since I wanted to move my career forward in a new environment, with new people, I left for the industrial side of the business. But it didn't take long for me to realise that I missed the civil works sector and I ended up joining Bouygues Travaux Publics Régions France, with the mission of developing the river and maritime works business in France – a strategic activity for the company.
Your career is all about courage, determination and curiosity. What difficulties have you encountered along the way? How did you deal with them?
I was surprised to discover that there were obstacles specific to women in the corporate world. When I was at school, where I did better than some boys, I never thought that reservations related to my gender* would come up later on. After all, I didn't have a problem with other people's gender. As I progressed in my studies and my career, every time I was told that a particular path was not for women, I said to myself “that's where you should go then”. Discouraging me to take these paths simply made them more intriguing, more exciting... and my motivation increased tenfold. I've always liked to challenge myself and I'm proud of the results.
I think these difficulties come mainly from the context in which women have to work in. When I first arrived at the company, whose codes I had to learn, the rules of the game had already been set by men using their own cards. Women stood out. In the early days of my career, I initially wanted to fit in by erasing my difference, my gender. For instance, I didn’t wear “feminine” clothes or make-up at work, keeping such things for the weekends only, so that I could blend in with this male environment during the week! I also learned to speak out more, to promote my successes and to make my ambitions heard.
But differences remain and are, in fact, a good thing: everyone has their own strengths. For women to be able to play their own cards, it has been essential that companies open their doors to them. This starts with recruitment! This change within the company personally helped me to break free and to assert myself at a time when I was starting to be tired of constantly having to prove that I belonged. I was also able to take a broader perspective, which was the key to helping me become more confident and stop feeling the need to justify my presence, even to myself. I recognised that I had been hired simply because I deserved the job. I don't agree with those who say it's good to be a woman today. My gender was not a privilege 20 years ago when I started out. We are just beginning to reach a balance that didn't exist before.
The way I see it, all these obstacles have actually inspired me to succeed. My career has also been punctuated by wonderful encounters, with people who supported my various functional mobilities, who have relied on me and trusted me.
What is gender?
Gender refers to the set of behaviours, roles, activities and attributes considered to be appropriate for an individual based on their sex. This identity (e.g. female or male gender) is a social construct, as opposed to sex, which is a biological characteristic.
In your opinion, what is the next step to rise to the challenge of gender diversity at Bouygues Travaux Publics?
Although there is still a way to go, I would like to point out that a lot of progress has been made since my first day at the group. But there still aren’t enough women in operational jobs, in works, even though they bring real added value. Beyond that, it’s important for our customers – who are more advanced in the feminisation of their companies and are a better reflection of today’s society – to see women on site.
The company has already begun the process of ensuring there are more women in our ranks. To continue along this path, I think the first step is not to lose those we already have! Some of our talented women, although identified and supported, resign because they cannot see a future for themselves in the company in terms of career development. That’s why it’s necessary to open up more opportunities for the women we have already attracted and trained.
Of course, gender diversity is only possible if companies attract enough female applicants. That is precisely why education is so important. Helping to change mindsets is very important to me. In addition to being a mentor in the Bouygues Travaux Publics programme and a member of welink, the Bouygues Construction initiative that promotes women in the construction industry, as well as a member of the “Elles bougent” network, I also visit one of my daughters’ school to discuss with female students and show them that a career as a woman engineer in the construction industry is both possible and fulfilling! I want to get the message across that everyone, girl or boy, can do the job of their choice.
What's your career advice?
You have the answers, so trust yourself to express yourself, convince yourself that you will succeed... and succeed!