Because more gender equality also means more women in representation and management bodies, Femmes Leaders by Bilan offers you a monthly meeting with a female member of a board of directors. What inspires new candidates? A text produced in partnership with the Cercle Suisse des Administratrices.
Swiss Circle of Directors
This week I meet Isabelle Cohen Solal, Specialist in Sustainable Finance, Member of the Board of the Center Neuchâtelois de Psychiatrie, Chair of its Finance Committee and Member of the Advisory Board of Bouygues Energies & Service. She is also a member of the Cercle Suisse des Administratrices Committee.
How did you become an administrator? Describe in a few lines the main stages of your journey that allowed you to become a director.
After studying business in England and earning a master’s degree in finance in France, I became the youngest female fund manager with a sustainable fund in the financial center of Paris, France. In 2000, I moved to Geneva and joined a Private Bank. Then, in 2006, I managed the fund selection team for a foreign bank in Switzerland. Afterwards, I joined the Swisscanto company to manage the Romande entity. After the acquisition by Zürcher Kantonalbank, I became Vice President, Head of Banking Relations at Romandie and Ticino, which allowed me to participate in several management committees on strategy and business transformation, in a context of decreasing margins. Since 2019, I have been carrying out specific missions for institutions and supporting start-ups in the various areas of sustainable finance, real estate and strategic business development. It is this transversal vision as well as my international career that allowed me to have access to the mandates of several Boards of Directors.
What interests you most about this role?
I have always assumed important responsibilities in my various positions. After analyzing the information, clear choices must be made to allow the executive to implement it. Solidarity with shareholders and the executive motivates me in a context of trust and collective intelligence. Communication is one of the keywords in this process. The impact of decision-making and the long-term view is exciting.
What are the main skills and added value that you bring to CA?
First, I bring my transversality. With my sense of analysis, acquired during my years of management, I understand situations. Finance, Sustainability, Compliance and Governance are my core skills and are embedded in the way I work, think and come up with new ideas. My curiosity drives me to be interested in everything, including technology. I admit to having a “geek” side that also leads me to cybersecurity issues. So I bring a different angle as I look for other approaches to problem solving.
What are the difficulties of this role, the challenges that you already met?
As in all social organizations, it is the difficulties of active listening, empathy and communication that complicate the process. The heterogeneity of motivation, knowledge and recognition are also pitfalls to be faced. Providing General Management with perspective and global vision is the value of the Administrator role. The right balance of this distance in relation to the operational is essential: having a long-term vision but knowing the DG’s concerns. It is also necessary to show the DG your benevolent support and availability.
What is your best practice in terms of get a CA mandate?
The authenticity of the approach is paramount. I am a volunteer, motivated and I want to be seen from the first contact: I offer skills that must correspond to the needs of the Board of Directors. It is essential to be able to dedicate the necessary time to this role for the study of files and discussions between the members of the Board of Directors. Regularly informing my network about my activities is a key asset in obtaining a mandate. To obtain my last two terms, I was contacted by recommendation. These people know me and they know what I bring to a board because they’ve seen me in action. So the classic assessment interview process went well.
What are the main current concerns of corporate strategic bodies?
Current events dictate the agenda: this year in particular, it is about managing the post-Covid period as if it never existed, resuming projects that were suspended during confinement, continuing to digitize the various activities, promoting people and above all. all all sustainability at all levels. For example, a recent visit to the facilities of an entity of which I am a member of the Board showed how direct contact, without a technological intermediary, has valued spontaneous exchanges, in recognition of the importance of each employee. This reminds Counselors that in Emergency Management there are many steps: from preparation, to the event and beyond.
What does it take for Swiss company boards to include more women?
Women are competent, ready and convinced, even if they are hesitant out of habit. Everyone’s will is lacking. The current chairman of the board must have the courage to nominate them. I say courage because the collective unconscious continues to think that it is taking an additional risk to name a woman: that of not corresponding to the spirit of the existing CA. Bringing diversity is a committed act that brings a lot of wealth and intelligence. Auditors and Strategic Advisors around the world have proven this through studies of all kinds. We must question the “we’ve always done it this way”. Nothing is more essential than knowing the reason for certain decisions and commitments.
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