In this first instalment of our new LEAN IN Equity & Sustainability role model series, we speak with Nadia Lalout-Landemaine, Deputy Co-Chair of LEAN IN Equity & Sustainability.
Where did you grow up, and what did you want to do when you were a little girl?
I grew up in Africa and France and studied in the UK and the US.
At around 10 years old, I wanted to become a lawyer to defend women and children’s rights, as I witnessed very early on that they were the two groups of individuals that suffered the most from all kinds of injustice.
Then I wanted to become a pilot, and a traveller, because “The Little Prince” by Antoine de Saint Exupéry was my first book; the one that followed me for many years.
Can you describe your professional background in a few words?
I have worked for many years in large international construction and energy projects, mainly in male-dominated environments, where I had the opportunity to work on so many interesting activities, including onboarding women of different backgrounds; at a time diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) were not a priority for companies.
In the ’90s, both sectors did not have many visible women role models.
I remember that good intentions or my dreams for a better and equal world were not enough.
I worked very hard to convince my managers to include more women in the teams but also more diversity. I learned patience, perseverance, and resilience, especially across geographies, cultures and sometimes difficult economic contexts.
DEI is a heavy lift, which needs to be shared by a whole organisation if you need to get tangible results.
What is your most challenging experience as a woman in your sector?
In both sectors, not being an engineer was certainly a disadvantage. Some of my male colleagues (on the Channel Tunnel construction project and in offshore operations) probably questioned my legitimacy. Still, somehow I did not get frustrated as I was not in competition with any of them. Instead, I worked hard to understand the technical contexts and got trained in specific disciplines.
I always volunteered to do something different and focused on what I could bring to the team or the project, mostly my competence in organisation, logistics, contracts, planning and budgets.
But as a woman, on remote sites and offshore, I had to prove I could do the job 24 hours a day. It was a tough experience!
In operations, I was hands-on, adaptable, agile, fluent and gifted in foreign languages, which helped me navigate the different challenges of working in these difficult environments in Africa and Asia.
What are your best memories while working in Africa and Asia?
As a woman, my male colleagues often invited me to their family weddings and other ceremonies, which were not only festive but also a great human experience.
Most of the time, I was the only European, and I strongly believe it created bonds with them.
I felt “adopted”.
What do you do now?
I am still working on Capacity Building for African projects and mentoring programmes in Europe.
Over a year ago, I immersed myself in an environment of very talented women with LEAN IN E&S. This was when I realised what I have missed for the past 25 years, the power of a women’s circle with different backgrounds, skills and influence … together we go further.
I am working on different initiatives where “representation matters”. Through these interactions, I have met women from all over the world with incredible energy and resilience – and with a purpose to make this planet a better world.
What would it be if you had one piece of advice for young girls today?
Read a lot, be curious and open, enjoy your studies and hobbies, and later get a mentor to help you understand your best skills and your zone of genius.
I understand it is really difficult to know who you are as a child.
It is a long haul.
The second piece of advice would be: don’t forget to be yourself.
And lastly, what would you wish for our planet today if you had a magic wand?
I want a planet where men and women would make decisions equally and on all subjects – and work together hand in hand on climate, education, energy, water, health, environment, finance, construction … A work in progress!
LEAN IN Equity & Sustainability is an independent gender diversity and inclusion initiative under the LeanIn.Org umbrella. The organisation is a member-centric, diverse, international circle of women and allies supporting and empowering women to achieve their ambitions.