Inspiring the Next Generation of Female Leaders – Julie Brignac

Inspiring the Next Generation of Female Leaders - Julie Brignac
Diversity and Inclusion
Female Leaders

Join us in celebrating International Women’s Day by delving into the insightful reflections of inspiring women leaders, starting with Julie Brignac, Executive Vice President and Business Unit Leader at WNS Denali. This year’s theme, “Invest in women: Accelerate progress” #InspireInclusion resonates deeply with Julie’s perspective as she shares her journey and thoughts on diversity, mentorship, and the dynamics of the corporate landscape.

As a leader herself, Julie understands the importance of elevating others while ascending. This March let’s unite to amplify the voices and achievements of outstanding women in various professional circles. Julie’s reflections serve as a revealing starting point, offering valuable insights and paving the way for a series that highlights the remarkable women who inspire excellence within their organizations and the next generation of female leaders.

Special thanks go to David Howells, Group Chief Executive Officer and Group Managing Director of Pacific International Execuitve Search, for introducing Julie Brignac to Margaret Jaouadi.

Margaret Jaouadi
Hello Julie and thank you for participating in this interview series. Could you please introduce yourself and tell us about your role within the organization?

Julie Brignac
Hello, I’m Julie Brignac, the Executive Vice President and Business Unit Leader for WNS Global’s procurement services, also known as WNS Denali. Our services cover a wide spectrum within the procurement workstream, from category strategic enablement to digital tools, managed services, and traditional procurement outsourcing like sourcing execution, and contracting.

I’ve been with WNS for 5 and a half years, previously managing client-facing operations before assuming the role of Business Unit Leader 15 months ago, where I now lead the entire business unit.

Margaret Jaouadi
Reflecting on your career, have mentors or role models played a pivotal role in shaping your professional development? What advice would you give to others seeking mentorship?

Julie Brignac
Absolutely. Mentorship is crucial, and I believe nobody should navigate their career without it. I’ve learned a lot from observing certain attributes in people I admire. Diplomacy is one of those attributes – it’s an art, not a science. Being able to communicate diplomatically, especially as you climb the leadership ladder, makes a significant difference. It allows you to control your emotions in passionate situations, which is inevitable when you deeply care about your job.

Passion is crucial, but so is maintaining a diplomatic approach. It doesn’t mean holding back your thoughts; in fact, it empowers you to express yourself effectively. I’ve had the privilege of working with some remarkable leaders during my tenure at DuPont. My first manager, a pioneering woman in the late ’80s, taught me grit, resilience, and the importance of fighting for what you want.

My second mentor, a male leader, was a master at diplomacy. His ability to deliver constructive feedback without demoralizing someone was impressive. These two individuals were instrumental in the first ten years of my career. When it comes to choosing a mentor, it’s an honor to be asked, and I always encourage seeking mentorship. There isn’t any higher compliment that a professional colleague can ask of you.

Observation is key in selecting a mentor. Whether they are juniors, peers, or leaders, observe how they carry themselves. What empowers you as a professional? That’s the essence of mentorship. The power of observation might take time, but it’s worth it. In our fast-paced corporate world, taking a step back to observe is often overlooked.
I’d emphasize choosing a mentor based on what you observe and what you aspire to learn. Mentorship is about gaining insights from someone with more experience, irrespective of gender. It’s a thoughtful process, driven by the power of observation and a genuine desire to learn.

Margaret Jaouadi
Can you share commendations for the women in your organization or professional network who, despite not holding a senior-level position, deserve recognition for their exceptional contributions and skills? What specific qualities or achievements make them stand out collectively?

Julie Brignac
Oh, there are so many incredible women in our organization, especially in the procurement business. It’s truly a powerhouse of talent. You know, we work for a business process outsourcing company based in India, and diversity is a core focus for us. In terms of the number of women, well, it might not be as high as I’d like it to be, but that’s not a critique of the company. It’s more about the nature of the procurement function.

Diversity and inclusion are crucial, and when I look at the amazing women in our business, they are truly exceptional. The thing is, procurement might not be as known or popular a function for women, and that’s something I’ve observed. It’s not about the company culture or where it’s headquartered; it’s more about the function itself.
I could name a few individuals who stand out, but honestly, every single woman in the WNS Denali procurement business contributes immensely. They bring unique skills, influence, and a powerful voice to our culture. It’s not always easy, especially in a professional setting, and there are times when it feels like women need to be a bit more outspoken. I’ve felt that myself.

So, instead of just mentioning a few names, I’d say every woman here is a role model in her own right. They all deserve recognition for the confidence and incredible contributions they bring to our business. It’s truly inspiring to see.

Margaret Jaouadi
Drawing from your experience, what strategies or initiatives do you believe have proven most effective in fostering an environment where women can thrive, advance, and succeed in their careers?

Julie Brignac
That’s a thought-provoking question, and my perspective might be a bit controversial, but I believe in choosing the right person for the right job, regardless of gender. Instead of focusing on hiring more women for the sake of diversity, it’s essential to consider the skills and expertise needed for the specific role.

Nowadays, women are present in every function, with diverse skill sets. A company’s strategy should prioritize finding the most capable individuals, and diversity will naturally follow. I’ve encountered situations where the emphasis on hiring more women, although well-intentioned, may lead to overlooking the importance of selecting the best person for the job.

When companies prioritize diversity without considering qualifications, it can create challenges. If the dynamics within a team lack diversity, bringing in someone solely for the sake of diversification might not benefit anyone. On the other hand, hiring based on merit ensures the right person is in the right role, fostering a team environment where everyone’s skills contribute to success. That, in my opinion, should be the guiding strategy.

Margaret Jaouadi
In your perspective, what are the three key actions that women can focus on to position themselves for senior-level leadership roles within their organizations?

Julie Brignac
Absolutely. Climbing the corporate ladder is something many aspire to, and I’d break it down into a few key points. First and foremost, let it be known that you have aspirations to climb the ladder. It’s not about being overly aggressive, but establishing your goals early on.

Next, and this is crucial, always exceed your goals and objectives. Whether you’re in a role focused on numbers, revenue, profitability, or a combination of both, never miss your numbers. It’s not just about outcomes; it’s also about effective communication, people development, and covering all aspects of your role.

Then comes defining your career path, which ties back to the mentoring conversation and the power of observation. Map out what’s available in the organization, make your aspirations known, and demonstrate that you’re capable of handling the responsibilities.

As for the timing of making your ambitions known, it’s essential to do it once you’ve developed rapport within your working environment. Going into a new workplace, you don’t want to be a bull in a china shop, as the saying goes. Cultural nuances play a role here – some environments appreciate assertiveness, while others may find it off-putting.

Observation is key. Figure out the culture you’re joining and tailor your approach accordingly. Making your goals known early on is beneficial, but it should be done with a sense of timing and understanding of the workplace dynamics. Develop relationships, build rapport, and mirror the culture to establish credibility. It’s about articulating your ambitions in a way that aligns with the environment you’re in.

Margaret Jaouadi
And now the final question. How can organizations effectively address intersectionality in their efforts to promote gender equality for women from diverse backgrounds?

Julie Brignac
That’s an important question, and it touches upon something not often prioritized in organizations. While HR functions might address it to some extent, the real change needs to start at the top. In 2024, we find ourselves in a different landscape compared to when I started my career in 1989, with increased awareness around various aspects, particularly the challenges faced by working mothers.

Throughout my career, I’ve seen the struggles, especially in the earlier years, of parents dropping their children off at daycare early in the morning and picking them up late in the evening due to the demands of office hours. The dynamics began shifting even before the COVID era, but the pandemic brought about significant changes. I’ve been working remotely since 2005, well before it became a common practice.

Being a mother myself, and having a flexible schedule allowed me to balance work and motherhood effectively. However, not everyone had that privilege. The mentality around this has evolved, but there’s still work to be done.

Leaders, from the top down, should recognize the challenges faced by working mothers and individuals at the intersection of various factors. It’s crucial to maintain awareness and avoid regressing. I recall a poignant experience when I returned from maternity leave, and a male colleague made a less-than-desirable comment about my absence. Seeking advice from a woman leader, she passionately emphasized that as women, we’re allowed to have families and careers simultaneously.

This experience stuck with me, stressing the importance of keeping the awareness alive. It’s not just about working mothers; it’s about recognizing and addressing the overlapping challenges faced by individuals, and broadening the definition of diversity demands attention and action.

As I reflect on your question, it raises an essential point: How are companies addressing this? How are we addressing it in the procurement function, and how are women in procurement thinking about it? There’s considerable work to be done to ensure that these considerations are not just recognized but embraced by global corporate leaders. It’s a complex and thought-provoking issue that warrants more attention and action.

Sharing our experiences is crucial, and I’ve been fortunate to encounter minimal resistance as a woman in my career. While there were a couple of snide comments early on, I never felt like being a woman hindered my opportunities. However, I understand that others have faced different challenges, and it’s important to discuss ways to overcome such obstacles, emphasizing the importance of confidence, determination, and fighting for what is right in our careers. Sharing examples and experiences is how we learn and develop essential skills like the power of observation and diplomacy.

And finding allies is crucial. Whether it’s for seeking support, discussing doubts, or reaffirming your goals, having someone you can rely on provides confidence. Allies can come in various forms, as mentors or simply someone you can openly speak to about your choices. Building a supportive network is undoubtedly the way forward.

Margaret Jaouadi
Without a doubt! It has been a pleasure talking with you and thank you for your insights, Julie.

For a confidential chat about how Pacific International can assist you with your Talent Acquisitions and Diversity challenges, please contact David Howells or one of our Executive Search Consultants specialising in your sector.