A few weeks ago, a CEO of a Fortune 500 company wanted to meet me. I was very excited! His assistant called me and when I answered, she told me she wanted to schedule a meeting for our respective bosses. She thought I was the assistant! She was expecting an older man…We have all experienced such strange moments. Sometimes, it hurts my heart. This is the situation today. I am 24 years old and I receive a lot of attention for being a CEO, especially since I am in the field of real estate and tech. And it is true that it is not so common.
There are not many young CEOs, nor many women CEOs. But why is that?
I often get this question, why there are so few women and so few young people in leadership roles, and the answer is not simple. Women still have real obstacles in business. Since we don’t have the same track record as men, people often have doubts about our capabilities to perform, and we have to make an extra effort to convince. As a result, it is harder for me as a young woman to achieve my dreams. The world is tough, but in every challenge, there is an opportunity. And with enough positive energy, you can overcome anything.
So what exactly is my leadership style like?
1) I am not afraid to stand out. I definitely stand out when I first meet clients. Standing out makes you memorable.
2) I am always myself. For example, I love hats and I wear a hat everywhere. People were shocked in the beginning, but I now receive requests from journalists for me to wear a hat during interviews because it is my signature. When I don’t wear it, people ask me: « Marie where is your hat? »
3) I am honest and I act with integrity. I lead by example and I also encourage my team to do the same. For instance, I am emotional and I don’t try to hide that. I sometimes cry, even in front of people, I also laugh, smile. Afterward, I feel energized. And I really try to spread this energy within my team.
4) I make sure to be a team leader but to also a team member. Every week, 2 people of the team take care of our office, like taking the garbage out or cleaning the kitchen. They are our angels of the week. Everyone needs to do it! No exceptions! And it’s great because the house is always clean and welcoming.
How did I come to lead the way I do?
I did not have a lot of work experience when I founded my company. I only did an internship at UBS, the large Swiss bank. I did not know the work rules that people are supposed to know. But this was to my benefit, everything about my company is done with purpose and intuition, and not because “that’s the way it always has been done”.
For example, directly above you can see our Paris office. Yes, it’s a house! In it, we are like a family. When anyone arrives at the Workwell house, they must take off their shoes and put on slippers. It is our little ritual. When clients come visit, sometimes they are shocked that they also have to follow this rule but that is our culture, and everyone must accept it. It never occurred to me to make exceptions for CEOs! Their shoes are just as dirty as anyone else’s! It’s not intrusive at all, and it’s a way to have everyone at the same level.
So how to lead as a woman, for women?
1) Take down the obstacles present for women (and anyone else) to feel safe. Create an environment where there is respect and comfortable conditions for women to be in.
2) Everyone is capable, no matter where they come from. And we are all responsible for this mindset. My job is to encourage this and help my employees achieve their goals and ambitions.
3) Leadership is about bringing the best out of everyone. As a leader, it is important for me that everyone in my company feels driven, happy, and respected, positive energy in a company can combat anything.
Our company has now been running for almost 3 years. In the beginning, it was just Paul and me, in the Jardin des Tuileries. Today we are 25 in New York and Paris. Our company’s mission is to make people feel happier and more connected at work, and it starts with us, at the Workwell house.
As I always say, “Go alone, go fast, go together, go far.“