Away with old prejudices, because the majority of Ardennes-Etape’s managers are female. There is no distinction between men and women, expertise is the key value in this Ardennes company. We put three top ladies of this medium-sized enterprise in the spotlight.
Patricia Acunzo, Pati for the colleagues, founded Ardennes-Etape in 2001 together with André Offermans. Having been responsible for the department of Owners’ Relations, Patricia is now operational director of Ardennes-Etape, something of which this mother of three is more than proud.
“Even with fathers being more and more available, mothers are often working two full-time jobs in one day. Luckily, there is no distinction between men and women at Ardennes-Etape”, says Patricia. The exceptional company atmosphere, with two thirds of the workforce being female, is remarkable. Friendly atmosphere, team spirit, multidisciplinary environment, sociocultural mix…
“We were two to start the company, one male, the other female, so gender equality is in our genes”, says Patricia with a smile.
Just next to Patricia we find Virginie Willems at her desk. Virginie is financial director at Ardennes-Etape. The 35-year-old commercial engineer was active as commercial controller and financial analyst before taking up a job at Ardennes-Etape in January 2014.
“I don’t feel particularly female. I’m someone doing her job, without any complexes. There is no difference between male and female managers.” Virginie clarifies the situation through the company culture.
“Women comprised the majority of colleagues in my former workplace. There was, however, this culture of jealousy because different advantages were granted based on marital status and the fact of having kids or not. Mothers were given priority in choosing their vacation days, followed by the married co-workers, and the rest had to take what was left” This situation increased a sense of discrimination and fed the old stereotype of arguing women. “This is not at all the case at Ardennes-Etape. Everybody, regardless of gender, age, marital status, family situation, enjoys the same rights.”
Anne Counet, 33, is manager of Business-Etape, an Ardennes-Etape subsidiary. Equality is the result of significant participation of all employees in the decision-making process. She recalls: “I remember Mr. Offermans, our CEO, saying something I will never forget. He told me he wanted to surround himself with colleagues who, together with him, shape policy. Everyone, with a different role or vision, is part of the decision-making process. This is true participatory management.”
Ardennes-Etape has an exceptional and modern staff policy. Everyone, managers and employees, is considered expert in his or her specific domain. All co-workers are authorised to take decisions within their field of expertise. There is no need to pass through management for every decision. It’s a matter of employee empowerment, with the manager being available for advice or help: a vision creating openness and countering discrimination.
“Before I started at Ardennes-Etape, I was rather restricted in my decisions. Today I enjoy a lot more liberty. I organise my work as I deem optimal. The feeling of appreciation is great”, confirms Virginie.
Anne adds: “I used to work at a beverage wholesaler, a very masculine environment in which I was practically the only female. I felt little appreciated and the employer was not the type of person to give credit where credit is due. It’s completely different with Ardennes-Etape. Everybody feels appreciated for his or her knowledge and expertise.
“There are no problems, only opportunities to make progress”, states Patricia. “Our society likes to believe mothers cannot become experts in their domain. On the contrary! A humane attitude, organisation skills, a willingness to listen, pragmatic thinking,… I learned these skills thanks to my children and their education. Managing Ardennes-Etape is a project just as my children’s education is a project.
Anne adds an ironic remark. “I’m available for my clients 24 hours a day, also during the holidays. One time I had to hop into the car in the early morning to bring some sugar to a group on company seminar”, she laughs. “I organise, it’s as simple as that.”
The ladies enjoy a few days’ vacation during the holiday season, but they assure availability for all staff members in order to guarantee the correct course of the company’s activities.
Patricia indicates wanting to free her mind a bit more when she is not working. “In 2015 I will try to take more advantage of my free time and look for a better balance between private and professional life.”
“My New Year’s resolution for the next year? Continue just the way I’m doing right now”, concludes Virginie.
On this positive note the three managers wish all readers excellent holidays and the very best for 2015.