As part of our ‘Female Leaders: Inspiring Together’ series, we interviewed Fabienne Pierrot – European Finance Director for Thermo Fisher Scientific – about what she is most proud of in her career, and why she feels many women won’t apply for jobs they are 90% qualified for.


Thank you for taking part in this series, please could you tell us a bit about your role and the company you work for?

I’m the European Finance Director for a division of the company called Thermo Fisher Scientific. The company sells instruments, consumables, parts and reagents to big pharma and big companies. We have around 75,000 people working for us globally and we have a turnover of about $25 billion, so we are really a leader in selling these instruments and consumables. I am responsible for all of the European finance teams from the reporting up to the statutory books, as well as the tax reporting, the external reporting, internal and external audits, accounts payable and accounts receivable. I manage a team of 110 people spread over 12 countries across Europe.


What inspired you to start your career in this direction?

So, I began as an external auditor and I decided that I wanted to be part of a company and have the influence to change things. As an external auditor, you are assessing what is happening in a company, but you have no way to influence it. I really wanted to be part of a company where I could have a real influence and where I could really change things and make things progress through developing people and putting processes in place.


While progressing in your career, what kind of barriers have you encountered as a female leader and how did over overcome them?

“I never felt that somebody was promoted above me just because I was a woman and he was a man. But the barrier I did feel was more my own barrier in terms of thinking about how I could be a good mother and a good leader.”

Personally, I have never felt that being a woman was a barrier. Firstly, I have never thought of myself as a woman, I have just thought of myself as a manager and somebody that could help and develop different teams. I do have to recognise that when I was in leadership teams or on boards of directors, I was the only woman most of the time. But on the other hand, there were some advantages in that people remembered you. In my experience, I have never felt that I was disadvantaged or that I couldn’t get a job because I was a woman and I have always been promoted according to my skills and my knowledge. I never felt that somebody was promoted above me just because I was a woman and he was a man. But the barrier I did feel was more my own barrier in terms of thinking about how I could be a good mother and a good leader. Often, I felt guilty about leaving my children quite early in the morning and then being back quite late in the evening. But this was part of my job, unfortunately, and I could always find some solution so that I could overcome those obstacles and barriers.


Being a mother and having a career can be really difficult. How did you manage your work-life balance?

I had a lot of people around me to support me. You need your family or you need people that can help you. If you are travelling with work and your flight is cancelled, you need to be able to count on somebody. So I have always had my family, my friends and some nurses that could help me. I always try to anticipate things before they happen so I can rely on other people in case I need it, which to me is really critical. You find some women say, ‘well, I did it all by myself’, and good for them, but that was not what happened in my case. If your partner isn’t always available, or if you are a single parent, you need to have somebody else who is really there to support you. My husband is also very busy in his career, so we are reliant on having our family and friends around us.


Did you ever suffer from any self-doubt and how did you cope with that?

Of course. In the past, I have doubted if I was going in the right direction or worried about what would happen if I made a mistake. First of all, I think you should never anticipate things that may never happen. What works for me – and it may not work for everyone – is to remember that I am not playing with life. I’m not a surgeon. If I make a mistake, nobody will die. Secondly, I think having children is also a way for me to disconnect from work. If things didn’t go right at work, I would come back home and find a source of my energy again in my children. This was a way for me to be balanced between my work and my family life. Equally, if I had any issues with my children, my work was a way to escape and manage that. If you have only one thing in your life, which is your work, you cannot take any distance because that’s the only thing you are living for in your life. You need to have something else whether that is children, your friends or a networking group, you need to have something besides your work. It’s essential.


What’s the one thing you’re most proud of in your career?

“For me, when you have some of your employees coming to you and telling you that you brought them so much, I think that’s the best thing that you can be proud of.”

I could say the accomplishment of building a team or putting in place something but really it is successfully developing people. Recently, a previous colleague came to me and she told me, ‘you are the best thing that has arrived in my working life because you have developed me and helped me to progress. You also gave me all your strength and you put away all the doubt that I had on myself.’ For me, when you have some of your employees coming to you and telling you that you brought them so much, I think that’s the best thing that you can be proud of.


What woman would you say has inspired you in your career?

I would have to say Marie Curie because she was French and had some Polish origin, a bit like me, and she also had a strong temper. I have a strong temper and I think when you are in a senior-level position, you need to have a strong temper to stand up to other’s behaviour. She was convinced that she could bring something to the First World War and she used that temper and perseverance to bring radiology to the battlefield. Before her, when somebody was hurt, nobody was thinking about if they could save their leg or their arm, they just did what they could to save the person. By bringing everything on to the battlefield, they were able to see the extent of injuries more precisely and save people’s limbs. She was also the first one to put in place hospitals in the fields. Before that, they only had hospitals in the towns and many people died during the transportation back to the towns. So, she brought all this technology and she was very clever, but she also had a strong temper and she saved a lot of lives. I really admire her for that.


What are the main challenges you still see for women in our industry?

The challenge is more around thinking you are the right candidate for a position because for a woman, if you don’t have 90% of the skills and qualities that the job description is requiring, you won’t apply. You won’t even think about applying, and statistics show that in the same position men with only 30% or 40% of the qualifications would say, ‘yes, I can do it’. So, first of all, don’t think that you don’t have the right skills to try. In the worst case, ok, it’s a failure and then you can move on to something else, but at least you have learnt something. In the best case, you succeed.

“Don’t underestimate yourself and don’t think that you need to have 90% of the skills to be able to apply for a job.”

So, don’t underestimate yourself and don’t think that you need to have 90% of the skills to be able to apply for a job. You will get the skills anyway, and maybe you already have them, but you are not aware that you have them. So, just try it and then you will see afterwards. If somebody in the organisation thinks that you do not have the right skills, they won’t take you, so you will be alerted before you take the job.


If you could give a piece of advice to women looking to progress in our industry, what would that be?

First of all, I would say don’t put up any barrier before it exists. Many women think that because they have a family life, they won’t be able to face the challenge of having a career. So, first of all, don’t overestimate the barrier. Secondly, speak to your manager, whether they are a man or woman, they can find a solution if they really want to keep you. If you are devoted to your job and you are the right person for the job, your manager will find a solution.


For us, as recruiters, and yourself, as a leader within the industry, what do you think we can do to encourage more women into senior-level roles?

It’s about more than just encouraging women, it is about encouraging recruiters to engage with and propose more diverse candidates. When you open a position, it is always the same kind of profiles proposed to you. So, what I’m doing is asking for more diverse applicants. I do not want to receive 90% male and 10% female applicants and I’m asking for nearly half men and women. I won’t hire a woman just to hire a woman – I’m not for quotas – but I can’t believe that we have 50% of the population who are woman and yet in leadership teams, women make up 10% when there are so many women with the skills to be in that position. The way recruitment is done is not working right now if there is not enough room for diversity. Many studies show that when you have more women in your leadership team or on your board of directors, companies grow faster and are much more profitable. The change is coming, but it’s still not there, so we all need to work towards that. I try to create a balance between men and women and I also work hard to create an ethnically diverse team.


Our ‘Female Leaders: Inspiring Together’ series is running throughout March with the aim of inspiring and supporting women to become future leaders in their respective industries. Follow us on LinkedIn to join the conversation and hear the insightful stories of our featured female leaders.