Authenticity — Embracing your uniqueness is instrumental to your success as a leader. No one can copy who you are. Indeed, when you step into your whole authentic self in your leadership style, your team, your clients, your peers will look up to you. It will foster a safe space and become inspirational for everyone to be their true selves. Brene Brown shares a lot about vulnerability and you can’t be vulnerable if you’re not yourself.
How does a successful, strong, and powerful woman navigate work, employee relationships, love, and life in a world that still feels uncomfortable with strong women? In this interview series, called “Power Women” we are talking to accomplished women leaders who share their stories and experiences navigating work, love and life as a powerful woman.
As a part of this series I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Laetitia Andrac.
She is a holistic business coach and founder of Essential Shift. She helps leaders & entrepreneurs in creating a soul aligned business, career & life. She is making ancient spiritual wisdom accessible for busy modern-day leaders. She has a solid grounding in mindfulness (started meditation at 5-year-old) and spirituality, along with an authentic ‘say it as it is’ approach and impressive business savvy and strategic background with 12+ years experience in business and leadership.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood “backstory”?
As a little girl, I was hyperactive & hypersensitive and couldn’t sleep. If we have to put a label on it: I have ADHD.
From this young age, I was seeing people in my room and couldn’t sleep. Those visitors would sit on my bed, on the chair that was in front of my desk. I would cry and call my parents for help. It was a real struggle for me. My parents decided to take me to a spiritual guide, a friend of theirs, who prepared my mum for giving birth naturally, with whom my dad was practicing qigong, etc. He was in a big house in the middle of the forest close to my parents’ small village in the south of France where I grew up. I would go and see him weekly and meditate, learn energetic cleansing techniques, Qigong, EFT, etc.
So I started practicing meditation and conscious protection of my energy at a very young age (at 5 to be exact).
By doing this practice daily, I had less and less visions of people in my room and I would sleep much better.
When I would eventually have visitors in my sleep, I would always ask if they were coming for my highest good. If yes, they would remain, if not they would leave.
Those practices have been so helpful for me as a child and continue to help me in my life, career and business as I build a community of people from all over the world.
Can you tell us the story about what led you to this particular career path?
One of my favorite projects as a strategy and innovation consultant was to mentor European Cities for the 2014 Bloomberg Philanthropies Mayors Challenge. There were 21 European cities developing innovative ways to positively impact the life of their citizens and running to win the funding from Bloomberg. One of my clients, Barcelona’s Senior City Developers took home the grand prize of AUD 7.3 million (5 million euro) to develop their project.
During that experience I realised that I love being able to help and to guide my clients to discover their own inner knowing through asking questions and ‘holding the space’ for them to travel within to do this. Indeed, “The greatest privilege of a human life is to become a midwife to the awakening of the Soul in another person.” (Plato). That’s why I now define my work as being a ‘soul and business doula’, a name that I carved.
Indeed, I’m making ancient spiritual wisdom accessible for busy modern-day women. I’ve solid grounding in mindfulness (started meditation at 5-year-old) and spirituality (lineage of healers), along with an authentic ‘say it as it is’ approach and impressive business savvy and strategic background. I incorporate my 12+ years in business and leadership to guide women to create soulful businesses and achieve the lifestyle of their dreams.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
I was lucky enough to meet Mike Bloomberg in person in Berlin as I was an innovation strategy coach for the Bloomberg Philanthropies Mayors Challenge in 2014.
He flew from New York for the “Ideas Camp”, that I co-facilitated with the other coaches (it was a two-day conference in Berlin, convening 250 participants and experts from 21 different European cities). What an inspiring human he is! The pitch he gave about how to positively impact other people has been driving me since.
Other than that, everyday for me is fascinating and interesting. I work with clients from all walks of life. I hold space for them and get to hear their stories. Everyday is truly inspiring, but of course, it is because I chose the aligned option to work for myself.
You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?
For me, it comes down to resilience, creativity and authenticity!
- Resilience — As a successful entrepreneur or business leader, it is all about honoring each step back as a learning. Keeping in mind your why and going after the vision is helping in difficult situations. I love to refer back to a medieval French (being born and raised in France) adage which is: ‘Rome ne s’est pas faites en un jour’ that you can translate ‘Rome wasn’t built in a day’. It means that to create great things it needs time and resilience will help you carrying on consistently to take inspired actions
- Creativity — When something is not working, as a leader you need to innovate and experiment other ways to make it work. Ways that haven’t been explored before, it is about taking the road less traveled. Not dwelling on the problem, but being focused on finding innovative solutions. An exercise that may help you be creative is to imagine yourself from the future and design the solution from there. It is about leading from the future that is yet to be created.
- Authenticity — Embracing your uniqueness is instrumental to your success as a leader. No one can copy who you are. Indeed, when you step into your whole authentic self in your leadership style, your team, your clients, your peers will look up to you. It will foster a safe space and become inspirational for everyone to be their true selves. Brene Brown shares a lot about vulnerability and you can’t be vulnerable if you’re not yourself.
Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. The premise of this series assumes that our society still feels uncomfortable with strong women. Why do you think this is so?
Our society changed about 3,000 years BC with a decline in the Matrilineal Clan system. It is just a fact and we just need now to reclaim our femine power. It is starting with more and more women leading business but it takes time. From a time as late as the 1930s women in France were not allowed to do any business with the bank. They weren’t even able to put in a small deposit without the need of their husband.
I’m not going to cover all of ‘herstory’ in that article but if we look back thousands of years ago, the Matrilineal Clan system was seen and followed almost everywhere.
Inheritance was then passed from the mother, not the father. It was most likely obvious that in prehistoric times, the relationship between the Mother and her child was highly recognized. All property was in the possession of a woman. Here are some examples:
- In Egypt a property was passed from a mother to her daughter
- On the British Isles, the matrilineal inheritance was continued through to the 9th century
- Later in the Roman Empire, a husband had no claim on the land or possessions of his wife if she spent 3 nights in a row away from home each year
- American Indians had matrilocal marriages and ownership of land
It is a systemic change that I’m committed to facilitate by empowering women to work again together in sisterhood and in harmony. Our society is still uncomfortable with the rising again of women in power because it is not something that we are used to. We lack role models. The current society from the way we work (on 24 hours cycle rather than moon cycle — honoring women hormonal changes) is one illustration. We need to create a social revolution. If you’d like to learn more about the history and the importance of being comfortable with women in power and what the age of equality could look like, I recommend a beautiful documentary from DR. AMANDA FOREMAN called the Ascent of Women.
Without saying any names, can you share a story from your own experience that illustrates this idea?
I’ve been leading large teams in corporate and now I’m leading my own business. When I have a point of view, I’m sharing it and voicing my truth. But it is not always received in a way that shows equilibrium between men and women leadership.
Indeed, when I’m showing my strength, it is not seen as positively as when a man is strong. A man would be perceived to be assertive when I would be perceived as aggressive.
When I’m showing my emotions, it is not perceived as being empathetic as it would for a man but more as being weak. We need to change this paradigm by having more and more strong and empathetic female leaders.
So one day, I was really assertive in a meeting with my boss regarding the need to recruit new team members as we were all on the verge of burning out or reducing the expectations put on our team. He dismissed my comment by saying I was too aggressive for us to have a conversation on this topic and to come back when I would be calmer. I’m pretty sure if it would have been a man having this conversation with him it would have been different.
What should a powerful woman do in a context where she feels that people are uneasy around her?
What I did in that moment (mentioned above), which was calling out the sexism of the situation by offering a shift in perspective: how would you react if I told you that? How would you react if it was coming from someone else?
I think we need more and more powerful women leaders to show what it means to be in our shoes and offer a shift in perspective for others to understand where we are coming from. I would totally recommend to stay in your truth and your power as you do so.
Simply asking those questions puts that person in your shoes, in your situation. It is very powerful.
What do we need to do as a society to change the unease around powerful women?
What a huge question. I would say we need to all be inspired by other powerful women. Taking other women in leadership, educating them, mentoring them and supporting one another. We need to start planning for the future.
This is what I do in my own membership and other group containers or 1:1 consulting with my women leaders clients. We need to create a sense of sisterhood so powerful women will become the norm. We need to create new paradigms as powerful women lead differently than powerful men. We need to rise together and support each other.
We need to build each other up as women. Not shut us down. It is the lead by example tactic.
In my own experience, I have observed that often women have to endure ridiculous or uncomfortable situations to achieve success that men don’t have to endure. Do you have a story like this from your own experience? Can you share it with us?
I came back from maternity leave after my first pregnancy earlier than planned (my daughter was less than four months old), as my manager was moving abroad and I was supposed to be promoted to take his role.
But a few weeks after I came back, they announced that another manager (male) would be promoted to take on this role, without any rationale behind it. I had to show daily my value for the next few months before this manager was made redundant and finally took the leadership role of the team.
In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women leaders that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?
Matrescence is the biggest challenge I experienced as a woman leader and lots of my clients who are women leaders are experiencing. First let me explain what is matrescence for the readers who may not have heard about it and then how it impacts women leaders.
The word and meaning “matrescence” was first described in the 1970s by Dana Raphael. But it was recently that matrescence was brought to life again by Dr Aurelie Athan from Columbia University. The stage of matrescence is a beautiful, groundbreaking and revolutionary way to understand what occurs when a woman becomes a mother. Dr Aurelie Athan first described matrescence as being like adolescence. It is a time in a woman’s life when everything changes — her whole identity shifts.
Matrescence impacts women leaders because when a woman leader becomes a mother, she splits in two: who she used to be, and the mother she is. And unless she honors that radical shift, she will get lost trying to figure out who she is now. It is a shift that their male counterparts don’t experience. It is the missing piece in the way we approach leadership.
Let’s now shift our discussion to a slightly different direction. This is a question that nearly everyone with a job has to contend with. Was it difficult to fit your personal and family life into your business and career? For the benefit of our readers, can you articulate precisely what the struggle was?
As a woman leader and mum of two little girls with my partner working full time and no family around to help us (we moved from France to Australia ~7 years ago), I can definitely say that the juggle was really challenging daily with sleep deprivation for the first years of my daughters. It requires energy to show up in the different roles I have: a mum, a wife, a leader, a friend, a sister, a daughter, a mentor, a coach, a cook, a cleaner, etc.
The specific struggle that I faced was having to juggle all the roles in the same 24 hours. My perimeter expanded but the hours in the day didn’t. I was feeling so exhausted and I didn’t have time to recharge and nourish my soul.
What was a tipping point that helped you achieve a greater balance or greater equilibrium between your work life and personal life? What did you do to reach this equilibrium?
The tipping point was when my second daughter turned 12 months and she was still sleeping really poorly (suffering from strong reflux) and I was asked to lead a large new team on a new strategic project after coming back to work from maternity leave only one month prior.
I decided to implement nourishing rituals multiple times a day.
I already had a bedtime ritual to wine down with a yoga nidra and gratitude journaling and I would go to yoga a few times a week but it was not enough anymore to feel replenished. So I decided to follow the ayurvedic principle and have between 3 to 5 times a day ritual practices.
At least, one ritual in the morning, one at lunchtime and one in the evening. Making space in my day helped me find again the equilibrium and showing up from a full cup rather than an empty one. I can tell you now that I always find 5 minutes to journal, meditate, walk mindfully, sing, dance or draw multiple times a day. It is essential for my well being, well work life and my personal life and I guide my clients, community, peers and friends in doing the same.
I work in the beauty tech industry, so I am very interested to hear your philosophy or perspective about beauty. In your role as a powerful woman and leader, how much of an emphasis do you place on your appearance? Do you see beauty as something that is superficial, or is it something that has inherent value for a leader in a public context? Can you explain what you mean?
In a perfect world, I would prefer for women leaders in a public context to be judged for their values, their moral compass, their ‘inner beauty’, the beauty of their ideas rather than their appearance. Unfortunately, we know that unconscious bias exists and women leaders tend to be judged a lot on their looks and external beauty.
It has been proven that we are judging people on their appearance because this is how we are made. It is something we instinctively do. When I worked in corporate I volunteered for an organisation called Dress for Success. Their mission is to “Dress for Success is to empower women to achieve economic independence by providing a network of support, professional attire and the development tools to help women thrive in work and in life”. It wasn’t just about giving women who were disadvantaged the clothes they needed to get a job, but also the skills and resources they needed as well.
To me beauty is on the inside. We shouldn’t judge someone by how they look, however, this is something that continues to happen and I see this more for women leaders than I do for males.
How is this similar or different for men?
After discussions with my husband and others, I believe unconscious biases exist in beauty, the same exists between genders. In men, beauty is definitely important but less than it is for women. If we look at the startup founders that are male, they are probably less judged on their beauty than their counterparts who are female.
We judge males more on their skills and results. For women it is not the same. There is also a gender unconscious bias that we know exists and are trying hard to work towards eliminating but there is still a lot that needs to be done.
No matter if you are male or female, or whether you are regarded as beautiful on the outside or not (which I really don’t like to say because we are all beautiful), this unconscious bias is still very present in the workplace, on social media and occurs in our daily lives.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.