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You have to balance what you are able to do and what you can bear.
Géraldine Tondreau is Belgian and French and has been working in the group since 2007. She has held various positions in Belgium, London and Paris, within various entities.
She tells us about her journey, how at her level she works for a better world and slips us a secret: "if you don’t ask, the answer will always be no".
What do you do at ENGIE?
I am currently responsible for the structural engineering and geoengineering teams at Tractebel, which represents around 100 engineers, draftsmen, geologists, hydrogeologists and geotechnicians. These teams work on projects related mainly to cities, such as complex buildings, stadiums, hospitals, bridges, tunnels. But also on projects related to the group's other businesses, water, nuclear, energy. I am also responsible for the strategy for the Urban department in Belgium. And finally I coordinate the research projects with ENGIE Research that we initiated 3 years ago to think more about the cities of tomorrow and push research on this subject.
Tell us about your background
I graduated in business administration at the Louvain School of Management, and combined this with another master's degree in European management. I found it interesting to have a more European vision, and it helped me when I worked on European projects.
I started working at Electrabel with a management traineeship, which gave me an overview of Electrabel's various professions. For 6 years I managed projects related to strategy, sustainable development, carbon footprint, but also the launch of new businesses more B2C oriented: insulation, heating, Smart services.
I then followed my husband to London. I was pregnant and worried about not finding a job in these conditions. But with a bit of determination and using my network, I found a great job in London. I worked on the launch of new businesses related to mobility, battery storage or photovoltaics, mostly in B2B. I then evolved towards the world of cities between London and Paris. Back to Belgium I joined the international Business Developers teams for Urban activities. I then quickly evolved towards Strategy and Transformation functions until taking over since last year the Structure and Geoengineering teams in Belgium which is quite a challenge since I am not an engineer in a sector where there are many.
For a long time, I thought it was difficult to combine family life and career. But nowadays, there are more and more possibilities for a woman to evolve in a group like ENGIE.
And we have to admit that the COVID has helped us! Our work/life balance is now much more balanced. Before, I didn't come home before 7 p.m., I spent too little time with my children, it was always a rush. Since we work at home, a balance has settled, we’re less in a constant hurry.
How are you changing the world for the better?
I work for the Urban entity, which brings together engineers & structural designers and soil studies, but also experts in mobility, transport infrastructure and urban planning. We design cities based on the initial master plan to ensure that the carbon footprint and the balance vis-à-vis the environment are as optimal as possible.
At Tractebel, 500 people in Belgium and 1,000 people around the world work every day on community-related projects. They try to best meet customer expectations, but also to challenge them on eco-responsibility criteria. For example, we do a lot of concrete structures. Concrete has a carbon footprint and we are thinking about how to optimize the Total Lifecycle of concrete and how to design buildings or infrastructure with low carbon concrete.
We have imagined mobility plans for the city of Brussels for 2020 or 2030. We are working a lot on mobility and on buildings, but also on tunnels and bridges. For example, by creating a bridge, we will encourage mobility thanks to better fluidity. Of course the issue of emissions comes into play, but with increasingly electric mobility, transport-related emissions are bound to decrease. In addition, by making traffic more fluid, we will limit pollution on the outskirts of cities.
On a personal level, I opted for an electric bike two years ago, I use it for all my journeys, to go to work, drop the children off at school... I have already traveled nearly 4000 km! I must say that I'm a real fan, it's quite life changing and it's much more practical: no more parking space, no more fines, no more accidents, no more traffic jams. The only stress we can have is when we see that there are only 20 km of battery left, and we wonder if we will manage to get home!
I would like to do more, but between a busy professional life and a busy family life, I find it difficult to find the time. At the end of the day, you have to respect your own balance.
I am a great idealist. For me, nothing is impossible. With regard to women, I believe that it is essential to encourage them. In general, even in the teams that I manage, women are much less confident even though they have exactly the same potential, the same technical skills. They need to be encouraged, to have feedback. And that's what I'm trying to do.
I also seek, as far as possible, to have a good gender balance between teams. I am part of the group's women's networks, and these exchanges are both reassuring and very interesting.
Someone said something to me a few years ago, which still inspires me: "if you don’t ask, the answer will always be no". Sometimes we don't dare. But understanding that "if we don’t ask, the answer is no" empowers us. When I had to look for a job, I said to myself “I have nothing to lose, I will go all the way”. I have already been told “But are you sure? You have children, are you sure you want this kind of job?”.
For me, even if the personal life has an impact on the professional life, we cannot judge a person on his personal life, only the professional should be taken into account. I believe that we are able to bounce back, that it is a question of will and that we must give ourselves the will, the means and tell ourselves that we have nothing to lose. And use our network.
Waiting for things to happen has never worked for me. On the other hand, using my network, going to see my N+3 and telling him “I want a job in London, can you help me?” this really worked.
I think it's all about balance at all levels! Balance between professional and private life. Balance between professional and personal ambitions. You have to know what your own balance is and respect it.
My vision of balance at the business level is that total zero carbon is not there yet. For example, I don't know how we could currently build a zero-carbon bridge. On the other hand, there must be a balance between what the company wants and what the customer wants. A balance is needed that respects the needs of both parties, both technical and financial.
On the environment, the balance between the resources of the planet and our overconsumption is not respected, the day of the overshoot advances each year, but we are all doing our best. I admire those who have completely changed their way of life, who have gone to total zero carbon, zero waste, zero climate footprint… I admire them, but again, you have to balance what you are able to do and what you can bear.
A message to share?
For women, be confident in yourself, in your potential.
For all of you, don't put off until tomorrow what you can do today, or what you could have done yesterday. And finally remember that "if you don’t ask, the answer will always be no".
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