23 Nov 23

IWIF breakfast in Lisbon: “Diversity starts here”

One hundred-plus female fleet professionals had breakfast in Lisbon on Thursday morning. There was also more than a sprinkling of men in the room. Doesn’t that contradict the concept of International Women in Fleet (IWIF)? Not at all: diversity is the aim, and the more men are on board, the better.

Another anniversary at the Fleet Europe Days, but instead of the Remarketing Forum’s 10 candles, the Inspiring Women in Fleet (IWIF) got to blow out just one. But what a journey it’s been in that short time: following the inaugural meeting in Dublin last year, there have been events at the Global Fleet Summit in Cascais and the Fleet LatAm Conference in Mexico. “We now have 800 members from all over the world in our networking group”, said Caroline Thonnon, CEO of Nexus Communication and one of IWIF’s initiators (pictured second from left). 

Male-female parity

The days when the fleet industry was a male bastion are well behind us. But there is still a way to go on the road towards a more gender-balanced industry. Showing the way is Arval, one of the sponsors of the event, which has a long-standing female empowerment programme of its own, called Women in Action. With tangible results, said Julie Meynard, Director of the Arval International Business Office: “When I look at my own team of 40 people, we have male-female parity, we have all ages from 25 to 65 years, and we have 17 nationalities.”

Diversity goes beyond tokenism, because there is actually a good business case for bringing together people from a range of backgrounds, agreed Sabina Martin (pictured centre), Associate VP for Product Management at Geotab, another sponsor of the event: “If we want to solve problems, the best thing to do is to get a diversity of opinions.”

The event’s third sponsor, Ayvens, was represented by its Global Deputy CEO John Saffrett (pictured left). A man, but with a good point: “It’s good there are more men in the room here today. We have to hear about the issues that women face, so we can help fix them.”

Yes, you can

He made an interesting observation: “At IWIF, women come to learn from each other. If we held a similar event for men, most would think they are the inspiring ones. I see this at work, where I have more conversations with women where I have to tell them: Yes, you can. And more talks with men where I say: I don’t think you can.”

“Women sometimes are their own obstacles”, Julie agreed. “Often, we don’t make the case for ourselves, don’t apply for those positions higher up. We need to raise our voice.” Referring to the (all-male) CEO panel later that day at the Fleet Europe Conferences, she said: “I hope that in future the CEO panel will look more like this one.”

“I hope so too, because that means I will get promotion”, said John, jokingly.

Next up were two testimonials by female fleet managers. “It’s great to see more men here, the fight for diversity starts here, in this room”, said Raluca Mosu (pictured second from right). Recounting her own experience, she said: “It often happened that when I spoke in meetings, the men in the room were visibly surprised to hear a woman speaking. Then, when they realized I knew what I was talking about, their looks changed again. It still happens, but I’m happy to see it less and less.”

As the saying goes: when life gives you lemons, make lemonade: “I’ve turned being underestimated into a strategic advantage”, Raluca concluded. “You can learn from everyone. You can be inspired by anyone.”

Obstacles happen

Sarina Vale (pictured right) became a single mother at a young age. “That really drove my ambition. My daughter inspires me every day,” said the European Vehicle Fleet Manager of Aggreko. Working herself up from the factory floor, this year she won Fleet Manager of the Year at the Business Car Awards in London. 

“Obstacles and adversities happen, it’s how you deal with them that matters. My motto is: be human, and always do the right thing. That both means inspiring some, and holding others to account.”

In terms of holding the powers that be to account: that goes for Fleet Europe itself too. As several speakers remarked, 9 out of the 12 plenary sessions at the second and last of the Fleet Europe Days had male-only panels.

So the organization has its work cut out, but also the female fleet professionals themselves. Why shouldn’t it be them on stage next year? “Think what you want to become, because you become what you believe.”

Images: Benjamin Brolet/Fleet Europe

Authored by: Frank Jacobs