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Interview with Florence Sandis: Daring is the key

Author, journalist, multi-enterpreneur, lecturer and coach. After more than 20 years in the audiovisual industry working for renowned Saban, TF1, CAPA, Florence Sandis has specialised in coaching talents by creating her consulting and training company Break the glass ceiling. She is an expert in the following areas: women’s empowerment, self-assertion, leadership, gender diversity and public speaking. Florence Sandis is the founding President of médiaClub’Elles, an association of 900 media professionals advocating for a more equal representation of women in the media. Lastly, Ms Sandis authored several books, including Breaking the glass ceiling: 12 keys to women’s success.


Published on 26.02.2021

What motivated you to write the book “Breaking the glass ceiling: 12 keys to success for women”?

Florence Sandis: There are two things that motivated me to write this book. It was in 2015, I was a journalist and I had written other books. I noticed that women represented about 60% of Master’s graduates in France. However, there were only 14% of women in management positions. Today, only 17% of management positions are held by women. The gap between their skills and the positions they occupy is evident. How can this gap be explained? Is it only this patriarchal society that prevents women from accessing it? Or do women also tend to limit themselves?

I realised quickly that women could act more confidently on what was in their control. So my idea was to write a book to give women the means to break the glass ceiling. I looked at everything that might have been written on the subject, but I did not find the comprehensive book that I wanted to do, that is, with a journalistic point of view to highlight the evolution of women’s work. At the same  I wanted to provide a complete method of empowerment with concrete advice and portraits of women to illustrate, like a mirror, the means that I give in my book.

To write this book, you interviewed many women, what are the most common obstacles that hinder women?

Florence Sandis: I interviewed around a hundred women. Obstacles to success that come up most often is a lack of self-confidence and the famous impostor syndrome. It’s a feeling a bit like being in a wedding without being invited.

In the end, this is the common thread of my book: working on women’s confidence. Women have been invisible in history. We don’t have many role models, which is why we often suffer from this impostor syndrome.

Women often wait for the authorisation of the Other, as Jacques Lacan would have said, as if the authorisation had to come from other people. However, I want to show that it is up to us to define our rules as women and to authorise ourselves.

You are also an entrepreneur: you set up your own company “Breaking The Glass Ceiling”. What challenges have you encountered in your career as a woman entrepreneur?

Florence Sandis: The first challenge for me was the administrative side, because I am not a businesswoman. I would describe myself more as an idea creator and a connector. I also needed to find the courage to show myself . In other words, I had to dare to communicate my successes to others.

One of my greatest challenges was to give lectures in English for Christian Dior Couture . When I was first called a few years ago, I was very honoured because it was my favourite brand. At the end of the interview, I understood that the seminar I was asked to give would be in English and would last a whole day. I explained that I was not bilingual. However, the talent manager at Dior Couture reassured me by explaining that her choice was not based on my English skills but on the message I would be delivering. I put myself under terrible pressure, because I only had a month to upgrade my English level. I took an English coach, trained myself and, against all odds, it worked out well! Since then, I have been working regularly for the brand, always in English, and we have even set up conferences, such as women@dior and global workshops, notably in China, Japan, and the United States.

When we arrived in New York, I said to myself : “But how could I do it ? Because over there, people are really all bilingual. I gave myself an extra challenge:  doing all my speeches without any notes, because I knew I would be filmed. Getting there was one of my proudest moments.

What’s great about challenges is that they give you the opportunity to do something you thought was totally impossible. Once you succeed, you gain the confidence that you can do almost anything. What was impossible yesterday becomes possible, so what you thought impossible today will be possible tomorrow .

At these times, it is also important to take the time to celebrate your successes, because it builds your self-esteem. Of course, it’s not every day that we give lectures in New York, but every day we can all give ourselves little challenges, things we have never done before. Taking up these challenges will show us that we are magicians in our own ways.

How can women’s leadership be encouraged?

Florence Sandis: By daring to be bold! By accepting to be imperfect! We are often afraid to move up in hierarchies for fear of sacrificing our family lives, like some of our male bosses. Let us dare to do things differently. Let us dare to create our own models for reconciling our professional and personal lives. I think we must all work hard to put more “Yin” into this very “Yang” business world. Once women have the keys to power, it will be easier for them to change the locks! But before that, we have to enter the house of power. This requires leaving one’s comfort zone, abandoning the reflexes of a good pupil, and daring to embody the leader that one dreams to be.

This of course implies daring to take risks, and to accept the possibility of failure. If you fail, it does not matter, as it is an integral part of the process: there is no progress without failure. Look at a young child. If she does not accept falling hundreds of times, she will never walk. Let us agree to become that child again, ready to go through all the experiences to grow up and we will rise even stronger.

When I have women that I coach plot their career curve, most of the time they realize that the peaks in their career are times when they were bold, took risks or did things they thought were impossible. So in reality, daring is the key to be stronger!

You were part of the jury of the Mobile Film Festival 2020. In your opinion, what measures could be envisaged to reduce inequalities in the film industry, in particular the wage gap?

Florence Sandis: I was a member of the jury in this festival as president of médiaClub’Elles, the association of media professionals that I created for more equality and a better representation of women in the media.

In the film industry, there are already things that have been done with assistance from the CNC (Centre national du cinéma et de l’image animée), such as creating gender quotas for important production positions. These obligatory measures are effective, as they affect producers’ portfolios directly.

There is another aspect, which is more fundamental in my opinion. However, will take longer: it is the importance to change culture and mentalities. The #metoo movement has made it possible to start speak freely as a woman, but the real progress will be when there are no more aggressors, and therefore no more victims… Most men do not realise the full extent of the systemic sexism in our society simply because they do not experience what we feel. I often say to men: “If you suddenly turn into a woman, you will see that people don’t look at you the same way, do not respond to you in the same way, do not allow you to do the same things. It’s much more subtle than we imagine, and it is even hidden in thousands of everyday things”. I think it takes a lot of work to reach this common understanding.

The “You Are Next” initiative trained young women in audiovisual production. As president of médiaClub’Elles, what advice would you give to these women on working in the audiovisual industry?

Florence Sandis: It is important to train not only in technique, but also in leadership and public speaking. It is essential to build a network, because in this sector, jobs are most often filled through networking and recommendations. This involves meeting people, knowing how to showcase your skills and promote who you are, even if you are just starting your career. You need to know how to highlight your uniqueness.

I would also advise to look for mentors and sponsors. At médiaClub’Elles, we have set up several mentor/mentee programmes targeting the audiovisual sector. We are also in the process of setting up, in cooperation with France Télévisions and Mediawan, a mentoring programme for female flow directors, as there are very few of them in France. We invite experienced directors to accompany young directors in the making of large-audience programmes, such as “Le Grand Échiquier” or “C’est à vous”. This kind of on the job coaching will be a great first in the French audiovisual sector.

Are measures such as the CNC’s quotas sufficient to promote the participation of women in the audiovisual industry?

Florence Sandis: It is not enough, but I think it is a very good start. For example, when Delphine Ernotte, President of France Télévisions, announces that she would like to have a minimum quota of 30% women directors in her dramas, it raises the bar. We are not satisfied with the fact that 9 out of 10 directors in fiction are men. We would need more willingness for change from audiovisual managers,  if we want to achieve more equity and equality between women and men in our industry.