A conversation with Nele Pichal


At the start of this year, Nele was promoted to Director. She talks about her career path, with the necessary struggles from time to time, but also with a common theme: passion. Incredible passion for her job and her team, and for her family. In an honest interview, Nele testifies about her personal journey. 



What are your views on the general theme of 'women in business'?

Nele: "I grew up together with my brothers. For me, there was never a difference between men and women: after all, we received the same upbringing. That changed when I became pregnant 15 years ago, early in my career. At that time, in our industry, it seemed quite unusual to have children so early in the career. I also received surprised reactions about it. It then became clear to me that men and women are not quite equal after all. Even looking at the figures, I found that there are significantly fewer women in senior leadership roles. So the glass ceiling still seems to exist."

Can we speak of a glass ceiling?

Nele: "That's an interesting but difficult question. On the one hand, there are the objective figures. On the other hand, instinctively, it is still ingrained in women to choose for their family and it is often a conscious choice as a 'default parent' not to go fully for your career. After all, you can't split into two. 
Is this a conscious choice of women? Is it due to the old clichés we still have as women ourselves, much more than how men see it? Or is it imposed unconsciously because it is still partially instilled in society? That's a difficult question that I don't know the answer to."

You yourself took the decision to put your career on hold and worked part-time for a while, before shifting up a gear again. How did Grant Thornton help you do that?

Nele: "A few years ago, I was given the opportunity to join a Lighthouse project. That project has been crucial for me and helped me tremendously to rekindle my ambition. At Grant Thornton, you can really determine your own career path, at your own pace. You can put your career on hold if other priorities come up, including caring for family. But you get another chance afterwards to pick it back up in a safe context once you have room for it again. I always compare it with a 'safe blanket'. At least that is how I have experienced it."

As a female leader, what do you do differently from your male colleagues?

Nele: "Even though there are actually no longer any typically masculine or feminine traits, I have the impression that women naturally choose empathic leadership more often. Building a bond of trust to allow the people on your team to perform to their best ability, creating the setting to also deliver a difficult message more easily, with greater or positive impact. For me, this leadership style is very powerful, and really lifts up a team. I realise it remains a difficult balance. After all, the pendulum must not swing in the other direction.
Since there are more women at the top in recent years, you see that reflected in the organisation. That 'female touch' - to use a cliché - is clearly perceptible."

What advice would you give to the new generation of women?

Nele: "I myself have been through a journey that did not always feel obvious, with the necessary struggles and insecurities. So I can give some tips from my own experience. First of all, I would like to reassure young ambitious women: putting your career on hold is never a problem. Embrace the fact that you have that option. If it is in you, and you are in the right environment - like I am at Grant Thornton - you will get the chance afterwards.

Also very important: make sure the conditions are right and surround yourself with the right people. Pick up where you left off when the children are older, for example, if you have a good social network, ... In my case certainly also: with people around me who occasionally slow me down when I am going too fast. 

And finally: passion comes with sacrifice. A certain choice always comes at the expense of other things. If you make the choice to go full steam ahead for your work, it has an impact on your family life. After all, you can't split into two. The important thing then is to talk to your family members, to name the situation transparently, with respect for each other. In my experience, that open dialogue softens the situation immensely."

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