An Interview with Céline Schillinger, Charter Member of Change Agents Worldwide

September 2, 2014 - Inspiring Interviews
An Interview with Céline Schillinger, Charter Member of Change Agents Worldwide

‘Don’t be afraid, there is nothing to be afraid of. You are not alone, you just have to find others who will support you, connect with them and you will find the way to grow. Stay humble, don’t be too content with what you know and who you are, you can always learn from others.’

Céline Schillinger, Charter Member of Change Agents Worldwide and Head, Quality Innovation & Engagement at Sanofi Pasteur at Sanofi Pasteur

Recognized with the 2013 French Women’s Award by the business daily La Tribune, Céline Schillinger directs stakeholder engagement for Sanofi  Pasteur’s dengue program. With over 20 years of multi-industry experience in strategic positions, in Asia-Pacific and in Europe, she is a Charter Member of Change Agents Worldwide LLC. Céline is passionate about initiatives such as modernizing the business environment and engaging in international strategic relationships. Her daily commitment is illustrated by the creation of a community of employees actively involved in improving gender equality in the workplace. Celine’s community engagement initiative against Dengue was rewarded by the 2014 Shorty Awards – the Oscars of social media – for Best Use of Social Media for Healthcare. In her free time, she enjoys tweeting,blogging and rowing on the nearby river Saône.

Visit her blog and follow her on Twitter @CelineSchill


Who is your role model as a leader?

There are famous figures I admire like Hilary Clinton or Sheryl Sandberg who are strong and lead the way, while helping other women. They are not just role models, they actually engage with other women, give them advice. I have less famous role models around me, for example my mother. She is a strong woman and had a career as a teacher. She had 3 children and never stopped working, and shared the household workload with my father. She has always gently pushed us, saying that education was the best investment, so that we should be the best we possibly could be (my 2 sisters and I). My parents always helped us achieve our dreams by giving us the appetite for freedom and challenge. For example when I left to go to Vietnam on my own when I was 23, I had no job or plans, they didn’t stop me from doing that – the said ‘go for it, if you are happy, we are happy. Take time for yourself, don’t think too much about us!’. Also, all along my life and career path, I have always been lucky to meet great women who have helped me and given me advice. Now I am trying give back and do the same thing for young girls now.


What has been your greatest achievement so far?

My greatest achievement is that I have been able to build myself in a way that makes me comfortable with the modern world. By travelling the world, meeting people from other cultures, challenging my own references and values, I have been able to develop empathy and connection skills which are extremely helpful in today’s world, making me resilient and strong.

I am fuelled and made stronger by others’ energy and am able to bring together this collective energy and intelligence – it’s very rewarding to me. At the same time I feel that I’m not yet complete and am still learning.


It’s a fantastic, lifetime journey that I am very aware of, knowing that I still have a lot to learn and can still grow. This keeps me alive! My second best achievement is my family – my children are great! All the rest is material stuff and not important!

From a professional point of view, the Dengue project I launched on the basis of what I learned with the women’s community I set up at Sanofi Pasteur, is also something I am proud of. This project just won the Shorty Award, the Oscars of social media, for the best use of social media for healthcare. I’m trying to bring about a change of culture, bring about a different interaction with different stakeholders. This external recognition, proves it’s the right thing to do. I started working on this project a year and a half ago and launched it concretely just a year ago. In that time we have gained a huge number of followers (over 250,000 Facebook followers). I work with a nonprofit organization in Brussels on this – they are afraid of nothing and so am I!


What has been your biggest challenge as a woman leader?

I have the feeling that I have hardly been recognized yet up to the level of my contribution, professionally speaking. Unfortunately organizations are modeled on habits, traditions, where stereotypes are extremely present. I really do feel valued externally by my peers who inspire me and whom I inspire. They are a great source of comfort and joy to me.

At work, things are a bit different. I think this is because unconsciously people project things on women and can’t avoid doing that – saying that either something is ‘too much’ or something is ‘missing’.


For example ‘you are too feminine to succeed ie you are too pretty to be taken seriously’, On the ‘not enough’ side, women can be perceived as not having enough authority. Authority is still a strong marker of leadership.

Someone once told me ‘you don’t appear to be enough of a leader, because in the meetings you organize, you never come to a point where you say ‘this is my decision and I decide we will go this way’. I was blamed for not doing it the masculine way. When I organized a meeting about a certain topic, I would meet people beforehand and take their opinions into consideration – therefore I never had to demonstrate authority in that directive way. The perception was that I ‘lacked’ something as I was being judged according to the ‘male code’.

I tell people that women bring tremendous business value to companies. I am extremely shocked and sad when people need to see a ‘business case’. When you look at the top 100 companies in Europe there is no female Ceo, 1025 Excom members, only 10% women. It’s such a shame and lost opportunities for companies to grow. Many of those people have fallen asleep behind the wheel and are trying to enjoy the system because it works for them.


What do you think is key to your success?

Bravery, courage, the fact that I have not abandoned the fight to progress, learn and do new things. I see a lot of people give up when the going gets tough, great people with intelligence, energy and ideas that are so ignored by the organization that they just give up. They stay because there is a paycheck, but they are disengaged – only give 30% of their energy. I’m lucky to have gotten the resources and external recognition to continue the fight. I don’t do it for power or for ego, really. When I go for awards and win them, it creates a sort of “bullet-proof jacket” that protects my projects and enables me to get more impact.

I believe organizations should be more human, treat people better and handle their customer relations better. I want do something about this and have enough impact so that I can change things – that’s why I’m not stopping the fight!


If you could do one thing differently, what would it be?

I would wake up on gender inequality in the workplace earlier. I would get involved earlier in supporting gender balance in the workplace. For a very long time I didn’t think of it as an issue and thought my mother and her friends had solved it in the ‘70’s. I realized a bit late that’s not the case. I would get involved earlier in collective projects to solve this.


What would you say to other women to encourage them to become leaders?

Take up acting: The first thing I would recommend is to take up acting /theatre so that you are not afraid of being on a stage, that you can say publicly what you believe, and are not shy of public speaking. A lot of women don’t like to be in the spotlight and don’t realize that it’s not just a personal taste, it’s a stereotype they have integrated. For those who are shy at speaking up, it means that their voice is less heard. Try some theatre or singing, something with public exposure – get out there and don’t be afraid!

Build your Network: The second thing I would recommend, is for women to get into social networking. Networking is absolutely key and I realized this a bit late.

I didn’t like the feeling that I was ‘using’ people to build my career, being with people for a certain goal. I didn’t see the point of building a network until I understood that building a network through your strengths and passions is very different.


It is something you can do with a lot of pleasure and it will bring you a lot of ideas, contacts, exposure and opportunities. Building a network around a passion or interest has become much easier thanks to social networks.

Develop yourself: Get out there, use your time wisely, there are only 24hrs in the day and you also have to invest in yourself. No one will do it for you. This means reading, learning, connecting, trying new things and developing your abilities. A lot of people don’t invest in anything, they just ‘run their lives’ – but what do they do for themselves? Often it’s the last thing they think of. When you are older, it’s more difficult to re-invent yourself and remain employable.


How would you describe your leadership style?

I would say I am very inclusive and focus on getting the best out of each person, leveraging their strengths. One of my previous bosses once told me ‘if you are not getting what you want out of your people, it’s your fault’. He was very wise. I always try to build common performance based on engaging people eg don’t just give a task and ask the person to do it. Sit down with them, make it a collective task and fill your own part of it. I’m ready to do boring tasks, if I can empower my colleagues and make their work more interesting, then we can all focus on added-value work together. You really need to have empathy in order to bring all those differences together. Share your vision and explain why it is important, rather than just telling people top down what they should do.


What advice would you give to your younger self?

Take a look at gender balance in the workplace – it’s not what you think it is. I would invest in myself earlier. I have been doing some certifications at 43 and it’s a bit late. I should have realized a bit earlier that I should not expect everything from the company where I am employed. Even if I like my job and enjoy it, I should always stand up on my two feet at all times. There are so many opportunities around us to grow such as online courses – you don’t have to do a time-consuming MBA to grow, there are many other ways to do that.


What do you want to achieve in the next 5 years?

I have big plans. I want to change the way organizations work – that’s a big ambition. I want to change how they embark and engage people (internal and external people). They are still technocratic structures that do not trigger any passion in their employees or customers. The world is shifting – we have moved from a world of transaction to a world of connection.

Connection skills (behavioral skills and having the right structure in your organization) are really important. If you still work in a command and control way, nothing will change. My vision is that companies will transform themselves using digital transformation as a tool to raise engagement from their employees, customers and stakeholders.


We are now in a world of co-creation, we have to bring people together, to create shared value together. We are no longer in organizations with a small elite of executive leaders working to build shareholder value. This is completely ‘passé’ and companies run on this old model are about to die. Even if they still think they are successful, they are dead. I want to find the way to help them see that and help them change! We have to re-invent our organizations though connections. If we make them more ‘likeable’, they will make better products, serve customers better and invest more in creating shared value for the planet too.


3 key words to describe yourself:                 

  • Passion
  • Bravery/Courage
  • Connectivity


Anne Ravanona is the Founder and CEO of Global Invest Her – Catalysts for getting Women Entrepreneurs Funded faster and building Gender-Inclusive Workplaces. A TEDx Speaker, Anne regularly speaks at global conferences on the topics of Funding for Women Entrepreneurs, entrepreneurship and leadership. A Huffington Post contributor, Astia Advisor, she is passionate about funding and inspiring women entrepreneurs. Follow her on Twitter @anneravanona @GlobalInvestHer