I have been following the work of Danone and the EVE Programme for a couple of years now with great admiration, so I was of course thrilled when they asked me to join a Twitter chat on the occasion of the International Women’s day in the spring of 2017. This gave me a further insight into this inspiring programme, so when the opportunity presented itself to interview Anne for the podcast, I jumped on the occasion!
There are so many really interesting and exciting facets to this story, that you really need to listen to the episode and the story of how the EVE Programme was born.
Intrapreneurship and corporate hacking
When the former chairman of Danone, Franck Riboud first designated Anne as a strategic planner, at Danone in 1998, she was told, that she head neither a team, nor a budget, but her role was to identify trends, innovate and ensure the Group Danone stays ahead of the curve.
“It's an excellent torture test,“ says Anne, ”being alone at the start and without a budget, when I have an idea, I have to believe enough in it to convince people to allocate budget to it and others to come join me to help me develop it!”
As a free agent, her role is to create new ideas that potentially advance the group in different ways, from product innovation to reaching new customers and also advancing and developing employees. It was in this latter domain, that Franck Riboud brought the company’s attention to the thinning out of women in leadership positions - whereas at entry level there was an equal representation between women and men. Anne was tasked with creating an initiative that would change mindsets, alter behaviours and thought-patterns for both men and women, and bring on board other companies to join the project.
Intuition and co-creation
What emerges from our conversation with Anne is her great spirit, and a rather spiritual and holistic approach to her work. She is convinced, that both women and men have to be themselves, and only when our hearts, minds and bodies are aligned and in harmony, can we be really present and perform to our talents and abilities, and beyond.
A number of studies have shown, that if a job is advertised, men go for it, even if they only fulfill 50% of the requirements, whereas women would only apply if they are sure, they are a good match. Formerly, if Danone advertised a new position and only men applied, it was acceptable.. but if there are no women applicants or candidates now, it means the recruiter was not doing a good job, and is asked to go back and look again at the talent pipeline.
All this research and understanding of these behaviours and patterns motivated Anne and the Group to create a programme, which will help women understand that they are good enough, improve self-confidence and unleash their potential. The basic premise is that of co-responsibility, shared between men and women, and also between the organisations. Hence EVE Programme was born, with the motto of “Be yourself and unleash your potential”.
EVE - the first change-maker
There are 2 conditions for women to be promoted:
- Awareness of top management
- Training to help women to understand who they are, what they want and to express it.
A number of other top companies joined the EVE Programme, among others L'Oréal, SNCF, Credit Agricole, KPMG, Orange and Caisse des Dépôts as the ambition is to see real, sustainable change in the world. Following its conceptualisation in 2009, the first gathering was held in Evian in 2010, with the key objective to break the glass ceiling at Danone and elsewhere.
The programme has 3 dimensions: Me, Me and the others, and Me and the world.
Another innovative element is the fact that companies that participate need to send a sufficient number of participants, because this way they not only create an internal network within the company, but also an external network to build change on the inspiration, as well as pursue peer-to-peer mentoring. EVE in Evian is a seminar and workshops, but not a “one-shot” event - the essence lies in what happens afterwards. EVE plants the seeds - and then it’s up to the companies to water and nourish them.
Anne and her team have great ambitions, like taking EVE global. Following a successful event in Asia, they are preparing for the first edition in Africa, in Senegal in December. As Anne confirms, these challenges and opportunities are universal.
Anne Thevenet-Abitbol has been Prospective and New Concepts VP at Danone since 1998. She is responsible for the development of every new idea that has the potential to take the Group forward, whether in terms of marketing, HR, social or societal issues. In particular, she was responsible for launching the brand of organic yogurts “Les 2 Vaches” in 2006, and she opened the “Aux 2 Vaches” restaurant in 2012. Starting in 2010, she has designed and led the EVE Program, an intercompany women leadership seminar, attended by around fifteen companies, as well as EVE Asia Pacific, and since 2012, the OCTAVE Program, which is focused on improving generational relationships within companies, and the impact of new technologies. In partnership with Utopies, Strategizer and NodA, she has also co-created the Noé Program on sustainable innovation.