INSEAD Participant Interview
Changing the narrative and feeling good about it
The Women Leaders Programme at INSEAD gave Lani Montaya, Director of Global Talent Management, Diversity and Inclusion at Pernod Ricard, much more than knowledge, insights and a confidence. It gave her the drive to become a greater agent of change.
Lani, what kinds of issues make it harder for women to make it to the top in business?
We already know plenty about the work-home stresses and the often-unconscious workplace biases that make it hard for women to get on – the so-called glass ceiling that can delimit success. But there are other, more nuanced challenges that women also face: feelings of being somehow underprepared to progress; the general scarcity of role models, mentors and support networks; above all, a lack of self-confidence – internal assumptions that can block careers just as much as the actual hurdles that women everywhere still face when they want to succeed.
As an experienced and successful senior woman leader, are these challenges something you identify with?
Yes, I understand these challenges, but I also know that the right kinds of educational interventions, which executive education brings, can be so beneficial. They can provide women with a fresh perspective, bring them new knowledge, insight and give them effective solutions to counter these problems.
You piloted the Women Leaders Programme at INSEAD for your company. What was your motivation for doing so?
In my role as an HR leader, I was looking for a programme that would support women within my own organisation and empower them to progress in their careers. I have long admired INSEAD and I was attracted by what this programme offered. I thought: what better way of understanding the impact of a programme before we integrate it throughout the company, than actually doing it myself?
How did this decision coincide with your own career trajectory?
Well, after my role expanded at the end of 2019, I began to engage with more complex topics and processes. I was much more visible within the company after the promotion. So on a personal level, I was interested to see how the programme would impact me; how it might help me to lose my own personal assumptions and get rid of the things I felt were standing in my way.
Did you have any reservations regarding the learning process, particularly the live virtual delivery aspect?
With the pandemic, there was no possibility of meeting face-to-face on campus, so I wondered how the networking piece in particular would work. But we didn’t want to postpone the process in any way, so we decided to go ahead – and in the event, the experience really surpassed not only my reservations, but my expectations.
What exactly did the programme entail? How did it benefit you?
The feelings of inclusivity engendered by the programme, the group support, the coaching and the degree of personal customisation the experience offered, were truly transformative. I felt sharing my own leadership story with my peers, and getting fresh eyes on my personal challenges, beliefs, as well as hearing perspectives on problems from other women from different backgrounds facing similar issues was a really powerful way to gain confidence in myself and my own journey.
The programme brought together women leaders from very different walks of life with very different journeys. But the extraordinary discovery was that our challenges were not unique – we face the same kinds of broad challenges as women. In my cohort there were CEOs, SVPs, top executives and entrepreneurs from a diversity of sectors, and we all came together as sisters, to help each other reframe the challenges, question the interior assumptions and stories we tell ourselves and to push each other forward in such a positive way.
Would you say the programme gave you greater confidence to network and exchange ideas with others?
Absolutely, I feel I was empowered by the programme in a way that has helped me to get over my previous reluctance to network and open up to a broader group.
I am a very one-to-one person, and historically the idea of networking has not been something that I am hugely comfortable with. But this experience, and this environment – the psychological safety and the authenticity of it – was eye-opening. For the first time, I understood building a network to be something deliberate, something comfortable and a source of strength and support to be tapped into. It was very powerful to exchange ideas and thoughts – to collectively go under the iceberg and to share with others the kinds of things that hold me back personally.
How did you find working with the coaches?
The way the programme is designed is just really clever. You work on a personal statement and define your own leadership challenge which helps you unpack everything, then you have the chance to bring all this out with your coach who skilfully connects the dots and pulls the pieces together to push you forward in a very positive, personal way. It really adds dynamism to the whole experience.
You said the experience exceeded your expectations, how did it do so?
I feel I now have a more rounded understanding of the dynamics that exist between men and women in the workplace; and a deepened self-awareness of the way that women might project their professional uniqueness onto male colleagues.
You know, men do not necessarily know how we feel – how it might feel to be the only woman in the room. It is hard, impossible even, for them to connect with our experience unless we get more vocal about it and positively invite them into our world more as allies. The programme has transformed the way I see this. And given me so much more confidence to express myself. It is about making that transition in a way, from victimhood to change agent. To being empowered to change the narrative and to feel good about it. And that’s something we owe to the generations of women coming up behind us.