Knowing that you will have to work hard to get somewhere can take you around the globe.
Name Virginia Slutu
Nationality Romanian and French
Lives California, USA
Works as Contract Manager at an international aerospace company
Virginia was born in Moldova in Eastern Europe, while it was still part of the Soviet Union. She was raised in a middle-class, hard-working family, and spent half of her childhood on her grandmother’s farm. Early on, her family made her aware that she would have to work hard to get a comfortable life. As she puts it: “beyond the play on words, I grew to love working”.
She has law degrees from 3 continents, each in a different area of law, and all aiming at building a cross-cultural globally-oriented background in business law. Virginia went to one of the best schools in the country (public and private school rankings combined), which happened to be Franco/Romanian, and was one of the first students in Moldova to get a bilingual French and Moldovan high school degree. Romanian is the official language in Moldova where over 70% of the country’s population has Romanian origins. Russian is widely spoken as well, for historical reasons. Virginia says the environment at school was very competitive and challenging, but in a positive way. In the afternoons and during weekends when there were no classes, Virginia was busy playing chess, doing dance-sport and performing arts, taking language courses, and participating in various competitions.
After graduating from high school, Virginia’s life changed considerably as she decided to go to university in France. She remembers her university years as particularly painful, as she had to adapt to a new culture which she thought she knew well from school, but it turned out “I didn’t know at all…”. She had to struggle with her own resistance to change as well as experiences of overt prejudice and xenophobia.
However, this period was also filled many positive experiences, and meeting people she remembers as exceptional and inspiring, among others a woman lawyer who offered her a first internship at a legal practice “that gave me faith to continue with my legal studies”. She worked extra outside of her studies and went on exchange programs to Australia and the US. “To succeed in my career, she says, I knew I needed a background that would allow me to be flexible in a globalized market place – hence my choice of a dual degree in French and American legal studies.”
Virginia defines herself as a young professional. She started her career in 2010 in a San Francisco-based class action law firm as a legal research assistant. By the end of 2012 she moved back to France as she found her skills to be better adapted to the French market. Looking for a job in France took only a couple of months, and she got a position as legal counsel thanks to her initiative to contact the alumni from her university in France – a networking approach that is not yet wide-spread in France as compared to the English-speaking countries.
About her job she says: “I really loved my job in France – because of the job itself, challenging and rewarding, but also because of the people I was working with.” She does not see moving from “Legal Counsel” to “Contract Manager” as a downgrade, contrary to what some in house legal counsels might consider. “I love being a contracts manager in the US – it is such a great opportunity to learn more about the business aspects of [the] deals! A contracts manager position offers so much more leverage from a career perspective!”
Herring & Crisp Bread: What has been the biggest challenge for you in terms of work/career? How did you deal with it?
Virginia Slutu: I had a couple of challenges: The burnout in my first job. Soon after I got my first job as a legal research assistant, I discovered that I wasn’t particularly interested in, nor was I a good fit for, a legal research position. I got burnt-out pretty fast basically because of doing something I didn’t have the heart at. However, in hindsight, my first job and the burnout also brought the experience that I value the most – it helped me understand what I shouldn’t be pursuing and learn to let go. Knowing what one doesn’t like is a great achievement in the beginning of a career.
I am very much a hedonist, and now I know that this character trait persists even in my career choices – when I stubbornly went against my own interests, my body and brain literally gave up. I was left with a severe burnout and it took me months to get past it. I didn’t really deal with the burnout – I just had to go through it and learn the hard way where my boundaries are. Even today, I am not always able to remain on the safe side of the fence, but luckily I have a great supportive partner and family who are always checking on me and reminding me of my own promises of well-being.
Secondly, understanding the “behind-the-scenes”, especially when you have no one to guide you. People very rarely provide valuable feedback, mostly because most of us do not want to deliver constructive criticism – it takes too much effort, people believe this could damage relationships, some do not know or care to do it. So it is hard, especially in the beginning of your career, to figure out what you do right and what demands improvement. To deal with it, I now pay particular attention to behaviours and I focus on communicating with people much more and more regularly.
H&CB: What is important to you in your work, what makes you motivated, what makes you unmotivated?
VS: Autonomy, accountability, diversity and interacting with other people are the most motivating factors for me. And I get unmotivated by the lack of those.
H&CB: What is typical for a good manager, in your view? Can you give any examples from your experience (as a manager, or of managers you’ve had)?
VS: I would summarize a good manager with two adjectives: smart and charismatic. To break it down – the specific traits that I believe a smart and charismatic leader has are: – High EQ. Empathy. – Listening ability. – Ability to bring people together without forcing them – being a motivator, not a dictator – Making decisions with efficiency and clarity. – Standing behind the team.
H&CB: How has your outlook on work been shaped over the years, by whom, what, etc?
VS: My outlook on work has been shaped by exceptional individuals: men and women that kept the curios spirit of a teenager, have the agility and sharpness of a seasoned professional, and an ethical behaviour. The most inspiring person that I always look up for advice and confidence is my boyfriend – pro-feminist, open-minded, empathetic, supportive, caring, and creative. Work is not as much what I do to pay my bills for the next 50 years but it is more about who I am and how creative, playful, enjoyable and diverse I can make those 8 -12 hours that I spend at work every day. I am not able to avoid dealing with difficult situations, personalities, repetitive issues, you-name-it. However, I am able to decide what to let, or to not let, affect me and how creative I want to be about doing my job.
H&CB: What tops your list of things that create a good work environment?
VS: Collegiality, open-mindedness, good leadership.
H&CB: From your experience and perspective, how do you look at the subject of women and leadership in the area of paid work? What comes to mind when you hear these words?
VS: This is a broad question and can be construed in various ways… I believe women are generally strategic and intuitive. However, leadership is a combination of the right set of skills and a receptive environment. While the former depends on the individual, the latter depends on the social group where this skill is exercised. To be a leader means in the first place to be recognized and heard as such by others. Previous generations of women and men have laid a good background for the upcoming generations of women to be recognized and heard as leaders by male and female auditors. To empower women as a group in leadership positions in the long run, it is important to carry this effort on – mainly through education, raising awareness, positive social engineering.
H&CB: How do you think the industry you work/have worked in deals with diversity (gender and in general)?
VS: I have a rather optimistic perspective on women’s situation in the legal profession as well as in the engineering industry (notorious still for its gender inequality with roughly 1-out of-3, to 1-out of-8 jobs, to 0 jobs going to women, depending on the country), and a rather pessimistic view when it comes to diversity in general.
Women are doing better than before. I believe there will be more and more women in the legal profession. The situation continues to improve for women both because of the efforts of women willing to earn a living and because men are now more dedicated to family related work. For an analysis in terms of origins/sexual orientation/skin color, my opinion varies by country and region, and it affects the legal and engineering industries accordingly. There is discrimination everywhere, what differs is how this discrimination is carried on.
What can help an individual succeed in the Western world, despite the discriminating environment, is developing a set of niche skills and a good network. However, one can imagine that this is hard to achieve in some countries. Discrimination by gender makes it tougher for a woman to succeed when she is also part of an otherwise discriminated-against group.
In my company, diversity and balance are a clear priority. As an engineering company is ahead of the engineering industry. It is supportive of women in leadership through its policies and concrete actions of appointing women to leading positions. My functional manager is a woman! We have several women on the excom. Like in the engineering industry overall, there is a lot of room for improvement and the company is engaged in hiring and promoting women.
H&CB: How do you see your future, and how do you see the future for women in leading roles in “your” industry?
VS: I am not particularly worried about my future or that women will eventually be on par with men when it comes to leadership, but this doesn’t mean I am not vigilant about societal changes that can lead to a regress of women’s rights.
H&CB: Other thing you’d like to say:
VS: Get surrounded by positive, motivating and inspiring people, whether you are a woman or a man.