Caroline Benard : “Women are taught to be wise, accommodating”

HomeinterviewCaroline Benard : "Women are taught to be wise, accommodating"


Motivated and ambitious, Caroline Benard is the Vice President of Marketing & Communication Development at Accor. While navigating a predominantly male environment, she is committed every day to empowering women to express themselves both in their professional and personal lives.

Can you describe your professional journey ?

When I was in business school at ESSEC, life’s twists led me to meet a hotel manager who spoke to me about his profession and sparked my interest to learn more. That’s how I joined Accor, initially as an apprentice and then as a hotel manager for ten years, both in the UK and France.

In 2017, I returned to my roots to lead the Global Marketing for economy and midscale brands – (ibis, Novotel, Mercure, etc.). I was responsible for brand strategy, defining the customer experience, and 360° communication. At the beginning of 2023, I accepted a new challenge by joining the teams responsible for global hotel development for premium, midscale, and economy brands.

What is unique about your field of activity ?

I work in hotel development, a traditionally very male-dominated sector. It surprised me a lot when I arrived: When talking to Developers, I asked them what qualities they thought were required to be a good developer. Their response was unanimous: it requires great listening and empathy, traits generally associated with women! That’s why I would like to develop a mentoring program for women within the development division because I am sure that greater diversity would bring a lot to the team.

What are your challenges for this year ?

I have just taken on a new position, and even though it’s in the same company, it’s an entirely new sector for me. Moreover, it’s a newly created position with a team to build. I am in the midst of the famous “first 100 days,” and my top challenges are to understand the dynamics, the stakes of the position, and to build a framework and set clear goals for my team.

We have defined our mission: As the marketing & communication team within hotel development, our role is to bring visibility to our B2B brand and service offerings and provide all the necessary support for the development team to sign as many hotel projects as possible.

What advice would you give to a young woman entering the workforce ?

“100% of lottery winners tried their luck” – or said more concretely, dare to try! It is certain that when making a request, there is no guarantee of a positive response, but what is even more certain is that if you don’t ask, you will get no answer. We are culturally educated as women to be wise, accommodating, to get good grades in school, and to behave nicely.

We are told from a young age that if we behave well, we will be rewarded. Often this is true, at least in the academic path. But corporate life is different; the reward doesn’t necessarily go to the most deserving or the hardest worker. It goes to the one who asks for it and argues for it.

As a manager, I try to undo this cultural imprint and encourage young women on my team to dare to express their expectations, whether in terms of salary advancement, professional desires, or ideas to share. And also, to apply it to myself, albeit with more difficulty!

Who have been the inspiring “voices” in your career, and what were their messages ?

I have had the chance to meet many inspiring managers throughout my career, especially in hotel operations. My first hotel manager taught me the power of benevolence and humility to become an inspiring leader. He often said, “everything can be said as long as it’s benevolent and we adopt the right posture.”

This became a mantra for me that helped me unlock many managerial situations, especially when announcing bad news, responding negatively to a request, or addressing a sensitive topic that could touch a person’s intimacy. Another “voice” I encountered was that of my first operations manager who often told me, “Caroline, fish always rots from the head.”

This maxim profoundly influenced the manager I became. It’s not about taking on the responsibility for all the ills of the world but taking a step back to analyze every situation where we encounter a blockage. As a manager, what can I do differently to positively influence the situation ? It is, in fact, very stimulating because this perspective puts us in an empowering situation where we have the means to act. We don’t just endure; we are actors.

Share with us methods, tips that serve you most in your daily work.

As an executive and a mother, my biggest daily challenge is to find a balance between my professional and family life while trying not to forget myself in the middle. My organization is like military discipline or that of a high-level athlete! I try to maintain a routine whenever I am not traveling, where I don’t work between 6 PM and 8 PM.

This is the time for my children, where I take the time to talk about our days while doing homework, bath, or dinner. No problem to resume work afterward, but this moment is sacred. This implies that when I am not telecommuting, I have to leave at 5 PM. Not always easy to face the gaze of colleagues when packing up your belongings “so early.”

But increasingly, I try to do it with my head held high, without hiding or feeling shame or guilt. I tell myself that the more of us who do it, the more it will become normal and facilitate the lives of all future super moms – and dads, who will surely dare to do it more as well. Last tip: every week, I block 1.5 hours for myself – often to go do sports. It’s my time to decompress, and it has become vital for recharging my batteries.

#5000VOICES is an initiative made possible by our partners Engie, Accor, La Fondation RAJA, Aurel Bgc, Veolia, and Mastercard.

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