Marie Romanet, senior communications manager and one of the leaders of our Women Transforming the Workplace program, recently spoke with Audrey Lara, Randstad Canada’s Chief Financial Officer. Their discussion focused on Audrey's professional career within a male-dominated environment as well as topical issues including the pandemic, its impact on women, and the protests surrounding the Black Lives Matter movement. An interesting read is guaranteed!
about your career
Marie Romanet: Audrey, you were appointed Chief Financial Officer at Randstad in April 2019. Can you tell me a little bit about your role?
Audrey Lara: I oversee a team of approximately 80 people. Our goal is to maximize the growth potential of the company while ensuring sound and proper management. We are also responsible for producing the necessary financial information in the United States and for the group’s head office which is based in the Netherlands.
I play a role as a strategic business partner with the CEO. Focusing on strategic analysis and financial planning, I advise the management team regarding the decisions that are key for achieving the company's objectives.
MR: Can you tell me a bit about your professional career?
AL: I started my professional career in Paris. I worked for seven years in financial audit at Deloitte & Associates. In 2010, I joined a start-up specializing in online advertising retargeting (Criteo) as a finance manager. I also stayed there for seven years and held several finance positions, ending up as regional CFO for the Europe, Middle East, Africa region.
My achievements include contributing to the company’s IPO on the Nasdaq in 2013, opening several international subsidiaries, setting up the group's tax structure and managing its transition from REIT to DR status in the United States. It was an amazing experience that shaped my career and enabled me to acquire rare finance experience for someone my age.
After my arrival in Montreal, in 2018, I joined LXR and Co, as CFO. The company specializes in second hand luxury items and is listed on the Toronto stock exchange. I stayed for one year and then joined Randstad in 2019.
MR: Do you feel like you had to make sacrifices to reach this level at a young age?
ML: I wouldn’t necessarily use the word ‘sacrifice’. But there is no doubt that I have had to make certain concessions and sometimes even accept that I am going to have to prove myself over again, especially after my return from maternity leave.
In financial professions and high-level positions, there are generally fewer women and they must put forth twice the effort to achieve a work-life balance, especially when they want to have children. They are often forced to give up important positions because they simply cannot do everything at once.
Maternity leaves represent key moments in our careers. While we are taking essential time to care for and bond with our families, companies continue to evolve and move forward. It can sometimes be challenging to get back into the corporate routine, and we often must make a considerable effort to reconcile work and family responsibilities.
Fortunately, in my case, I was able to count on the support of my spouse;that enabled me to invest in my career while still being present for my family.
That being said, we can sometimes observe the opposite effect: we often tend to define women in the world of work by their family situation. One of the first questions we usually ask a woman is whether she has children. We would never ask this question to a man when first meeting him.
If women have no children, or have children that are older, work demands and expectations become even higher. Certain prejudices such as ‘she has no children, she can work more hours or stay later’, are still very prevalent. This tends to create inequalities and divisions between women at a time when we need solidarity more than ever.
the pandemic and its impact on women
MR: We recently published a report on the disproportionate consequences of COVID-19 on women. In your experience, did you feel the weight of additional pressure on your shoulders during the pandemic?
AL: I think this pressure was felt by all of us during this unprecedented crisis. The feelings of insecurity, not being able to plan, and not knowing what tomorrow would bring are very heavy, and they are still being felt today.
Managing day-to-day life along with professional and family expectations, without a space to simply decompress can feel daunting. When you are balancing domestic and parental responsibilities in a time of crisis, along with full-time work, particularly in a financial profession, you are going to encounter challenges.
how are you finding the remote work-family balance?
AL: Managing children is a challenge in and of itself! It’s difficult for them to understand why we are physically with them, and yet not always available to them. In addition, for their personal development, we want to be able to compensate for the absence of friends and the lack of social bonds due to schools being closed. This is hardly possible if you are still trying to take care of full-time work responsibilities. Finally, the need for educational monitoring adds further complexity to managing our days.
That being said, I want to thank my colleagues at Randstad for their patience and kindness, especially when my children burst into our virtual meetings! Everyone in our joint leadership team has shown such empathy and understanding, which goes a long way to alleviating the guilt you can sometimes feel. We are living in times of stress and change and it is not always easy to be patient and calm. But I have to say, I’m proud to belong to an organization like Randstad Canada that truly puts human values first.
looking at the protest movements
MR: Finally, we cannot ignore recent events surrounding Black Lives Matter. What is your personal take on what is going on?
AL: As a person of colour from mixed race, I was deeply shocked and moved by the events in the United States. I obviously denounce any form of racism or discrimination against people of colour and I find it unfortunate that we have to live through such drama to remember that this is still a real and deep problem in our present day society. I hope that everyone will learn from this new crisis and that concrete actions will be taken by governments and citizens to prevent other tragedies like the one experienced by the family of George Floyd.
Once again, I am proud to belong to the Randstad family. They took a stand and offered the opportunity to anyone who wished to speak on this subject. It is by speaking, by being informed, by calling ourselves into question every day, and by not tolerating any manifestation of racism that we will be able to overcome this scourge.
MR: Finally, do you have any career advice for our readers?
AL: Don't set any limits for yourself. We must break the glass ceiling! Always remain true to your values and who you are. Identify those who can support you within your life and within your company, we must support each other to advance together, without forgetting who we are and where we come from.