Career advice for women in the digital age

Aurelie Valtat

Our latest Young Woman to Watch, digital communications guru Aurelie Valtat joined Leadarise for an inspirational evening to tell us about how she became the woman to go to for online crisis management and strategy and what she sees on the horizon.

Aurelie is driving the digital communication strategy of the Council of the EU and the European Council. Before joining the European institutions, she was the online communications manager at Eurocontrol, the European air traffic management agency where she led the twitter crisis management during the volcanic ash cloud that disrupted European air traffic in 2010. She also has previous experience in lobbying, cultural heritage management (at UNESCO’s World Heritage Centre), internal and external communications, and as a freelance journalist.

Aurelie has a career that most of us would dream of. In order to inspire us to become just as successful, Aurelie has some clear advice; don’t just be yourself, be better than yourself. You need to set your goals high and work hard to get there; don’t limit yourself to where you see yourself today!

We asked Aurelie some questions to find out more about her journey to where she is today and what inspires her to be better than herself. It is indeed an interesting career path and we look forward to hearing back from Aurelie in the coming years to see where her commitment has taken her!

Aurelie audience

How did you end up doing what you’re doing?

I had already lived abroad all my life so I didn’t want to do an Erasmus so I did an internship for one year in Brussels when I was studying. It was only by chance that I got into communication. My first job at UNESCO in Paris was not at all related to communications, but everyone dumped all communications work on me and I’ve been doing it ever since.

How much courage did it take to embark on your current position?

It wasn’t an easy decision. I was already a civil servant so I already had the golden cage. But the new position offered more opportunities to change jobs and have different types of careers and I would not have to stay in communications forever. I lost quite an amount in salary, but gained other things. It is always about balancing short term benefits and challenges with the long term ones. I don’t regret the change! I am in the middle of the action now.

What were the biggest obstacles and triumphs?

The biggest obstacle was the internal culture of public administration. I constantly have to fight the bureaucracy and am still not over that. My biggest triumph is that despite all this I have managed to get projects completed without losing quality. I have not let the bureaucracy impact my professionalism and the quality of results.

How do you ensure work/life balance?

For me it’s pretty easy. I am always honest from the beginning when I am recruited. I tell them that I will take off a month every winter and summer and that I will not be in the office after six, but that I am available at all times. It is a give and take, I am flexible in order to get more time out of the office. My work is also the type that can be carried out from home. The day to day presence is not a huge requirement when working in digital communication. You need to balance the needs of the organisation with your personal and family needs. You need to say it up front; it should be part of what people understand is in your DNA. If the recruiter doesn’t like that, maybe it’s not a good match.

Who is your inspiration?

I get inspired by women who can manage a work life balance. One role model for me is Cheryl Miller who balances children and several businesses at the same time. I am inspired by people who manage to achieve things at their level, who create something interesting bit by bit. People who do things, but don’t talk about what they do.

What would be the most important work lessons you’d like to pass on to other young women?

Nobody is irreplaceable. There is a tendency among young professionals to think that a project will not make it unless they carry it through. Young people may not want to take holidays because of the risk that things will not work as well when they are away. It is important to realize that any company will still be there even if you are not. You cannot be too anxious about this. Do what you want to do, go wherever you want to go. Don’t worry about what you leave behind (unless what you leave behind is a mess), it will be fine.

Would you do anything differently?

I am not sure. My most challenging characteristic is also part of my charm. It would be that I try to implement ideas too quickly; I am too much of an enthusiast. I sometimes act too fast even though the culture of the organisation isn’t ready, which can make a project fail. I really learn from failures so I would not do things differently though, it is part of my learning curve. With hindsight I may have acted differently at times, but the difficulties I have had to deal with add value to what I am now.

What will the next 5 years look like?

There will be a big change! I want to work in environmental science and am slowly branching out from communication. I am moving towards more hands-on jobs in nature. I will probably move to another continent which would be exciting. I don’t know for sure, but I have a clear idea of what I want. It is ok if it doesn’t happen. If it doesn’t work out, it doesn’t but at least I have tried.

Aurelie Valtat

Aurelie is a frequent speaker and moderator on all things digital and a long-standing jury member of the European Digital Awards. She (irregularly) blogs at and can be reached on Twitter at @avaltat.

Why community building is the answer to just about everything

Leadarise Cofounder and Chief EU Laura Hemmati presented the importance of community building at the Microsoft Executive Briefing Centre in Brussels this evening as part of an event showcasing young pioneers in Brussels who are trying to get Europe back on track. This was the first event of the new Centre for European Progression, organised by General Manager Benedek Csányi, featuring presentations from Leadarise, Out of the Box, #EUInsight and European Young Entrepreneurs.

Laura Hemmati at Microsoft Executive Briefing Centre

Laura Hemmati at Microsoft Executive Briefing Centre

So if you missed CFEP’s highly charged and spectacular debut event, here is what Laura had to say on community building!

Nowadays having a great idea isn’t enough. We need likes, we need tweets, we need trends, we need crowd funding before anyone takes us seriously. That’s because in a world where we are bombarded with information and initiatives, we need to have a way of filtering out the ideas which can grow from those that will not. How many of you have been invited to like a friend’s new Facebook page, but declined because it only had fifty likes, or turned down a party because only 8 people confirmed they were going? How many of you have read an article, because three or four or your friends have shared it? Community building brings with it the endorsement an idea needs to flourish in the 21st century. Community building gives credibility to ideas.

Once you have your community, you have a ready made group of individuals who share the common interest of believing in your idea and can act as human laboratories. You can test out marketing strategies, judge which part of your idea they find most interesting or most troublesome and you can ask for feedback on your progress so far. You can even get your community to tell you where you sit on the market place. How do you compare to similar organisations? What is it that keeps them engaged? Community building gives you your own marketplace to design and test new ideas.

Once your community is built, is credible and has helped fine tune your product. You now have the ability to start changing the environment around you, making it more and more favourable to reaching your goals. With a community behind you, doors open with a lot more ease than they used to. You have built a reputation and you have demonstrated that you have the ability to bring people on board with your ideas. You have access to decision makers, to trendsetters, and innovators because they accept you as one of them. You must be one of them, otherwise you wouldn’t have a community. Our community has grown from one city to four. In one year, our young leaders have reached the Whitehouse, the Scottish Government and the coverage of the European elections. Community building changes the status quo.

Q&A with panelists

Q&A with panelists

Meet Tammy Tibbetts: From “Most Shy” to “Changing the World”


Tammy Tibbetts, Founder and President of She’s the First

To change the world, you have to change yourself first” – Tammy Tibbetts

This month’s Young Woman to Watch is Tammy Tibbetts, Founder and President of She’s the First, a non-profit organization committed to sponsoring girls’ education in developing nations, with the goal of creating more first-generation graduates and shaping the next generation of global leaders. On Monday, September 8th, Leadarise welcomed Tammy at The Medici Group in New York City for a discussion on her journey to begin this incredible organization.


Tammy Tibbetts and Emily Pease McKenzie talk about the evolution of She’s the First

Around the world, girls continue to face struggles — for instance, only 1 in 3 girls worldwide have the opportunity to enroll in high school, and many face not only cultural, but geographical challenges. For the girls who do have the opportunity to graduate from secondary school, they earn 18% higher wages, marry later, have healthier children and, perhaps most importantly, reinvest back into their community.

She’s the First didn’t start out as an NGO but evolved organically and actually started as a “call to action” through a YouTube video in 2009. The video struck a cord with many young women at universities, which prompted Tammy to turn her project into an NGO, and now, her full time job.

Since it’s inception, She’s the First has sponsored almost 400 girls, 896 years of education across 10 partner countries and has 116 chapters in the US.

What’s the reason for She’s the First‘s success? “I think it’s grown so quickly in 5 years is because its relatable. The mission is very much a mirror for yourself in some ways—whether you are the first in your family to graduate from college or move to New York City, you too had to overcome obstacles. Maybe you didn’t have an example to follow, but because of access to education and mentors, you were able to figure it out.

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Leadarise participants gather for a photo with Tammy Tibbetts

You may find this hard to believe, but in high school Tammy was voted “Most Shy” by her peers!  “My shyness,” she explained, “stood in my way and prevented me from speaking out for anything I believed in, where in reality, I had a voice that was powerful.”

No one’s calling Tammy “shy” anymore – her work as a social entrepreneur has been recognized by Forbes, Fast Company, MSNBC and she is featured in the September 2014 issue of Marie Claire as one of the “20 Women Changing the World“, alongside Chelsea Clinton and Melinda Gates.

Tammy encouraged participants to to pursue their dreams, but also to look for resources and organizations that already exist, “Instead of starting something from scratch, look for ways to act as an intrapreneur.” In other words, make a change from the inside by taking the lead on a project or starting a new initiative.  

Thanks for sharing your inspirational story with us, Tammy and reminding us all that we can be “first” to bring about change!

For more information on how you can get involved with She’s The First, visit:

By Sarah Reinheimer

The right place and the right time

The smells of sunscreen, ice cream, and sweaty beach-bound people are filling our nostrils. It can only mean one thing: summertime is upon us. Many people take the opportunity to take a, undoubtedly well-deserved, break from their daily business. My own break is pretty short this summer, but my flexible approach to work, means I can write this blog post while catching a few rays, sitting on the beautiful city walls of the town of Maastricht, making it feel pretty much like down-time, anyway.

“…fundamental inspiration and ethical awareness might get lost when society is engaged in a constant rat race to get the maximum out of every second…”

For me, this kind of down-time is the ideal time reflect on life, work, and the meaning of it all. This summer, my thoughts are increasingly shaped by the latest book by Dutch novelist and philosopher Joke J. Hermsen. She has titled her book Kairos, after the Classical Greek god of weighing your options carefully and grasping the right moment. Her main argument is that fundamental inspiration and ethical awareness might get lost when society is engaged in a constant rat race to get the maximum out of every second. Taking more down-time will allow us to weigh our options more carefully and take better, more ethical, and more timely decisions, leading to more control over our lives and not having to live in a constant state of rush.

In my own workplace, I can see her arguments unfold in front of my very eyes. Most of my older colleagues are gen X’ers who made their professional break during the economic boom of the mid-90’s. They still adhere to the “work hard, play hard” ethic that was prevalent during that era and they keep their lives under rigid planning to keep every minute of the day filled to “live to the max”. Over the last few weeks, a few of them have returned from summer breaks a bit more reflective than normal, possibly in reaction to the horrible plane crash in the Ukraine that has left a deep mark on Dutch society and confronted many with the fact of how fragile life can be if you are at the wrong place at the wrong time. However, a mere two weeks later, deadlines have appeared on the horizon and business is back to usual as agendas fill up and old habits play up.

It constantly strikes me how different the attitudes are of the millennials working at my company. Working hard seems less of a priority than doing the right thing. An attitude shift that I also encounter when talking to my friends. Many of the millennials around me seem more than willing to engage in wishful thinking about what the future should look like. Quite a few of them have managed to grasp the moment and have turned their ponderings about the future into concrete projects, ranging from instigating change within their companies to starting their own socially responsible businesses or even starting a transatlantic movement of social awareness, like the founders of leadarise did.

All this makes me pretty hopeful that the generation of millennials storming the labour market will have a profound impact on how business is conducted in the world. It makes me hopeful that we can shift from squeezing every lemon dry, to taking a step back and determining whether it was a good idea to plant a lemon tree in the first place. There are still challenges ahead, however. The constant blips and beeps of our social media feeds are an alluring distraction from deeper thoughts and the vast pool of unemployed and underemployed young people have strengthened some archaic-thinking entrepreneurs in their “for every one of you there are twenty-five others, so shape up or ship out” attitudes. Still, I advise everybody to wind down from time to time, dare to daydream, and chase big ideas. It will help you to prepare you for that moment you will get the opportunity to take a great leap forward. Where and when that will be, you never know, but it will definitely come at the right place and the right time. May Kairos be with you.

Wouter IJzermans, Maastricht

Wouter IJzermans, Maastricht

The Goal Setting Process with Whitney Meers 

Leadarise New York was thrilled to welcome Whitney Meers as a guest speaker this week at the Global Action to Prevent War office located in the United Nations. Last month, Whitney Meers was featured as one of our “Young Women to Watch,” you can learn more about her here. The interactive discussion focused on Whitney’s experience switching careers and how setting goals can help us all advance.


Whitney began by asking how many participants wanted a change in their lives—whether it was finding a new job, making a career switch or developing a new skill. “How much time do you spend on career development?” she asked, and for many of us, the answer was quite little.  “I challenge you to make time to focus on this and to treat it like an actual meeting.”

She told participants to open their calendars and make a date with themselves, “Make no plans for Tuesday night, and instead of watching that movie you’ve been really wanting to see, take some time and focus on your career development. Think of it like going to the gym,” she explained. “Although you might not want to, you know every time you go, you feel better, and the more you keep up with it, the better you feel.”

Next, she asked participants how they defined professional development. “The answer is unique to each one of us,” but the excuse that you’re “strapped for time” does not work! “If this is an important goal, you have to make time to accomplish it.”

This brought participants to part two of the exercise, which she focused on, “What will help you achieve your goal?” Participants began calling out suggestions, which Whitney wrote on post-it notes. They ranged from gaining proficiency in a skill set, attending classes, networking, meeting with mentors, updating your resume, compiling work samples, having work objectives, taking on more responsibility at work and many more.


While these were all great ideas, it was overwhelming! Whitney explained that with so many options, we often don’t bother with any. We had to prioritize. She suggested that during the time we set aside for career development, to write out the different steps we could take to achieve our goals. Then, prioritize and decide which methods to pursue first. Most importantly, make the commitment to follow through.

Thank you Whitney for the wonderful evening and for inspiring us to make change happen!

By Sarah Reinheimer

London Workshop: How to Build a Strong CV

On Tuesday evening in London (17 June 2014), we were delighted to welcome a group of you to our workshop: How to Build a Strong CV.

Hosted by recruitment expert Helen Artlett- Coe of City recruitment firm Crimson, the two-hour session aimed to equip attendees with the knowledge needed to sell their skills effectively on their CV. Our group was mixed with students, recent graduates and professionals with 15+ years of experience from a variety of career backgrounds.

London CV

Participants in London

Group exercises were followed by lively discussion. Did you know that following the Age Discrimination Act, most applicants are now leaving their date of birth off of their CV? Or that there is a new fashion in recruitment to add ‘Other skills and interests’ or ‘hobbies’ due to post-recession competitiveness?

London CV2

Participants discuss the key to a great CV

Commenting on the event, Helen said:

“Applying for a new opportunity is so competitive in today’s market, you need to stand out – and for the right reasons! Your CV is the first impression you will make on any potential employer, so it’s important you get it right.

 “How to construct a stand out CV is a subjective topic; one could ask three different sources for guidance and receive three different opinions. In this session we endeavoured to amalgamate a range of advice and 14 years’ worth of recruitment industry experience to build a CV that was current, relevant and concise.”

London CV3

Make your CV stand out from the crowd!

Here are a few of our key takeaways from the workshop:

  • The most common mistakes on CVs are spelling mistakes and grammatical errors. Proof read your CV, do it again, and then ask someone else to do the same.
  • Think about the aesthetics – is your CV easy on the eye? Make sure your text isn’t too small and you haven’t crammed in too much.
  • Make sure your dates line up and unless you were doing two jobs at the same time, make sure they don’t cross over.
  • Have you taken time out of work due to redundancy or travel? Be honest and explain any gaps.
  • Make sure you know your CV inside out- you need to know every single bullet point and be able to talk about it all at ease in an interview.
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Refreshments after an evening of hard work!

A special thanks to Helen Artlett- Coe and Lucinda Hammond from Crimson and to Nicola Martin from Leadarise London!

Changing Course: From Law to Digital Media

Whitney Meers

Meet this month’s Young Woman to Watch, Whitney Meers from New York City. Whitney is a writer and freelancer, helping companies and individuals tell their stories through digital media. She’s also a digital marketing career coach with General Assembly.

Like many young professionals today, Whitney’s career path changed course when she realized what she studied in university wasn’t the career she wanted to pursue. Read her open, honest and funny blog post about how she gathered the courage to make a satisfying switch. 

Join us in #NYC on 6/30 for a networking event with Whitney: 

  1. What brought you to New York and what is your current role?

I came to New York to go to law school. Some people have very long and satisfying careers in in the legal profession, but law school was an expensive way to find out I’m not one of those people! But the great thing is that law school took me to New York, and it was here that I discovered a love for storytelling in all forms. I worked in a law office while writing at night and working on film sets in my spare time. I was eventually hired to do some work with DailyCandy, which is owned by NBC Universal, where I developed the foundations I needed to become a strong marketer. I built those skills even more by enrolling in the digital marketing program at General Assembly, which felt like an expensive investment at the time but has paid off tremendously! The move into a strategy focus is more recent – basically, it’s taking those same storytelling skills, pairing them with the analytic skills you learn in law school, and aiming to help generate real results for your clients.

  1. How much courage did it take to transition from law to digital media?

At the suggestion of one of my instructors, I went to a career counselor. The counselor said I seemed to light up when I talked about creative projects, where I seemed bored and distracted talking about the law. She suggested I spend a week pretending I wasn’t going to be  lawyer after school, just to see how I felt. It was like a huge weight was magically lifted. It definitely took courage to change my course, but it’s also a matter of perspective – I’m definitely much happier in the role I’ve chosen. And, it’s a huge relief to never have to look at another legal document again!

Since most of my work is freelance, there’s never any real security – but the better you get, the more you develop the confidence to work only on projects that can actually help you grow. And, ultimately, if you’re not growing, then what’s the point of any of this? Even when things seem risky, working with collaborators you trust and respect really helps ease the fear of failure. So ultimately, it takes a lot of courage on a daily basis, but without that fear of failure you can never really know success.

  1. What challenges do you face as a freelancer? What are your triumphs?

As a freelancer, there are definitely times I have to spend weeks chasing down payments! There’s also the challenge of learning when to say “no” – to a client request, a time-consuming project or anything else that doesn’t seem to add value toward my life goals. In terms of triumphs, I tend to be very achievement-oriented, so when a new project launches or a concept shows real results, it’s always a great feeling. The constant learning and the numerous teaching opportunities also drive me on a day-to-day basis.

  1. How do you set your schedule and ensure work/life balance?

In a lot of ways, they’re one in the same to me. I exercise in the mornings, allow myself to take breaks when I need them and make time for my friends, all of whom are wonderfully weird people in really neat industries doing awesome things. On nice days, I’ll work outside or take a long walk to clear my mind. If things get too stressful, I’ll remember relief is usually a few deep breaths and a chai latte away.

When things at the workplace are really tough, communication is key. These days, most employers realize that an overworked employee is less useful than a relaxed, focused one. When I’m struggling, I aim to be transparent – what are the roadblocks? Why are they causing problems? And, most importantly, how can others help me get the job done?

  1. Who/what inspires you?

I’m always inspired to see people doing interesting and creative things, particularly women, who don’t always get the accolades they so rightfully deserve. Even just remembering to be aware in the moment is a way to reflect and find inspiration in unexpected ways.

On busy days, even little bouts of creativity throughout the day can help keep me going, like seeing an interesting Google doodle or checking out a funny video. If I’m ever feeling low, I know that there’s nothing a YouTube video of an adorable dancing hamster can’t cure.

  1. What would be the most important work lessons you’d like to share with other young women?

Don’t be afraid to take risks, and use failures as learning opportunities. And, support others doing great things. A little bit of healthy competition is good, but at the end of the day, there’s enough room for all of us to succeed. And, be nice to everyone… we live in a world where it’s entirely possible for your clueless intern to become a tech millionaire overnight.

Also, don’t be afraid to speak up. You’d be surprised how many things I’ve gotten simply by being confident enough to ask for them.

  1. Would you do anything differently?

I’d focus more on my relationships with others, since these solid relationships are the cornerstone of most of my work prospects. People always want to work with someone they know or who comes highly recommended. I’d also spend less time stressing and more time living. I’d probably also drink a lot less Red Bull – it’s so important to get a full eight hours of sleep at night! And if I’m being totally honest, I’d also splurge a bit more on fancy cheeses and fine wines – sometimes you just have to treat yourself!

8. What will the next 5 years look like?

In five years I’d like to have written a book, a funny-yet-informative business book based on stories from my own crazy life. I’d also like to own my own business – I have a solid education-based startup idea, but I’m keeping it a secret until I get my millions in funding! As long as I’m still teaching and still learning every day, I know I’ll be happy.