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 www.aurelievaltat.eu and can be reached on Twitter at @avaltat.

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