Women Who Inspire Me: Cécile Bernard Pochet
From the moment I first landed in Paris with five friends and our teacher from our high school French class, I knew the city was going to change my life. It did at that moment, and the city has continued to inspire me to this day. One priceless gift I received from Paris is my friendship with Cécile Bernard Pochet, a Parisienne I met through the Professional Women’s Club of Chicago (PWCC.) Cécile is an incredibly strong and compassionate woman, and someone I admire greatly. Please read her story below.
You’re a woman who’s in a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Math) field, which I admire. Can you explain what piqued your interest in STEM?
I was always interested in numbers, and I hated anything irrational, based on beliefs and myths, with no explanation. Math, physics and chemistry are sciences where all can be explained, and I liked that. I love to get to the point, so finding solutions the quickest way possible with all these rational equations appealed to me. In my current job as Global Key Account Manager at a plastics packaging supplier, I use my STEM skills by asking the right questions to my customers – usually an R&D (Research & Development) or Process Manager – which a regular sales person wouldn’t ask. It helps me go faster in the sales process and adds credibility.
Being a Parisienne, tell me what inspired you to live and work in the U.S.
I learned English when I was 10 years old, and my parents sent me to live with my mom’s friend in the UK for three months. When I think about it, it was pretty adventurous at the time, sending a 10-year old child far from her family to a foreign country. I recently asked my mom how I reacted when she had announced I would be away for three months. She told me I was a very courageous little girl, and took it pretty well. On my end, I had a very good memory of the whole experience. When I came back, I went to the American Section of my middle school, where all my peers had actually lived for several years in the U.S. I was fascinated by this, and from there, made it a goal for myself to one day, too, live the same experience. I made my dream come true 22 years later, when in 2012 my company sent me for a delegation in Chicago. I lived there six (6) years and loved every bit of it.
How was living in Chicago different than Paris? What took you by surprise? What did you like the most? The least?
While I had traveled for vacation in the U.S. on the West Coast, I had no expectations whatsoever of Chicago, because I didn’t know anything about the city – like most Parisians (shame on them!). When my husband and I got to Chicago we were taken away. What a beautiful city and skyline! So rich, so modern yet full of history! First off, it’s a lot cleaner than Paris. People are more respectful of what is shared, and it shows. Everyone welcomed us very warmly. And yes, the winter is a little cold (and longer than the French winters), but when summer shows up, it’s a party all by itself. I loved taking my kids to Oak Street Beach within walking distance from my apartment. And the outdoor concerts in Grant Park are wonderful! The Art Institute of Chicago is magical. Chicago is also a lot more kid-friendly than Paris. People don’t complain when you come in a restaurant (which happened to me in Paris!); the stroller can go anywhere. Plus, we could take the subway 24/7. And it’s not as crowded. And really, you can’t beat American service. The only thing is that day care services are a lot more expensive in Chicago than Paris.
You were very involved in the Professional Women’s Club of Chicago (PWCC) when living here. How did this help you with networking and your career?
The delegation job I had was a remote position from Chicago. All of my colleagues were in the suburbs, and my team members were mostly men, all spread out throughout the USA. I needed to understand how corporate America worked, especially from a woman’s point of view. My husband recommended I look for a professional women’s network, which is literally what I typed in the Google search bar. And guess what, the Professional Women’s Club of Chicago (PWCC) was the first one on the list. I noticed from the website – which was very user-friendly – that you could come for a luncheon to try it out first. I loved my first luncheon, and decided to join right away. It gave me incredible tips on how to network for my day job. Working in sales, I had to know how to mingle in trade shows and at networking events, but also, I was able to participate in PWCC’s mentoring program, first as a mentee (thank you, Carlann Fergusson for being an amazing mentor), then as a mentor myself, where I noticed that I could make a difference for women. That’s when I started thinking of becoming a Trainer/Coach /Business consultant. It’s a process I’m working on right now, and I wouldn’t have thought of it if it weren’t for PWCC. My involvement got me to serve on the PWCC Board, where I spent an amazing time with the smartest women. Finally, and most important, it helped me find some of my best friends in Chicago.
You are a wife, mother of two, a triathlete, and have a career, plus love the arts and culture. How do you keep it all together? What do you do to relax?
Indeed, days are only 24 hours, and sometimes I wonder how I can make that fit! First off, my family gives me energy. My kids and husband are wonderful, and very supportive of what I do. I couldn’t have it all if it weren’t for my perfect husband. Like Cheryl Sandberg said in Lean In, the key to success is your partner. We share the house chores (which are not just taking the kids to soccer practice on Saturday morning, but also, laundry, cooking, dishwashing, taking care of sick kids, etc…) and when I’m in a training season for the triathlons, he cranks it up. I think eating dark chocolate helps, as well as being surrounded by your friends. I also like a massage once in a while but unfortunately, I rarely have the time.
If you could define yourself in three words, what would they be?
Powerhouse, enthusiastic, go-getter (persistent is another one). I have a lot of energy, and when I know what my target is, I go there and nothing can stop me! If I can give any advice it would be, if you have a dream, go for it, visualize yourself as being successful at it, and it will happen. It worked for me for the US expatriation!