In Conversation with…Adeline Le-Franc, Chief Financial Officer, Manufacturing and Supply

Women@Sanofi celebrates our highly successful women who work with dedication and passion across our teams worldwide to deliver solutions in healthcare for everyone, everywhere. This series of conversations allows you to discover who they really are, what drives them and the rich mix of cultures and perspectives they bring to the table. As individuals they lead the way and push the boundaries, and as a whole they embody our engagement and actions to instill gender equality into the fabric of everything we say and do. 

The second series of Women@Sanofi focuses on the diverse mix of cultures and nationalities of our women at the top as well as their desire to ensure an inclusive and open workplace.  

Adeline Le-Franc is Sanofi’s Chief Financial Officer for Manufacturing and Supply. She has held various positions in the finance sector since joining Sanofi in 1995. She began her career as an intern while completing her studies at ESSEC Business School in Paris and then accepted her first job as a Market Analyst for Eastern Europe. She took the opportunity to move to Japan, where she worked as the Controlling, Purchasing and Planning Manager for Sanofi Tokyo R&D unit, juggling her career with a young family and a new country and culture.

What made you decide on healthcare?

After my baccalaureate, I decided to study business. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do and it was a way to put off having to make a choice. While at university, I met a very inspiring professor who gave me a passion for health care and I found an apprenticeship opportunity with Sanofi in marketing. Once there, I realized I wanted to stay.

What has been one of the greatest moments in your career?

When I was 27, I got the opportunity to move to Japan; it was more a work opportunity for my husband. I told Sanofi I am going and that I would like to continue to work for them if possible. We took a big risk and moved before they confirmed I had a job!

Was it hard to adapt to a new culture?

It was a big jump moving to Japan. I had a three-year-old and had just given birth to my second child, but I am very attracted by Japanese culture. I practice the martial art aikido, as does my husband, so we were both keen to live there, but we fully underestimated the cultural differences. 

I quickly understood that it would be difficult to integrate, so I learnt to live in a country where I am a foreigner, which is no small thing. It was important not to try to be Japanese as this felt fake. In the end, I got on very well with the Japanese. 

Giving birth in Japan was really an experience; luckily it was the third one. In Japan─I don’t know how it is now─there was no epidural when you gave birth, so it was really tough, but also rewarding to see how I was able to cope without all the support I would normally have had.

The biggest takeaway was realizing how French I was, my background, my habits, my training, everything that seemed normal was completely different in Japan. I learnt how our roots are really embedded in the way we do things and we don’t realize it until we start to live outside our comfort zone.

Being inclusive and diverse is a hot topic these days, where do you think Sanofi is in the conversation?

Tremendous progress has been made. When I look at where we were 20 years ago, Sanofi was a very French company, you almost had to speak French to be well integrated in the team and to progress.  Now it’s really much more global. 

Of course, there remains a lot to do. We do a lot for gender balance and to include different nationalities, but other kinds of inclusion is more difficult to talk about, it’s more personal. And I’m not sure we do enough there.

I had the opportunity to take part in the Challenge Your Bias workshop and it was striking to discover how biased I was. I thought I was tolerant, but the biases are there and we don’t see them. We are always underestimating our bias, so I try to keep that in mind.

Can you give an example of a bias you didn’t think you had?

In the workshop, there were pictures of people, some were black and some were white, and I thought OK, this is the bias, black versus white. When I saw the result, it showed I was still biased. So even though being cautious when answering the question and trying to be honest, the result showed that some bias still remained.

During Pride month in June some colleagues who are part of the LGBT community talked about being able to be completely themselves at work. Do you think Sanofi is doing enough to make everyone feel comfortable?

We have this willingness and genuine commitment to being open, but if I take my own experience, I have had only one discussion with a colleague who told me he was gay. So, for me that means we’re not there yet.

How inclusive and diverse is your team?

Finance and industrial affairs is traditionally more male-dominated and when you look up in the organization, there are more men, French men, traditionally. But it has changed a lot in the past few years. The management committee is much more balanced in terms of nationality and gender, but we’re still not at 50-50. In our management committees, we make a lot of effort to promote and to correct this non-equality. We can always do more, but it is moving so I prefer to see the glass half full.

I grew up in a male-dominated world with one brother and seven male cousins. I adapted to it. I never realized that it had an impact on me, but today during discussions about diversity and questions about what it means to be a minority, can you express yourself, do you feel apart or integrated into the group? I started to think about the fact that I had experienced this without knowing it and I think it shaped my personality.  

I had to make my voice heard. I don’t think it’s a ‘girl versus boy’ thing, it’s a minority thing. I was the only one of my gender. How do you move in a group where they have more things in common than you do? I was apart from the group, so you have to find your place and your personality. So I think it reinforces your personality.

Does your childhood experience have any link to getting a black belt in Aikido?

No, I didn’t do it just so that I could fight like a boy. I’ve been practicing Aikido since I was a young girl. It’s a sporting activity, but it is also a reflection, a relationship one has with others. The main principle of Aikido is to use the strength of the other, to try to neutralize what he or she is trying to do to you. I think the principle of Aikido applies a lot in real life, in professional life, in personal life.