Sabine has built an exceptional career within RENATER, starting in 1995 with the role of External Relations Officer to her current role as Strategy and International Relations Director.
Sabine, how did you first become interested in promoting connectivity, a (still) predominantly male-dominated field – and what kept you motivated to stay?
I started with RENATER after a few months as a consultant in the telecommunications field. When I saw an offer to join the French NREN I thought that this was the future! Indeed, that was back in 1995 at the beginning of the internet and I immediately felt that having a dedicated network for R&E would create big impact and create value!
That’s how I started, first in charge of contracting with our own users and then quickly taking part in building the pan-European network at the project governance level. And you know the story: we started with TEN-34, TEN-155, and then several generations of the GÉANT network, with more and more services and a growing Community… We were pioneers and we are at the heart of a fascinating digital transformation for R&E! That’s a motivation!
You have over 25 years of invaluable experience in the R&E community not only in Europe but, through your collaboration with African partners, also globally. Can you tell us what you value the most in your work with the Community and the end users?
We all have the same needs for excellence in R&E, on all continents. Moreover, R&E is global and we have created over the years a unique incredible network of people who trust in each other. I often used to say that “we are stronger together” as I very much value teamwork, exchange of experience and expertise as we learn from each other. And to succeed in this global community it’s key to listen and be able to understand different “cultures” in order to examine issues from a different perspective.
As for my involvement towards our African partners, we must support development of NRENs on this continent as they are facing many challenges, and we need to improve end-to-end connection for users taking part in education or scientific international collaborations.
How did your many years serving on the GÉANT Board of Directors influence you and your career?
It has been a great honour to be elected to serve on the GÉANT Board. Being on a board means taking key decisions on budget, HR, strategy, projects… it’s definitely complex but it makes you learn and think differently, in other words from a governance point of view. It was also a rich human experience at many levels, based on trust.
What can you tell us about the main challenges and obstacles that you have experienced as a woman building your way up in a STEM field? How did you overcome them?
Well, when I started, we were only two women attending the so called “NREN Policy Committee” gathering of 20+ NREN CEOs/Exec levels, and I could feel that some of the meeting attendees were really wondering what my job was at RENATER to be there. But working hard and showing empathy facilitated my integration and within a few months I really found nice and cooperative colleagues. Some of them even became my mentors in a sense.
Last year, the GCP launched the GÉANT Innovation Programme and awarded funds to ten international projects. During the showcase in March 2022, a point was raised that all the project coordinators were men. What do you think that the GCP can do to ensure that more women apply to future Calls for Proposals, and are more generally taking leading roles in the Community working groups?
I have never been in favour of quotas as I consider that Excellence is not a matter of gender!
To start with, it might be worth focusing on educating our community to prevent some attitudes or comments which could be embarrassing or hurting.
Then we should find a way to make our opportunities more visible to women in our community, either via dedicated professional networks or using own connections. We could also imagine showcasing success stories in universities or labs and disseminating around our global network.
We need to encourage young women to participate in projects and even take the lead wherever they feel they can do it!
To conclude, what would you say to an aspiring woman in STEM interested in building a career in the R&E community who is held back by the expected challenges?
Simply, “go for it!” I am sure there are plenty of young women who can enrich our community and I would enjoy meeting them. We definitely have to boost diversity!
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