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French women don't get fat, but they do get work-life balance Add to ...

Five years ago, Mireille Guiliano rejected the notion of American-style deprivation diets in her international bestseller French Women Don't Get Fat. Instead, her pleasure-oriented approach to staying thin combined classic principles of Gallic gastronomy, time-honoured secrets of French women and common sense. In her new book, Women, Work & the Art of Savoir Faire, Ms. Guiliano tackles women and their careers in similar style - applying her joie de vivre to the topics of advancement, leadership, risk-taking and, above all, achieving pleasure and balance.

A long-time champion of women in business and one of the few to reach the top of the luxury goods industry, Ms. Guiliano spent 20 years as chief executive officer of Clicquot Inc., the U.S. division of the celebrated French Champagne company. Under her leadership, the brand grew from less than 1 per cent to more than 25 per cent of the U.S. market.

What inspired you to write this book?

Every time I lectured in America, women would approach me afterwards to suggest I write a book of just this kind: not a business textbook but a guide to balancing work life with life life. This is why my business book, while covering important workplace skills and strategies, also covers style and food and wine and entertaining: because you can't disassociate work from life. The book I wrote is as much about ' art de vivre' as it is about getting ahead.

Words like 'fast tracking' and 'sweat equity' are part of our work vernacular. But thinking about one's career in terms like 'pleasure' and 'savour' - that's pretty radical. What does it mean in practical terms?

I see it in France. Quality of life remains essential to the French and they are unified on what this means. Work should be something you can take some pleasure in - for the simple reason that it gives you more equilibrium with which to enjoy life. If you have a happy relationship with your work, you are in a better headspace to enjoy your family and the rituals and traditions that anchor French life. Being home in time to prepare and eat dinner together, for example, is something lots of families of all social and economic strata still do. It makes for a more organized, sensible approach to work: less about sacrifice, making money, running after promotions and more about knowing what matters at a given time.

Finding pleasure, feeling good in your skin, in the midst of this economy adds an extra challenge, no?

It's about managing your expectations and coping with challenges as they arise. The job situation in France is even worse than North America yet I'm constantly amazed by how débrouillardes [resourceful]French women are. They have the inner strength and equilibrium to do what it takes, see their situation as a phase and rise to the occasion. They will take a bad job and see it as a temporary thing to help the family. They stay positive and sensible, making do with less in ingenious ways.

Any advice for those starting out in their career? How to move forward with purpose and passion in a recession?

I advise them to think outside the box and, for example, volunteer in a foreign country. They'll come out of it with new skills and also with an understanding of a new culture, a new language. You can't put a price on that. Perhaps 'knowing thyself … or finding oneself' is most important in sorting through the internal quest for balance between passion and talent in a career.

But what about if one can't afford to take the time away?

Find a mentor - someone who can help you analyze your strengths and weaknesses and jump-start a career plan. Working for Veuve Clicquot in New York, I'd see bright young women from small towns who weren't told by HR in advance about the company's expectations on working evening events and dressing the part. I used to wonder how one of our employees could afford a mink coat on her salary until I learned she was on a 10-year payment plan. This is an example of where a mentor would be helpful - someone could either steer you away from the industry or at least help you craft your image more affordably.

Especially if this mentor were French perhaps?

[Laughs.]Yes, perhaps because we have such small closets, we grew up knowing how to make 10 outfits out of four. We learned to mix and match and fool the world.

Anything else a North American woman can learn from a French one?

Of course my book is about business and women not French women, but that said: A French woman would rarely take a business call or check her work e-mail on a Saturday night or during a meal in a restaurant or a show at the theatre. Separating personal from professional life is essential to find one's equilibrium. But I find that French women have a lot to learn from American women and are often envious of the progress they've made, the difference they make in the work place and the fact that so many more are in key positions.

Special to The Globe and Mail

Advice from the corner office

In her early days as chief executive officer of Clicquot, Inc., Mireille Guiliano dreaded presenting the annual budget. Time after time, the boardroom of all-male French executives would be numb to her requests for more marketing dollars. One year, during a pivotal moment in her presentation, Ms. Guiliano casually rolled up the sleeves of her classic business suit - to reveal the Veuve Clicquot "anchor" tattooed on both her lower arms. Amid a buzz of male reaction, the tension and detachment in the room vanished. "The executives thought I was completely crazy - but committed to the extreme," she recalls. The budget was accepted pas de problème .

The lesson: Knowing when - and how - to take a risk can help overcome an impasse in work and in life.

Other pieces of advice from Ms. Guiliano:

Fire your boss and hitch your wagon to a star: Pick your boss carefully and "fire" a bad one by getting yourself into a new situation as quickly as possible. Telltale characteristics of a true leader or a talented manager include the ability to motivate people emotionally. Decisiveness, consistency and the ability to delegate with trust and confidence are also good indicators.

Use your strongest communication skill to set you apart. According to Ms. Guiliano, great communication skills trump intelligence, knowledge and experience as the secret to business success. Whether it is writing brilliant memos or e-mails, presenting complex financial information simply, giving great presentations or simply being a dazzling lunch date, identify your strongest communication asset and exploit it.

Do not promise too little, but do not promise too much: Learn to identify and commit to aggressive but achievable goals. This could mean something as simple as saying no to the boss who asks for the report a week before it is realistically do-able. "Being able to forecast accurately and deliver quality earns respect, even if it involves a little pushback."

Get more sleep: In terms of achieving balance and lowering stress, nothing beats a good night's sleep. If you are waking up in the middle of the night to think about work or write project-related Post-it notes, consider it a warning sign. Going to bed at the same time every night is pivotal to a good night's rest and a good day's work.

 

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