You are not alone
Thursday, December 8, 2022
Karine Halimi-Guez is the Vice President-Head of Tax at Booking.com and has extensive experience in leading multicultural professionals on tax-related matters, including direct and indirect tax, audit management, and mergers and acquisitions (M&A) across multiple jurisdictions. She shared her thoughts on the importance of strong and effective mentorship in finding your professional forte, debunking the myth of Wonder Woman, and the crucial role of corporations in accelerating gender diversity hiring.
This year has been a particularly demanding -- yet fulfilling -- year for Karine, who joined Booking.com after an impressive tenure stretching more than two decades at FedEx. Having moved to the Netherlands in 2017, she had already tackled most of the early challenges of local expat life. However, taking on a new regulatory environment within the digital platform industry was a feat that required a fine balancing act between her extensive corporate knowledge, and the fresh perspectives and challenges of a world-renowned digital travel company navigating the aftermath of the pandemic. One of the first opportunities she pursued in those first ninety days, was to become involved in an employee resource group (ERG) championing gender diversity – which eventually led to Booking.com and RightBrains crossing paths.
The maturity to seek support
The old adage that taxes are one of the only certainties in life is remarkably apt in Karine’s field, but she also finds it to be an incredibly dynamic discipline. Interestingly, it’s not the career path she sought out specifically after initially completing her Master’s degree in Business and Finance. She describes her journey into the world of tax as one that happened by chance, but one that was also guided by her positive experiences with mentorship early in her career. She feels that she was privileged to practice tax as an enabler of business – and coupled with the right sponsorship and mentorship, she had a powerful springboard propelling her forward in a subject field that she still adores today. “Honestly, if it wasn’t for the strong mentorship I was exposed to organically in terms of the person I reported to, I initially would not have dared to ask.” She remembers how she was not very comfortable with networking in those days, but that her mentor helped her to finetune her networking skills in addition to other soft skills. “It takes maturity to recognise the need for support – it’s not an admission that you are failing in your career or your personal life. You don’t have to be Wonder Woman and figure it out all by yourself – that’s a myth that I will happily debunk. In short: You are not alone.” To Karine, mentorship is a give-and-take; mentor-mentee relationships can evolve over time but can even become a lifelong safe space, as is still the case with her own mentor today.
Karine draws inspiration from female influencers’ blogs and podcasts. She recommends the Harvard Business School podcast Women at Work and the LinkedIn blog of Avivah Wittenberg-Cox, who focuses on the overlaps between gender and generational balance. Biographies of the women who ‘fought the first corporate battles’ like former PEPSICO CEO, Indra Nooyi, also add to the complement of women who inspire her.
Creating an environment for ambition to thrive
Over the course of Karine’s career, she has learned that the strongest leaders have the ability to step back to let their teams shine. Offering support when faced with obstacles and owning failure is the leader’s job, but the key to functional and efficient teams is to expose them to light and fame while still expecting excellence. “I believe that ultimately, everyone wants to do a good job. It’s a simple principle, but one that is applied more rarely than one might hope.”
Future-proofing the digital talent pool
Creating a future-proof digital talent pool transcends good leadership practices, and Karine is mindful of the fact that market-leading multinationals like Booking.com have a massive role to play in accelerating change in gender diversity hiring. “Globally, it’s no longer a box to be ticked. It’s simply the right thing to do – and it's non-negotiable in terms of informing the bottom line. That being said, she feels that building the interest for young girls to pursue STEM careers and encouraging positive ‘infeed’ is a natural starting point. Once more women are attracted to these fields, comes the challenge of retaining female talent over the period of their careers when they begin building their families. It is during this transitional phase that companies should seek to uproot any underlying biases around whether women can still perform at their best as working mothers; retaining this segment becomes critical in developing a sustainable digital talent pool. Karine firmly believes that a woman is at her professional peak from her forties onwards -- and feels passionate about challenging inherently digested notions that a woman needs to ‘bow out’ and work part-time due to peer and familial pressure.
The challenge, should we collectively choose to accept it
“Visibility of positive role models and availability of mentorship platforms have an important role to play at every pivotal point in the tech career journey.” Karine believes that political efforts and infrastructure development in arenas like access to daycare can make a significant difference -- but ultimately, corporations have the biggest role to play. “Corporations can undoubtedly succeed where societal and political change may be frustratingly slow. If corporations truly grasp the potential of creating gender-diverse workforces, they can move mountains.”