Karine Vasselin

Group Diversity & Inclusion Lead – Capgemini

Karine has an initial background in Research & Teaching. She is an experienced HR Business Partner and People Manager. Along her career in Capgemini, she has had several lives, from Managing Consultant, HR Operations Manager, Talent Lead, HR Director for Sales, and Account Manager. Karine has been working in global or corporate roles for more than 10 years. She spent 4 years in London where she grew a passion for Diversity and Inclusion. In February 2021, she was appointed Group D&I Director for Capgemini.

Karine’s journey

I started by doing research and teaching Sociology in a laboratory affiliated to the CNRS (the French national center for scientific research) while I was a PhD student. Through this, I had the opportunity to contribute to an external study, which led me to discover that I enjoyed consulting.

I’ve been working for Capgemini ever since, for 25 years now. During this time, I have had the opportunity to work in a multitude of contexts and hold different roles. For 14 years I was a management consultant, specializing in HR efficiency and change management. Since then, I have been a global talent leader and an HR director for the group sales function.

Now, I’m in charge of defining the diversity and inclusion strategy as part of the Group CSR team. It’s very important for me to keep in touch with the new generation of recruits into the organization. From recruitment fairs to our fresher onboarding, it’s clear that candidates care about the impact that companies are having on the planet and society, and we must show that our commitments in these areas are authentic.

On their Role Models

I’m very inspired by female pioneers in science. The most iconic for me is Marie Curie. I live 200 meters away from the lab where Marie worked, and for me, she was truly amazing because she was on the cutting edge of technology. She won two Nobel Prizes, one with her husband and one alone, and I think about the journey she must have faced to achieve a Nobel Prize alone as a Polish woman in France at that time. To be so resilient and so convinced of the research she was doing, and to accomplish what she did, is so inspiring.

“To be so resilient and so convinced of the research she was doing, and to accomplish what she did, is so inspiring.”

Risks and achievements

The biggest risk I’ve taken was not in my career but in my personal life, when I discovered I had a disease and had the option of undergoing high-risk surgery. I decided it was worth doing because I’m a true believer in science and in the capacity of doctors. While it didn’t go quite as planned, the surgeons found another way to adapt and made it a semi-success, shaping the rest of my life.

Reverting back to my professional life, what I’m most proud of is the impact I’ve had on the development and progression of people that I managed as either an HR leader or a direct manager throughout my career.

Advice to their 18-year-old self

If I could speak to my 18-year-old self, I would tell myself to be bolder and more confident, to feel empowered. It’s important to believe in yourself first, and others will follow.

Navigating their career

My personal journey continues to shape the way I navigate my career, even today. I remember when I was 18, I left my small town and went to a top university in Paris. I was shocked when I was welcomed by the head of teaching, who told me, “Congratulations, you’ve made it here. But don’t take it for granted, because statistically most of the young women who come from less-posh schools outside of Paris fail at the end of the year”. I was so disappointed, but I thought to myself, I’m going to prove you wrong. And while it was hard, I did. This has stuck with me and it’s this resilient attitude that I have maintained throughout my career.

A career is full of opportunities and obstacles, but what’s important is how you react to them. For example, when I was a young student, I had originally planned to join the police, until I realized I wasn’t tall enough. I had to go for another option – I opted for HR, and I don’t regret it. I adapted to what appeared in front of me.

In 2015, I was introduced to the topic of diversity and inclusion when I moved to the UK: I had the opportunity to attend a passionate debate on the topic of mixed-gender toilets. Beyond the anecdote, it expanded my horizons and made me think more broadly about the importance and the value that inclusion can bring: attracting talent, retaining it, and creating more innovative teams. Following that, I decided to make a shift from HR into a more specialized role around DEI, giving me the platform to create enhanced value for the organization as well as our colleagues and the communities we live in.

The benefits of connecting globally

At Capgemini, we operate at a global level, meaning we have to create values that are relevant across regions and be consistent and aligned with our strategy, while respecting local specificities. This involves taking a ‘glocal’ approach, combining global guidelines to define a framework but leaving room for adaptions at a country level, considering local legislations or cultural sensitivity. It’s not easy, but it’s important. When considering diversity and inclusion, there can’t be a one size fits all approach.

On debunking myths and misconceptions

In my experience, the biggest misconceptions are the two radically opposing views of disability. They are either a highly paternalistic or pitying attitude, or one that paints those with disabilities as superheroes. In reality, people are somewhere in the middle. We mustn’t forget that most of the time, it’s largely the situation that creates the disability, rather than the disease or impairment itself. If you are well-equipped and supported, you can be paraplegic , but still be able to drive a car, or for example, you could be blind but still a top athlete.

Every effort we make to be more inclusive of people with a limitation or impairment can also have a positive impact on those who don’t have disabilities. For example, installing a ramp outside your business may also make it more accessible for parents with pushchairs, and using transcription devices during corporate video calls can help people who speak another language or have a different first language.

“We mustn’t forget that most of the time, it’s largely the situation that creates the disability, rather than the disease or impairment itself.”

Unique challenges and opportunities of driving inclusion

French culture influences our working environment, as we are headquartered and have roots in France along with the local rules and regulations to follow. This means, for example, when we have global discussions around ethnic minorities, it can be difficult to align on the same objectives or create a global objective as in the UK or the USA, because regulations do not allow for reporting on ethnicity in France. While this presents its own challenges, we apply the glocal model of starting with our value system that is then translated to specific objectives in accordance with the local regulations and needs of society.

Another example is with regards to disability. France is not unique in its approach to inclusion, we are well-equipped with our Mission Handicap, and legislation is proactive and effective with parallels in other countries like Brazil. Of course, we try to do better than just following the legislation, and as a result we invest in developing awareness, to change mindsets. We understand that people can be impacted by disability at any stage of their lives and that not all disabilities are visible. It’s important to encourage people to speak up and to see how we can implement the right adjustments for them to be happy and well-positioned at work. Most of the time it’s just minor tweaks to physical work environments or, for example, offering flexible working, which has helped a lot of people to deal with their conditions or obligations related to their disabilities.

Practical advice for business leaders and allies

Business leaders and allies alike have a role in developing a more inclusive workplace. It’s important that managers and leaders demonstrate a personal commitment. This can be done through attending training sessions as well as leading a team which represents different faces of diversity.

If that’s not possible, commitment can be demonstrated through mentoring schemes, whereby leaders can mentor people with disabilities or become a sponsor of employee networks. For example, at Capgemini we have the ‘CapAbility’, network which supports employees with disabilities, neurodivergent people and care givers.

We all have a role to play in building a more inclusive workplace.