Nicole Dominique Le Maire has gained a reputation as a highly valued leader within the female business and Human Resources Industry. As a multi-talented woman entrepreneur and a global people connector, she is also the co-author of two books, including ‘The Female Leader’.
Nicole is an expert in leading people-based activity from a strategic and operational perspective, with a gift for developing entrepreneurs. As a result, she has gained tremendous experience guiding startups and entrepreneurs which has supplemented her MBA, MAHRM, and MCIPD and this has catapulted her to become one of the top leaders in the Human Resources and Female Leader industry.
Nicole was born in Rotterdam, The Netherlands, and has lived and worked in over 34 countries. Both her parents are now retired; her father was a paediatrician and her mother a homemaker and solicitor.
I am now 37 and can say that starting my own business has been a challenge, but one that inspires me every day. I love waking up and knowing that I will be doing something totally different each day.
How did your parents impact on your upbringing?
I had a very good childhood, with a clear focus that moving ahead in life through studying was very important. My mother decided to take some time off in her career to take care of the four children and she was the social mum, taking care of the whole neighbourhood, cycling everywhere to bring us to school, sport and other fun stuff.
My dad was usually away on calls or in the hospital, always helping people, a trait that I inherited – the people focus. He spent a lot of time with us during the weekend; going to the zoo, learning about plants, animals in the forest, the stars, playing sports. We were given a very global background, travelling four weeks a year to other countries, such as Ireland, Spain, France.
My whole family gave me all of the opportunities to be and stay a child whilst maintaining my individuality and talent, which was key. As for my dyslexia (very bad in Dutch, lesser so in English) it impacted me on various fronts. I had private support from an early age (first discovered when I was aged three).
How did you experience your dyslexia at that time?
I was very lucky that it was known that I was ‘special’ and got the different tools and techniques given to me from a young age, so I could learn how to do things my way. My overall family impacted my life by motivating me and showing who I was. I did one of the short lower high school levels, as that was the advice given by the education board.
However it was clear to my parents that I was a little bit more intelligent, as the school system saw and thought of me, and that was supported with my decision at the age of twelve to go abroad. My mum worked for a year to save up for me to go on a high school exchange year in the US after I graduated from Dutch high school when I was sixteen, which was the first move to being a world adventurer. If it would not have been for the constant recognition of my own talent and intelligence by my parents, I would not have come this far.
How did you overcome dyslexia and becoming a very successful woman?
After my year in the US, I came back to the Netherlands, and did two years of further education but I really did not like being back. I decided to move forward with my degree in Scotland, then did a Masters in HR, and got into a graduate scheme with a multi-national corporation. After a few years of working in the global HR team, I decided that I was less interested in the work, even though I was travelling 75% of my time (yes over 232 nights in hotels a year) and move forward with an MBA. I think my proudest moment was that I received the only ‘A’ in accounting (there were quite a few accountants in the class), because I truly understood the impact of the numbers on business and people.
I worked in many countries across the world and whilst working in the Middle East, decided I wanted to leave the corporate world and start my own business at the age of thirty five.
What inspires you and where do you find the energy and creativity to do such great things in life?
I am now 37 and can say that starting my own business has been a challenge, but one that inspires me every day. I love waking up and knowing that I will be doing something totally different each day. Someone mentioned to me that leaving the corporate world at my age was a hard decision to take, as the contacts that can help you move forward will only be there, when you could have had 15-20 years longer, especially in the people arena. I think that is why people like working with me – I love to have fun whilst at work, and deliver something that is perhaps a bit of a challenge to the organisations and industry.
The person also mentioned that the output of work that I am doing on a daily basis is something he has not seen in a long time, a true visionary entrepreneur. I see things very differently and that is the strength of my dyslexia. If I walk into a business, I see and know straightaway what should be adapted and to be more focused on people or new directions.
I love working with emerging countries – helping them set up or edit their HR functions, focusing on start-ups for women and just in general learning about their values and traditions.
What is your opinion about the role of women in business?
Oh, they are very important, powerful, and a catalyst that creates new opportunities for women just starting out. As women, we tend to value relationships and through that, we can open up new avenues for global partnerships that drive win-win relationships between organisations.
If you take me for example, I am a very creative individual who enjoyed coming up with new ideas for the corporate business I was working in. Now at that time there were certainly many benefits to working inside a company and focusing on moving the corporate business forward, yet the idea of putting too many eggs in one basket and working on multiple projects at once kept me excited, yet ultimately it lead to a feeling of boredom.
This boredom is very current and linked in many cases (from my experience) to high achievers (especially women) leaving the corporate workforce. In a way not taking the role of intrapreneurial women in the corporate industry serious can kill the spirit of true innovation. This could be the reason as to why so many corporate intrapreneurial programmes fail in the mainstream.
Women’s entrepreneurship is becoming an increasingly hot button topic. Women who want to experience financial independence and also experience the thrill that comes with owning one’s own business. There’s a lot that goes into running a successful business, and it can take a while to actually get something done, depending on how hard one works and what industry one chooses.
What is your experience of working with women and what are the biggest challenges that women face to succeed with their business?
In most parts of our society, we have come to accept that men and women generally have the same capability to do a job. However, as much as mainstream society is poised to embrace the growing power of women in the workplace, there are many studies that show that people are unable to grapple with the idea of a female leader, yet more and more surveys have shown that female managers and business leaders are getting higher marks and reviews than ever before.
As more women role models appear in industries and companies throughout the world, it is becoming clear to anyone that female leadership is not only real, but will likely surpass male leadership numbers in the future. I have worked with women in business for many years and I myself have faced the challenges of being a female intrapreneur whilst still working at companies such as DHL, Alstom, Epson and now as a female business owner.
From disparaging remarks about women not being capable of being in power to thoughts of self-doubt, it is not uncommon for a woman to feel pressurised and sometimes even bullied by her own employees. When these distractions enter her mind, it can make it really difficult for the business to grow. I see myself as a visionary people entrepreneur, but is that how others see me? At the industry level I work at, most women and men who are the decision-makers are one to two generations older, this is a challenge if one does not have the right contacts.
The bottom line is that people need to realise that female leadership really does exist, and that we as a society need to embrace it and encourage it.
Hang in there and connect with other women-preneurs, use social media and online tools to your advantage. It can be precarious to try and achieve that fine balance between vulnerability and strength.
What tips would you give for women who have just started their entrepreneurship journey?
Running a business that is not authentically you can be tiring. That is one of the reasons why so many businesses fail in the first two years. When setting out to “do your own thing“, most people are excited about the prospect of doing what pleases them, on their own terms.
Embrace your personal authenticity, confidence and self-worth. Enhance your decision-making skills, your communications. Hang in there and connect with other women-preneurs, use the social media and online tools to your advantage. It can be precarious to try and achieve that fine balance between vulnerability and strength.
That’s why, no matter how busy you are, be sure to make time for you – time when you can just reconnect with yourself, your goals and dreams.
What is the wisdom you would share with women who want to get engaged in business?
In order for a brand to be memorable, it has to stand out from the crowd. You need to be different from everyone else in order to create a memorable brand persona. Add your talents and skills to your unique persona, and you will find the sweet spot that only your company can fill.
It is a big step, so be sure it is really what you want. You have to commit to long-term growth and learning and you will face challenges that will help you develop as a woman in business.