"If you try, you are almost there! Be professional. Be authentic. Know your job and let your voice be heard. "
Meet Helena Dionisio, Country Manager for Pernod Ricard Mozambique, the Group's youngest affiliate.
Tell us about your background?
I was born and raised in Nazare, Portugal and moved to Lisbon at 19 to study Marketing. By the time I was 24, with my father’s support, I took my first steps on an international career path as an export manager for Portuguese wineries.
At that time, there were only three women doing what I did vs 80 male export managers! I was able to travel the world, and eventually join a three-year project in Angola. That’s when my time in Africa started.
By the time I was 27 I built a company from scratch dedicated to wine & spirits. I was the only woman in the business in Angola! I went through some tough times in, what is traditionally a man’s world, but my company supported me. I moved to Pernod Ricard as Angola’s Commercial Director, and now work as Mozambique’s Country Manager.
What’s it like being a country manager in an emerging market?
Emerging markets are full of opportunities. I like the fact that we can have a positive impact on society. One needs to remember, it’s neither our country, nor our laws or our rules, so we really need to be creative, supportive, and respect everyone. You also have to be very resilient! If not, you just won’t be successful.
I’ve experienced a lot of frustrations, but also celebrated plenty of victories - no matter the size. I feel I also have a responsibility, as a foreigner, to contribute and leave this world a bit better than I found it. I don’t only mean from a brand experience point of view for consumers, but also on a personal side. I suppose that is the secret of my success!
What are the greatest challenges for professional women in Africa?
I would say firstly healthcare, then water supply and electricity on a daily basis – as well as access to education for the locals. And, being respected as the “Boss Lady” means investing a lot of time and positive leadership. You need your values, theirs and the company’s to connect.
Some women in Africa are great entrepreneurs, but they don’t necessarily have the same opportunities. Gaining access to capital to start their own businesses isn’t easy, for example. The journey is harder when compared to a man’s, but any challenge can be overcome by the greatest of warriors!
What can a company do to foster women’s development?
Companies worldwide should develop and promote talent, no matter the gender. Professionals all deserve the same opportunities. I firmly believe that it should all be down to the person who deserves it.
With so much travel, how do you manage your work/life balance?
Unfortunately, there is no magic solution. I am a very lucky to have been successful with my family’s full support. I try my best to be present when I’m home, even if I have to work, we always find a way. My job is not easy but my family is proud of me and very understanding.
What advice would you give to a woman who would like to follow in your footsteps?
If you try, you are almost there! Be professional. Be authentic. Know your job and let your voice be heard. Never take any advice from people that tell you that you cannot do it! And, remember that nothing in life should be taken for granted.