Previously HR Director at Big Mamma, Elsa Darquier-Fournier is now Chief People Officer at Brut. Among the projects she has led at Brut are the strong increase in employee autonomy and a major organizational transformation, combining the best of journalism and business. These high-impact challenges have enabled Brut to establish its leadership status with a community present on every continent and generating 20 billion views by 2022.
On the program:
The search for impact as a driving force
Employees encouraged to leave their comfort zone and to learn about management
"We always prioritize agility, transparency and co-development.""
Create a common and glocal language
Parity and social dialogue in focus
Elsa Darquier-Fournier : I studied international law for 6 years, before realizing that I had a strong interest in business.
I started my career at L'Oréal, where I worked for 5 years in both Marketing and Human Resources. I then joined Big Mamma as HR Director for 4 years, then Brut in 2020.
E.D.F : I come from a family of entrepreneurs who have always been driven by a strong desire to make and create impact.
I was lucky enough to know my great-grandfather, who founded several insurance companies after the Second World War. He was driven by the will to rebuild France and to work for others, without expecting everything from the State. This has left a deep impression on me.
My parents also influenced me a lot because they were always very invested in human rights. I grew up with this desire to help and to have an impact.
At every stage of my career, the idea is for me to create impact, to be responsible for a project and to carry it forward.
E.D.F : My job description is quite varied! I'm in charge of HR, CSR - which is very important at Brut - and the management of an E-commerce BU.
This plurality is important in my opinion to have a strong impact on the company.
E.D.F : Yes, this is something we encourage a lot. It reinforces our corporate culture, which values autonomy and initiative.
This attitude is not so much guided by economic notions. We simply realized that it increased the impact of our employees within the company tenfold. This is particularly important for junior profiles who feel free to propose new ideas.
It's also the best training. Employees learn skills very quickly that would otherwise take months to master.
E.D.F .: In our editorial conferences, we encourage each journalist to propose the subject he or she wants to cover. Our editorial choices are not dictated by AFP or a political agenda. Journalists come up with the subjects that really interest them.
Given our large community, it can be confusing for journalists to have carte blanche - especially if they come from traditional newsrooms where the stories are dictated by the editor.
At Brut, we encourage them to break away from their old habits and create their own media agenda. This autonomy of our employees allows us to constantly innovate, to create new formats, to test new things on our different platforms... It is very much appreciated, but it needs to be supervised. In some cases, it can have the opposite effect and inhibit creative power.
In addition to this strong accountability, we give our employees the opportunity to have an impact on the life of the organization. For example, during evaluations, we ask everyone to set a goal for the company. Recently, one of our employees set a goal to eliminate all individual trash cans in the company. And we achieved that goal! This has allowed us to improve our carbon footprint.
E.D.F .: This requires a huge effort to train our journalists in managerial skills. They have to be both extremely competent in their field of expertise and know how to manage, which was not easy at the beginning.
When I arrived at Brut two years ago, no one had any management training. They had not been trained at all in this in their previous jobs. So we had to teach managers how to give feedback, how to unleash creativity, how to bounce back after a failure...
E.D.F : Even if Brut is no longer a start-up, we still prioritize agility, transparency and co-development. Staying agile allows us to constantly question ourselves, to prioritize and, consequently, to make better choices.
We purposely keep our organization somewhat vague. There is no director for everything and the core "top management" is not intended to grow much. This organization allows us to be more creative and to avoid unnecessary processes.
E.D.F .: In order for the vagueness to be good, there must be a lot of trust between people. Otherwise, it can create insecurity for some.
In a large group, everything is much more compartmentalized and competition, even if it can be healthy, is strong. At Brut, we don't have time to be in this competition because of our challenges - achieving profitability, making the group sustainable...
We help each other a lot. Personally, I would never have been able to take the lead of a BU without the trust of the co-founders and my peers. This is done through tips, mentoring, business sharing, tools...
E.D.F .: Co-development work is very important in an organization that wants to be free. In our CODIRs, for example, we set a topic to be discussed together rather than wasting time on nice presentations that everyone already knows about.
Our communication is also very direct. Honestly, I don't think I ever send emails to my CODIR colleagues. We prefer to talk face to face or via WhatsApp.
On a global level, we are keen to maintain a culture of transparency, by being as educational as possible. We make all our decisions as clear as possible to dispel doubts and fears.
E.D.F : First of all, it is important to know that Brut has changed profoundly in 2020. It was necessary to change our mindset because, in terms of our model, we went from being an editorial team to being a company.
When I arrived, the team consisted almost entirely of journalists. The objective was to recruit all the functions needed to grow: sales, marketing, tech, HR... Then, we had to create a company culture.
Creating a common language was a real challenge, because the company was made up of very different employees. Journalists, for example, are not used to hearing about performance, evaluations and objectives. Our other employees, on the other hand, are energized by this. So we had to be extremely careful with the words we chose.
E.D.F .: We have listed everything in a culture book. To begin with, we based it on a survey of our employees. It revealed a very strong sense of belonging - not least because they believe that their work at Brut has an impact on the world.
We then adapted our book culture in a "glocal" approach. As our teams are present in France, the United States and India, our values and missions must be reflected in each office.
The culture book serves as a guide for the recruitment of our future employees. Each candidate has to pass an interview based on the culture fit with one of our ambassadors. Most of our ambassadors are people who have been with Brut for a long time and who wanted to embody our corporate culture even more.
This culture interview is an extra step in the recruitment process, but it is vital to keep it running smoothly.
E.D.F .: I would say that all our major editorial moments are very strong events. I'm thinking in particular of the incredible work of the entire team in preparing for the interview with Emmanuel Macron in our offices in 2020. During these moments, the excitement is felt throughout the company.
These are the kinds of moments that bring people together, moments where the editorial comes first. These are the reasons our staff gets up in the morning, even the non-journalists.
E.D.F .: It was relatively simple because, from the beginning, the media was designed to be sustainable by the founders. Many things had already been put in place before I arrived, such as parity within the teams.
My role was mainly to finalize the projects to allow the certification in April 2021, that is 4 years after the creation of the media.
E.D.F : Yes, because this certification represents above all a first step. It has allowed us to acknowledge all the efforts we have made since the foundation of Brut. Since then, we have become a member of French Tech and we have signed the Pacte Parité.
But we always want to go further! Our next B-Corp certification, which takes place in 2024, will allow us to do so.
Among our actions undertaken since 2021, our CODIR has become parity and we have media dragged a pool of female representatives so that our speeches are truly representative of our team. We have also created a specific onboarding program for women returning from maternity leave, to better support them in this new career phase. Always in favor of parity, we want to increase the number of women on our board.
For this "re-certification", we will also be tested on our carbon footprint. We are really going into detail about our ways of working: we are making our shooting more agile, limiting our travel, changing our camera batteries... We are currently in the middle of this topic!
E.D.F : The first mistake that comes to mind is that I thought I had to prove everything myself. And this, even with a high level of seniority.
When I came back from maternity leave, I had to set up a new BU, in addition to my existing job. I was convinced that the task of bringing in business was mine alone and I didn't delegate enough.
I think that this desire not to disappoint, when you are given an important task, is very feminine. It's really the good girl syndrome. If I had it to do over again, I would delegate more to make the work more enjoyable for everyone - for the team, as well as for me - and to have a better pro-personal balance.
The other mistake I may have made is that I was not exemplary enough in some important battles. In particular, I worked during my maternity leave, whereas I was the first to propose an extension of maternity leave.
I think I conveyed an image of "we can handle everything", which can make a woman feel guilty if she needs more time for example.
With hindsight, I find that the duty to set an example is just as important as good communication. This is worth all the press releases.
The last mistake I can share concerns compensation transparency. I have tended not to give enough importance to this subject. Yet, in our Western culture, it remains super important! By ignoring it, I realized that a certain disparity could be created within the teams. So, if I had to do it again, I would talk much more frankly and freely about salaries, even those of top managers.
E.D.F .: I think there is a real need to rethink social dialogue. I dream of a future where the functioning of the CSE would be simplified, where its rules would be less rigid and where it would no longer be perceived as an "old-school" body. It's a chance to be able to elect and meet your employee representatives!
These changes can be achieved through changes in the law, but companies must also carry out this transformation. What role should be given to the CSE? How can we go beyond the binarity of employer-employee relations? How can we invent the social dialogue of the future? These are subjects that fascinate me.
After Emmanuel Macron's election to the Presidency, I volunteered if reflections were organized on these subjects, which led me to participate in the writing of the Pact law.
It has been pointed out to me that it is surprising for an employer to be proactive in these types of discussions. On the contrary, I think that this dialogue is vital for companies. What is really old-school is to try to systematically oppose the interests of employees and companies.