Mireille Guiliano: Why French Women Don't Get Fired

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Women, Work & the Art of Savoir Faire author Mireille Guiliano

In her two previous books, French author Mireille Guiliano instructs women on how to live their lives to the fullest by, ironically enough, not eating to the fullest. She insists that the French have the right answers, pointing to the French joie de vivre as one of the reasons why the country's women stay so infuriatingly thin. (The title of her first book says it all: French Women Don't Get Fat.) In her latest book, Women, Work & the Art of Savoir Faire: Business Sense & Sensibility, released in the U.S. last week, Guiliano tackles the business world, using her distinctive French philosophy and her 20 years of experience as a spokesperson for Veuve Cliquot to give women advice on striking the right balance between their personal and professional lives. TIME spoke with Guiliano about the book and why she believes women are smarter than men.

What inspired you to write this book?
I really never thought about writing a business book before. They struck me as dry and kind of boring and I even have a hard time getting through one myself. But I've lectured at many American universities and many young women would come up to me after my speeches and ask why I don't write about my business experience. As I recently resigned from my corporate job [at Veuve Cliquot], I decided now was the time to write it.

What do you hope women will gain from the book?
The word that I constantly hear out of women is fear. It's almost like a background melody. Women have excellent degrees and experience, but we are afraid we aren't good enough because we have such high expectations. You must of course find your passion, but quality of life should take precedence over your work life.

As a French woman, did you find that working in New York changed your work-life balance?
Definitely. At times I caught myself letting work take over. Then one day, I asked myself what I was trying to prove. I am not Superwoman. You put your health and personal life in danger. But it's not worth it. We all need some "me" time — and women [do] more than men because we juggle so much more.

What's the difference between working in the U.S. and working in France?
In France, women are 15 years behind U.S. businesswomen because we weren't exposed to feminism like [women were] in America. But French women are not so ambitious career-wise. Quality of life is very important in France. I have many friends who turned down promotions and more money because it would affect their quality of life as a couple or a mother. I was pleased to hear this. This is not a sign of weakness.

There is no shortage of business books out there. What sets your book apart from everything else being that's been written on the subject?
I noticed that the current [business] books on the market are all written by Fortune 500 male CEOs and they don't really address the issues that women face. I make the analogy between developing a brand for a product and a brand for a woman. Women are not only judged by the value of delivering reports and presentations, but also by how we look and how we behave much more than men. The way you communicate through your gestures, facial expressions, how you dress and express yourself is ever so important. But MBA programs don't stress these subtle communication skills.

You make a mention in your book of TIME's decision to select American Women as its 1975 Person of the Year. What is your perspective on that?
TIME's year of the woman in 1975 was nice as a concept, but it wasn't necessarily the case [for women] down in the trenches. Back then women were few and far between in business, even in America. It was too early and we were not there yet. Things have only started to speed up for the past five to 10 years and now things are changing.

You also stress the importance of mentoring in the book. Why do you think this is so important?
Young women need more role models and mentors. We can't get to the top key positions because the men are there and they are threatened because we are smarter than them.

We are! Women are smarter by basic instinct and by what we have to do to multitask at home and at work. My mother did that 50 years ago, but it wasn't called multitasking or stress back then. She had a job, two kids and the meals to make with no cook or maid. My father would come home every day and expect lunch. He was a nice guy, but he was clueless!