On November 29th, HEC Alumni and HEC We&Men hosted 340 people at glamorous Parisian venue Pavillon Dauphine to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the opening of the HEC entrance exam to women. Three government officials spoke at the event. 

The doors of the Pavillon Dauphine opened just before 7 p.m. to welcome members of the HEC community, both men and women, who came to celebrate gender diversity on campus and in the workplace. Hosted by Hélène Bourbouloux (H.95), president of the HEC We&Men club (formerly HEC au Féminin), the evening was also an opportunity for reflection and commitment to equality.

A cocktail preceded the gala ceremony. The assembly, consisting of multiple generations, buzzed with memories and opinions exchanged over a flute of champagne. On that evening, 50 female alumni, one representing each year of graduation, were honored and deemed role models for the night. In the crowd, Nathalie Becquart (H.92), the first woman appointed by the Pope to the Synod of Bishops at the Vatican, leaned with curiosity over the mural featuring the fifty portraits of graduates.

Nathalie Becquart (H.92), Undersecretary of the Synod of Bishops at the Vatican.

Pavillon Dauphine

Sophie Bonn-Cleret from HEC Alumni, Patrick Lissague (H.78), President of the HEC Alumni Elders’ Committee, and Hélène Gronier from the HEC Foundation.

Laurence Rolland, Network Manager at HEC Alumni, Delphine Colson (H.94), General Delegate of the HEC Foundation, Mireille Faugère (H.78), former President of HEC Alumni, alongside Jean-Luc Allavena (H.86), executive and former President of HEC Alumni.

All Generations United

Patrick Lissague (H.78), president of the HEC Alumni Elders’ Committee, recalls his early commitments in the 1990s with the Banque Bourse Finance club. “Many women struggled to break the glass ceiling,” he explains. “I had gathered a few people from the group to think about it, and for the first time, we elected a committee with gender parity and a female president, Michèle Jardin (H.78).”

Further on, Anne-Fleur Goll (H.22), who made a splash with a passionate speech on the environment at the 2022 graduation ceremony, is surprised that “it’s only been fifty years” since women could enroll at HEC but applauds the school as “rather exemplary in highlighting the women’s rugby team.

The young woman is among the 50 women from diverse backgrounds honored that evening—50 role models and inspiring trajectories aimed at setting an example for the next generations. The gala ceremony opened with the screening of a video tracing the history of gender diversity at HEC, from the creation of HEC Jeunes Filles to the exceptional journeys of female graduates.

Half a Century of Progress

“Thank you for joining this anniversary, which is not only about celebrating the past 50 years but also motivating ourselves for the next 50 years,” announced Hélène Bourbouloux at the outset. “The entire HEC ecosystem is committed to gender equality, in line with our mission to make an impact on business and society,” she says before handing the microphone to Hélène de Saint Front (H.10), who engaged in a forward-looking exercise in front of the audience, embodying Nora, a fictional woman entrepreneur who wakes up in 2073, where roles have reversed.

Hélène Bourbouloux (H.95), president of HEC We&Men.

Hélène de Saint Front (H.10) and Hélène Bourbouloux (H.95) on stage during the plenary session.

Numbers were also at the heart of the evening, highlighting the progresses as well as reiterating the work that still needs to be done. “For the past two years, we have had more women recruited as professors at HEC than men, but we are not yet at parity,” acknowledged Éloïc Peyrache. “We have a whole team working on stereotypes, leaders’ aspirations, and existing biases.” He also mentions the enthusiasm for entrepreneurship, with 42% of women among the founders of the 350 startups in the HEC Incubator.

Éloïc Peyrache, Dean of HEC Paris.

350 is also the number of individuals supported by the Stand Up program, funded by the HEC Foundation, which allows women who are “sometimes discriminated against, isolated, but do possess incredible creativity, energy, and a strong desire” to access the business world and entrepreneurship. The Dean took the opportunity to mention the new agreement with the Laidlaw Foundation to grant 10 scholarships to women in the HEC MBA program.

“In our community of 73,000 graduates, 32% are women,” specified Adrien Couret, President of HEC Alumni, addressing the guests. ” – How many women were there in the first class? – 27!” replied the class of 1973, the first mixed cohort at HEC. He highlighted the commitment of former presidents such as Maurice de Kervénoaël (H.60) and Jean-Luc Allavena (H.86), who allowed the creation of the HEC Au Féminin club and assisted the emergence of the Women Forum. Adrien Couret also cited astonishing figures released by the Sista collective: 28 billion dollars “would naturally be generated if gender equality were to be implemented.”

Adrien Couret (H.07), president of HEC Alumni.

Applause for the first mixed cohort of HEC. Among the first female students on campus: Catherine Mantel, Annick Saimpert, and Nicole Arditti, Class of 1976.

What the Ministers Say

The highlight of the evening was undoubtedly the presence of three ministers from the Macron government: Roland Lescure, Minister of Industry, Bérangère Couillard, Minister of Gender Equality, and Agnès Pannier-Runacher (H.95), French ministry of Ecological Transition. They answered questions from journalist Hedwige Chevrillon (MBA. 84), editor-in-chief at BFM Business.

Hedwige Chevrillon (MBA.84), journalist and editor-in-chief at BFM Business, Roland Lescure, Minister of Industry, Agnès Pannier-Runacher (H.95), Minister of Ecological Transition, and Bérengère Couillard, Minister in charge of Gender Equality.

“In my family, we invested a lot in education,” explained Agnès Pannier-Runacher. “My great-aunt attended HEC Jeunes Filles. But, among three generations of boys, I am the only one who did not pursue engineering studies or attend math prep, which shows that even in very open families, there can be a micro-cultural barrier.” However, she emphasizes that the real injustice is that “70% of people living in poverty in France are women.” Familiar with female audiences, Bérangère Couillard, on the other hand, thanked “the men for being here tonight” and called on the alumni in the room: “If we don’t have the capacity to ensure that we have women and talents in professions of the future, we won’t be competitive!”

Minister Roland Lescure spoke about the IndustriELLES collective, established by the government to promote women in industrial sectors. “In the early 1980s, André Blondeau recognized the equivalence of the HEC and HEC Jeunes Filles diplomas. At the same time, in 1983, the French National Assembly passed a law for wage equality between men and women,” he compares. “Today, we’re not there yet!”


Roland Lescure during his speech on stage.

Bérengère Couillard, Minister in charge of Gender Equality.

After the discussion, Hedwige Chevrillon provided a debrief in private. “It was interesting to see how they reacted to gender diversity and what initiatives they were implementing,” commented the journalist. “Even on my set, it’s very difficult to find women!”


Gender diversity, a source of performance

As for the dinner in the Pavillon Dauphine lounge, the tables were named after French women who have made history, from cinematographer Agnès Varda to sculptor Camille Claudel. A unique feature of this gala was the 50 role models being scattered among the tables, either alone or in pairs. This seating arrangement allowed for an unprecedented mix and rich conversations between women and men from sometimes very different sectors.

“This event also allows for meeting other women and networking in a feminine way. With male networking, we sometimes don’t have the same access as our male counterparts,” adds Donatella Ponziani (E.18), a role model, Ph.D. in mechanical engineering, and leader at the European Space Agency (ESA), who found herself at the same table as Rachel Picard (H.88), former CEO of SNCF Voyages and chair of the board at Criteo, also honored that evening.


Éric Lombard (H.81), head of the Caisse des Dépôts, delivering a speech during the dinner.


At the dinner table, Eric Lombard (H.81), head of the Caisse des Dépôts, emphasized a commitment to change the appointment processes for top executives, with a focus on addressing biases during job interviews. “The Caisse des Dépôts has decided to make the year 2024 the year of gender parity,” he declared, noting that its executive committee is entirely gender-balanced. “And I can tell you, it represents six years of work!”

Gala participants were also made aware of gender diversity issues during the meal. A quiz, taken from an educational tool that HEC will deploy in 2024, tested their knowledge on education, the economic world, and the role of women in the media and as leaders.

Marie Guillemot, CEO of KPMG France, expressed her belief in “mixed leadership” before highlighting a new promotion of partners respecting parity and the implementation of a diversity and inclusion barometer within the group. She also made an announcement: the participation of Éloïc Peyrache in the Mission Committee of KPMG France, which became a mission-driven company in 2022.

Valérie Baudson (H.95), leader of Amundi, took the time to publicly thank her own role models; Mercedes Erra (H.81), Sophie Javary (H.80), and Nathalie Rachou (H.78), emphasizing that “diversity in general, and gender diversity in particular, is a source of performance for companies. At Amundi, where we manage about 2,000 billion euros worldwide, we systematically vote against the renewal of boards of directors in companies that do not advocate for gender diversity.”

As he was bidding farewell, Éloïc Peyrache appreciated the diverse audience, while Hélène Bourbouloux praised “the commitment of the French ministers and the whole team for the future as well as a collective will to improve. Alone, we don’t do much, but together, we will change the world!”


The 50 role models honored during the evening.

Valérie Baudson (H.95), head of Amundi.

Marie Guillemot, head of KPMG France.


The organization of this event was made possible thanks to the contribution of our partner companies listed below.

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