From London to Paris via MIT (Massachusetts), Claire Calmejane (M.06) has built a brilliant career in digital technology at Société Générale. The most influential French tech personality, the Group’s innovation director is fighting to give women their rightful place in this still very male-dominated world.
No day for Claire Calmejane is like any other. Enthusiastic and punchy, the head of innovation for the Société Générale group moves with ease from comex meetings to monitoring the group’s digital start-ups, while actively contributing to the French tech ecosystem. On 15 February, she took part in the Innovative Entrepreneurs conference organised under the patronage of Elisabeth Moreno, Minister for Equality and Diversity. On 8 March, International Women’s Rights Day, she was awarded the insignia of Chevalier de l’Ordre National du Mérite by her boss, Frédéric Oudéa, in recognition of her outstanding professional career, in the presence of her family, friends, colleagues and mentors. A few days earlier, the Choiseul Institute had ranked her 6th among the 100 leaders under 40. At Viva Tech, on 16 June, the partnership she launched with 50inTech to support and mentor female tech talent through the Female Founder Challenge is in full swing with 500 applications received, ensuring the Next40’s succession. While continuing to transform banking, she became the proud mother of a third child in June. She is tireless and always true to her motto: « Courage and heart to work ». But where does she get her energy from?
An unusual choice
Her first source of inspiration was her mother, who grew up in the north of France before moving to the capital to study medicine. Having interrupted her work to bring up her three children, she resumed her work in her forties « as much for the financial independence as for the intellectual stimulation ». This is a striking example for her eldest child, who has memories of a happy childhood in Paris, interspersed with weekends in Burgundy. « We had a very free education, encouraging creativity and autonomy. Claire blossomed through horse riding and the plastic arts. After school, she took care of her father’s appointments, who was also a doctor, and whose job opened up unexpected perspectives. « I would sometimes accompany him on his shifts at the 36 Quai des Orfèvres police station, or to the theatre, to enjoy the show! Claire followed the classic schooling of a good student: Première S, terminale S. However, her post-baccalaureate choice was quite different: she opted for computer science whereas her high school had her studying philosophy. It is true that EPITA (School for Computer Science and Advanced Techniques), the school she joined, had only 1% female students. It doesn’t matter to Claire, who has a technophile DNA: « I was already coding on Apple to work as my father’s medical secretary. As teenagers, we each had our own computer and built our own PCs by going to Rue Montgallet to get the parts. EPITA offered him his first real-life leadership experience. In her second year of engineering, Claire was appointed head of the student tutoring programme and found herself at the head of a team of 40 people. She quickly got the hang of it. After graduating top of her class in cognitive sciences and artificial intelligence, Claire completed her training with a master’s degree at HEC, which gave her the keys to the business world. « I learnt to translate my IT knowledge into economic language.
Paris, Boston, Londres
Her first job was in the Technology Transformation department of Capgemini Consulting. In 2010, she was selected to contribute to a year-long study on digital transformation at the MIT research lab. And rightly so: the publication was unanimously acclaimed. But Claire doesn’t intend to stop there: she wants to continue learning and specialise in finance. She left Boston for the fintech capital of the world, London, where Lloyds recruited her to run its online banking services. « My English was far from perfect at the time. In the US, it’s not a big deal: they love Frenchies. But in the UK, your contacts make it clear when they don’t understand your accent: it teaches humility! » she smiles. With one success after another in her job, she climbed the ladder and was appointed Director of Innovation at Lloyds, aged 32: her first executive position. At the same time, she became a member of the highly select Fintech Delivery Panel, which advises the UK government on the future of financial services. However, Claire packed her bags again in 2018. She headed to Paris to become head of innovation at Société Générale. I had spent more than half of my career abroad, I was imbued with the Anglo-Saxon efficiency and results-oriented approach, and I felt comfortable in London. I was also pregnant with my second child. But you don’t get an opportunity like that twice! And my husband followed me! So here she is, at 36, the youngest innovation director of a CAC40 group in Europe.
Banking and digital transition
There is no shortage of challenges. « The banking world has been profoundly disrupted by new technologies. In 2020, Société Générale acquired Shine, a neo-bank for freelancers and entrepreneurs that is part of Société Générale Ventures, which has invested more than 250 million euros in start-ups to date. It must also transform itself to take advantage of artificial intelligence and the data it generates. My job is to invent this future, keeping in mind the operational dimension, in order to support our businesses in building new digital offerings and new business models. Claire is resolutely optimistic about this transformation, rejecting the idea that the traditional banking sector is lagging behind: « On the contrary: it is quite advanced! The figures show it. Among the 23 million individual customers of Société Générale worldwide, 67% regularly use digital for their transactions and go online more than 25 times a month. However, there are geographical disparities. France is not ahead compared to other countries where the Société Générale Group operates (Czech Republic, Romania). Fortunately, the government’s efforts to develop French Tech are bearing fruit. And over the last two years, Covid has accelerated the switch to digital uses by changing consumption patterns.
Avec le réchauffement climatique, le digital est l’enjeu majeur
Wonder woman in Tech
Claire is an advocate for increasing the presence of women in tech. « Digital is at the heart of all our activities. Along with global warming, it is the major contemporary issue. However, there are still too few young women with basic tech skills », she deplores. This is why she is actively involved in courses that teach teenage girls aged 12 to 17 to code. « That’s where we need to focus our efforts first. But not only that: Claire is also a role model, opening doors for talented young women in the sector whenever she can. « I have been lucky enough throughout my career to have mentors who have given me confidence and encouraged me to go further. I have been given a lot, I give back. Being the five-legged sheep, THE successful woman in tech is absolutely not my goal: I want to feed the « pipeline » of the next generation. This is a constant investment, which requires time and energy, alongside a busy personal life.
Back to the original question: what is the recipe for keeping this Wonder Woman agenda? Claire Calmejane laughs out loud: « I love my life, my job, my commitments. I have high standards but I don’t put any particular pressure on myself on a daily basis. I don’t try to plan everything in advance either. My driving force is to do what I like with people I like. From there, everything happens quite naturally.