Fleur Pellerin’s remarkable journey to the heights of French government administration
Financially independent more important than finding a rich husband
Some young women may aspire to find a wealthy husband and lead life as a “tai tai”, but former French government minister Fleur Pellerin has adhered to her mother’s rule to become financially independent.
“My mother has always told me to do well in school so that I could have a good career and be financially independent. Only if a woman is financially independent can she then make a choice to do whatever she wants,” Pellerin said.
Pellerin was France’s first South Korean-born government minister.
How she achieved such a high position in French society is a reflection of her extraordinary life in overcoming challenges.
Abandoned by her birth mother at six months of age, Pellerin was adopted by a French family and relocated to France.
“As an adopted child and someone of South Korean origin, even my teachers said it would be difficult for me to achieve top jobs. But my parents have been very supportive in that they always encourage me to study and to aim high for my career,” she said.
Pellerin earned a high level of education, becoming the holder of several degrees, including graduation from Ecole Nationale d’Administration in 2000.
“I am lucky. Although I am adopted and I am of South Korean origin. I never met any discrimination at school or at work,” she said.
After graduating from the university, she worked as an auditor at the High Court of Auditors, an independent jurisdiction in charge of assessing budgets and spending at French government ministries.
In 2012, she became the Minister delegate for SMEs, Innovation and the Digital Economy, a position that she held for two years. She was Foreign Trade Secretary from April, 2014 and Minister for Culture and Communication from September 2014 to February 2016.
She is now taking a break before deciding what to do next.
Pellerin said women need to believe in themselves.
“It is important to have more women to act as role models to share their experience on how to climb to the top of a corporate ladder or to the top levels of government,” she said.
However, she said women still face a glass ceiling. For example, while it has become common to have many women work in entry level positions and middle management, there are only a few female chief executives of French companies, she said. Many women also do not get equal pay for doing the same jobs as men.
Family duties are another concern, she said, adding that bias within society towards the role of women at home could also be a barrier.
“I need to thank my husband. My husband is also a senior civil servant but he has helped a lot in sharing the family and childcare duties when I was working as minister,” she said.
She has a young daughter from a previous marriage while her husband has two young sons from a former marriage.
“We have to take care of three young children while we both need to work. We never need to discuss who is doing what. It is very natural for us to share the childcare and family duties,” she said. “It was hard when you were in a political debate and the school would call you up to discuss something about your children. Without my husband’s support, it would have been difficult,” she said.
And what advice does Pellerin pass on to her own daughter?
“I encourage her to do well in school and be prepared to be financially independent when she grows up. Then she can have a wide range of choice of what to do.”