#CareerSpotlight: French Diplomat Catherine Rogy
Ever wonder what it would be like to advise a Minister on topics that could make or break the success of one of your country’s top economic activity? Or what it would be like, as a 24-year-old woman in 1989, to launch a career in public service? Or, maybe you’re like me and just want to discover the secret behind building a successful career with a good work-life balance.
Here at Women on the Map, we are always curious to hear the stories of women taking risks to follow their dreams and passions. With our “Career Spotlight” series, we take a glance into the lives of dynamic and pioneering women who are impacting the world positively, in many extraordinary ways.
Catherine Rogy is currently the Deputy Agriculture Counsellor at the Embassy of France in Washington D.C. She will gladly start a conversation with you on wine and cheese any day, any time. As a young woman, she followed her passion to become a veterinarian when everyone around her was telling her that course of study was so hard that she couldn’t make it. Couldn’t make it huh? A few years later, she was advising the French Minister of the Agriculture on food and sanitary issues, and is now one of the key contacts on US-France agricultural trade for the French government.
What is your secret to success?
Perseverance. When I was young I was told that I could never be a veterinarian, because this type of studies are so hard in France. But I got accepted in one of the top four French vet school, and built a good career in the field.
Who inspires you?
My grandmother. She always had a positive spirit. She taught me to persevere, to believe in what I wanted, in the opportunities in front of me.
What do women bring to positions of power?
Women are iron hands in velvet gloves.
We are more diplomatic, yet we know how to get what we want. Sometimes men can be pushy and bullish, whereas women are more likely to want to understand the other’s point of view, to reach an agreement, instead of forcing our opinions on others.
The main challenges for women in diplomacy?
Finding a good work/life balance is challenging. Choices have to be made, especially when you work in international jobs, as it is unlikely that both partners will be appointed in the same country.
Your partner should understand that your job is important for you: that your career is as important as his.
My husband and I have both always had important, busy jobs, but we always managed to find a common understanding. We took turns prioritizing one’s career over the other’s. For instance when I was appointed to Germany at the beginning of my career, my husband followed me there, and then he came back with me to France at the end of my mission, even though he had found a really good job in Germany by that time.
A few years later, when he obtained a great position at the World Bank in D.C., I accepted to slightly pause my career advancement to move here with him.
It’s hard to get everything that you want, but you both need to make efforts to get the best you can achieve.
What advice do you have for young women aspiring to work in international relations / diplomacy?
Life isn’t a “long quiet river”. You cannot afford to be too idealistic.
When you have an opportunity, take it, and then try to work things out for the better.
If you are happy with your job, you can find a balance with your family life.
It’s also important to find time for yourself, beyond work, to breathe a little bit.
What is the most exciting experience you've had in your career?
Working in the Cabinet of the Minister for Agriculture was an incredible experience. We had the opportunity to shape policy on defining issues in agriculture, and I really felt like I was able to achieve results that truly helped our constituents.
I also loved another previous job, when I was responsible for imports of food and animals in France within the Ministry of Agriculture, as I was working on very operational cases that had the potential to have huge impacts on animal and human health. For instance, I had to take tough decisions on whether to destroy shipments that posed a risk of contamination of human food.
What about the most challenging experience?
I was one of the first veterinarian to join the economic department of the Ministry of Agriculture. This was very challenging for me as well as for my boss, as we both had to adapt to the other’s way of working & thinking. I had to prove that I was capable of doing well outside the veterinary sector, which was very tough at times.
Have you faced challenges as a woman in the agricultural/ diplomacy sectors?
I began my career in agriculture in 1989. I was 24 years old, and agriculture was largely dominated by men, which was challenging at times.
Conditions can be tougher for women in the workplace, as you often have the additional burden of having to prove that you are as good at your job as a man could be.
When you get to leadership positions, you have to show that your gender should not be a factor, but that you got to where you are because you are good at what you do.
Things have really improved since then: for instance for the first time, the main farmers’ union in France elected a woman to serve as its president this year, which is a great achievement.
Another challenge I have faced was combining my family life with my work life. This takes a lot of thorough organization. I often had to travel a lot for my jobs, which can be complicated with three small children at home… I managed to organize things well with my husband, coordinating our timetables so someone would be there in the mornings and evenings.
Building a family life can however involve some tough decisions: I left the Cabinet of the Minister for Agriculture after two years for instance, when I realized my absence at home was starting to affect one of my children.
What is your main goal for the next 5 years?
I look forward to starting a new, challenging job in France this summer.
I hope I’ll be able to find a better life balance in France, as I will still be away from my husband, who lives in Africa, and my kids, who also live abroad.
What is your hidden talent?
I am very good at sports, especially running. I’ve run some races and always end up with one of the best scores.
What is your guilty pleasure?
I’m a foodie –I love good food.
Favorite place in the world?
I was struck by a recurring theme throughout my interview with Catherine: persevering through good and bad times has enabled her to build an extraordinary career in parallel to a wonderful family. The moral of the story is clear to me: even when you are down and your dreams seem unreachable, never give up. Persevere.
About the author: Fannie is currently the trade and investment attache at the Embassy of France in Washington DC. She contributes to Women on the Map with her vast business experience and creative approach to problem solving, helping WOTM grow and develop new networks.