Flexibility as a solution

Neila Benzina is the founding partner of WIMBEE, a tech company specialized in big data and analytics supporting enterprises in their digital transformation. She also co-founded Holberton School Tunis.

How did you become an entrepreneur in tech?

I was born in Tunis. I went to a Tunisian school first, then to a French high school. I studied in Arabic and French, and I immersed myself in both cultures.

I didn’t necessarily have an example of an entrepreneur in my family. My father was a veterinarian and my mother was a professor of French literature. I don’t know where it came from but I could see myself doing something on my own; it was a kind of vocation. I wanted to play a role and change things. What gave me a lot [in life] was having a very encouraging father and a very inspiring mother. A successful woman is a woman who felt empowered as a child, who was encouraged and allowed to bend the limits set by society or by prejudice. That gives an impetus.

I finished my schooling in Tunisia up to the Baccalaureate, then I went to a preparatory school in Paris, then to Institut National des Télécommunications (INT), the National Institute of Telecommunications in France. There, during the oral interviews, when I was asked what I wanted to do later, I already had lots of ideas, and many of them were related to my country, Tunisia. I told myself that this is where I could make a difference, where I could bring real added value. We still had a virgin market in many areas. We just had to bring in new ideas and innovative projects. This is why I got increasingly interested in data, artificial intelligence and tech in general. I understood that I wanted to use technology for the service of the people.

Before going back home, I wanted to gain experience and expertise in France. I therefore chose to join a company in Paris, Business & Decision, as an intern. Very quickly, I had the opportunity to take part in Business Intelligence and Customer Experience projects. Then, I asked to participate in innovation projects in the digital domain, as we were in the middle of the internet bubble. I was then able to experiment with “intrapreneurship” and create a startup within B&D. This opportunity was made possible by a very open and human CEO, who had the strength to push people and give them a chance.

He gave me my chance and entrusted me with a project that corresponded to my aspirations and my will to evolve.

When my desire to return to Tunisia had become stronger and stronger, I created a company in Tunisia and proposed to Business & Decision to invest with me, by becoming my strategic partner into a new market where the group was not present, that of Africa and the Middle East. I ended up working with them for the past 20 years, becoming CEO of B&D EMEA in 2009.

Two years ago I founded WIMBEE, a tech company specialized in big data and analytics supporting enterprises in their digital transformation.

Have you encountered any challenges as a woman in the tech sector?

I did not encounter particular challenges, to be honest. I just wanted to find my place within the scene, stick to my convictions and focus on my potential.

I never tried to be or act like a man. I always looked for exchange of opinions and collaboration. The more I took part in meetings or events where men were the majority, the more I understood that they were not superior to or smarter than me.

It is not always easy for young women to see themselves working in this field, and I recognize that I was privileged to have the support of my family growing up. This is why I recently decided to co-found Holberton School Tunis, a training school for IT engineers with a totally innovative and inclusive model based on peer learning and practical projects. At Holberton, you learn the technical skills but also the human skills to start a career as an IT developer. We are committed to investing in digital education, because the incomes of students or their families should not be a barrier to learning. Students only pay tuition after finding a professional opportunity, and we are proud that 50% of our students are women.


What does work-life balance mean to you and why is it important?

Work-life balance to me means taking into account everyone’s needs; it means giving everyone the possibility of flourishing in the way that best suits them. As Einstein said, “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”

We shouldn’t always try to make people work following our structures and rules. As long as employees reach their objectives, they should be free to manage their own time. This applies even more to women, especially the ones who take care of children and cannot spend all of their day in the office.

We need a radical shift of mindset. We should forget the idea that the more you stay at the office, the better employers will view you. We need to get rid of the feeling of guilt. It is normal to work flexibly and in the way that best suits oneself.

If we manage to “normalize” flexibility, everyone will feel legitimate in adopting different lifestyles and will feel even further empowered as an employee.

How can we raise awareness among tech employers regarding the importance of implementing flexibility initiatives?

First of all, I would stress the point that allowing flexibility strongly increases employee engagement. Employees feel more aligned with the company when they see their personal needs being acknowledged. Moreover, it is proven that being free to manage our own time makes us more productive in the end.

Another very important point in my view is that employers won’t actually have a choice soon. It won’t be about them deciding to adopt certain policies or not; it will be essential for them to do so. The new generation will not accept working at a company that doesn’t allow them to be flexible. Young people today want to work for a purpose, they want to change the world, and they do not want to spend their lives in an office. If companies want to attract talent they need to evolve together with the new generation.

I believe that tech employers should be the ones who lead the change, because it is technology that makes it easier to allow flexibility today. We should be pioneers in proving that it works. Fortunately, many companies are starting to do just that.

Have you implemented initiatives for flexible working arrangements at WIMBEE?

We surely have. Wimbee is a company that pays particular attention to the balance between private and professional lives. We are aware that the company’s performance depends on the well-being of its employees. We have normalized flexible working arrangements by offering telecommuting and work-from-home options to employees so that they can take care of their families.

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