"I have met many inspiring women… honestly, it gives me hope."
It is with these few words full of excitement that Ikhlas sums up her feelings as she completes the fourth day of the "Rêv’Elles ton Potentiel" (reveal your potential) programme.
Ikhlas is a 17-year-old girl with a very ordinary life. She is in her last year of high school and she does not yet know what she wants to do afterwards. She has some ideas - naturally - but nothing has been decided and the situation is causing some amount of stress in her life.
Her big sister and a cousin advised her to take part in the "Rêv’Elles ton Potentiel" programme. They attended a previous session and have a very positive recollection of it.
Ikhlas therefore decided to "sacrifice" a week of her half-term holidays in February to attend the intensive programme. But this is a sacrifice in name only: like many girls, Ikhlas came away from the experience with a greater level of maturity and a newly acquired self-confidence.
Would she recommend the experience to anybody else she knows?
"Of course", exclaims Ikhlas with a big smile on her face. "What sort of question is that?"
An association of inspiring women
Rêv’Elles will soon be 7 years old. The association started off with the "Rêv’Elles ton Potentiel" programme, but other activities and programmes have since been added to provide even more support for the beneficiaries.
They are all girls and young women between the ages of 14 and 20 and most of them come from working class neighbourhoods.
For the founder of the association, Athina Marmorat, equal opportunities also means the equal right to dream: the limitless possibilities need to be revealed to the girls who often voluntarily limit their ambitions, convinced that they will never succeed in a job.
The result is a 5-day programme, from Monday to Friday, which alternates between collective and individual coaching, helping them to gain in self-confidence, realize their potential and clarify their career plans. These 5 days are then followed by 5 months of regular support.
Classes are held during the half-term holidays in February and October, and at Easter, for more than a hundred girls in the regions of Paris and Lyon.
Rêv'Elles promotion, Ile de France, Malala Yousafzai, february 2021
Five intensive days
Laura Maclet, head of the association's teaching centre, describes the programme in detail.
The first day is particularly introspective: before starting on schooling or career plans, they focus on themselves, who they are, their values.
The second day helps them to discover the world of work. Before talking about specific jobs, the day is used to help the girls imagine themselves in the world of work and to find out what they want to do: a collective or individual role, creativity, set working hours, etc.
The third day is a day of individual coaching. "It is a time for them", explains Laura. "It belongs to them. With the help of a coach, they are able to explore whatever has transpired, been built on or changed during the first two days."
The fourth day is spent with a partner company. They are there from 8:30 am to 5 pm, immersed in the company culture and the various professions it offers by way of simulated job interviews, surveys and a lot of dialogue with the employees.
The fifth day has been designed to be very festive, a time to celebrate the lives of the girls and have them pitch their project to a jury of role models.
After these five intensive days, they are then accompanied for the next five months using other formats.
An encounter that is enriching for both sides
We met up with Ikhlas a few minutes after the end of the fourth day that she had spent with employees from Societe Generale, the long-standing sponsor of the association.
"If they can do it, then why shouldn't I?" she tells me. "They have achieved so much with so little to start off with, I just have to say wow: I can do it too."
On the other side we have Bouchra, a Societe Generale employee. She has not met Ikhlas, but has been able to talk to two other girls on the same "Rêv’Elles" course. Bouchra had never dreamt of being a role model or an example, a person who inspires others.
A situation that would make her slightly apprehensive and explains why she decided to take the exercise very seriously indeed: "I saw it as a big responsibility. I am the mother of three children and I know that our words can have an impact. So, I tried to put myself in the position of the young girl I was at their age, recall the doubts I had in my own head at that time and above all think about what I would have wanted to hear from a well-meaning adult. I think that the experience has been as enriching for us as for the girls".
In this way, 15 female employees from Societe Generale devoted between two hours and half a day of their time to help make the course a success.
In the morning, female staff from the HR Department assisted the girls with simulated job interviews. While in the afternoon they represented a vast range of banking jobs to enable the girls to acquire a better idea of the great diversity of possible career paths and lifestyles.
A reviewed and updated format
In February 2020, a group of girls came to spend a day in the Societe Generale towers in La Défense. Today, it is on Zoom that all the meetings take place. A real achievement for the association that has had to rethink all its formats to adapt them to digital.
But the formula has not changed and so it is the full forty hours of the course that is delivered by the team at "Rêv’Elles", dozens of coaches, speakers, role models, and a handful of partner companies.
Indeed, "Rêv’Elles" is one of the associations that has not cut down on its activities during the health crisis.
We address girls from working class neighbourhoods, teenagers, a group that is basically off the radar. And during the health crisis, all the shortfalls have been exacerbated: these girls have even fewer opportunities to express themselves, and at times they could not even go out to see their friends or neighbours.
Laura Maclet, head of the "Rêv’Elles" teaching centre
So, "Rêv’Elles" was in much demand from girls who desperately needed time for themselves, opportunities to express themselves. The association therefore made the deliberate choice of remaining single sex in order to create the safe spaces where the girls can be among themselves, where they can build up their self-confidence before returning to the real world. "The objective being to prepare them so that they can attend with open minds and just be themselves and take action", reveals Laura.
And what better conclusion than to finish with Ikhlas, this girl of just 17 that the day has filled with enthusiasm and an infectious smile:
"I know what I want to do now. And with what these women have given us today, it has made me determined."