This March at VCNI VCNI we are celebrating #WomensHistoryMonth and this is a great opportunity to share “herstories”: the story of women that are rewriting our Media & Entertainment story in our VCNI cluster.

As a representation of the VCNI women’s cluster, today we invite you to get to know better the five protagonists of our interviews today.

Introduction: Who is Laura Abril? 

I’m Laura Abril, ViacomCBS employee of +10yrs, based (born and raised) in Madrid. Also, I’m a mom of 2 young boys under 5 who have made my work/life balance exciting and challenging since the pandemic started. My current responsibilities include 2 positions in the company: On the one hand, I oversee all brands in the South hub; on the other hand, I also head the ViacomCBS International Studios for VCNI .

Which are your career/personal hits?

Ever since I started working at ViacomCBS, I have covered 6 different positions at local and international level -from leading the MTV launch on Free to Air in Spain when I joined, through brands’ management in different markets, to my current role heading the Studios across VCNI -, with an increasing level of responsibility and scope, always in constant change. I have more of a content background, and it has been particularly interesting to assume positions with a core business component as well. I like team work and I’m particularly inspired by team management challenges, always putting my best effort to keep diversity and motivation at the core of what we do.

Which are your challenges?

Keeping the right work/life balance has been my biggest struggle since I became a mother in 2016. At the time, I had an international role with teams in several countries; and when I got pregnant with my second son in 2019, I was enrolled in a Female Leadership Programme (Betsy Magness Leadership Institute for Women in Cable and Telecommunications) which had me flying to the US every 2 months on top of my VCBS regular work travelling. I was proud to attend all of the programme’s sessions, get Graduated in June that year, while being promoted to Head of VIS SWEMEA in February that year. Definitely, one of my most fruitful to date!

Tips you would like to share with other women

Let’s ensure we keep a diverse work environment while we promote women leadership in all of our actions. We need more women leaders not just for equity reasons, but also for representation purposes – female leader role models are scarce, and having a sorority mentality to ensure equal rights for women in the workplace is key for gender diversity and equality in the future. Also, let’s pledge to fight for the right work/life balance no matter what each of our personal circumstances are, as this will most likely ensure equal access to professional opportunities.

Your favourite film, song, food and holiday place. 

Difficult choices when having to narrow to one pick! 

  • Favourite film: Some like it hot, by Billy Wilder.
  • Song: Just Breathe by Pearl Jam.
  • Food: Mediterranean. Anything, from fish, to veggies, to fruit to (definitely) cheese.
  • Holiday place: Back in time I travelled the world and I miss the exotic trips! But these days, I love my holidays in Asturias (north of Spain).

Introduction: Who is Sandra Persson? 

An international minded Swede who holds the position as Sr Finance Director for the North Hub. Within the Hub I have my own area which is Nordics and I also oversee the financials for Benelux and Russia, two regions that also have their own finance directors. I am based in Stockholm where I live in the suburbs with my husband and two young kids. During my career in finance I have lived and worked in the UK, The Netherlands, Singapore and Ecuador. I consider myself very fortunate to have had the opportunity to experience diverse cultures and learn about different corners of our world.  

Which are your career/personal hits?

Career wise I received recognition and was able to take my next career steps within finance after I had managed an offshoring project from Singapore to Bangalore/Beijing for Thomson Reuters in 2014. This was a challenging project with many stakeholders in different time zones and at the time I also had an expanded team which I led through a period of intense transition. But if you would ask me what I am most proud of I would say that I have never been afraid to take chances and do new things – with that mindset I have learnt a lot and I have managed to grow both professionally and personally.

Which are your challenges?

My challenge right now is to strike the right work life balance. This last year has certainly been challenging for parents and non-parents alike and I have found it hard to switch off from work when work and home has been the same place. My kids have joined many of my Zoom calls and working hours have been very fluid. Every week I say that I will start Yoga and other mindfulness exercises to aid the switching off, and maybe next week will be it 🙂 

Tips you would like to share with other women

My advice to other women would be for them to dare to take chances and remember to ask for advice. Everything is new for everyone at some point and you are not in this life or business alone.

Your favourite film, song, food and holiday place. 

  • Favorite films:  Fight Club, the Departed (I also have a soft spot for Transformers so not only watching competitors’ productions!).
  • Favorite songs: Too many to list, there is always a new favorite.. Latino music keeps returning to my playlists though as the rhythm makes me happy. Right now we also play a lot of Bollywood music videos at home as these times call for a bit of bright colors and dancing…
  • Holiday place, Gili Trawangan, Bali.

Introduction: Who is Heike Leidiger?

Kennedy might have been a Berliner, and while I have lived in Berlin, I AM a Kölner. You might ask yourself “why is that so important to her?”. It is the place where I was born and where I grew up. Cologne is one of those secondary cities in today’s Germany that’s easily missed and yet it is amazing and very special. It was a major city in Europe for hundreds of years and the Romans felt very much at home there, many speculate that the city’s legendary Joie de vivre goes back to those Mediterranean influences. Cologne is where my heart is and whenever I am there it feels like home. I am also German. That identity is more complex for my generation, as Germany started coming out of denial, of its genocidal history, just as I was growing up and becoming a thinking human being. That legacy of the holocaust has been part of my life for as long as I can remember; It has shaped who I have become.  

I was fortunate to be educated by progressive young left-wing feminist teachers (at a time when there were still teachers that were part of the Nazi legacy). From very early on I was surrounded by powerful women encouraging me to speak out against injustices even though this stance can be uncomfortable, and sometimes unwanted by others.

I married a wonderful man from Gibraltar and overnight became “mother” to 3 fabulous human beings (male, female and non-binary) and their offspring. We are a truly diverse family (including our sweet dogs Cookie and Tokyo), something I absolutely love.  

I deeply value friendship, and I have known my best friends for many years. I met my oldest friend Juli on our first day of primary school and we still speak most days even though she has been living in London since 1984.                             

Pandemic permitting, I am very much looking forward to moving to Madrid and finally getting to meet in person all the wonderful colleagues who I have only met virtually until now.

Which are your career/personal hits?

I had been working for a well known law firm and notary in Berlin when VIVA TV came calling. VIVA was soon after acquired by MTV Networks, and I was fortunate to be deeply involved in all aspects of this complex acquisition. Soon after I was asked to head up their legal department in Berlin. One of the main projects was to restructure and simplify their rather complicated corporate structure at that time and to integrate VIVA’s legal department and to improve legal services. In 2011 I was promoted to Deputy Country Manager responsible for all litigations, corporate affairs, government relations and IP related topics including negotiations with collecting societies in Northern-Europe.

I loved acting as a youth protection officer for various Viacom brands such as MTV, VIVA, Nickelodeon and COMEDY CENTRAL as well as their online accompanying programs. One highlight was definitely the “Pope Town” dispute. I supported the FSF (Voluntary Self-Control for Multimedia Service Provider) and I was also appointed as a board member of the Association of private Broadcasters and Multimedia Services (today VAUNET). I enjoyed lobbying to strengthen the position of niche channel operators in Germany and contributing to the evolution of media law. 

In 2015 I left Viacom and joined a German Cable Network Operator as General Counsel. I found myself in the middle of a huge migration/integration. The most challenging and interesting aspect was to set up a new legal department from scratch to consolidate and merge the newly acquired companies under one roof, one system, developing templates and work processes. As I truly missed working within a more international and diverse context I was thrilled when ViacomCBS offered me the VP BALA VCNI Position in Madrid. I am looking forward to supporting together with my team not only the digital transformation of our business but also the main pillars of our business such as streaming and productions.  

 What are your challenges?

Remember what I said about Cologne being a lively city? Well, we are very social and friendly people, and amongst Germans we are known as being “communicative” ?. My main challenge is to remember that not everyone is from Cologne and might not appreciate quite the same level of detail and background. So to keep things brief and to the point does not always come naturally to me. Another challenge in my working life, is to maintain a healthy work-life balance and to acknowledge the importance of enough sleep, making time for friends and family, eating healthy and getting enough exercise (I love swimming) to feel good and stay strong. Those are the things needed for me to be resilient, something we all know is now more needed than ever.

Tips you would like to share with other women

  • Don’t spend your days looking up at that mythical glass ceiling – it’s not reflecting you! Look into yourself, mind your richness and bring the force to the workplace. It is YOUR engagement, passion and expertise what is needed.
  • Stand up for yourself and stick to pure facts when negotiating better conditions for yourself. Getting too emotional does not help and does not bring you any further. 
  • Make every day count. Allow space for yourself and make sure you treat yourself – you owe it to yourself!
  • Invest in your own personal and professional growth and that of your team members, let them grow and shine – the payback is extremely rewarding. 
  • Pick your battles: one thing which I learned very early on came from observing the behaviour of my male colleagues in meetings: they did not go against decisions the “Boss” had made. You would think – at least at C-Level – that they fight for every inch of ground, but surprisingly, they rarely do. In some extraordinary cases there might be one that sticks their head out to challenge the boss, but generally they don’t waste their time or energy on pursuing a point they are unlikely to win.
  • And above all, keep your sense of humour

Your favourite film, song, food and holiday place:

  • Favourite films: I love films and music, there’s too many to mention but if I had to select three I would say: My Private Idaho, Breaking the Waves and Brokeback Mountain
  • Favourite TV Series: Homeland, Handmade’s Tale, Fauda, The Queen’s Gambit, Normal People.
  • Music: anything by Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash, Sonic Youth, Einstürzende Neubauten, Pablo Diserens “for scarpa’s fountains”.
  • Food: I love Japanese and Italian food, Pasta al Pesto and Spaghetti Bolognese – works every time! And Havanna Cake from Café Zimmermann in Cologne, my friend‘s vegan dishes and my husband’s Paella are legendary. 
  • Holidays: The most memorable travelling experiences abroad include; visiting the Taj-Mahal in India at the crack of dawn. A walk on a deserted and little known section of the Great Wall of China. And walking part of the Camino de Santiago in Spain. To get away from it all: definitely the Maldives – some friends warned me that I would bite the sand, but I found total relaxation. And watching the tiny Islands from the plane was spectacular.

Introduction: Who is Alsun Ni Raghaill?

My name is Alsun, at one point destined to become the leading authority on Irish archaeology, I’m now responsible for IT & Infrastructure in the VCNI Cluster and Technology in the North Hub.

Which are your career/personal hits?

One of the proudest moments of my early career was working on a team tasked with relocating our data centre and technical facilities to a new building. We managed this with almost no disruption to our broadcast or IT services by working for 36 hours straight (anyone who knows me and how much I value sleep will recognise this as an achievement in its own right!).

Overall, however, I would say that being able to manage – and more or less balance – a full-time career as well as a family with 2 extremely energetic kids has been the most gratifying accomplishment of my entire life. Oh, and getting Rick Astley into the VIVA Comet awards when the ticketing system glitched and the door staff didn’t recognise him.

 What are your challenges?

Fortunately, I haven’t encountered many obstacles as a woman in tech at ViacomCBS and I’ve always had supportive managers and colleagues. When I started out, there were some surprises – like the supplier who joined MY meeting and thought I was there to take notes. Although this has improved a lot over the years, there are still very few female candidates applying for our tech positions compared to male candidates and so it’s not always easy to maintain a good balance, but it’s something I will continue trying to achieve.

Tips you would like to share with other women

This is more for any woman who might be considering moving into a technical role: trust in yourself and don’t be put off by the stereotypical perceptions of working in tech. Particularly in a predominantly male environment, I believe that our differences can be our strengths and that everyone benefits from a diverse team!

Your favourite film, song, food and holiday place.

Introduction: Who is Paula Ortiz?

My name is Paula Ortiz. I am a director, screenwriter and teacher at the University of Barcelona. And mother of a lion.

What are your career/ personal hits?

It is difficult to establish the milestones, our careesa are always a continuum … a path full of daily decisions, which end up being radical. But it is true that a scholarship granted to me to graduate from NYU was very important to me. There I had an encounter with ideas and people who taught me that telling stories with images implies imagination, commitment and daily work in front of a blank page and the possibility of failure. And that endurance in this trade is the most important quality. It is true that later if I think about the milestones I would have to name the three films that I have shot so far: “De tu ventana a la mía”, “La novia” and just know “Across the river and into the trees”.  Each film, not because of the result, but because of its process, its attempts, its risks … have been the milestones that have made me advance.

What are your challenges?

My great challenge is to continue telling stories that could be stronger, more intense, deeper, more significant … and more avid every day,  and to be able to bring life, daily life,  into balance …

Tips you would like to share with other women

I would like to remind you that we are half the world and half the imagination. That our stories are indispensable. That they are worth it and that our imagination  never should be stopped. Never. And remember: the most important thing is to resist.

Your favorites list: movie, song, food and vacation destination. / Your favorite film, song, food and holiday place.

Every day a new movie may appear, a song, a meal … a new place …. A movie (today I will say one film directed by a woman Celine Scianma, from last year): “Portrait of a woman on fire”, A song: “Take this waltz” (by Leonard Cohen), a meal: artichokes. A place: New York City, or my mother’s litttle little town in a hidden place.

Introduction: Who is Charmaine Kwan?

Hi, I am Charmaine Kwan from Singapore, heading up Marketing and Communication at the Asia Video Industry Association (AVIA), a non-profit trade association for the video industry and ecosystem in Asia Pacific. Our hope is to make the video industry stronger and healthier through promoting the common interests of our members, of which ViacomCBS has been taking part since its early years! Prior to this, I was the Head of Product at Discovery.

What are your career/personal hits?

An unforgettable achievement was when Discovery was approached to produce a documentary series on the “History of Singapore” to tie in with the nation’s 40 years of independence. I had to manage the entire project, from commissioning to its grand premiere. It was a huge accolade and you can imagine the stakeholders we had to manage for it, but thankfully it all went well, culminating in a gala event at what was then the Supreme Court, and is now the National Gallery.  On a personal basis, there is nothing I am more proud of than my two beautiful daughters, one of whom was born on International Women’s Day, so I hope she and her sister will always hold their heads up high and know they can do anything they set their minds on!

What are your challenges?

Always making the right choices, both professionally, and personally. As a working parent, it’s a fine balance ensuring that you spend enough time with your children when they need you most, and also giving your all to your job at the same time. At the end of the day, it’s about sacrifices and moments. There are moments in time for both your career and your family that you should never miss so you need to know when to make that choice. Shut down when you have to, and take that time to experience those moments and make new and precious memories with your family.

Tips you would like to share with other women

Women are other women’s worst critics! So always remember that especially in the workplace. And always have a strong support system, through family, friends, colleagues. There is nothing wrong with asking for help when you need it. Surround yourself with positivity and you will feel more positive as a result, leave the naysayers at the door!

Flash questions: Your favourite film, song, food and holiday place. 

  • Film: I can’t think of a favourite film, but I do love my superhero franchises and my favourite series at the moment is Apple’s Ted Lasso! It’s such a feel-good series, with laugh-out-loud moments, I can’t wait for Season 2!
  • Song: I have two all-time Favourite Songs – Best of My Love by the Eagles and Woman by John Lennon. (So mushy, sorry.)
  • Holiday Place – It’s got to be Italy, there’s nothing not to love, from the food, to the scenery to the people and the wine!

Introduction: Who is Tracey Chang?

My name is Tracey Chang. Born in China, raised in Beijing and New York City, I see myself as a perfect blend of American and Chinese cultures. I started my career as an investment banker for a multinational bank. After obtaining my MBA from Columbia Business School, I switched to the field of journalism. I worked as an anchor /reporter for CNBC, Fox Business Network and China Global Television Network for almost a decade. In 2017, I became a part time beauty and lifestyle blogger and eventually founded my own e-commerce beauty platform ‘Tracey’s Beauty Bar’ in April 2020.

What are your career/personal hits:

  • Becoming the first woman of Chinese descent to win the 2009 Miss New York USA pageant and subsequently representing the state of New York at the 2009 Miss USA pageant.
  • Becoming the first on-air talent to broadcast in both English and Mandarin Chinese for CNBC.
  • Despite launching in the middle of a global pandemic, Tracey’s Beauty Bar reached over 2 million RMB (over USD305K) in sales less than 24 hours after going online.  In March of 2021, Tracey’s Beauty Bar’s new product launch broke 4 million RMB (over USD610K) in sales in less than 24 hours.

What are your challenges?

Juggling between motherhood and my professional endeavors, moving to Singapore from China to reunite with my husband.

Tips you would like to share with other women

Be more supportive of each other! The more support and love you can give other women, the more support and love you will receive yourself.

Flash questions: Your favourite film, song, food and holiday place. 

  • Your Favorite film: The Blind Side
  • Your Favorite song: Thinking Out Loud (Ed Sheeran)
  • Your Favorite food: Chinese hotpot


Introduction: Who is Fathima Beckmann?

I am Director for Communication at ViacomCBS in Africa where every day I have the phenomenal job of taking powerful African stories, music, culture, talent and content from our continent across our brands to the world.

I am a wife, Mommy to two effervescent children and a household of pets. I’m passionate about yoga and growing plant based food. As a member of the incredible UNICEF IWC sisterhood, I have the inspiring role of mobilising young children and youth in realising their true potential.

What are your career/personal hits

Joining ViacomCBS after extended maternity stay at home for 5 years. So many women feel that we can’t step into and continue to grow our careers when we start a family. This was a great affirmation that YES we can and there is an amazing support structure to help us flourish and thrive in both these important roles.

Hugely grateful to have the opportunity of travelling, leading and working with diverse cultures across the globe throughout my career. From supporting multiple continents and also living in Dubai and working with markets from Egypt, China, to Turkey, Israel, Germany, Spain and more gifted me a wealth of inter-cultural learning and wisdom which is an enormous blessing.

What are your challenges?

For me this a good word! It’s the opportunity to bring the true beautiful and unique Africa filled with our diversity of ethnicity, culture, cuisine, heritage and nature to the world. There is so much to experience on our pulsating continent. The international perception vs the reality is a challenge I tackle daily in ensuring the world meets and engages with our authentic Africa.

I value the challenge of knowledge, humility and wisdom through re-learning. The world has evolved incredibly especially during the pandemic. Embracing this dynamic environment through daily self-renewal and self-reflection is an important challenge.

Tips you would like to share with other women

  • Be You! Freely, without reservation, wholly and empathically you. You matter, are valued and have a powerful voice and bring much needed empathy in the world.
  • Surround yourself with people who genuinely uplift and inspire you.
  • Find and invest in your sisterhood and tribe. These are those who hold you accountable to being your best, support you to grow through your challenges and shine a light for you.
  • Keep evolving, create space to nurture, self-care and prioritise your dreams and vision. Tell your stories. They are going to inspire more women to embrace theirs.

Flash questions: Your favourite film, song, food and holiday place

  • Film: Roberto Benigni’s poetic ‘Life is Beautiful’ and the poignant South African novel-based movie, ‘Cry the Beloved Country’ which brought racial injustice to international attention.
  • Song: Burna Boy – Level Up feat. Youssou N’Dour & Hetta Tanya by Ruby our 6-year old’s favourite song which is now mine
  • Food: Plant based and vegetarian meals with a profusion of herbs and spices
  • Holiday place: African beaches and game reserves + Andean Mountains in Peru and Turkish blue voyage.

  • Introduction: Kelebogile Mashigo?

I am Kelebogile Mashigo, currently the Marketing Director for youth & entertainment brands: MTV, MTV Base BET Africa. I am a Strategic Marketing and Strategy Professional with over 15 years’ experience of honing my passion in uncovering the untold narrative of brands and connecting with audiences. I hold a Global Master in Business Administration (MBA) in France’s ESSEC Business School, and have spent a large part of my career exploring different categories and consumers, specialising in brands across the breakfast category, financial services, beer category, luxury brands and now I work in the content and broadcasting industry. I love everything about brands and creating meaningful connections. I’ve had a really fun and interesting career so far.

  • What are your career/personal hits:

I have had many career highs in my career in all the brands I’ve worked, and many proud moments shared with my teams. My biggest highlight was actually pursuing my MBA in International Luxury Brand Management in Paris. It was a priceless experience that taught me a lot and stretched me beyond my knowledge and experience, both professionally and personally.

  • What are your challenges?

I don’t really have any challenges, just opportunities for growth and development in whatever sphere I may be dealing with. I believe that your point of view creates your reality, and so if you see what might seem difficult as an opportunity to learn you’ll have a better chance of gaining a valuable experience that will change the trajectory of your life. Everything else is just the ebb and flow of life that we get to move and flow with.

  • Tips you would like to share with other women

As cliché as it might sound, as a woman you always have to believe and lean into your feminine power – that beautiful balance of nurturing and strength is what allows us to change our environments and impact those around us. It’s sometimes easy to forget in a work environment where we may be required to be tough and hard on the people around us, but it’s the delicate balance of our nature that creates an environment where people thrive.

  • Flash questions: Your favourite film, song, food and holiday place. 

  • Favourite Film is definitely August Rush – I’m a sucker for movies that make me cry ?
  • Favourite Song has got to be anything by Daniel Caesar and JP Cooper ❤
  • I don’t have a favourite because I love experimenting with all kinds of dishes
  • A Favourite holiday place is Paris where I got to live and experience the culture for over 2 years, and of course South Africa with its endless beauty and charisma.

Brief introduction about yourself, who you are, what you do…:

My name is Solafunmi “Shawls” Sosanya. I am the Senior Channels Manager. I have the most most amazing job of leading my team in creating fun youth and family times for audiences. I am also mum and a huge personal finance enthusiast.

Which are your career/personal hits?

Creating amazing shows and seeing families tune in and love it! For personal Hits, creating my personal finance page and sharing great info on savings and investments.

Which are your challenges?

Being a woman is hard; managing your job, children, partner, aging parents (in laws some times), home schooling in the lockdown, finding time to exercise, side hustles, being a good friend, drinking water.. so so much, Little wonder we are amazing!

Tips you would like to share with other women

Be authentic, be you, the world will adjust.

Your favourite film, song, food and holiday place

I love Survivor (not a movie sorry), I can watch that show 24/7! My fave song varies from time to time, but right now Solider by Chike is a huge favourite. Holiday will have to be the enchanting waters and peace in Mauritius.

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