Having said this, I do not think that gender is a differentiating factor in leadership; I’d rather believe that there are different types of leadership as far as we have different personalities.
Let me make the example using “intelligence”: now we know that there are many types of intelligence (for ex. logical-mathematical, linguistic, spatial, bodily-kinesthetic, interpersonal and intra-personal, etc.) and not just one type of it. The same can be said for leadership, each person can have his/her own kind of leadership, but he/she needs to be able to bring people with him/her, to make the others follow him/her. The first key characteristic that enables an individual to convince others to follow is being authentic, being yourself and not fake. You can dare to be a fake, maybe, but you have to cleverly ensure nobody will suspect!
Another prerequisite for leaders is to know themselves deeply and to know their team members well as single individuals. By understanding themselves better leaders become more aware of their potential and more consistent in their own behaviour, and can better understand the other individuals.
Managers sometimes tend to manage their subordinates in the same way they manage themselves; they apply the same criteria and they do not understand why co-workers do not accept, do not comply or why they are not happy about this: they are just different people with different aspirations.
I do not know whether leadership can be innate, but I certainly know people who have developed strong leadership over time.
In your experience is life/family balance still a barrier for women?
What about paternity leave?
Yes, I believe that for women – at least in Italy – family is still a barrier. I have seen many very promising women that at certain point in their career decided to leave the company or to make a step back, because of family/children, despite the fact they would have loved to develop their career. The lack of social infrastructure is a great enemy for women’s careers. In France, where I lived for many years, I noticed that there was more social support.
Anyway, not allowing a woman to stop for a while and restart again means (and it will be an increasing problem) losing an enormous amount of value and talent, a waste of useful skills.
Paternity leave? I am absolutely in favor, my only true doubt is whether during their paternity leave men do what they would be supposed to do within their family or they go playing golf, for instance …
In my experience I have noticed very bad reactions from men towards male colleagues that chose the paternity leave and with very silly rationales behind, which they show by laughing behind these men’s backs, making jokes about them, etc..
PWI - Massimo, I think that women struggle also to re-enter their company after the maternity period, especially if they take a longer break.
You are touching a very important point: there is a prejudice that if you stop your career for a while, you are not able to start again without losing a lot. This prejudice comes from the past when the technical/functional skills were more important than the behavioural skill: of course employees need to be “technically/ functionally” competent, but these skills are quickly obsolete and it is relatively quick to learn them.
On the contrary behaviour and management skills need time to be acquired … actually one of the few advantages of aging is that experience helps you to become better, a better person and manager. Being out of work for a while could be the opportunity also to gain different competencies, to acquire different approaches that will allow you to see things from different points of view, to be more versatile.
PWI - Have you in your current and previous company undertaken actions to recruit, develop, retain and promote women? Which ones? Which ones have been most successful and why?
I have always put meritocracy as one of my main principles in the companies I managed as CEO. I therefore promoted and retained the women who deserved it and who were very clever and capable in their job.
Specifically I took action to ensure that capable women were in a position to reconcile work and family. It has been difficult, but I managed to let women take sabbatical breaks and have flexible hours when their kids were sick even if they were in key positions, and despite the hostility of other employees – men and women - towards these measures in favor of maternity.
Why is it possible to have flexible hours? Because people work by objectives, there is no need to stay long hours in the office, or to send emails during the night or in the week-end, just to impress the CEO.
PWI - Which policies, processes and infrastructures (services for family balance, etc.) would be effective to foster gender equality and support quotas targets?
I think that governments should put in place a sort of “social architecture”, meaning health and welfare services. A lot of women are trapped into services they need to render to their family like old parents, sick relatives or eventually disabled people in their family.
Social infrastructure would allow women to be relieved of this responsibility and to concentrate on their work or to make a profession what they currently do as “volunteering”: care and assistance, new professions and new jobs … I am especially thinking of the aging population in Europe and in the western countries.
European Commission Vice-President Viviane Reding furthered her initiative to obtain more gender balance in European boardrooms by joining together with Europe’s leading business schools to shatter the glass ceilings impeding senior women executives from acceding to corporate boardroom seats throughout Europe.
Do you think this initiative will be effective? Successful? What are the potential limitations?
I think that it is a little bit like quotae, it is not perfect because not all women go to these management schools or they went years ago, but at least it’s a lever, anything which ensures more women reach the boardroom will be an improvement.