I can "JUMP"
An interview by Alessandra Zocca
PWI – Isabella, you are a member of PWI. What inspired you to join PWI Brussels?
Isabella Lenarduzzi, Founding & Managing Director JUMP “Empowering Women, Advancing the Economy.”
Ms. Lenarduzzi – What I really like about PWI is that you meet very ambitious and highly qualified women coming from various professions (freelances, managers, entrepreneurs), nationalities and languages. It’s not that easy in Brussels to combine together French-speaking women and Dutch-speaking women and have such a mix of backgrounds in the membership.
PWI - Isabella, how many of your business dreams have you been able to realize?
Ms. Lenarduzzi – Alessandra, my business dreams are always related to my personal dreams. Since I have been twelve years old I wanted to change the world, I wanted to make it a better place for everybody and therefore I became an activist in many associations.
In university I met a guy, a real entrepreneur, and he asked me to be part of his team in launching a student magazine; he wanted to make money and I wanted to use the magazine to communicate messages dedicated to students to help them in the university environment. In parallel to this magazine I took part in plenty of very different associations (feminism, pacifism, foreign student’s representation, against racism, etc.). For instance, I founded an association called the “LA VOIE DES FEMMES”, to my knowledge the first association in the eighties made by women for other women from the second generation of immigration. I am part of the third generation of Italian immigration.
At the end of these experiences I discovered that for my personality – which is very impatient and ambitious – a commercial company would help me to be more efficient and to have more impact than a not-for-profit organization.
When I had a project I didn’t wait for the financial support from the public institutions to start it, I really wanted to make it happen and in the course of developing it I found the money. So I discovered this was entrepreneurship, I was totally unaware because nobody in my family was an entrepreneur; they were all manual workers or civil servants.
At that time I used to read a lot of books written about women in politics, like Golda Meir, Françoise Giroud, Simone Veil and I was inspired by them. I thought that changing the world was only possible through activism in associations or politics. Being the founder and shareholder of a commercial company made me understand that companies were also another way to change things: every company I funded or I participate in was dedicated to a specific social mission.
This is how I came to create JUMP five years ago, because I couldn’t find, in Belgium or Europe, a “company” dealing with the professional life of women (for instance, providing training, advice, discussion forums, and networking opportunities) and I wanted to do it.
To answer your question, Alessandra, yes, I made my business dreams happen, all the time.
Which are your personal qualities and the values that helped you to become a successful entrepreneur?
Ms. Lenarduzzi – First of all generosity, I think that if you want to receive, you have to give, especially in women’s networks. I respect people, I build relationships with people and they trust me, I do not calculate what I give or they give. Additionally I am full of energy (I can work twenty hours a day or even 36 hours without stopping), I have enthusiasm and I am coherent, meaning I am always myself both at home and at work.
Isabella, do you still have dreams that have not yet come true?
Ms. Lenarduzzi – Oh, I have plenty of dreams, because there are many things that do not work in society and I want them to work. I really strive for more equality between men and women, meaning that people should develop all their talents according to their own personality and not according to their gender, there are not jobs that suit women and jobs that suit men.
I realized a few months ago that the mission of JUMP is not only gender equality, because for me pursuing gender equality is a way of changing the world. It became very clear to me that, during this economic crisis, we need to bring women’s values into the market-place to replace the current culture of egoism, avidity of money and self-recognition of the people in power.
In addition to the different women’s values you have just mentioned, do you think, Isabella, that women have some plusses? If so, which ones?
Ms. Lenarduzzi – It is a difficult question, I do not think that nature has such a big impact even if it surely has one… but thousands of years of culture have!
I really believe that men and women can develop the same qualities, if they are considered really equal. Because of our history women have developed more caring attitudes, more emotional intelligence and a more collaborative way of working. But you can find women who lack these qualities and men who have a lot of them, so I think it is a consequence of culture. For instance it is said that women are multitasking because they manage concurrently their job and their family, but I am convinced men can multitask as well.
Let me tell you something: on French television they showed an experiment done in a village where for ten days men were confronted with a woman’s daily life: the women were sent to Las Vegas while men had to look after the home and the children and still work. Men discovered in few days how difficult it is to manage family and work, and they discovered the beauty of the relationship with their children. And, last but not least, they understood they were in love with their spouse and how valuable these women were.
Now, what about skills or behaviour that – in your opinion – women should strengthen?
Ms. Lenarduzzi – I heard people saying that women need to network more, to do more self-marketing and so on; I can understand that, in a certain way they are right, but it is typically the male way of doing business. Women are less confident than man, that means that most of them hate to do self-marketing, they prefer to be very good professionals, to respect deadlines and so on; they surely understand that they need to market themselves, that it is not sufficient to be a good professional, they have to make it known.
Companies, on the other side, need to understand that women’s humility is a real value, that humble individuals can be a fantastic managers and leaders, that it is not necessary to have a huge ego. Women are not men; they need to be valued by companies for their capabilities and attitudes. Companies should not to try to make women behave like men; companies need to redefine the qualities of leadership, in order to integrate the social changes and the richness that women can bring.
I believe also that women must learn the male rules, to know how things work and identify what they can accept and what are the limits.
Men could also benefit by integrating some female attitudes and values. The real equality will be in place when women do not have to adapt to the current models, when companies adapt their models to integrate the qualities and capabilities that women can bring.
Women that adopt male behaviors will end up in being unappreciated both by men and by women: they will not belong in either category.
Don’t you think that gender is only one of the diversities, like culture or age (for example the over-50’s)?
Ms. Lenarduzzi – I believe that gender is the biggest difference. If we can integrate the gender diversity in the work place, then it will be easier to sort out the discrimination in other areas.
When I met Lois P. Frankel, an internationally-recognised executive coach, author of the best-seller “Nice Girls Don't Get the Corner Office”, she told me that it was much easier for a CEO to welcome to his Board a Black man or a man with a very different cultural background than to accept a woman. The more I work in the field of gender diversity, the more I believe Lois, women are victims of so many stereotypes. I believe that women have been so dominated that we suffer from a lack of self-confidence; we still have a long way to go, we need to love ourselves much more and by doing this we will feel much more solidarity with other women, in fact, some women often lack of cooperation amongst themselves.
We need to value our femininity and it is so difficult in the corporate world, this is why JUMP is branded with the pink colour. I decided to stick to the pink colour for JUMP, even if some women - who helped me to fund it -decided to quit because pink “is not a business colour”. Pink is considered the symbol of femininity and by choosing pink I wanted to put the message that women can develop, prove their value and keep their femininity in business, and not try to imitate men.
How can companies support women and bring them on board?
Ms. Lenarduzzi – There was a study done amongst managers who champion gender diversity and they discovered that the male supporters of women in the workplace were usually the fathers of girls. They worry about the career opportunities and the future of their daughters. This is helping.
What is your position in relation to quotae?
Ms. Lenarduzzi – We should not be ashamed about quotas, but about the fact that, if we wouldn’t have the quotas resolution, we would not have more women on board. Unfortunately, equality never progressed without regulation, and specifically regulations with penalties. Humanity is afraid of penalties, so they prefer to follow the law; the change of mentality is then a consequence. Incredible to say, but it is exactly like that, in my opinion.
| Short Biography
Isabella Lenarduzzi created the European student fairs in various countries of Europe. She also edited two monthly magazines “Univers-Cité” and “Kampus” aimed at young readers aged 15-25 and distributed the Student Welcome Pack to more than 1 million students all over Europe.
After having sold these companies to Reed-Elsevier, Isabella established a consultancy and training activity in Italy and worked as deputy director for the Naples Science Museum where she set up Italy’s “Guidance and Careers Resource Centre”.
She then came back to Brussels and went on to organise a number of economic events including the European Business Summit, CréaWal 2004 and Wallinno 2005.
In 2005 she created, for the Brussels Chamber of Commerce (BECI), the “Brussels Job Days”, this was a new concept in events, involving on-site job interviews between employers and jobseekers. In 5 years she has organised 30 events which have given jobs to over 5000 people.
She received several awards, including:
- Nominee in 1992 as the woman of the year in Belgium
- Wimadame award (France) called “European female entrepreneur of the year” in 2010
- “Femme d’Exception” (Woman of exception) in 2011 by the Belgian Minister for Equal Opportunities Joëlle Milquet
- “Tof de la comm” ‘Award for event communication in June 2011
Isabella launched JUMP “Empowering Women, Advancing the Economy” in 2006.
Isabella actually manages 2 companies, one NGO and a team of 12 people.
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