Blooming Women Leadership

29 Feb 2012 11:09 | Deleted user

Interview by Alessandra Zocca

Alessandra Perrazzelli, Head of International Regulatory and Antitrust Affairs at Intesa Sanpaolo and the CEO of Intesa Sanpaolo Eurodesk.

PWI – Ms.Perrazzelli, when was the project Gemma launched and why?  How many people are involved?

Ms. Perrazzelli - The Gemma project was launched at the end of 2007 when I had already been working in Intesa Sanpaolo for four years. When I moved from my fist assignment in Brussels to the headquarters in Milan, where I work today, knowing that the workforce of my company was composed of 50% men and 50% women, I started wondering where women were assigned in the bank. In fact in the headquarters I used to see many secretaries and a few other ladies, but the rest of this 50% of female employees were not visible to my eyes. 
Actually this 50% of women at the entry level already achieved middle management jobs, but few of them could reach top management positions or access the board. In order to give you a better understanding of the magnitude of this issue, please take into consideration that Intesa Sanpaolo counts for more than 60.000 employees in Italy and about 100.000 employees worldwide.

So, being the only woman reporting to the CEO (at that time the role was covered by Corrado Passera, currently Minister of Economic Development, Infrastructures and Transport in Italy), I proposed to him an analysis of the professional situation of women in the bank and an identification of the reasons that hindered women’s career growth to top leading positions. The CEO authorized a small budget and asked me to give a full picture of the professional situation in the company.
This is how I became the head of the GEMMA project with a consultant and a very small group of team members, who did not report to me, but were assigned to support me by the various function directors of the bank.
The team performed the analysis by involving 1.700 female employees of the bank (through on-line surveys, focus groups and interviews) on several areas that might create barriers to their career (for instance, equity, motivation, satisfaction, work-life balance, ambitions, self-image, perceived internal/external threats, etc.). The overall project involved around 3.000 employees.

PWI – I was wondering why is the project called “Gemma”?  Is there any reason this name was chosen? 

Ms. Perrazzelli - We came up with the name Gemma – which in Italian means “flower bud” - a flower about to bloom, we wanted it to represent more a process than a project. The logo of the project was designed by a 22-year-old young man and I decided to register it as a trade mark based on the idea that in future the bank could start selling specific services and products to women.

PWI - What are the other objectives of the Gemma project? What do you think the results/benefits will be and how long do you think it will be before you see them?

Ms. Perrazzelli - In addition to mapping the situation of the female professional growth in the bank, Gemma had the goal to change the culture towards women in regards to gender diversity. 
Like many banks in Europe, Intesa Sanpaolo is a very conservative and risk adverse company, therefore the presence of women was not necessarily seen as problem, but also not as an added value that could contribute to grow the business.
First of all Intesa Sanpaolo is an Italian bank and reflects very much the reality of our society where women have a special praise and a social value, if they are mothers and wives, this is the primary scope that Italian men give to women. Therefore, the issues of the female colleagues who have to revert to part-time jobs or reduce their work availability after pregnancy, has always been seen as a “natural” problem that did not need to be specifically addressed, nobody saw it as a loss of talents. 
In a way it was normal to consider that women, when they hit their thirties, they want to become mothers and then they lose interest in their job. This is how things went basically and nobody in the bank thought to invest in women’s talent to allow them to grow professionally and to access more top jobs. 

This situation became an issue when the bank started to hire a lot more women than men simply because women came out of university with better grades and they performed better in the selection process.
When the bank finally had a younger CEO, he changed the average age of his first and second reporting levels and then things started to change a bit. Now the Intesa Sanpaolo Group aims at having 30% women in roles of responsibility within the Business Plan period (2013) through sustainable career paths and work-life balance measures.

PWI - I have read that one of the objectives of the Gemma project is "to foster women's skills, ways of thinking and leadership styles". How would you define women's skills, ways of thinking and leadership styles? And how do they differ from those of men?

Ms. Perrazzelli - I believe that there are differences and the problem is that this difference is not appreciated and not given freedom. I think that women are capable and when they are able to grow, they express a different type of leadership compared to men. Let me provide you with some examples of management traits embedded in the female leadership: women have the ability to work through consensus, to work in teams, to be on average more attentive and encouraging to their co-workers, they assign to their team objectives that allow them to grow. Women are not confrontational, they want to explain things, to double check on quality, they do not act like soldiers, they are much more careful about the sustainability of what they do. 

Yes, there is a big difference between men and women in everything they do, we are not alike at all and I am glad about this, because this diversity is one of the basic principles of biology that allowed mankind to survive so far, so we should keep this difference and make it an advantage. 

Coming back to leadership, I strongly believe that the cooperation between the leadership of men and women will be the leadership for the 21st century.

PWI - Could you provide me with some examples of concrete actions already in place (and being implemented) to achieve Gemma goals?

I would like to highlight two actions, which are very different, but they can show how broad the scope of Gemma has become.
The first action regards a large group of women, the women that are on maternity leave: in our bank we have about 1.800 kids per year! This figure is related only to the female colleagues, we do not know yet the average yearly number of babies from the male colleague’s side, but getting the full picture will be part of future actions.  
Before Gemma the policy for the maternity leave period stated that women had to give back to the company their cell phone and their pc, their access to their e-mail address and to the e-learning was blocked, basically like cutting off their contract within the company. Some women accepted it passively, some others – above all the ones covering good positions or interested in pursuing their career afterwards – felt excluded from their working environment. In order to allow women to stay in touch with their work during their maternity leave (upon their request), we implemented the “Per Mano (by hand)” initiative: not only could women keep the mentioned tools, but additionally they are assigned a tutor that they can regularly meet in order to keep themselves in the loop and stay in contact with their boss and colleagues. This action had a strong positive impact on women’s satisfaction with their job, but also on the mentality of male bosses, who normally thought that a female team member could be considered “out of career” starting from the maternity period.

The second action, called “Women at the helm”, aims to define measures to increase the number of candidates for the boards of the companies controlled by Intesa Sanpaolo. This action is related to the women quotas resolution, which allowed putting women’s merit and talent in the spotlight in Italy and also in our bank. I know that there are plenty of women in Italy and in our bank capable of doing an excellent job on boards, definitely better than men sitting there. I do not buy, for even a second, the excuse that there are not enough women ready for the board.
With this action a pool of women with potential to be on the board was identified and invited to attend a specific two-day course about how a board functions, meaning roles, responsibilities and rules. This action is meant to support these women to sit with more ease on the board of the companies controlled by Intesa Sanpaolo. You might question why women should get this training and men don’t … yes, definitely men should too.
A second benefit of this action was to create awareness in the male bosses that there were a hundred women, capable and very professional, ready for those board positions.

Let me mention also two more actions from the Gemma project: 
             • A portal called “gemm@Community”, accessible from the company’s intranet, a virtual place to meet and exchange ideas, which counts15.000 members, 80% women and 20% men
            • “Gemma’s road show” tours around Italy to reach women in the whole country in order to present the Gemma project, to get their input and to provide some role modeling, meaning making more women known, and talking about how they achieved their position.  A little bit as you do with your interviews by making visible examples of female role models in the business arena …

All these initiatives were very effective in changing the company culture and fostering women’s career. 

PWI - Has Gemma been welcomed by the personnel and management? Have you found resistance to the actions in place?

Ms. Perrazzelli - Actually, the project not welcomed at all at the beginning, for the first six months nothing happened … After that we managed to start implementing small actions and then the other main actions.
The most recent action coming from this project is BusinessGemma, an insurance product focused on addressing the financial risks female entrepreneurs and professionals have in their work and private lives.

PWI - What was your motivation to lead the Gemma initiative?

Ms. Perrazzelli – My motivation was and is to “give back”, to leave a legacy in favour of a sustainable growth with a different type of leadership, which includes diversity. I am a fortunate person, I had many opportunities in my professional and in my personal life, therefore I want to “give back” to other women, to the young around me and ultimately to my children. 

PWI - Are you aware of similar initiatives - like Gemma - in Italy? Are you in contact with them?

Ms. Perrazzelli – Yes, there are and I am happy to talk to you about my parallel experience in Valore D.
Valore D is an association founded two and half years ago by twelve Italian companies, including Intesa SanPaolo, with the aim of bringing more women to top positions in their member companies. A successful campaign was promoted to involve more and more companies and now Valore D includes around 60 companies ( and is the first association of big companies to foster women’s leadership in Italy.

I have been the president of Valore D for a year and a half now and during my presidency we grew considerably and we promoted a number of actions that are currently changing the culture in the associated companies. These actions vary from seminars for skill building, to role modeling (interviews with and meetings with top female managers), to intra-company mentoring, to benchmarking about flexibility measures to support women balancing work and family, to initiatives that create innovation at all social levels; all actions we believe are necessary to develop women.

 Short Biography
Alessandra Perrazzelli is the Head of International Regulatory and Antitrust Affairs at Intesa Sanpaolo and the CEO of Intesa Sanpaolo Eurodesk, reporting directly to the CEO of Intesa Sanpaolo. Intesa Sanpaolo is one of the largest Italian and European banking groups. Based in New York, Brussels and Milan for the last 25 years, Ms Perrazzelli works with the European Institutions on the application of EU banking and financial services law to the internal market. Ms Perrazzelli is also in charge of the Antitrust Compliance at Group level. As the head of Intesa Sanpaolo Eurodesk, a company of the Group, she assists corporate clients to access EU funding in the fields of research, SMEs, education and infrastructures. In 2007, Ms Perrazzelli was put in charge of the Project Gemma, aimed at promoting programs and activities to enhance women’s carriers and talents within the Bank and to develop new banking products to tailor women in the banking and financial services market.

Previously, Ms Perrazzelli was a partner in the Brussels-based firm O’Connor and Company, where she was responsible for the telecom, postal and public utilities practices. She began practising law in a top Wall Street law firm in New York, mainly in the fields of merger and acquisitions and banking law. She practised in the telecoms, energy, postal and banking sectors. In telecoms, her work focused on the liberalisation of the European market and she advised major mobile and fixed telecoms operators in relation to EC and national telecoms, competition law and regulation. She won a number of postal and telecoms competition cases that influenced European postal and telecoms liberalisation. In these sectors, Ms Perrazzelli has filed landmark complaints and notifications before the European courts, the European Commission and national courts, and competition/regulatory authorities in many European countries.  

Ms Perrazzelli received her Law Degree Cum Laude at the University of Genoa and an LLM degree at the New York University School of Law, in the field of Corporate Law. She is admitted to the Bar in Italy and in the New York State. She is an IBA and ABA member. 
Ms Perrazzelli is a regular speaker at international conferences and has published several articles on the application of competition law to the network industries and on financial regulation. She has been mentioned among the top 100 women lawyers in competition law by the Global Competition Review in 2009 and 2004. In 2007, she won the “Premio Bellisario” in the Communication Sector, for her activity promoting Italian interests at EU and International level. Since July 2010, Ms Perrazzelli is the president of Valore D, an association of companies aimed at fostering and empowering women in companies and organizations.

Ms Perrazzelli is fluent in English and French in addition to her native Italian. Ms Perrazzelli plays the piano and likes to sing, plays several sports, and loves to spend time at the seaside in her native Liguria. She is the proud mother of Samuele and Margherita.
Alessandra Perrazzelli
Head of International Regulatory and Antitrust Affairs
Staff to the Managing Director and CEO
Square de Meeus 35
1000 Bruxelles
+32 2 64 000 80

Disclaimer - Any views and opinions presented in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of INTESA SANPAOLO, nor do they constitute a legally binding agreement.

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