Winning Women Leading the Way, 12.04.2017

On Wednesday, 12 April 2017, we had the honor to host an unprecedented event at Bocconi University in collaboration with Mentors4U.

The event started with a talk from Stefania Boroli, co-founder of Mentors4U.

“We don’t need quotas, we need a change in mentality, a change in the culture. This is the duty of the younger generations.”

After that, Maurizia Iachino Leto di Priolo opened the fireside chat with Monica Mandelli: “Storytelling is a very powerful way to learn. There are many doors to be open. Stand up, seize the challenge. Learn from the experiences of others. Be inspired by their successes”

This was exactly the purpose of the event: inspire.

The setting

Something that is very much lacking today is the presence of female role models and having a mentor/ role model is key. In addition to this quantitative matter comes a qualitative one:  as females, the “room to maneuver is much narrower”. For men, there are many role models “types”: there is the introvert guy who is successful, there is the rebel guy, the funny guy… However, for women, there would be at most two types.

Have a “huge” goal

It is crucial to set a “huge” goal for yourself. Not big, huge. Here is why: “There will be moments in your career when you will be sitting in your cubicle at midnight, seeing another person taking credit for your work. You will have (many) moments of discouragements, and this is when you need to remember your goal.” If your goal is huge, you just won’t lose it out of sight, tough times won’t make it go away.

Your life and your career are not highways but country roads, with twist and turns. You need to be comfortable being uncomfortable

Whatever your goal, whatever your job, you need to be comfortable being uncomfortable.

Why? “Mainly because it will never go away. The feeling of being a little bit on the edge will always be there. But that’s good, because if you are in your comfort zone, chances are you won’t learn much. You ever really grow only when you leave that comfort zone, and start taking risks, one breath at the time, one step at the time.”

Know who you are, know your strengths but also know your weaknesses

One thing we can all agree on is that people are different: different goals, personalities, scope… The important thing is to understand your own distinctiveness, and then put it on the table. You also shouldn’t be afraid to be compared to peers. You have to accept the comparison, in any stage of life. It is also a way to measure your own value. Another important topic is asking for feedback. Sometimes the feedback won’t be good, but that’s part of knowing your strengths and weaknesses. You need to be able to take it.

Never cry in front of the boys

This is what Ms Mandelli tells her 7-year-old daughter. Crying is sometimes a physiological need, that’s just how it is. If you feel the tears coming, excuse yourself and go to the bathroom. It is all about what image you project to others. It all comes down to being confident. You have to own it.

You don’t need to have a passion, but to be passionate about what you do

“It doesn’t matter what you do, it matters how you do it”. You have to be passionate about what you do, whatever it is. It is normal if you aren’t 100% sure of what you want to do with your life.

Here are a few tips on figuring it out:

Take a personal off-site: ask yourself the tough questions. What are your strengths and what do you like. Do you prefer to work in a big team or in a small one? Do you like to multi-task, to be bombarded with many things every day, at a fast-pace or do you prefer to do one thing at the time? There is no right answer: Different people like different things. What matters most to you? How important is it for you to have free time? How much intensity do you want to put into your job, what do you really want.

The key is to be honest with yourself and remember that careers are marathons, not sprints. The bottom line is that if you don’t genuinely like what you do, you won’t last at it for so long.

The difference between being good and being great, and the common pitfalls you should avoid

What is the difference between good and great? It is not about staying an extra hour at the office or having top grades. Rather, it’s about the little extra thing you will do. These little extra things will have their roots into passion.

The first mistake you can do is “just doing the job”: of course, you should do the job amazingly well, but in addition, you need to “map the forest”. When you enter a company, you should figure out quickly the norms of the organization. Who has the power? Who has the informal power? Who will be your friend? Who can you ask the dumb questions to? Be thoughtful in assessing the personalities of the senior people. It all starts with listening and being genuinely interested: Networking is more about creating a real link with a few people.

The other common pitfall is not to maximize what is actually in your control: Many things do not depend on you, but some things do:

The main thing is how to present yourself. You can’t control how people perceive you, but what you can control is how you behave, how you dress, where you sit (in the front or in the back).

Be confident. Don’t be afraid to ask

Men speak when they are 30% percent sure about the answer, woman when they are 90% sure.

Women certainly don’t talk enough, but most importantly don’t ask enough. They sit in their cubicles, do the job very well and “hope that the gods will send the bonus and promotion their way”. That just won’t happen.

So ask! The worst that can really happen is that they say no. But you have to take your chance, you have to dare.

The fireside chat was followed by a panel discussion with Cristina Catania, Maria Teresa Iardella, Manuela Geranio and Ulrika Wikström 

Be proactive and driven

Ms Catania was the first female partner at McKinsey’s Milan Office. Her n#1 advice is to be driven and proactive: “You need to have the determination to put work first, at least for that many years”. Building a career comes with sacrifices. The best thing you can do now is start building a reputation for yourself.

Ms Iardella emphasized this last point: “If you have something interesting to bring to the table, no matter the gender or age.”

Don’t try to be perfect and remember that communication is key

Ms Wikström was asked “How do you manage failures?”:

“I am a bit of a perfectionist so I hate failing, but I understood with time that fast and dirty can work as well.”

Don’t be embarrassed about mistakes. It is okay to fail from time to time. The important thing is to be willing to dare, to propose, to make the move forward and if something goes wrong, to understand exactly why it went wrong, and how not to repeat the mistake in the future.

Remember: Communication is key. It is better to have the right message and body language rather than the perfect slideshow.

By Paola Najar and Linda Du