We Are The City asked me to be part of their inspirational women series and I could not say NO :) Here is the interview.
Paola Garbini, Founder of NOI Club, allergic to gender inequality, mum of two, globetrotter and Global Marketing Manager for Financial Institutions at BCG.
Paola has always been passionate about diversity and women’s empowerment, in her personal as well as professional life. She started blogging about her favourite topics but quickly realised that to bring about change, she had to take real action. She could not limit herself to speaking about empowering other women. She wanted to meet them face-to-face and work together as a team to make change happen and move forward together. The NOI club was born in 2015 to serve this purpose.
Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role
I am the global marketing manager for Financial Institutions at management consultancy BCG and I am also the Founder of the NOI Club, a community of women with projects and businesses, powered by kindness. Some time ago a dear friend described me as a “spark” and I love that definition of myself! This is what I aspire to be: a spark of transformation, an enabler of meaningful human connections. I have a passion for diversity, community and kindness and I am driven by a desire to create a positive, long-lasting impact on society and women’s advancement.
Did you ever sit down and plan your career?
I got my first job by complete chance. Fresh off university, I was visiting all the Milan-based recruiting agencies in search for a short-term contract for a couple of months. I was about to get married and go on a long round-the-world backpacking honeymoon and wanted to find something that would enable me to gain some experience and then leave. I was tired of doing the same introductory interview over and over again with all the agencies and at the 5th one on the same day I decided it was enough. Then I said to myself: “do one more and then go home”. I persisted and I met an incredibly talented recruiter who saw potential in me and convinced me to sign up for a marketing assistant role at a management consulting company. I did not even know what “consulting” meant! He told me I would have liked it and to re-apply for a full time position after the first two months. That is what I did and I loved the job. Before getting married I applied for the open full time role as marketing manager for Italy and got in…right after coming back from my trip! I stayed in this company for ten years and I learnt how to roadmap my career. I was always seeking for opportunities to learn, challenge myself and travel. I created a network of trusted people around me and learnt to raise my hand and try things out to become better at the job. This is why I was able to have more than six different jobs during my ten-year tenure. And the same process has always worked for me.
Have you faced any challenges along the way?
The motto “no pain no gain” is a true one J but challenges mean opportunities and that is all that matters. I would make a distinction between the internal and the external challenges anyone faces throughout their career. For example, being a perfectionist has always made me vulnerable to criticism and this internal challenge is hard to get rid of. I met many more internal roadblocks than external ones, if I have to be honest. What is good about this, though, is that if you are willing to embrace your weaknesses and grow, the work you can do on yourself will truly transform you and the new YOU will be visible to all and make you a better professional and overall human being. There hasn’t been a single day at work where I have not learnt something about myself, good or bad. It has not always been easy to tackle these challenges but I have always tried. How much time have I spent being my own psychologist! But I am sure these efforts are now paying off and for sure they have made me very empathetic with others.
How do you feel about mentoring? Have you mentored anyone or are you someone’s mentee?
Mentoring is a real privilege. I have been an informal mentor for many years now and a formal one for the Cherie Blair Foundation for two consecutive years. I was recently approached by a colleague who asked me to be her mentor and we have started this incredible journey together. Mentoring is the translation of kindness in business. Everyone nowadays is time poor, yet mentoring means that someone who has experience can find time and energy to transfer a flux of positive energy to someone who needs it and get so much in return. Everyone should have a mentor and become one, when they are ready. What is important is that the word does not become an empty one. Mentoring is a serious thing and both parties needs to understand its boundaries, its requirements and its desired outcomes.
What do you want to see happen within the next five years when it comes to diversity?
I recently released a comment on being a woman in the Financial Services Industry for International Women’s Day and mentioned that we are not a special breed. What I meant was that women are starting to represent a critical mass even in sectors that are very much lagging behind on this subject. Well, what I hope to see in five years is the normality of being a woman in all sectors. I want to see events where the equal representation of women and men on stage will not even be perceived anymore because it will be as normal as the presence of name tags at the registration desk.
I hope to see commercials where people (not women only!) sweep floors and ask for help on how to do a whiter laundry…I want to see more women keeping their name if they want to when they get married. I want to see work policies that enable everyone to take advantage of the life they want to live when not at their desk. I do not want to see special policies just for women, that seem to be a sign of “extra attention” and then in reality are aimed at segregating us in stereotypical roles. I cannot wait to see women with ideas shine and thrive, get the money they deserve to start a company or to invest in it, without having to justify themselves and get through millions of layers of validation just because, as women, we need to prove ourselves all the time. This will all be possible only if society as a whole changes. Single companies can surely do their part but it is society that should take the load off us women and share it equally among people! In five years’ time I want to see all this and more happen, ideally like a wave that washes away all the bad habits and all the discriminatory actions; I know this will not be the case, as change will be more like a virus that slowly but steadily will invade the world! In any case, I am keen to witness all this and do my part to make sure I, as an individual, give my contribution.
If you could change one thing for women in the workplace, what would it be?
The one thing I would change is how many of us still perceive ourselves. Let’s leave out all the things that should still change all around us and focus for a moment on what can happen, right now, within us, to make things better. The so-called cognitive load, for example. A very recent study from BCG reveals that, beyond equal share of duties, more often than we think there is an uneven distribution of mental load that hinders women’s chances to truly shine at work. If you are still the one who should keep the family schedule in mind, think about what to buy for the food shopping (even when someone else does it for you), plan your kids’ activities or care for your parents because “it is a woman’s thing, not something your brother would do as well as you”…then you are obviously more prone to believe that that is just how things are, how they should be and you are trapped.
What has been your biggest achievement to date?
My biggest achievement has been making one step a day to live the life I am living.
What is your next challenge and what are you hoping to achieve in the future?
My next challenge is a big number: One Billion Women. I want to find a way to help as many women as I can, to succeed in the pursuit of their dreams. I am not starting from zero; with the NOI Club we have already helped 3000+ of them! The goal may be too big but I like challenges! Beyond targets and goals, what I really hope is to be able to leave a positive mark on this planet, to be remembered as a good person, who did what she could to be a spark for others.