You started your career in communication and digital marketing, what brought you to focus on promoting gender equality and empowering women in business over the years?
Equality of opportunities for all, and particularly gender equality, have been something I was dedicated to since a very early age, probably because of my upbringing as the single daughter of a single mother. I remember that I was only 9 years old when I stood up to my teacher to ensure that girls had the same amount of outdoor space as boys during break (at the time girls were only allowed benches to play with Barbies with no space to run around!)
Growing up I studied international and diplomatic sciences, with focus on developing countries, while volunteering to help kids of immigrants integrate into the Italian school system. My dream was to help those less privileged and while life has brought me to a different path, I’ve always striven to give back to the community.
When I set up my branding agency in 2014 I thought I would run a traditional business, it wasn’t clear to me yet how I could use it for a bigger cause.
As an entrepreneur, I continued volunteering and giving back to the community, leveraging my marketing knowledge to help schools and associations as well as cash poor start-ups, particularly those founded by women.
Over time, I realised that all the work I was doing volunteering was the one that was giving me the most satisfaction and it was the one that had the biggest impact. However, these projects had to be secondary to the big clients’ project, and that felt somehow wrong.
That’s when I decided to turn KnowThyBrand into a social enterprise, where we charge those who can pay, and we use the profit to support those who can’t.
But for any social enterprise to be sustainable it needs a clear goal, and for me gender equality was the one that resonated the most. It was also the one with which I had the most experience, having seen first hand how my professional background was useful to empower women, through personal branding, supporting companies in their gender inclusion efforts and employer branding, and supporting female founders with their effort to communicate their brand to acquire investors and customers.
And that’s how KnowThyBrand Women was born.
You founded KnowThyBrand in Singapore in 2014 and have been supported by the Luxembourg House of Financial Technology (LHoFT) and Northern Trust since you moved to Luxembourg, could you explain what it is about?
I founded KnowThyBrand in Singapore in 2014 and moved it to London at the end of 2016. I then moved it to Luxembourg in 2020, which is when I turned it into a certified Social Enterprise (Société d’impact sociétal https://guichet.public.lu/en/entreprises/creation-developpement/forme-juridique/societe-capitaux/societe-impact-societal.html)
With regards to the LHoFT and Northern Trust, these are two of the companies I work with that believe in gender inclusion and in what we can do to champion it. With the LHoFT we partnered for a 1-year long campaign during which we created a series of events to promote gender inclusion in fintech. The campaign has been very well received and has seen Mme Backes and Mme Lenert among our keynote speakers. With Northern Trust, we worked to create an event on hybrid work and inclusion, and there I was given the opportunity to interview Mr Bettel.
However, these are not the only companies I work with. There are other organisations in Luxembourg that value and seek gender inclusion, and many more that are starting the journey now.
What is the most significant change you have seen within companies since you started your own business with KnowThyBrand? Are we finally getting close to gender equality or is there yet a long way to go?
Gender equality is not a new topic, in fact it somehow suffers from a bad reputation precisely because we have been talking about it for so long.
Progress has been made, both within companies and in society but unfortunately the journey is still long. Let’s think for instance about the gender pay gap, in Luxembourg we have the smallest gap in Europe, only 0,7%, which is fantastic.
On the other hand though, Luxembourg has the worst gender pension gap in Europe, which is at over 40%.
Also, women only occupy 22% of managerial positions in Luxembourg.
The reasons behind these numbers are various, but companies can already play a very important role in supporting their female talent, ensuring that they effectively have the same career opportunities as their male counterparts and that they don’t need to quit their career in favor of care duties.
We increasingly hear people talking about “Gender Washing” but like all new concepts, it may be challenging to get a grip on what it means. How would you explain it?
I usually call it Pink Washing, and very much like Green Washing it refers to the practice of choosing ticking boxes exercises to display commitment to gender equality rather than investing in and committing to truly impactful changes.
It becomes more of a marketing stunt rather than a real commitment. It’s like publicly celebrating women on the 8th of March but having no real policies in place to support female talent and to help take down the barriers women routinely face at work.
So, how to avoid these pitfalls?
First of all companies must define why they are investing in gender inclusion, if it is only to “look good” in front of investors, customers and employees research tells us that their actions will not only miss to bring a real change, but can backfire and turn into a reputational damage: https://dmexco.com/stories/pinkwashing-examples-that-you-need-to-know-about/
Once the “why” it’s clearly defined I recommend the following approach:
- Determine what is the current situation within the company. Identify points of strength as well as weaknesses.
- Based on this analysis it’s time to move on to defining SMART objectives for your gender inclusion efforts.
- Now, you are ready to put together an overall strategy and to define the different tactics that you will employ to bring the strategy to life.
- Clear actions need to be identified and relevant stakeholders empowered. Important here is not to rely only on the goodwill of some employees for them to add unpaid work to their workload to support gender inclusion. If a working group is formed, the right support, time, and resources should be allocated, and the result of their efforts should be included in their performance review, not just the results of their main job.
- Last, but certainly not least, monitor the results of this strategy and adjust as required, letting go what didn’t work and doing more of what it works. Monitoring should be constant and aligned with the SMART objectives defined at the started of the journey.