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Italian-born businesswoman Paola Diana is a multiple entrepreneur. She has founded Sigillus, a lifestyle management company, and Nanny & Butler, a bespoke childcare and household services agency. In addition to her businesses, she campaigns for women’s equality and for women in business. workingmums.co.uk spoke to her about all her different roles.
workingmums.co.uk: How do you manage with different businesses across different countries?
Paola Diana: It is definitely hard work, but it is really rewarding which makes me happy to do it. My businesses are in related industries so a lot of the work crosses over, which helps sometimes. There is a big challenge when operating in different countries as you have to be aware of the laws and customs – different cultures have different tastes and needs.
WM: Why did you start your own business? Was it prompted by the birth of your children?
PD: I started my first business when I was doing my masters. I had two small children aged four and seven at the time and couldn’t find childcare in Italy. I took the business model for nanny services already in place in the UK and used it to launch my company in Italy. I was surprised by the demand when I launched my website. Being a mother has been a real advantage – it helped me realise the need for my business and I was able to convert my own situation into a successful business.
WM: What have been the main benefits?
PD: The freedom of setting my own agenda every day and doing what I wanted to do as a mother, not only as a worker. I stayed connected and worked from home, but at the same time I have been able to enjoy my children growing up.
WM: Are there particular challenges to running a global business?
PD: Yes, there are different cultural differences and customs between countries and you must know the laws relating to your industry in each country. I always like to stay informed about the political and economical climate of a county so I read three to four newspapers every morning to stay up to date and informed.
WM: Was the start-up phase or growing the business harder and if so, why?
PD: Every time you start a business it is really hard. At the start-up stage you have to build clients which isn’t easy so you have to have the capacity and strength to keep going. It can be overwhelming, but when you have the first success it gives you confidence to overcome your next hurdle. It becomes easier and you become stronger.
WM: You are passionate about women in business. Do you think women in business need more support/more positive role models, particularly mothers in business?
PD: I definitely feel that the world needs more women and mothers in business. I was reading an article which said Africa can’t make it without women and if they want to advance they must invest in women. I agree with that completely and wrote about it a lot in my book, The Salvation of the World. Women: The Biggest Change Agents of the 21st Century. Female unemployment is a big problem and I think there need to be more help for mothers to stay in the workplace or to fund their own business. Governments need to give women more flexibility at certain times in their lives.
The Italian government is the worst in Europe on this issue. There should be paid maternity leave and support for working mothers everywhere. This is why I am a big supporter of Hillary Clinton who wants to make a positive change for women. When women and mothers are employed I feel that it reflects well on society; it allows women to raise their children in a better way. Even if a woman has a brilliant education she can be held back if there is no support and flexibility when she becomes a mother.
WM: What prompted you to found PariMerito (Equal Merit), your campaign for women’s rights?
PD: The idea for Equal Merit is something that came very naturally to me. There is a real gap between opportunities for men and women. I believe we have to network as a society and come together to create this change. There are three key principles to Equal Merit, which are: equal opportunities for all, transparency and meritocracy. These three are connected and I believe that transparency in government is the key to fighting corruption. I admire the fact that there is more meritocracy in the UK and I think it sets a good example for the Italian government.
WM: What are its current campaigns? How does this compare with equality issues in the UK?
PD: Currently we are lobbying for tax deductions for childcare for women in Italy and hope to change the laws surrounding this. The senate in Italy sees equal employment as a minor issue and says there is no budget for the cause, but keeping women in employment will boost the economy. They need to see the bigger picture. I was reading a study by Goldman Sachs that said that employing more women would generate more jobs due to the demand for childcare. Many women can’t afford childcare so if we pass this law it will mean a lot to Italian women.
We also want to get more women speakers on prime time tv. Currently in Italy only about 12 -24 per cent of speakers on tv are women because journalists and authors simply do not care about women’s issues. They call men to speak on most topics, giving them more visibility and therefore more power. We are asking three public television channels to regulate prime time tv by drawing up an internal regulation that forces producers to have a 50/50 representation of both genders on panel talks. We want equal opportunities of visibility as women pay the same taxes as men towards public television. I think our voices need to be heard so we can change the traditional idea that only men can be seen speaking on matters of importance.
WM: Are you involved in any equality or women in business campaigns in the UK?
PD: Yes, I support Woman Kind and HART (Humanitarian Aid Relief Trust), which was founded by Baroness Cox. Baroness Cox is doing great work, campaigning and fighting for people with no voice. Most recently she has been raising awareness about polygamy in the UK and educating women in polygamous relationships with men they are not legally married to about their rights.
WM: Do you split your time between the UK and Italy?
PD: Yes, it depends on where I have events and meeting for that week or month. I am based in Italy and have an apartment in the UK, but I enjoy both countries and cultures. I am a little worried about Brexit and hope nothing will change.
WM: How old are your children?
PD: My eldest is 17 and I am already feeling empty nest syndrome as he is so independent. My daughter is 14 and she is a lovely teenager. She loves coming to London with me when she has holiday from school and she is very aware of women’s rights. She’s like a mini-me.
WM: Has running your own businesses allowed you to spend more time with them? How do you think they view your business? Are they interested in what you do?
PD: Yes, definitely as it has meant that I can manage my time as I want. At the beginning I wanted to focus on my family and felt the responsibility to be a good mother and was able to do this because I was my own boss. Being a mother teaches you how to work better. I think my children are proud of me and they are interested in my job. They ask me how the company is developing and growing. They both do economics in schools so it is great to talk about these topics with them. I too am very proud of them.