Women in EA: Interview with Cristina Giancola

Our Women in EA series features interviews with women in management positions in Europ Assistance, discussing their career and gender equality. Today we speak to Cristina Giancola, Chief People Officer at Generali Global Assistance North America.

Cristina holds a bachelor’s degree in economics from the Bocconi University in Milan and attained a Master’s degree in Behavioral Organization. She began her professional experience in Consulting. Her passion for people, art and drawing brought her in contact with the luxury and fashion industry, which she worked in for more than 10 years. She also worked for General Motors.

WHAT DOES “GENDER DIVERSITY” MEAN TO YOU? 

Emotional expressiveness; it means sharing perspectives, tackling challenges, finding solutions and identifying opportunities. Gender diversity is extremely important in the workplace, we’ve seen how it can enrich and improve problem-solving. It helps spur meaningful decision-making processes, and makes it easier to keep up with an increasingly diverse customer base. It’s also a source of fascinating growth that enriches the talent mix.

HAVE YOU EVER HAD TO DEAL WITH A CHALLENGING SITUATION ON THE JOB THAT WAS CONNECTED TO GENDER DIVERSITY AND HOW DID YOU DEAL WITH IT? 

In my experience, challenges weren’t connected with being a woman per se, but in some cases with being a mother. I experienced this kind of bias from both men and women.

If I was confident that the person expressing a prejudice would be open to talking about it, I would initiate the dialogue. In other situations, when I wasn’t sure that the person was self-aware enough or willing to understand, I ended up using the problem as a thought-provoking example when coaching or advising other women in the workplace.

WHAT ATTRIBUTES WOULD YOU SUGGEST WOMEN CULTIVATE AS THEY FORWARD THEIR CAREERS? 

I’d say self-forgiveness. Often, I see women experiencing real identity conflicts on the job as they struggle to balance the competing roles of professional manager, wife and mother. These conflicts make it harder for them to lead, especially in workplaces that reinforce or reward masculine leadership styles. In situations like that, you have to know how to forgive yourself and move on.

WHAT DO YOU FEEL WOMEN SHOULD DO IN ORDER TO THRIVE IN TODAY’S WORKPLACE? 

Be true to yourself. Stay authentic and avoid stereotypes. If you’re kind by nature, remember that kindness is not a weakness, and be kind. If you’re confident, remember that confidence is not synonymous with aggressiveness, and stay confident. Authenticity is what makes us effective, impactful professionals.

HOW CAN ORGANIZATION BECOME MORE DIVERSE AND INCLUSIVE? 

Raising awareness and creating open dialogue are key. Lots of companies assume they’re diverse and inclusive simply because their workforce includes a variety of genders and talents from different backgrounds. As Harvard lawyer and diversity advocate Verna Myers famously put it, “Diversity is being invited to the party. Inclusion is being asked to dance“.

The executive team is responsible for making sure everyone at a company is being asked to dance. They have to create opportunities for employees to talk about disparity, marginalization and discrimination. This might make people uncomfortable at first, but it’s important to “lean into” that discomfort, because these kinds of conversations are what render invisible experiences of inequality visible for all.

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