Paola Diana Entrepreneur and CEO of Sigillus and Nanny & Butler
What sort of work experience did you do before going to university?
I started working in a part-time job at a young age. I was sixteen when I worked as a tourguide in a castle in the north of Italy where I was living. The castle was owned by the family of my best friend and I really wanted to have pocket money, so every Sunday we would go there instead of going out with friends. We used to go around the castle and the gardens with 20-25 people at a time, giving them an insight of its history, all of the battles and the paintings. I had to study quite a lot to remember everything but I really enjoyed it. I also had another part-time job when I moved to Bologna, where I studied at university. It was good to have my own money and to start being independent. I tried my best not to depend solely on my family, but on my own.
What was your university experience like?
It was challenging - I had my son when I was 23 and my daughter when I was 26, so it took a little bit longer. Being pregnant and having children when you’re just starting is hard, but it was my choice. I really wanted to have children and when you are breastfeeding, it’s like a full-time job so you can’t really study during that period. But then I started studying again and I never wanted to stop. I did really enjoy having them when I was younger, but I know now it’s very different and women tend to have children later. I understand that, of course. It really depends on if you have the right partner, the right job supporting you, and also the society.
Did you go straight onto doing your master’s after your undergraduate degree?
No, I took a year off to stay with my daughter.
What did you go on to do after your master’s?
I was very lucky because one of my professors at the time was working for the campaign of Romano Prodi, who became President of the European Commission. At the time, he was running to become Prime Minister of Italy, which he won, and my professor asked me if I wanted to join the campaign. I started immediately organising major events, doing many things. It was amazing because politics had always been my passion. I was passionate about changing the world and helping people. I basically worked for my professor for about five years and then after Prodi was elected, we opened a school for the Democratic Party. The Democratic Party in Italy didn’t exist, so we wanted to teach anyone who was interested about the doctrines and historical movements in order to have gain a better understanding as to why we needed a Democratic Party in Italy too. Again, it was amazing because I started from nothing. We had around 2000 professors coming from all over Italy, who volunteered to teach. I was basically the managing director of the school. It was then that I really became an entrepreneur, as we didn’t have so much money at the time, we only had sponsors, so I had to be very careful with costs and I had to cover everything from the loan to the rent. Unfortunately, the school had to be closed due to political reasons, which was very sad because it was my baby.
I started doing PR instead for the university where I studied for my degree. I was happy but having children meant that I was trapped and was not free to do whatever I wanted to do. So I had the idea of an agency that helped mothers to find English mother tongue nannies, because a few months ago, I was trying to find one myself and I couldn’t find any in Italy, so I had to go to London. In London, not only did I found a nanny, but also I built a website and started receiving requests. I quit my job and focused on my company Nanny & Butler. In the beginning, after university, I was discriminated against as a mother of two children. It was insane. Between a mother of young children and a man or woman without children, they used to just employ the latter. That’s crazy for me as I think being a mother is like having a double master’s degree: you’re more responsible, you’re more organised, you’re more flexible, you’re multitasking. You learn so many skills and qualities that not many other people have. I hope society will change, I hope industries will change. In my small company, I do the opposite. I employ single mothers because I hate discrimination, and in return I have a lot of hard workers.
That’s wonderful, but it’s such a shame you had to undergo that kind of discrimination.
Yes it’s really sad. But on the other hand, there is a reason for everything and without that I would not have become an entrepreneur. Maybe without that I would not have become as passionate as I am about women’s rights. I fight for women’s rights now, it’s a part of my life. For me, you need love, you need family, you need a job and you need to have a mission in life to give back.
Absolutely. So obviously we’ve already spoken about the challenge of being a mother and facing discrimination, and also the sadness of having to close down a project you loved. Are there are any other big challenges that you have faced in your professional career?
Yes, when my professor and I started the campaign, he chose me to be the head of a project because he thought, ‘She’s attractive, maybe the professors will like her.’ It’s horrible because you have to prove twice, three times that you are more than your appearance. It’s especially bad in Italy. I’m lucky I was born with a strong character and everything makes me stronger. One suggestion that I would give to all girls is to really stay strong, don’t care about anything. Just stay strong.
Would you recommend starting your own business as a career path for other women?
Definitely, I’d strongly recommend it. I think we have a lot to give to society, women need to believe more in themselves. For centuries, we have been educated to be modest, and modesty is such a value. But you also should be able to say, ‘Yes, I’m the best at doing that, what’s the problem?’
Your book, The Salvation of the World. Women: The Biggest Change Agents of the 21st Century, was published in January and looks at why women should be at the top of many sectors across the world. What do you consider to be the main reason why women should be at the top of these sectors and what do you think other women should do to encourage this more?
First of all, I think we need more women everywhere. It’s kind of the business model of politics that we’ve had for centuries. It’s wrong, in my opinion. It’s wrong because we see how much violence we still have in our world. I always go back to our roots to understand It all. You see, centuries ago, society would have been based on the best fighters in battle, the best at killing people, even the church was like that. Everything was based on violence and power. Women were forced to work inside the house doing domestic chores, because everything else was too heavy or hard. We were like slaves, and we are still suffering. For centuries, people have skipped the intelligence and strength of women. Even our compassion, empathy and diplomatic sense - we are not aggressive, most terrorists and murderers are male. The way women see the world is different and the world will be a better place for everyone when they understand this. When women can express all of their strengths, the world will be a better place for everyone, including men. Women also need to find their sisterhood and stop competing with each other.
What is the one piece of advice that can apply to any career that you would like to pass on to other women?
Work hard, especially in the beginning, you cannot achieve anything if you are not willing to work hard. You have to sacrifice yourself and be happy to do so, then you will see results. Imagine yourself in a few years and say, ‘Okay, I want to get to this place.’ Then be patient - results do not come immediately. Stay strong.
Interview by Isabella Ford
What did we learn from Paola?
Having children at university is in no way a hindrance - it proves a strength of character and a resourcefulness which is an asset employers are failing to exploit in the modern workplace.
Discrimination can be hurtful, but you can use that as a driving force to prove people wrong and change attitudes. It will take a lot of effort, but demonstrating that women are just as talented and hardworking as men will slowly affect the changes we need to bring equality in the workplace.
We are missing out on a wealth of intelligence and creativity by ignoring the talents of women. Women should not shy away from showcasing their ability, and society should encourage women to do so as much as men.
The political landscape is dominated by men, which is a hangover from less civilised times. When women are represented fairly, a more diplomatic politics will emerge which could prevent a lot of conflict.
"When women can express all of their strengths, the world will be a better place for everyone, including men"
Paola Diana, CEO of two (yes, TWO) different companies gives her advice on developing confidence as a working woman and introducing the Democratic Party to Italy
Universita di Bologna:
Bachelor’s: Political Science & International Relations
Bologna Business School
Master’s: Communication and Public Relations
Editor - GovernarePer
Executive Director - ULIBO University
Public Relation Manager - Bologna Business School
Founder & CEO - Nanny & Butler
Founder & CEO - Sigillus