PWA Milan interviewed Odile Robotti, Author of “Il Talento delle Donne.” Read on to learn more about the book, some practical tips, and Odile’s advice to the women of PWA Milan!
What made you decide to write this book?
I saw women around me mostly making the same mistakes and the same limiting career moves (which I had made as well) and I witnessed them paying a high price for this in terms of their advancement in their organizations. I started paying attention, looking for a pattern. When I found it, I thought it would be useful to share it in an easy-to-read book, in the self-help style.
What do you think the biggest obstacle facing professional women is today?
We face two types of problems, quite different in terms of how to fight them, both important. The first is practical: surely, the need to make time for family (children and elderly parents) and home chores is a problem. It’s not only a matter of time, it’s also a matter of “share-of-mind.” Even women who get a lot of help (nannies, housekeepers, tutors, ecc.) still spend a lot of energy coordinating. You can imagine the challenge for those who don’t get that type of help. Note that this problem is not only practical (lack of nurseries for small children and of support for the elderly), it is also cultural and more subtle. Women who delegate tasks often feel guilty. I talk about these pressures and how to limit them in my book.
The second type of problem is that we are “required” to comply to our gender’s stereotype, which wants us to be caring, nice, never individualistic. Many of these pressures inhibit our ambition and self-promoting instincts. In my book I help women become aware of these mechanisms and suggest strategies to overcome them.
What do you think of the concept of “leaning in?” Do women subconsciously limit themselves?
I agree with Sandberg that we need to lean in more. In fact, in my book, I try to help women understand how to do it, step by step. Screaming out loud “let’s all lean in” is good, particularly if done by someone like Sandberg, but women may need help in understanding just how to do it. Otherwise, it may lead to frustration…You know, sometimes these role models, the Sandbergs and the Meyers, are very distant from the day-to-day challenges of “normal” professional women. Despite their good intentions, they contribute to the superwoman myth which could be very damaging.
To answer your second question, yes, we often limit ourselves because we were taught to. Things learned when you are young may be difficult to unlearn, but it’s not impossible. I try to explain how in my book.
Can you give us a couple of practical tips described in your book?
The book has three sections with ten chapters each. Each chapter helps face a challenge with several tips. If I had to advise PWA women, I’d recommend they start by learning to talk in natural, confident and positive terms about themselves and to treat themselves as a brand. PWA women are already accomplished women, but I’m not sure they take as many opportunities as they could to communicate their value. Another advice I’d give is to learn to negotiate for themselves. I have known very successful women who didn’t like asking for a promotion or a raise because they were taught not to ask for themselves since they were kids. By not asking, you often don’t get and some of these women were very frustrated by this.
This book is described as “for women by a woman.” Do you have any advice also for men?
I wrote it for women, to be honest, but many men are telling me they find it useful, particularly if they manage women. You know why? Because it helps them see things from a woman’s perspective. Many are telling me “I didn’t think this was a problem” or “I interpreted this behavior by women in an entirely different way”. One of my clients told me he was reading it and highlighting it in the parts that surprised him and gave him a new insight. I thought it was a compliment, then I saw it on his desk and did not resist opening it…well, there were a lot of highlights…I thought: it’s true that women need to learn how men think, but surely it works the other way around as well!
How do you keep the conversation open with your readers?
I have a website, www.leadershipfemminile.com which gives advice to women primarily, but also to organizations and men. I also have a blog www.leadershipfemminile.org where I write and a Talento delle Donne fan page on facebook https://www.facebook.com/TalentoDelleDonne where I post regularly.