Our second testomonial is Maria Lassila, online marketing strategist, podcast host, author, networking maven and American living in Milan for more than a decade. For 20 years she worked in the apparel industry, ranging from retail sales to managing production for luxury brands in ladies’ shoes and golfwear. For more than 10 years, she served in various roles on the PWA board, most recently as vice president. Her current focus is on helping small businesses and independent professionals grow their visibility. She works with both the English-speaking community in Milan as well as US-based companies, both online and off. She divides her time between Milan and the state of Washington – east of the Cascades in her hometown of Omak – where she oversees her family’s movie theater business. You can connect with her at http://marialassila.com/
Why did you start volunteering for PWA?
Primarily it was a selfish motivation – I wanted to meet other people.
I’m an American. I moved here 14 years ago from the west coast of the US, Seattle and then later Southern California. I came to Milan to open the Italian office of a small golf apparel company. In my work I had a couple of Italian colleagues that came into my office during the day and I spent most of my time working with factories in the northern part of Italy. I found it was really hard to integrate into the new city. I would come back to my home after work and I also had my weekends free. I was really having a tough time meeting anybody. I was feeling really isolated. So when I heard about the PWA, I quickly came to the first
meeting that I heard about. I was just so happy to be around other women like me, professional women. It was helpful that everyone spoke English and also I liked the dynamic very much of a women only group.
What are some of the initiatives you worked on as a volunteer?
PWA is a non-profit organization so there is no paid staff. That means volunteers are really the backbone and lifeblood of the organization. Without volunteers nothing happens – and a lot happens. We have so many events throughout the year: speaker events, networking and cocktails, summer and Christmas parties, workshops for getting more in-depth into topics within small groups.
We get rave reviews on the Mentoring Program. It started out small with 35 or so participants and now every year we get more requests than we can even fill. Currently, we have more than 100 women in mentoring partnerships who spend the year together. When you realize that you are really making a difference in someone’s life that is really something that makes you want to continue to give back.
Another initiative is our Ready for Board Women which is a list we put together in response to the question, “Why are there no women, or very few women, on boards of companies?” The answer is always, “There are not enough qualified women.” So our response was we’re going to prove that wrong. So we got together with Bocconi University and some headhunters, we hunted for women who are qualified and created a list of women qualified to sit on boards. Now we have companies contact us for our list to and now a lot of these women sit on boards. Again the personal satisfaction is being able to see a lot of work went into this but a lot of good came out of it, too. It’s that sense of accomplishment that’s really amazing.
What did you personally get out of PWA?
I have to say public speaking skills. I remember the first meeting I ever went to, I saw the president standing up in front of a group and I thought to myself “How is she able to do that? I would be so terrified speaking in front of a group.”
Well, anyone who knows me now can tell you that you can’t get the microphone out of my hand. I have no problem speaking for hours in front of any size group. I really give PWA credit for that. It started out little by little speaking to groups of women and before I knew it I had lost my fear. I remember thinking, “Wow, this is an amazing thing that I never thought I would have.”
Also, I met so many members on a one-to-one basis that I would never have met if I hadn’t been an organizing force behind PWA. So I would encourage you to volunteer for PWA, whether it’s for a single event or for a longer term project, I guarantee that you will be getting much more out of it than you ever will be putting into it.