Giada Zhang became CEO at the age of 23 of Mulan Group. Alessandra Losito became GM for Pictet Wealth Management in Italy. Ilaria Bertizzolo is the Head of Large Corporates Coverage at CDP SpA. Want to know how they did it? And what’s the secret in order to achieve this? If so, read this recap on the event Women in Finance held with these powerful, high-profile female leaders.
On Tuesday, March 9, 2021, the Bocconi student association Women in Finance organized and carried out a captivating and enrichening conference with three high-profile female leaders. The event allowed Bocconi students to gain an insight on what being a female executive implies today. In case you missed it, or want a quick recap about what was discussed, then you are in the right place.
The first guest speaker was Giada Zhang, founder of WiF. Ms. Zhang graduated from Bocconi University, where she pursued her bachelor’s degree in International Economics and Management. Her previous experiences include working at JP Morgan, Goldman Sachs and McKinsey. She then co-founded the Mulan Group, focusing not only on distributing Asian cuisine ready meals but also bridging her Italian and Chinese cultures. She is currently CEO at Mulan Group , a company that sells ready-made Asian food prepared with Italian ingredients to supermarkets. She was included in Forbes 30 under 30 list in 2020, and has given a couple of TEDTalks.
The second member of the panel was Alessandra Losito, who is currently General Manager at Pictet Wealth Management in Italy. She holds a degree in Business Administration from University Federico II and a Master’s in Economics and Finance. She started her career at PwC, then worked in the Italian Stock Exchange, and also worked for Citibank in Milan.
Finally, the third high-profile female leader present in the event was Ilaria Bertizzolo, who is currently the Head of Large Corporates Coverage at CDP SpA and holds four board memberships, including CDP Equity. She studied Political Science at the Alfieri University of Florence, and later pursued a Master’s in Economics at Bocconi and another one in Finance in the joint program Bocconi-London Business School.
The moderator was Professor Gimede Gigante, lecturer at the department of Finance at Bocconi University. He is also Academic Director of the Summer School.
During the event, seven questions were asked to the guest speakers:
- How can we have more women at the top in the finance industry?
Alessandra Losito answered this question by explaining how global institutions are becoming more aware of the necessity for diversity and the need for women in leadership positions. She stated that we can expect big opportunities in the next few years. She also gave an important insight on 5 fundamental pillars students need to be aware of:
-Whatever you do, do a good job: discover your authentic vocation
-Have a plan, but adapt to changes: know your strengths and limits
–Manage your reputation: your character, ethic, kindness, generosity
-Lifelong learning: never stop studying and educating yourself
- What advice can you give to students on their way to the top?
Ilaria Bertizzolo talked about the importance of forming self-awareness through international exposure, and one should never be shy to prove their value . She also talked about how we shouldn’t feel overly exposed to external judgement since it does not determine your personal value or awareness.
Giada Zhang expressed how even though brands and company names are important, they are not everything because at the end of the day, it is about you and what you take from wherever you go.
- At any point in your career did you struggle with having to stand your ground and proving your leadership position?
Giada Zhang addressed how in her previous internship experiences, she found that often clients would address the male colleague first because they though he was the person in charge. However, she pointed out that anywhere you go you might be wrongly judged, so you have to learn how to turn this around and prove your worth.
- Compared to when you started your career, has anything changed in terms of the gender gap ?
Ilaria Bertizzolo stated that a lot has changed in terms of awareness and international benchmarking. She explained how, if you start having more women on board selected on the basis of merit, you will elevate the level of the discussions and improve overall performance. She pointed out that even though gender quotas have an infamous reputation, they are the sole tool available to break that glass ceiling and have women reach those higher positions.
On the other hand, Alessandra Lositoreminded us that previous generation women did not have role models, but rather looked up to men. Because of this, many women left the workplace, so it is important to choose the right path for us. She also explained how the decision to have more female representation in top positions is no longer a “diversity” issue but a business one, since clients are demanding it.
- After the impact of COVID, what is your outlook on the future?
Giada Zhang evidenced how she had experienced discrimination toward the Asian community, especially regarding Chinese. But nonetheless, she reinvented her whole business model and learnt an important lesson: speed over perfection. This last sentence is of special importance for women, because perfectionism can set us back in terms of professional development.
- Has the pandemic had an impact in leadership, especially under pressure?
Ilaria Bertizzolo voiced how it is a challenge to understand how to guide the juniors, especially in the case when you have to lead from a distance. For example, how can you onboard people and help them get properly inducted to the company when they join online?
Alessandra Losito showed how the pandemic shifted the focus to communication, and it has tested our energy, both physical and mental.
- What is your take on mentorship? Do you have them, do you find them important?
Alessandra Losito has been a mentor for the past 5 years in several different programs. She emphasized on the importance of having several sponsors: people who trust you and believe in you. A mentor can give you advice, but a sponsor is someone who also acts
Ilaria Bertizzolo has had both mentors and mentees. She expressed that it is important to have those connections in order to leave your normal patterns and get advice from someone who is your senior but not necessarily in your industry.
Giada Zhang talked about how it is really important to build mentorship over time because it is not something that can be sorted out on a cold call or email. It is important to keep up with your mentors and strengthen these relationships.
To conclude, a question from the audience that really stood out was the following: what advice would you give to your younger self? These opinions are something that the younger generation should really pay attention to.
Alessandra Losito: “Don’t put limits on yourself when there are no limits.” “Do not be afraid of change.”
Ilaria Bertizzolo: “You have to be yourself, stand out. That is how everyone will remember you.”
Giada Zhang: “Throughout your career you will have many failures, and there are many variables that you cannot control. It is important to accept them.”