EY Europe West D&I Leader
What were you like when you were younger? How were you raised?
I grew up in Apulia, specifically in S. Spirito, a beautiful town on the sea, in the province of Bari. I was born into a modest family with a great work ethic, and love and mutual respect. Both my mother and my father, who were office workers – but especially my father who has a passion for inventing things and for design – have always worked, so that neither my younger brothers nor I ever wanted for anything. They instilled in us a sense of sacrifice, dedication, and respect for values. They ensured we got a good education, passing on to us an awareness that we had a pact of co-responsibility with them – that is, nothing was given to us, but everything was earned, with commitment and perseverance, respecting established deadlines. In terms of my character, I have always been very sociable, attentive to others, visionary and determined. Since I was a little girl, I had a clear idea in my mind of what I wanted to achieve. I don’t know how, but I was able to visualise the final result in advance and was able to then reach the goal, step by step, from getting the lead role in the end-of-year play in fifth grade in our production of Jonathan Livingston Seagull, to achieving major life goals, to creating sugar paste sculptures from scratch.
What did you study? Did you study in your home country, or abroad as well?
I have always loved being able to communicate with people from different cultures and, although nobody in my family spoke foreign languages, I decided to be the first to do so and chose to study Foreign Languages and Literature, both in high school and at the University of Bari, where I graduated with 110 cum laude. In order to perfect my knowledge of languages, I lived first in Scotland, then in England, and finally in Spain. While I was still studying, I had already decided that I would like to work for a multinational company, because it would give me an opportunity to feed my innate hunger for knowledge and to continue to deal with people who had had diverse experiences and were from different cultures. Above all, I developed the desire to work in human resources.
What was your first job and what expectations did you have when you started?
I started working immediately after graduation at IBM Italy, where I remained for 19 years. I had very much wished to become part of the IBM family after reading Lou Gerstner’s story and his book Who Says Elephants Can’t Dance? I was fascinated by the idea of working for a company that had been able to evolve and reinvent itself continuously over the years, anticipating great global trends. My expectation was that I would learn to evolve, thanks to the skills I would acquire, while remaining faithful to myself and my values. The adventure began in the Novedrate office, where I was in charge of training and development and continued in the Milan office and finally in Segrate, where I specialised as a Recruiter, Employer Branding Leader, and in the last 4 years as a Diversity & Inclusion Leader. IBM was a great learning experience for me, which led me to acquire the professionalism that allowed me to join EY in 2019 and found the Diversity & Inclusion practice in Italy, Spain and Portugal. And today I am the Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Leader of the Europe West Region, which includes 25 countries.
How have you seen D&I change over the past 5 years?
I have seen D&I evolve from 2005 to today and I can say that there are still those who conceive of D&I as it was 17 years ago. To explain what I mean – there is a misunderstanding around this topic, which Laura Liswood (senior adviser at Goldman Sachs) explains well in her book The Loudest Duck. Some people think of a company as if it were Noah’s ark, so that it is enough to insert one person per type of diversity to be able to say that the company cares about D&I. And yet nothing could be more wrong, because if you don’t fully understand the characteristics of a company’s various resources, you can’t claim to be inclusive. Moreover, over the years, many companies have even thought they could choose to devote all their efforts to only one type of diversity, such as ‘Gender Diversity’, taking it for granted that one type of diversity excludes others and thus diminishing the concept of diversity, to the detriment of inclusion. The D&I narrative is very broad and must always be understood in its totality in order to harness its transformative power.
Working on diversity, equity and inclusion means taking care of people and integrating their founding principles into everything the company does, from HR functions to business, risk management, communications and procurement. We need to work alongside the different areas and functions and create alliances, negotiate possible solutions, and study new processes together.
What does diversity mean to you?
Diversity is richness, it is a rainbow of nuances that allows you to never stop learning with and through others. In nature, diversity allows for evolution, growth, change. Just think of the entire ecosystem, teeming with life because it is never the same. Diversity represents the opportunity to innovate, to create what we cannot even imagine on our own.
What are your organisation’s main commitments?
At EY, we strive every day to create a work environment based on respect, recognition of the characteristics of all the people who work there, and therefore to be welcoming and inclusive. We do this by learning to broaden our perspectives, gain awareness of D&I issues and understand the intersectionality of diversity, and we strive to integrate D&I principles into everything we do, both inside and outside the company.
Why is Diversity a strategic lever for sustainable growth?
Working on Diversity, Equity & Inclusion means taking care of people and thus contributing to the social sustainability of the whole country. Through the projects developed within the company you can have a powerful social impact – just think of the projects on immigration or on employing people with disabilities or training women who have experienced violence, who lack confidence in their own value and potential.
What issues need to be resolved today and what positive changes does the near future bring? How would you like to implement these changes?
In order to work concretely on Diversity, Equity & Inclusion, it is important to integrate the founding principles of inclusion into everything a company does, from HR functions (Recruitment, Learning & Development, Employee Relations, Reward, Employer Branding and Employee Experience) to business, risk management, communication and procurement. It is necessary to work alongside the various areas and functions and create alliances, negotiate possible solutions, and study new processes together. This is the only way to talk about consistency in D&I and not see it as a ‘nice to have’.
How do you define an inclusive workplace?
As I explained earlier, a workplace is inclusive if it is based on respect, recognition of the characteristics of all the people who work there, and if every process and function (not just HR) reflects the founding principles of D&I.