“Until the Last One of Our Sisters Is Free, We Can’t Consider Ourselves Free”
Paola Diana is an entrepreneur, an activist and Advisory Board Member of Global Thinkers Forum and Athena40.
Q. Tell us a bit about your journey.
A: I'm 47 years young and very proud of my age. I think every woman should be proud of her age. We become wiser with age. I was born in Padua, a town in the northeast of Italy, in a very conservative family. From the outside, it looked like the perfect family, a strong and long-lasting marriage, two children, but in fact, it was an unhappy family. A family where I was struggling a lot because my father was very authoritarian, very conservative, and quite misogynistic. He was also emotionally, psychologically, and sometimes even physically abusive. He had rage attacks.
After these fits, he would become very calm, and peaceful, asking for forgiveness. I learned that this is a typical behaviour of violent men. I grew up thinking that it was very unfair, and I was constantly terrified. As soon as I could, I went away for university, and then I created my own life, finally a happy life. Despite how much I suffered, I think this phase of my childhood gave me the strength and the opportunity to focus on the need of feminism in our society, and the need to protect children and women from male violence. We call it domestic violence, as if it was coming from the roof, the floor, or the pipes in the house. It doesn’t. Most cases are about male violence against women. We should name it for what it is: male violence. It's very important that our society and our politicians start addressing this problem as a priority, because domestic violence is a social emergency and is spread everywhere across society. My father was a very well educated man, a professor, a doctor, an esteemed intellect. Still, he was behaving like that, behind closed doors. He was the only breadwinner in the house, and he felt he could get away with it. It was a cultural problem. In Italy at that time, no one, and I say no one, was talking about this issue. We need to shift public opinion to develop zero tolerance towards violence against women, in any form.
Q: What did you study?
A: I studied Political Science, getting my master’s degree in International Relations and I stepped into the world of Italian politics. It was quite challenging, but fascinating. For almost five years, I worked in a think tank supporting the former Prime Minister and President of the European Commission Romano Prodi. I learnt so much about politics, and about the “boy’s club". I saw how men help each other, how they network, how they talk about money, power and their ambitions, with no shame. They have a sense of brotherhood. They help each other to rise in order to ask for favours later. And I thought that women should do the same.
We should be shameless to talk about our ambitions and our careers. Unfortunately, still nowadays, I don't find so much sisterhood among women so that is another point that is dear to my heart. Try to implement sisterhood, and empower women, and help them rise, because this is the only way to change our society.
After a few years in politics, working behind the scenes, I decided to start my own company. I was a single mother of two at the time, and I had an entrepreneurial idea. It was a big risk, but I didn’t listen to people who wanted to stop me. I had a good idea and I believed in my potential. I moved towards the road that I always loved. I decided to change life, and to focus on myself and my strength. And I succeeded, creating an international company with clients worldwide. We are leaders in recruiting support staff and mid-level management for the private and corporate sector.
Q: What is the ‘secret’ of success and what were some of the obstacles you had to overcome?
A: The secret of success is self-esteem. If you don't believe in yourself, no one else will. And people will try to tear you apart, particularly at the beginning. To start a business is very challenging. To be a founder can be lonely, risky, and stressful. You need to be steady, to really believe in yourself, in your capabilities, your knowledge and your resilience. It's not how many times you fall, we all fall. What makes the difference is how you stand up again.
Q: What does a typical day for you look like?
A: When you are your own boss, you have a lot of freedom and you might have very diverse days. But I have a strict routine for the early morning. I wake up at 6 am and I walk the dogs. Then I have my green tea and my water while I'm reading the newspapers. I read a British and an Italian newspaper every day. Then I walk my young dog again, also doing some gym in the park because I believe we need to be exposed to morning light and to move as much as we can, even if we don’t have too much time. Then I check my emails and I have my first meetings. Sometimes I have lunches with a collaborator, potential clients, or business partners. And then I may focus on my podcast and YouTube show, as a host I have to think about my next guests and study the upcoming ones, to prepare my interviews. Then again, meetings and office work, usually finishing by 18:00, and having a dinner out. If I don't have any event, I look forward to going home and spending the evening with my children at home. I read again, and then I go to bed early, by 22.00-22.30.
Q: What advice would you give to aspiring women entrepreneurs?
A: To believe in themselves and not to give up when things are hard. But also, to be pragmatic, because being an entrepreneur doesn't only mean to have a good idea. You need to check if you might find clients who are interested in that idea. To create a sustainable business, you need to make profit. Also, it's very important that you test the market with your idea, because it's all about timing. You need to have the right idea at the right time. Moreover, not everyone has the stamina to be an entrepreneur, it is tough. You need to know yourself. You need to know if can be calm, resilient and strong. It's very important. If you don't have these characteristics, maybe it's better if you go for another type of job.
Q: Artemide Recruitment: what makes your business stand out in the markets?
A: Our values and our execution. Our core values are honesty, and trust. And we are fast. When you provide a service, you need to understand that timing can make the difference. But the most important thing is that people trust us and know that they can count on us. We don’t see problems, we find solutions and we see opportunities.
Q: You have two wonderful children in their twenties. In their upbringing, what differences and what similarities did you observe between a girl and a boy?
A: My children make me proud every day, they really are my best achievement in life, and I’m learning from them every day. My son was raised to be very respectful of his sister and of his mother. In order to live together we need to respect and comprehend each other. I always talk to them a lot. I think communication is the key to grow united, and to avoid misunderstandings, while learning from each other.
Q: How do you see the situation of women worldwide? Are you optimistic that things are improving, higher numbers of women are getting into decision making positions.
A: The situation of women worldwide is still concerning, particularly in some developing countries. In Afghanistan, as an example, we are facing a type of silent genocide. It's horrendous what is happening there to women and girls. Another country to think about is Iran. We are all seeing the courage of our Iranian sisters, fighting against a brutal dictatorship. I couldn't be prouder of them. They're fighting with their bare hands against a regime that wants to oppress them every day, in every aspect of their lives. This is unacceptable. Until the last one of our sisters will be free, we can't consider ourselves free.
We should all contribute to save some lives. We must keep fighting for women's rights because women's rights are human rights. Overall, if we think of history, the situation is much better now than before. Never forget that women in the West gained the right to vote only 100 years ago, that is nothing compared to the millennia we have lived on this planet. There is still much to do and as I wrote in my book, I truly believe that women are the key factor for change of our society. They're shaping a new type of society, a new type of world. That is why, generally speaking, I'm optimistic if I look at the big picture.
Q: At what stage are you in your life?
A: I am just beginning to scratch the surface! I feel I have so much to give, particularly give to back to society, particularly now that my role as a mother has shifted, because my children are independent, I can offer more of my energy, and wisdom to society in helping girls and women to live better lives. As a founder and self-made entrepreneur, I also like to focus on new policies that might help small and medium enterprises like mine, to thrive. Never forget that SMEs (small and medium-sized enterprises) are the backbone of our society. They contribute to provide more jobs, and career opportunities. They put money back into their local community through paychecks and taxes, supporting the creation of new small businesses and improve local public services.
Q: A motto you live by?
A: “Don't do unto others what you don't want done unto you.”
I am always respectful. I try to be kind at all times, even when it's hard.
Founder & CEO, Artemide Recruitment, Serial Entrepreneur & Author
Paola Diana is a British/Italian entrepreneur, author and podcast host, living in London.
Paola’s bestselling book ‘Saving the World. Women: the XXI’s Century Factor for Change’ – published by Quartet Books – combines the theories of sociology and history to show us how misogyny permeates society and where it comes from. Paola is a lauded gender critical, women’s rights activist. She achieved a BA in Political Science and an MA in Institutional Relations from the University of Bologna, Italy, before probing into the world of Italian politics. Since the day that she embarked on a career directing the Think Tank in support of former Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi’s political campaign, Paola has never been one to adhere to gender stereotypes – challenging the ideologies of male supremacists at every opportunity.
Paola is the Founder & CEO of Artemide Recruitment, a leading global recruitment firm in the private and corporate support staff sector. Paola has also proven herself to be an extremely multifaceted success story, she is now executive producer and host of the highly inspiring YouTube show and Spotify/Apple Podcast: 'Unleashed. The Game Changers'.
Paola is a Governor of Downe House, one of the UK's leading girls' boarding schools, and she sits on the Advisory Board of Global Thinkers Forum, one of the world’s leading networks and proponents of Social Impact investing with its award-winning programmes for mentoring women and young people who are making a difference in their communities. Paola also sits in the council of the 2022/23 Sheriff of The City of London, as the advisor for women’s rights.