Knowledge and experience for a future without gender stereotypes

15 March 2023

Daniela Merola – Quality & Risk Management Organisational Unit

Daniela is one of the 36% of women working at Leonardo Global Solutions who, through their skill and determination, are helping to bring about change. For example, by offering a different approach to the construction of gender roles and behaviour. An enthusiastic woman in her 30s, Daniela recalls the strength of competence and commitment it took to choose a career path, and urges us to overcome what the well-known sociologist Robert Merton called "trained incapacity" with regard to those activities culturally associated with the other gender.
For today's young women, Daniela seems to be telling us, it is not a matter of choosing between different roles, as if they were mutually exclusive, but rather of combining one's passions and dreams in a harmonious way, in both private and professional spheres. This is the challenge, the change and the future that needs to be built.

What was your course of study and what do you think were the skills you acquired during those years that you still carry with you today ?

I graduated in Business Administration, majoring in Management, with top marks, and then went on to obtain a Master's degree in Management and Innovation. That automatically made me the "accountant" of my group. In restaurants, when the time comes to pay, everyone asks me to handle splitting the bill into equal shares because I'm the one who "does the accounts" (which is not actually true!). University taught me to turn into the "expert" economist whenever I have to buy anything. Whether it is a trivial accessory or a larger investment, I always behave with the same caution. Once the decision or the need to buy something has been made, that is (alas) the start of a long and tortuous process, made up of market surveys, price comparisons and statistics. But that's  just a small part of what I've been carrying with me, along with a healthy dose of irony, ever since I chose to go into business!
Especially during my undergraduate years, I was lucky enough to attend lectures in a small class of twenty people. The explanation I gave myself was that it was a branch of economics closely related to mathematics. This meant that most of the activities were carried out in groups. There were lots of business games, working with other colleagues, and presentations. Among the skills that I can still boast today, I would definitely include team spirit and teamwork, in addition to the specific technical skills I have acquired, which undoubtedly form the basis of the profession I work in.




What has your career path been so far? Of all your day-to-day work activities, is there one you feel most proud of?

After finishing university, faced with my dreams, my doubts and a very competitive environment, I had to decide what to do. With all the expectations, discouraging moments, and uncertainties, my greatest satisfaction came when I managed to start my professional career in a multinational company in the automotive sector, in the role of Network Strategy & Business Management, contributing to the creation of a brand new financial risk monitoring tool that is still used today, albeit with the inevitable improvements. I experienced what it really meant to work in the world of Finance, or more generally in the "difficult" world of numbers and formulas, working in a diverse team where there was no shortage of challenges in terms of responsibility. After about three years, a new adventure began, again in the automotive sector, this time in the role of Credit Analyst and Business Support. The common factor? Numbers and analysis. I have been with Leonardo Global Solutions for three years and I deal with Risk Management, specifically Enterprise Risk Management. This is the process of handling business risk that seeks to identify, assess and manage risks (threats and opportunities) that may affect the achievement of corporate objectives, while defining actions and monitoring them. It is an inextricable combination of proactivity and reactivity, but the ingredients include logic, analysis and lots of teamwork. In fact, risk management is achieved through the countless pieces of the corporate jigsaw that each member of our professional family represents. My effort and contribution on a daily basis serve to put together Leonardo's risk puzzle. And on the LGS side, this is a source of great pride for me. Always asking yourself if you are really sure about what you are doing is fundamental; otherwise it is like driving on the motorway without wondering where you are going.

What do you think is important for achieving a balance between professional and private life?

I have always found the expression work-life balance somewhat jarring. Work is life. A better question might be: how much life is there in the work we are doing? Work should be full of life and, at the same time, it should support the rest of life and not swallow it or diminish it. Each of us has our own balance, which is different from everyone else's: there is no one rule for all. You discover it gradually, by combining all the elements that you want to have in your life. To do that well, you must also have, among other skills, the ability to select from all possibilities and opportunities, and exclude some of them, even if you feel like you are missing something.
What is the secret of the so-called work-life balance? You must not allow the patterns of the past to condition your choices in the present. Sometimes we resort to a script that someone else has instilled in us, but acknowledging that is the first step towards freeing yourself from it. Have the courage to discard old roles, because an open mind guarantees serenity. Society is looking for a new balance between the past and the future, and failing to take note of the changes that are taking place is a form of short-sightedness.

What does International Women's Day mean to you?

It is an opportunity to look back on the achievements and rights that have been obtained, but also to remember the discrimination and violence women have been and still are being subjected to. Gender equality is not only a human right, but the necessary condition for a prosperous world that will benefit societies and humanity as a whole. We must work to ensure that each one of us, in the position we hold, encourages girls to follow courses of study leading to careers that are close to their true desires, free from external conditioning. This even comes from textbooks, which still too often portray men as scientists and engineers and women as schoolteachers. We need to raise awareness on these issues and propose new models, to be leaders of change for a fairer and more inclusive society. The models of the past must not be allowed to condition and influence the choices of the present. Let us start with the idea that "focusing on oneself is such a small ambition".

A woman who has done something important for you and whom you would like to thank today?

There are so many women who have made history: from Marie Curie to Rita Levi Montalcini and so on. I don't want to mention anyone in particular, each of them has made their mark on history with something different and out of the box. But in the recent past, I would nominate the young Samantha Cristoforetti, an aviator and engineer who managed to cultivate her dream of going into space and becoming an astronaut. Women are less inclined to technical and scientific studies than men. After all, being an educated, competent woman is not enough: you need certain "attributes" to make your mark. But I, on the other hand, am in favour of being a wife, a mother... and also an engineer or an economist.
The existing stereotypes are destructive and misleading. Being able to change the clichés that influence our life choices would allow us as women to overcome the barriers that stand in our way in life. Only we, and the new generations of girls and boys still in the making, can help overcome preconceptions and closed minds. Education and ongoing training are the main tools for proposing an alternative to the stereotypical view of gender.

That time they said "you can't do it because you are a woman" but you didn't let it stop you?

At home I am the "girl who wears the trousers". I grew up in an all-female environment (except for my dad): three sisters, mum and grandma. Pink bows everywhere. But then life is unpredictable. Although I live in a society where there is a clear dividing line between what men are entitled to and do and what women are entitled to, in my case everything has been turned upside down, in a total shake-up of the usual roles. For me, "you can't do it because you are a woman" is an outdated concept, and I yell "hurray for girl power" at the top of my voice!
It is important not to conform to the stereotypes that have become ingrained in our society and not to give in to the idea of "I don't know", because this is just a belief: not knowing does not mean not being able to understand. I was born a woman, in a small town in Molise, and I am proud of the things I am managing to achieve. Always try to extend yourself and never be satisfied, always stay "hungry for knowledge and experience". Knowledge is a weapon and a shield that can also protect us from unforeseen events: on the one hand, it helps us navigate our way through all our decisions, and on the other hand, it helps us disentangle ourselves from today's complexities.
Who said there is a gender difference in financial knowledge or more generally in economic knowledge? Of course, anyone can feel stressed and not up to par. You need character because most of the time these are strictly male areas, and in some cases the stereotypes are not external but  within ourselves. On a few occasions, for example, I have thought that if I were a man, it would have been easier because I would have reacted differently, more rationally and decisively. Fortunately, however, in my journey I have never felt that I was discriminated against for being a woman, I have never thought "this wouldn't happen if I were a man". I appear to have a strong character, albeit hidden behind a calm and sunny temperament, and I would never have allowed myself to be treated differently just because I was a woman.
What did you dream of as a child, and what you would say to that child today?

I always grew up with solid values: education, respect and determination above all else. And like every child, I dreamed and fantasised, from being a professional dancer to counting money as an accountant. I always liked maths, without any particular influence from my family. I had no clear idea of what I wanted to do in life or in where I would end up away from my native Molise. However, I knew that whatever path I took from then on I would follow it all the way, with no looking back and no second thoughts, because that's how I grew up and, in fact, that's how it turned out. When I look back on my journey, I realise that when I made certain choices I went a little against the tide compared to some of my peers, but you have to follow your dreams, cultivate your passions, and face your fears.




What advice would you give to the next generation of professional women?

I would like to quote a phrase by Sergio Marchionne, who has always inspired me professionally and personally, when he says: "Be like gardeners, invest your energies and talents in such a way that whatever you do lasts a lifetime or even longer."
My advice to them would be to do what they like best, regardless of the effort it takes to reach their goal or the obstacles they may encounter along the way. Passion, willpower and determination always pay off in the long run. The past should be a starting point and a springboard. Don't set limits for yourself, follow your ambitions instead, free from the gender stereotypes that are still so ingrained.

Not flowers but?

"Shall we go Dutch?" While accepting a gallant gesture, which I feel is almost mandatory, I reserve the right to my own space. Literally, it means "to divide a shared expense equally among friends". But what shared expense? The shared expense to which we should all make a small contribution: equality. I contribute to equality, do you?