July 21, 2021

Barbara Falcomer: "Promoting diversity to support innovation"

“As investors we have the opportunity and the responsibility to guide start-ups towards greater diversity".

Barbara Falcomer has to her credit more than 25 years of managerial experience in the luxury sector, 10 of which as Managing Director of Montblanc Italia. She has also worked in Mediaset, Beiersdorf and Coty. Since 2015 she has been working as senior consultant and business angel in the luxury, fashion and retail sectors with Italian Angels for Growth and Fashion Technology Accelerator, where she has been able to successfully combine strategic vision and effective implementation of new projects. Since January 2017, she has been the Director General of Valore D, a non-profit association of companies promoting gender balance, diversity, and inclusive culture in organizations.

In this interview we will discover her background, her passion for the world of innovation with a focus on the theme of gender equality.

What is your background?

As far as my education is concerned, I have hybridized my humanistic education - I have a degree in Foreign Languages and Literature - first with a master’s in marketing and communication and then with an MBA in general management at Insead. I spent the first 25 years of my professional life in multinational companies, as a manager in marketing and retail, my last assignment in the for-profit world, lasting over 10 years, was managing director of Montblanc Italia.

I am a very curious person and I always need new challenges; I have always been eager to learn new things according to the adage "learn the art and put it aside" so I also learned to program in SQL language, and I trained to become a business coach. A few years ago, I attended the executive program InTheBoardroom of Valore D, to acquire the governance, legal and so-called "soft" skills to be a prepared board member. That is how I got to know the association where I have been working for almost 5 years. Here I found a synthesis that corresponds very much to me: it is an association of companies, so I find myself in my favourite ecosystem, to which I feel I belong and of which I love the orientation towards doing, the language, the method and at the same time the objective is not purely economic-financial, we work for sustainable development, to eliminate the gender gap and promote a culture of inclusion and enhancement of diversity, aware that for companies all this represents a factor of innovation, competitiveness, growth. And in this way, we also work for
cultural and social progress.

Why did you choose to be a part of IAG?

For multiple reasons.

I wanted to be exposed to technological and business innovation, in a pragmatic and not
theoretical way, to learn and stay up to date in a fast-changing world.

There is a need to support entrepreneurship in Italy. I really like the business world, I love the ambition to build something new, the enthusiasm and the desire to win, and in IAG I can support nascent companies, both economically and by providing skills, experience, and the network that I have built over many years, returning and putting back into circulation what can be useful to new startups. I'm only sorry that the little time I have available does not allow me to devote more energy.

Finally, the richness of the network of people with different backgrounds and experiences, in a perspective of exchange and fertilization of my knowledge and learning from colleagues. Also in this case, the motivation is curiosity, the desire to learn and meet interesting people.

What do you appreciate most about the services offered by IAG membership life?

The structure of the process of identifying start-ups with the most potential and the fact that the screening can benefit from very diverse expertise. I also appreciate the organization of educational seminars and refresher events.

In the past years, you were the first woman CEO of the Montblanc Italia group. According to the latest International Business Report (IBR) - Women in Business 2020 by Grant Thornton International, more and more women in the world are holding the role of CEO, even though the presence of women at the top of companies is not growing. What changes need to be implemented to continue to see more women in senior positions?

The numbers are growing but very slowly, women CEOs in Italy are less than 5%!  The Golfo Mosca law is now 10 years old and has changed the picture of the Boards of Directors of listed companies, where women now account for almost 40%. However, not much has changed in executive roles. For women to gain access to top positions, it is necessary to guarantee a pipeline of talent; in fact, the presence of women in companies thins out as they climb the organizational ladder. Still today women in Italy are the main care-givers and most of the time they have to organize themselves in order to reconcile professional ambitions and family responsibilities; the culture is still full of stereotypes and prejudices about male/female roles, leadership models, attitudes of women and men, still today women who choose engineering, computer science, technology, mathematics, physics paths are only 18.9% of graduates, in a world where scientific and technological solutions are shaping the future of work and of our lives women risk to be left behind.

What to do? At the risk of trivializing because the subject is complex, I give only a few examples of short and long term initiatives: education from childhood about biological diversity but equality in everything else, to erase the obnoxious stereotypes about what is male/what is female; sharing family responsibilities and social infrastructure that lightens the burden of caring for women, who often give up on their dreams or scale back ambitions, scattering so much talent; changing the narrative about STEM subjects to attract more girls to these studies, but also education to choose paths of study not only on the basis of aptitude but also on the basis of employability and possible remuneration; more flexible ways of organizing work for everyone, where it is performance and not the number of hours spent in the office that counts; introduction of KPIs and processes in the private and public sectors that ensure selection and promotion without bias (unconscious bias); and then a lot of communication ... . Seeing women alongside men in senior and apex positions, listening to them as speakers at conferences, on juries, leaders of a political party, examples change perception and culture. And that is a change you can only make together, women and men. Personally, through my work, I'm seeing a growing focus on the issue of gender equality, in part because of the sustainability imperative and the post-pandemic crisis, where we need the best energies, of men and women.

At IAG we have undertaken various initiatives to enhance diversity among members and provide insights into venture capital for newbies as well. Why do you think being part of a group of investors can help to break down doubts/concerns about the start-up world?

As investors we can suggest and drive change towards greater diversity in the start-ups we invest in, if the richness of points of view, related to gender, background, age, sexual orientation...represents a competitive lever, you have a broader view of the market, you make better decisions. There are also many prejudices about the start-ups themselves that we can mitigate with our role as advocates. I look with satisfaction at the path that IAG has taken in a few years to attract more young people and more women among its members. Change has been desired and is happening, which bodes well for what each of us can do outside of IAG as well.

What advice would you give to a woman to jump into entrepreneurship?

If a person, man or woman, has a good business idea that they want to pursue I would say:

- Make a business plan, build various scenarios, and quantify them in numbers and resources, reality is always more complex than theory, it is useful to prepare and have more options.

- Create a team of capable people, who have the necessary skills, who are passionate and different from each other, it is the common goal to unite, not the similarity.

- Spend time networking, build, and nurture a network of acquaintances that is essential to getting the word out about your business and finding investors.

- Choose a mentor, someone with experience, whom you trust, with whom you can compare yourself and who will act as a mirror to get to know you better and evaluate you more objectively.

- Make yourself a plan B.

If I were then facing a woman, considering how self-critical women are, I would add:

- Be brave, do not wait until everything is perfect to leave, throw yourself into it!