ANNALISA GIGANTE, MBA GRADUATE FROM SDA BOCCONI, IS VICE-PRESIDENT OF THE EUROPEAN PROFESSIONAL WOMEN’S NETWORK AND AUTHOR OF A BOOK DENOUNCING THE SCARCE PRESENCE OF WOMEN ON THE BOARDS OF EUROPEAN COMPANIES
Annalisa Gigante’s destiny is strange. The woman manager with a very international career has become a champion for the promotion of women in top company positions. Vice-president of the European Professional Women’s Network, she is author of “Women on board: Moving mountains”.
Forty two years old, she has just become head of marketing and development at Adecco but when you read her book it appears that she is the exception that confirms the rule.
Italian by birth, she went to secondary school in Brussels, graduated from Cambridge and took an MBA from SDA Bocconi: “It was such a big change for me at SDA getting used to a way of studying that was so different from the Anglo-Saxon method. It was based much more on lessons in class than on individual work”, she says. She then began a career around Europe and the world, moving from Monsanto to the European Community where she worked on a project in the Agricultural Division regarding organic farming. Next she came to Milan to work in consultancy, on internationalisation strategies for Italian clients. Then back to Brussels “on a joint venture between Monsanto and Exxon for which I became marketing manager. Then, in 1998, I went back to the Monsanto head office to work on strategies for Europe, the Middle East and Africa. It was at that point that I started to join professional women’s networks, to share experiences. There were really very few women working in the chemical sector”.
In 2000, Annalisa Gigante came to Manpower as worldwide strategy and development manager, a job that saw her travelling to Milwaukee, Paris and Brussels: “I know the airports better than the cities”, she jokes, remembering those hectic years. “In 2004, after the birth of my daughter, I decided to take two years sabbatical and I kept in touch by holding conferences and contributing to the expansion of the European Professional Women’s Network”. In 2006, she went back to work as vice-president for marketing and new product launch at Royal DSM, near Maastricht, specialised in life and material sciences.
Between meetings of the board of directors and business trips, Annalisa Gigante also found time to write a book, together with a colleague, on behalf of the European PWN, which, with indisputable evidence, highlights the under-representation of women on the boards of directors in major European companies. “I realised that people talk about this problem a lot but, especially in Italy, there aren’t many figures or numbers that can be worked with. The aim of this book is to provide the cold reality of numbers. So”, she explains, “by analysing about 300 of the biggest European companies together with Egon Zehnder and BoardEx, we found that women represent 9.7% of board members, an improvement on the figure of 8.5% two years previously but which is still lower, for example, than that of the US where women make up 15% of members of the boards of directors”.
This is still a small number, but it summarises a very varied situation throughout Europe, with great differences between one country and another. “In Norway, women represent over 40% partly because of the effect of a state law”, continues Gigante, “but in general in Scandinavian countries, Holland and the UK there are higher than average percentages thanks to the huge efforts in communication that have been made. Portugal is at the bottom of the league table with just 0.8% and just above is Italy with 2.1% and a truly minimal increase (0.2%) compared to two years before”.
The differences are due particularly to cultural and social reasons but also to the varying degrees of emphasis that are placed on the problem. “Through our book, we want to raise awareness about the issue and encourage the media to talk about it. Another reason is that, according to our data, companies that have more than three women on their boards of directors have considerably better results than the others”.