Virginia Otel, PWN Global: Inspiring a new generation of women leaders

Newsroom 28/12/2021 | 13:27

WOMEN LEADERS, a series of 12 inspiring interviews with 14 remarkable women, members or ambassadors of the Professional Women’s Network (PWN) community, was launched this month by PWN Romania and the Center for International Private Enterprise (CIPE). Business Review sat down with Virginia Otel, co-president of PWN Global, to find out more about the project, which was designed with the goal of inspiring and encouraging the next generation of women leaders.

By Anda Sebesi

 

How was the idea for this project born?

This project was born from the desire to inspire the new generation of women leaders, to provide healthy role models of achievement in various areas and levels of business and to normalize the idea of successful women. The pandemic situation has significantly hindered our efforts to move towards gender-balanced leadership, therefore, it seems more important now than ever before to show the new generation of women that it is possible to aim high and to accomplish your goals and dreams, that top-level leadership fulfillment is not reserved for an elite few.

Moreover, we wanted to show the world that success can be reached without shortcuts, without compromising your values and principles, with hard work and perseverance and with the guidance and support of the right mentors.

We aimed to gather the inspiring stories of distinguished women belonging to PWN Romania’s community into a collection of advice and good practices that would motivate women to pursue their dreams. We are grateful to the Center for International Private Enterprise for the opportunity to formulate and broadcast our message at global level.

 

The PWN community gathers a lot of remarkable women, how hard was it to select the few who would participate in this project?

It has been a challenge indeed, since we were not short of remarkable members who have a compelling story worth sharing. We wanted to focus on women who have been front-runners in various fields, either members of the Board of Directors, career diplomats or successful entrepreneurs.

Eventually, we had to settle on a list, with the hope that these 12 amazing stories will open the public’s appetite, and we will be able to share more role models from our community in the future.

 

What was the goal of the interviews?

Well, we aimed to create an inspiring panoply of women leaders who would provide proof to the young generations and not only that success is achievable, that you shouldn’t stop dreaming and you should never give up on what you wish for yourself.

At the same time, we wanted these stories to show the practical approach of the career journey. The leaders who were interviewed in the project tried to offer tips and tricks, helpful advice, good practices, to talk about their learning tools and some of their business strategizing processes to provide valuable insight.

 

What elements do the interviews have in common? Is there a map to success?

I don’t know if there really is a map to success, we each have to carve out our own path towards what we want. But there are a few elements in common for all the successful women leaders and the first one is hard work. Each story in the Women Leaders project is proof that, as Georgiana Pogonaru said in her interview, there is “no elevator to success, you have to take the stairs”.

In addition, our interviews show that success is not a one-person job, it takes a good team to achieve your goal. And the stories told by Lavinia Rașcă or Carmen Micu and Adriana Lobdă illustrate this beyond any doubt.

However, there are a lot of other qualities or abilities that are common to successful women leaders. Adela Jansen emphasizes positivity, Ana Maria Mihăescu and Magda Manea point to a commitment to values, Ilinca von Derenthall, Simona Miculescu and Sandra Pralong underline confidence, while Violeta Ciurel and Sorana Baciu accentuate perseverance and dedication.

It has been an honor for me to illustrate in this lineup, along with Ileana Botez, the power of successful leadership succession among women as I was elected Co-President of PWN Global and Ileana became the President of PWN Romania. It is also about women’s solidarity for accomplishing our mission within PWN community both locally and globally.

It’s hard to write a recipe for success, but if there ever was one, I am certain all these attributes are on the list.

Click the picture to download the Women Leaders – Interview Stories

 

What role would you like this project to play for the new generation of women leaders?

The mission of the Professional Women’s Network Romania is to accelerate gender-balanced leadership. Therefore, all our actions converge towards this goal.

We wish these interviews to be an encouragement to women who want to pursue a high-level career, a source from which they can draw inspiration and courage to pursue their goals and dreams. But we also want these stories to be a reminder that we are still a long way from gender-balanced leadership. Both public and private sectors need to keep up their efforts in this direction.

 

What are the most important lessons women receive within these interviews?

I believe that the most important lesson we can draw from the Women Leaders project is that of awareness. It is important to be fully aware of the realities around you, of your specific professional circumstances, of what you want in life and in your career and of the costs and benefits of pursuing your goals.

But we shouldn’t neglect courage, perseverance, curiosity, empathy, and a lot of hard work. We need to look upon these stories as the advice of women who never gave up, who broke glass ceilings and opened new paths for their peers, and who made it into a man’s world but kept their femininity.

 

PWN Romania’s mission is to accelerate gender-balanced leadership, what is the next step after this inspirational project?

PWN Romania is a volunteer-based organization working towards this mission on three pillars: mentoring, entrepreneurship, and women on boards. We will be soon celebrating 10 years since PWN Romania has been established. During this time, we have developed several programs. First, the mentoring program which aims to contribute to the personal and professional development of young career-women and women in mid-management positions and who has galvanized a community of over 450 mentees and 350 mentors. Second, the entrepreneurship pillar, besides networking and building business awareness, has created an educational program that helps women start or scale up their businesses, with an active community of almost 150 members. Last, but not least, the women on boards pillar has built a training program for women who target board positions, namely Women on Boards Academy, which has been complemented lately by a mentoring program. In addition, this pillar is working on developing research on women’s presence in the boardroom and on creating a database of board-ready women to facilitate the recruitment process. I am proud that in the last 7 years that I served in the Board of PWN Romania, as VP Women on Boards initially and President for the last 5 years, together with all Board colleagues, we have succeeded to develop successful programs to advance women in leadership. I am confident that PWN Romania will continue and further develop these programs under the new leadership of Ileana Botez and her Board colleagues.

Virginia Otel & Ileana Botez, A Legacy for Women on Boards

On the other hand, the Women Leaders project was created having in mind the prospect of further development with other stories that would add their flavor to the remarkable collection we already gathered. Moreover, beyond the inspirational scope of this project, PWN Romania is considering an advocacy project that will hopefully end with a legislative draft providing equal access to women into board positions. From this perspective, this interview series is only the first step in a strategic approach to generating gender-balanced boardrooms.

 

How do you think this project will influence the public perception of gender-balanced leadership? Will it impact public authorities to draft legislation regarding gender balance in the boardroom?

Research already proves that gender-balanced leadership leads to higher profits and satisfaction and to more efficient and sustainable businesses. It is also a matter of social equity, since women and men should be equally represented, based on meritocracy principles, both in public and private entities. The role models promoted in our project aim to confirm this idea and to engrave it in the public perception.

As I was already saying, this project began as a first step towards preparing the public opinion for a legislative intervention that would adjust the system to generate gender-balanced leadership. The end goal would be to convince public authorities to take a stand to this end.

 

How do you think these success stories will affect the new generation in the current context of digitalization, remote working and changing the general work paradigm? Employees and potential employees already prioritize flexibility and autonomy given the long-term hybrid workplace.

Most of the stories in our project speak of reinventing yourself in new industries, under new circumstances and with new data. They also talk of resilience and overcoming challenges. Therefore, in these wildly dynamic times, our interviews could provide good examples of adapting to the new post-pandemic work environment.

At the same time, one lesson that is common to all these stories is adaptability and flexibility. Our leaders all talk about having a plan, making a strategy, but they also all emphasize the need to be flexible and agile, to think on your feet and to not let circumstances deter you from your mission.

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