For the past 15 years, Bianca Stringuini has been responsible for creating and implementing Inclusion, Diversity (I&D), Wellbeing, Engagement and Change Management strategies for several Fortune 500 companies across multiple markets. She has earlier worked for Visa, JP Morgan Chase, AIG and American Express. Based in Singapore, she leads the people experience and engagement team at KPMG Singapore.
A certified facilitator in cultural awareness, change management and cultural transformation, she is also a thought leader who has spoken at various international conferences. Diversity is a topic close to her heart owing to her own experiences; hailing from Brazil, she has lived and worked in Asia, Europe and South America. A self-confessed geek, she loves both Star Wars and Star Trek equally. She balances all these interests with being mother to “two little cheeky monkeys”. She expresses her personal views on the various aspects of gender diversity in this chat with Women Icons Network.
Gender Equality @ Workplace
Having worked in the people management space since 2007, Bianca feels that gender equality at the workplaces has undergone a sea of change during this time. However, the societal change that needs to accompany the policy level changes is very slow, she says.
If a company is committed to gender equality, it shows in their actions, she feels. Gender diversity, she adds, shouldn’t be a mouthpiece, but pervasive in policy and HR practices. Most businesses fail to realise that gender parity is key for growth, she points out. She advocates making this a measure of the company’s ESG goals. This way, she believes, all employees would be able to benefit from the gender balance strategy.
Going beyond the corporate arena, she feels it is also important to invest in more women-led start-up businesses. She looks at this as another way to link gender equality to overall growth parameters in any industry.
Impact on Men
“The funny thing is that we are still under the impression that the lack of gender equality is only detrimental to women. In reality, men are also constrained by the same system,” states Bianca when asked about the involvement of men in the equality debate.
She explains by giving the example of how the new generation of fathers, who would like to spend a lot more time with their kids, yet are still bound by very short paternity leave policies. The advent of toxic masculinity has done no favours to man, she thinks, as upholding inhumane standards of suppressed emotions often leads to higher rates of mental health issues and suicide among men.
For these reasons, she believes the role of men in gender equality is much more than an ally; it should be seen as they gain their ability to reframe the workplace as well.
Lessons from Pandemic
While Bianca believes that women were always plagued by the idea of having and doing it all, the new normal brought in by the pandemic underlined this stressful position. After all, all the roles of life got compressed into one space.
“Women took the brunt of doing more around the house, home schooling kids, and increased working hours with endless Zoom calls. This left them with no space or time to focus on their own wellness,” she shares.
Her greatest learning during this time has been the importance of carving out time for herself, which often means setting very clear boundaries and some self-discipline. She wants all working women to realise that we can’t do all things at all times and be there for all people in their life at all times. “We must be a bit ‘selfish’ sometimes in order to find the balance between all the roles and responsibilities,” she advises.
Women Must Step Up
The obvious prerequisite for women in the workforce to gain a seat at the table, Bianca says, is to be good at their job. At the very basic level, she says, a seat at the table can only be earned by bringing solutions to problems, being a good team member and innovative in one’s thinking.
She believes that women should look for willing mentors, coaches and sponsors. “One of my key learnings is that you are only as good as the network that you build and the support you get from it. So, build relationships that last and friendships with other amazing women and it will take you far,” she advises.
She acknowledges that all this advice may seem very generic as it could be applicable to any professional. However, she feels that these skills tend to come more naturally and organically to men.
Road to 2030
When it comes to attempts at achieving gender equality, business heads face several challenges, admits Bianca. “It needs to be borne in mind that we are changing 5000 years of human history, not just what has been happening since the 1950s. Such an immense change in the general mindset of the entire workforce would require time and effort,” she states.
However, she believes that it is about time that every business keeps gender parity and diversity as a priority. This requires them to have a clear goal and rally the troops with a proper strategy. This includes ensuring that it is not just business owners, or heads that worry about this goal; it should become a part of the organisation’s shared value and all employees should share the accountability to achieve it.
Summing up her own experience with Diversity, Equity & Inclusion, Bianca feels that we usually have more of a situation of “a thousand flowers bloom” then a “silver bullet”. She thinks that despite being a global issue, gender equality requires local solutions.
“Today we have several, and should continue to develop more networks, associations and groups that share knowledge and learnings that can be adapted to our reality. I believe that when we achieve our gender equality goals that the United Nations aims to achieve by 2030, the world will look very different,” she opines.
*Views expressed in this interview are entirely personal to Bianca Stringuini and in no way reflect the official position of any of her past or present employer.