Women In Business

27th August 2017

Six Maltese businesswomen discuss their careers, work-life balance, and what they think can be done to challenge the status quo.

Janine Houghton, Director, FGP

I have two young boys so it’s an early start at 6am, getting them ready for the day. Then it’s a race against traffic to get to the office to get as much as possible done. No day is the same, sometimes I’m just working on the things I am responsible for, other days I have to manage the problems, issues or crises that arise unexpectedly. My elder son usually comes to the office after school and spends a couple of hours with me before we go home. Then we head home for play time, supper, bath time and bed time for the boys. My husband is usually in charge of dinner once the boys are in bed.  

There are various rewarding parts of the job – I cannot just pinpoint one. I like that my primary responsibility involves interacting with employees on all different levels of the organisation. I love that every day I still get to learn new things. I love a challenge and the satisfaction of solving problems.

Women are still looked at as the primary caregivers for their children and are often made to feel that they are not as fully committed to their jobs as their male counterparts are. There is still a perception that you are more effective at running your business if you don’t have children.

To remedy this, it is important for women to have a good support network. Both men and women need to have flexibility at work so that they can share family duties.

 

Maronna Filletti, Executive Director, Joseph Cachia & Son Ltd

The first challenging role I had within the Group was working my way up through the ranks from Junior Secretary to Executive Personal Assistant to Joe Demajo. I found myself handling the office of the Chairman and CEO, which started off as a ‘Devil Wears Prada’ role. However I battled on, facing all the challenges of handling the office of a prominent, visionary and demanding businessman. I was given the opportunity to grow professionally and besides proving myself, it showed that the organisation empowered individuals to reach new heights. Eventually I was also appointed to the post of Group HR Director while also holding a post within the Canadian Consulate. All of this experience, along with my academic qualifications, helped me reach my current position as Executive Director of one of the Group’s most dynamic divisions, Joseph Cachia & Son Ltd.

The Group has evolved and so has its human capital. Opportunities for personal growth are endless and offered to all, regardless of gender; besides, we adopt a policy of ‘equal pay for equal work’ and also have family-friendly measures. I believe it is up to the individual to ‘bite the bullet’ and forge ahead, and I sincerely wish that there are more women holding executive roles, besides myself and the female executives of the fourth generation.

Malta’s complement of working women is still very low, with a high percentage falling within the undeclared work areas such as hair-dressing, baby-sitting, house-cleaning, book-keeping and so on. This trend must be addressed by the competent authorities, not necessarily through enforcement, but through the introduction of initiatives that encourage women to regularise their positions, thus taking advantage of social service benefits, most importantly pensions. As MEA, we constantly lobby for good business ethics and responsible citizenship.

 

Maria Zahra, Founder, Surge Advisory

My father is my inspiration. We both had the desire to start a boutique advisory firm which focuses on forging supportive, fiduciary and long-term relationships with a small clientele base. However, there were other factors that allowed me to take this leap. I needed a change from the routine schedule. I’m passionate about business advisory, particularly in relation to human resources and in no way did I want to let go of that. Surge Advisory has given me the opportunity to focus on doing what I love, yet also giving me the freedom and flexibility to make my own decisions with the aim of finding the right balance between our business and other things that matter to me in life.

I make sure that most of my evenings are spent with my husband. I’m a true believer in work-life balance and I very much do anything to live up to it. I try to get my seven-to-eight hours of sleep. A good night’s sleep helps me recharge and be ready for the next day. Balancing work and family, both of which are important commitments, is indeed a challenge. Having a supportive family and the skill to manage time and delegate (even at home!) is crucial for a woman entrepreneur. A business woman needs to find her own way of mastering work, family, life and at times, parenthood.

In my opinion, society can create a lot of measures to reduce these obstacles. But the driving force needs to come from the woman herself. The biggest obstacle a woman needs to overcome is the thought that she can’t make it; that she will fail. Being yourself throughout, combined with having the necessary confidence in whatever you’re doing are the departing points to accomplish what you want and believe in.

 

Fiona Borg, Chief Operating Officer – Corporate Clients, MIB

As a Chief Operating Officer for corporate clients, I oversee new business, renewals and claims. Whilst closing off a new client or renewing a major project is satisfactory, the claims negotiation is very rewarding. As they say the ‘proof of the pudding is in the eating’. When a client’s core business goes into flames or faces a liability claim, s/he would want an insurance broker who is on their side until the claim is solved to their satisfaction.

My day kicks off early to ensure I’m on time for my first appointments. In view of the number of meetings that I have to attend daily, I try not to take appointments one day per week in order to dedicate time to keeping contact with my staff to ensure continuity in the service provided. Most weekdays, I find dinner ready when I arrive home, and I take the opportunity to spend some time with the family. When handling particular projects which have deadlines, there will be days when after enjoying some quality time, I would have to switch on my laptop again to finish reports, or send emails.

There are a lot of women who are capable in Malta and their knowledge should be utilised for the benefit of the economy, whether in the public or private sectors. There are already a number of family-friendly measures provided by the Government, such as the child-care facilities, and the reduced tax rates if one returns to work, however the most important encouragement, is the family. Once you have the support of the family that you are doing the right thing, then everything else will fall into place.

Unfortunately we still live in a society where the public in general feels that once you have a family, it is the woman who is to take care of the children. I personally encourage women to promote their strengths, work on their capabilities, and challenge the unchallenged!

 

Valentina Lupo, Founder, Atelier del Restauro

From a young age, I was always interested in art and painting was my main hobby. My parents would accompany me on museum visits frequently, so I was always ‘immersed’ in the word of art. I was a teenager when the Conservation and Restoration laboratories opened at Bighi in 1999 – my mother took me to an open day and I remember that visit very well. I fell in love with the job as soon as I entered the first laboratory which was the one dedicated to paintings and polychrome sculptures. After taking up the degree course offered by the University of Malta, I dreamt of opening my own restoration laboratory. Today, that dream has been fulfilled with the help of my two partners Maria Grazia Zenzani and Simon Dimech – we established our company Atelier del Restauro in 2012, and today we have a team of four professional conservators working with us, all of whom are specialised in different fields of conservation. Because of our specialisations, high-quality work, knowledge and the great care we give to each and every project, we have been commissioned to restore and conserve a series of prestigious works of art over the years.

It was definitely the conservation of the important Siculo-Byzantine wall-painted image of Our Lady, found in the Sanctuary of Mellieha, which was inaugurated last year in June. The project was challenging first and foremost because of its advanced state of degradation, due to the environmental conditions, as well as the past restoration interventions which were carried out with materials which were not compatible with the painting. Furthermore, the image was painted on a rock-cut aedicule, which only complicated matters further. The project was indeed an elaborate one and took three years to complete; it involved a serious of scientific studies with foreign institutions prior to the actual treatments.

Yes I do feel attached, as we work so closely to these works, sometimes for several months. Unfortunately I never get the chance to admire the completed work for a long time at our laboratory, as once we finish the work we have to return it straight away to the owner. During the restoration phase we are in daily contact with the work of art, so we get to know every little detail. Although the conservation and restoration interventions are to be set and executed in a systematic and scientific way, the relationship with the art work often goes beyond the technical knowledge and establishes a feeling that – at least for my colleagues and I – lasts a long time. It is very hard to explain the feelings we have when we are in front of a masterpiece, the great responsibilities that we have, and the privilege we feel at touching the work created by the artist.

Alexandra Mizzi, Managing Director, Early Learning Centre

I’m usually up by around 7.30am, unless Max, my two-and-a-half-year-old son, wakes up before me. The first thing I do is check my emails, then I start getting dressed and ready for my day. I drop Max off at nursery and finally I can start my ‘working’ day - mornings are usually taken up by meetings relating to the business and my legal practice. I try to keep the afternoons free of meetings to catch up on work in the office. I usually pick Max up from nursery at 4pm and I make sure to spend some quality time with him. Although, I must admit, I keep on working at the same time, as the emails and calls never stop – the beauty of technology is that you can reply from wherever you are. At around 7pm we start our ‘bedtime routine’, dinner, bath and finally bed – but not for me. Once Max is in bed, my husband Andrea and I can finally catch up on what happened during the day. Twice a week, Andrea takes over this routine, so I can go for a session to the gym. After dinner on a normal evening, I usually keep on working till 11pm as the day doesn’t have enough hours to do everything I need to do. It’s a very long day but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

The greatest lessons I’ve learnt are to be patient and to try and keep calm as much as possible. As with everything in life, there are ups and downs, and having a clear mind to deal with the problems, is the best tool one can have. Clients can be very demanding but I have learnt how deal with a disgruntled or disappointed client in the right way, which ensures that the client leaves with a smile, satisfied that the problem has been resolved.

Women are still expected to multi-task but it is not easy to juggle work, career, home and children, even though culturally we are honed to handle both a job and family. The Government incentive offering free childcare to working mothers has been a game-changer, as it allows mothers to have a full 40-hour working week whilst their child is being taken care of. Promoting flexible hours, when this is possible, is also an incentive to attract women to the labour force. However, the biggest challenge is a change in culture where men assume the same family and home roles as are traditionally handled by women. This is still not the case, which means that certain women do not have the choice of getting a job or pursuing a career. Only then can women really be free to choose work outside their home.

This feature originally appeared in the June edition of the Commercial Courier.