How do you help a woman who wants to start her own business? Paola Ghillani gives her advice. The Fribourg native is an entrepreneur, a member of the board of directors of several companies and an Innosuisse accredited coach. Her company, Paola Ghillani & Friends SA, is committed to helping companies adapt their current setup to a business model that is more responsible and sustainable. Her many years in business have paved the way for her to share her experience and insights about her role as a coach for start-ups at Innosuisse. Interview.

Paola Ghillani, why are there still so few women starting up their own companies in Switzerland?

It is still difficult for women to survive as entrepreneurs. When dealing with mostly male experts and investors – who are often much older than them – female founders of startups unfortunately still often have to listen to comments about their appearance or justify themselves because they are more softly spoken or have a different way of tackling problems and finding solutions. Olga Dubey, who founded AgroSustain, summed it up in a nutshell in a recent interview: “As a woman, you have to tick like a man.” Women are generally less confident and usually more sensitive than men. Founding a start-up is emotionally draining. For example, it doesn’t help when an investor tells a woman launching a start-up that she is not the right person to be CEO of her own company. A man might find that less hurtful. It is the end of the world for some women though.

As well as greater female self-confidence, are more empathetic experts and more female experts needed too?

Women need understanding, but also role models – other women who exemplify entrepreneurship to them. As a young woman, I opposed quotas on boards of directors and in top management positions, but after 30 years in the business world, I believe that nothing will ever change without quotas. However, a rethink of how we support innovation is also required. Innosuisse has recognised this by introducing a funding group under the heading of social sciences and business management. This is because women focus more than men on social and societal innovations and solutions, especially in the field of sustainability, which has enormous economic potential and merits more attention. Instead of measuring a start-up solely in terms of profitability, it is also important to judge it by its purpose or social and environmental significance. But the issue does not just affect women. Men who focus more on the purpose than on the high-tech aspect also have to listen to negative comments during pitches. This is no longer in keeping with the times in light of the current climate movement.

How do you boost the self-confidence of the women you coach?

I often talk about my own experiences. I also had less self-confidence at the beginning of my career than my colleagues. On various bodies, I was the only woman and had to go the extra mile to gain the trust of investors. You have to work on how you come across as a female entrepreneur: you need to show determination, achieve results, position yourself well and communicate in a targeted and clear way. This is vitally important. Self-belief can be developed – just like in elite sport – through training, meditation, breathing exercises and coaching.

Last modification 25.02.2022

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