Culture and research

Ten questions to Giorgio Siracusa

07 Dec 2020

By the Editorial staff

What were you like when you were younger? How were you educated? 

The first question Italians ask of each other when they meet for the first time is, “Where are you from in Italy?” It was always difficult for me to answer that question. My mother is from Friuli, in the northeast, and my father is Sicilian. Because of his military career, we moved every two years on average, and I had the chance to live in various places as well as abroad (twice in the United States) from a very early age. We spoke standard Italian at home (dialects were out, as Friulian and Sicilian are mutually unintelligible!), but picked up English in the USA when I was 10 years old. My parents were definitely “diverse” in their culture but created a very inclusive, unified family. In this way we could withstand the stresses linked to the frequent moves, and focus on the pros instead of the cons. As for my education, I did mostly Italian schooling during my most formative years (scuola media, liceo) but then once again followed my family in a move to the USA and studied there (for a Bachelor’s) and in the UK (for a Master’s). In the Bachelor’s degree course in Washington DC, there were students of over 80 nationalities. It was rare in the mid-80s to find such a diverse environment. A wonderful experience that truly opened the world to me.

How did your family influence your growth?

Women were always a very strong force in my family. My great-grandmother, grandmother and mother had a university education, along with most aunts, cousins, etc. This was a matter of pride in my family. I was used to debates about politics, history and science in our household, with both genders participating vociferously. Come to think of it, I think I learned more at home than at school. The funny thing, especially if you look at the great-grandmothers and grandmothers, is that they did all that studying but never really worked outside of the home. It was just not expected at the time if a family could afford it. This changed with my mother’s generation, but with a rather small range of professions (mostly teaching). For many years, I thought that coming from a family of highly educated women insulated me in some way from unconscious gender-related biases. This was wrong: I was confusing education with empowerment. I thank P&G for giving me the opportunity to raise the bar on my understanding of these dynamics and the opportunity to improve my Inclusive Leadership. 

What did you study? Did you study in your country or abroad? 

I studied International Relations and Economics, first in Washington DC and then in London. The only reason I studied in the US was because my father was posted at the Italian Embassy when I was 18 years old, otherwise I would have studied in Italy. I loved the mix of Politics and Economics. I find it an excellent preparation for Human Resources! Politics and economics are in many ways the study of power. When you reach an executive position, and you are in a company where HR is strategic, like P&G, it is very important to understand the way power is distributed, its dynamics, and its use of language. Paradoxically, my studies prepared me for this better than a business degree. Lately, I have studied Executive Coaching and become certified. I find Executive Coaching, when done well and especially with Executives at the Board or Officer level, to be a major way of improving capabilities and performance. It is also a great way to work through difficult D&I issues.

What was your first role and what expectations did you have when you started there? 

My first role was as Assistant Brand Manager on a popular coffee brand. I was 22 years old and just wanted to learn as much as I could. I was told that P&G Brand Management was the best place to learn about business, and was fortunate enough to pass the gruelling selection process. I just wanted to learn as much as I could for a couple of years, and then move on. I stayed a bit longer: I just left P&G in September of this year, after almost 33 years! In those early days, working on Caffe’ Splendid sales manuals in P&G Italia’s offices, I could never have imagined that my career would lead me to work in five countries on four continents, with very different work content (Marketing, Sales, IT, Shared Services, Mergers & Acquisitions, Human Resources) and scope (local, regional and global). It has been an amazing experience. 

How have you seen Diversity and Inclusion change in the last 5 years?

I think that every organisation and country is different, but in general I have seen D&I start to move from being a peripherical subject – like an elective subject at school, like Music or Physical Education – to being a central one, like English or Maths. This is good news, as I firmly believe that D&I weaves itself into many organisational processes or cultural elements. Starting with the more positive side, LGBTQ inclusion efforts have probably been the most successful in western Europe. Mirroring and even surpassing societal trends, the speed with which many (but not all) employers have made LGBTQ+ employees feel they “belong in the workplace” has been impressive. In terms of Gender Equality, I am concerned that there is a moment of stasis with the progress that has been made. The Covid-19 pandemic is even reversing some of the gains. On the positive side, for the first time we see some male leaders authentically enter the arena regarding gender equality, and act. I have been heavily involved in this at P&G, where we worked with Catalyst Inc. specifically on male leaders in a positive, experiential way. It has been one of the best experiences for me, both professionally and personally, to go through a process of growing self-awareness and learning to really understand what is going on in terms of the non-inclusive culture, unconscious biases, and the recognition of privilege. Last, in Europe we are faced with a new D&I challenge – race and ethnicity. When I see people in the streets of our European capitals, I often note the increasing diversity of our population. When I visit various workplaces (especially offices), I often notice how this diversity is not reflected there. We have learned a lot from other dimensions of diversity and we need to act on this one as well. We have a problem in Europe and we need to tackle it – it’s time. 

What does Diversity stand for, for you?

Since I work with executive leadership teams, I will look at the question through this lens. Diversity is an outcome. It is a group of executives representing the full potential of humanity. A diverse leadership team is one in which the members learn from each other continuously. As diversity is introduced to an executive team, it can initially be less comfortable for the majority component (usually white men), but it has huge pros: the team is more open to outside trends, more innovative, agile and aspirational for employees and stakeholders. It delivers more profits for the business – there are dozens of studies confirming that. But it is a state, an outcome. Authentic, successful diversity is a result of Inclusion. It is through Inclusive Leadership and Inclusive Cultures that authentic and successful diverse organisations can develop. Diversity without Inclusion is not enough. A photograph showing a number of women on a board or executive team says nothing about the level of assimilation in thinking, expression, communication (even tone of voice!) they may have been adopting simply in order to “fit in”. It says nothing about the wasted energy that this kind of assimilation has required. Pure female representation numbers (especially when they do not exceed 25-30%) say nothing about whether the executive team operates in a better way than before, i.e. whether there is a successful form of diversity. It says nothing about the allocation of power in the team, since women can often be relegated to staff roles, while CEO, CFO and other operational roles continue to be the preserve of male executives. Authentic and successful diversity requires a painstaking effort of Inclusion – which is an act, not a state. Inclusion requires continuous effort and learning. A good example is language. In other sections of this edition of DiverCity, the issue of language and D&I is examined. The language used to describe leadership talent is so important – whether it is assessing potential or actually recommending a promotion – and what makes it a key part of inclusion. However, changing even a little part of how we communicate can be very difficult. After all, and I speak as a man, it has served me very well so far. Inclusive leadership also means the ability to question your biggest strengths for the sake of including others. It is difficult to do but ultimately raises the bar on your own ability to lead. 

What are your key commitments?

In my advisory and coaching work, I am committed to making inclusion - and its outcome, authentic and successful diversity - a foundation of all organisation cultures I work with. To do this, I have a bias for action but recognise the need for an organisation strategy that contains Inclusive Leadership and Inclusive Culture as priorities.

Why is Diversity a strategic lever for sustainable growth?

This is the 2020s. We often forget this because of our focus on Covid-19. It is a new decade and will be a post-pandemic one. As business leaders we have to have the humility to declare that we don’t know exactly how things will pan out, but need the confidence that if we are more open to all stakeholders, we will succeed. A lot of focus is on environmental sustainability, and this is right. However, an organisation needs to be socially sustainable, not only environmentally sustainable. Good Human Resources leaders see themselves as custodians of the organisation’s social sustainability. Diversity and Inclusion are foundational to creating a sustainable organisation. For a business leader, it is not only a priority based on fairness and justice – it is clear that unless one learns Inclusive Leadership, one will not be competitive among peers in the 2020s.

What are the issues that need to be resolved today and what positive changes does the near future bring? How would you like to effect change?

There are many opportunities today as we look at “reconstructing” the economy post-Covid. As mentioned above, sustainability (social and environmental) stakeholder capitalism, and Inclusive Leadership are key opportunities. I would like to continue working with Executive Teams to make it happen from the top. I have worked with Boards, C-Suite and senior executives and I want to help them develop better, more inclusive organisations that can meet the challenges of post-Covid and the new decade. I also believe that one-on-one Executive Coaching can have a role, as a shift to a truly inclusive leadership team can be uncomfortable for many (it certainly was for me at the start) and some issues are better discussed individually and confidentially.

How do you define an inclusive workplace?

An inclusive workplace is one where every employee feels they truly belong, and can express their full human potential. It is a place that minimises the waste of energy that goes with assimilation to a strict set of behaviours which have nothing to do with results. It allows people to focus all their energy on results and innovation. An inclusive workplace generates authentic, successful diversity and therefore superior results.

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