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Andrew: Hello Gemma! The Women’s Power Summit has recently concluded, how do you feel?
Gemma: Relieved and satisfied: everything went well and the feedback from the participants has been wonderful. We departed with lots of energy, insights and great connections. For me it has been a significant learning experience. This is the first time I have launched an international event with the magnitude of YPO and it couldn’t have turned out better.
A: How did you decide to host the event in Barcelona?
G: My inspiration to organize this event came in 2015 when I attended the first global YPO Women’s Power Summit in China.
I had just sold my part of our family business that we had begun 30 years ago and built into the market leader in our sector. I had invested the last 14 years of my life into the company. With a committed team, the support of my parents as founders and myself as CEO, we became a role model for our clients. In 2010 my parents wanted to retire so we found a Venture Capital investor and I started a new era of the business. From that moment on, we felt the impact of the recession. We went through a difficult period where the differences in value and strategic focus between myself and my associates made the business impossible to manage.
These years of intense external and internal challenge led me to look for answers within myself through personal development and coaching. It was then I made the decision to take control of my life and follow my own path. In February 2015, I decided to end a situation of non-productive conflict, and find a way out of the company. It was a bittersweet sensation. I was able to control my agenda again, and had time for myself and my children (who grew up with very little of my time). But on the other hand, I felt a deep sorrow for leaving behind a project that my parents had built and one that they had imagined I would have continued.
The opportunity came to travel to Beijing. I arrived feeling broken and sad but within three days with the women of the event, all my confidence and self-esteem returned. I recovered my infinite energy when I heard all the stories from the other YPO women that had faced challenges like mine; who had suffered leaving their children alone for so long; who had confronted aggressive masculine energy in meetings; who had doubted themselves as I had done. Being in a caring environment amongst peers made it possible for us to share our vulnerability without fear of being dismissed as too sensitive; without fear of being hurt or of being different.
It was a healing experience. I returned to Barcelona wanting to start new projects with a renewed vision. This included a commitment to organize the next reunion in Barcelona as the Chair of the YPO event.
A: How many women attended the event?
G: We had over 30 women leaders from 10 countries ranging from North and South America, Europe, Asia, the Middle East and Australia. The women are CEOs or Presidents of their own businesses.
A: What was the purpose of the conference?
G: The purpose was to enable and encourage women to create their own leadership style balancing male and female energies to create more flexible and healthy organizations. This purpose is entirely aligned with the philosophy of The Zone, which whom I collaborate with in the Spanish market.
A: One of the tools The Zone uses is the creation of a group culture for events like this. How was the culture defined, and what was the impact on the experience?
G: Some of the defining words of the conference’s culture were: challenge, trust, learning, service, diversity, friendship and love. The culture provided a point of reference for our group dynamics. Love, trust and learning encouraged us to be vulnerable and open while maintaining the confidentiality of our shared stories. Diversity and friendship inspired us to play while participating in the workshops and city outings. A clear and agreed culture helps the group to feel free, connected and productive.
A: Only women attended – how was that?
G: Yes all women and one man ! Liam Forde joined us along with Corina Roobeck from The Zone. It was great to see their male and female energies combine in how they work together. The energy in a room full of women is very powerful as we have a lot in common in both our vision and experience as leaders. In our professional life, woman leaders are usually mostly surrounded by men. It is difficult to find other women at the executive level and therefore easy to feel excluded. The sensation of inclusion amongst equals makes me feel accepted and happy.
A: Can you share more about the “Leadership in your Body” sessions?
G: Yes, it was wonderful. Gemma Massoni an expert in body movement, showed us the connection of the body-mind and how our body movements affect our brain and our way of thinking. One of the most important learnings was that as women we need to say, “this is our place, we are here”, without feeling guilty and to learn how to communicate our boundaries in a clear and convincing way.
A: There was dancing – It looked like a fun workshop!
G: Yes! No one expected that in a leadership workshop we would dance so much. We were surprised to learn the body can have such a direct influence on how we lead others. The way we connect with our body or the way we approach others, and how we move through the organization. As you can see, we also had a lot of fun.
A: How does this event impact your vision for women in leadership in the near future and in the long run? Do you think the conditions for women in leadership are improving?
G: I believe the conditions are improving. My vision is that we reach the balance of 50/50 in business leadership but we are not there yet. Another learning from the workshop was that women need to change the focus of finding blame within themselves and direct the future with proactivity and creativity. I believe that women have the power to change companies, and to change the world. When we are inspired and use all our resources, we can really do incredible things. We need to be aware of our role as leaders and aware that we have the capacity to radically improve the situation of women in companies.
A: You had a panel of mothers and their daughters discussing the impact of Mothers as CEOs. How did that go?
G: The combination of maternity with a professional career is a critical topic for us. As women, it is very natural to feel guilty when we are traveling or apart from the family. If we can achieve the balance of men and women in the home and office, we will have a big impact in organizations and families. Men and women need to function as a team and support each other in their personal and professional development. It was very nice to see how the daughters valued their CEO mothers and how they can also be inspired by events like this.
A: Is there anything else you would like to share, Gemma?
G: I am overwhelmed by the magnificent feedback I received from the participants. I believe we organized a holistic event. We utilized all our senses and a wide variety of communication techniques: language, body movement, sense of smell, music and the visual impact from the wonderful graphic transcription done by Viviane Morelle of The Zone. I believe women as well as men need to integrate our personal and professional lives. When a leader has both lives integrated, the organization is more human, the team is happier and more productive. I believe we need to create a new leadership model and as women, we have the mission to be role models of this new leadership.
A: Thank you Gemma. Would you like to acknowledge anyone?
G: A big thank you to all of the following – YPO for creating the opportunity to bring us all together. Liam Forde, Corina Roobeck and Viviane Morelle for the methodology and the wisdom of The Zone. Eugenia Bieto for her inspiring presentation. Gemma Massoni Camps for her innovation. Ankha Marza for her communication workshop “The Power of Influence”. Neus Arqués for the writer’s workshop. Mercedes Piera for organizing all the details of the event. To all the women who traveled from so far away to make this conference a reality. To the beautiful city of Barcelona, and to my children for supporting me in this adventure, and always welcoming me home with open arms.
-Gemma Garcia Godall, Andrew Heneghan
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