The Berlusconi effect and Italian Women. Ladies, get your act together.

Before we get into this post, let me state a few ground rules. I am not a feminist. I grew up in a home with a father who worked and a mother who stayed at home early in my childhood. All the traditional fixings of an Italian father, and an American mother. But that all changed when my father decided to go into business himself. He looked to his wife, his partner, as his right hand person to make their business successful. And it was. Together my Italian father and American mother made an amazing family, a thriving business, and a happy fruitful life. That was the “traditional” Italian non-feminist upbringing I had growing up. My father cooked, and taught my mother how. They worked together to build a life, raise a family, and make decisions. But apparently this experience is in stark contrast to the typical experience young women in Italy have today. I understood this as part of what is “traditional” within the old country and things evolving slowly. But it became much more clear to me, after hearing a troubling story on the radio this weekend.

Throughout my life, I’ve been surrounded by successful women who have juggled both their families and a career. My mother is an incredibly smart businesswoman who was a trendsetter and newsmaker as a small business owner. My Aunt was one of the first women on the west coast to own a restaurant chain. My Grandmother was one of the most respected women in her community, honored for her service to the Catholic community as well as her service to the clergy who served that faith. Being a woman in my experience has never been a deterrent, but instead a badge of honor. I continue to realize that honor as recently as last week when Rational, the company I founded, made the list of top 50 woman owned businesses in Washington State.

But back to the radio show. As I listened to the interview, with three Italian/American women who are struggling to establish businesses in Italy, I was shocked at what I was hearing. A few astonishing facts that blew me away:

1. Only 10% of the Italian population graduates from college. And of this very small percent, women are a fraction.
2. Women are asked to submit their picture and “Personalità” profile with their college application to ensure their “bella presenza” or beautiful presence.
3. The top TV shows in Italy today are beauty pageant focused reality shows developed to showcase only the physically beautiful girls. Mothers across the country are on a mission to have their daughters “featured” on these shows.
4. If daughters want to go to college or work, it is seen as a failure and black mark on a father’s life to have not provided a situation for his daughter to not to have to go to school or work.
5. The merits of a woman’s contribution to her family, her society, is still seen in terms of what she contributes to her household and her husband rather than what she contributes to society overall.
6. Italy ranks 74th, below Malta and Greece, on gender equality, dragged down by its low score for women’s economic participation and opportunity, according to the World Economic Forum’s 2011 Global Gender Gap Report.
7. Roughly one in three mothers in Italy leave work to look after their families, according to a study by statistics office ISTAT. The maternal employment rate falls as children get older, while in other European countries mothers’ working rates recover as children grow up. Traditional views about the division of domestic duties all contribute to the trend.

Protest, Berlusconi, Italian Women

In February of 2011, Italian women took to the streets in protest of the Prime Minister

Italy, at least in my opinion, is one of the most advanced and progressive countries in the world. How is it that this country that I love so much is so far behind modern society where women’s basic contribution and rights are concerned? Many are calling it the Berlusconi effect. His influence was definitely a cultural barrier and deterrent to women’s progress between 1994 and 2011, the years he was in office. With allegations including sexual scandal, manipulation of the media, mafia ties, offensive jokes and comments about women and religion, he was hardly a leader working towards equality on any front.

Italian women have all the gifts, the passion, the smarts to really make a difference in their own society and the world. While I certainly don’t have all the answers, I will spend much more time researching, studying, and learning more about who is trying to change this trend. There are some brave women trying to influence the culture in the direction of supporting women as equal partners. And with Berlusconi now out, and Letta now in, perhaps new leadership will bring change. The world will be a better place when we can achieve this equality. The gap is closing in countries like the Unites States, but apparently is wide and far in the sweet spot in my heart, Italy. There is a lot, for me personally, to consider. Particularly as I watch, nurture and encourage my own daughter as she begins to make decisions about high school, college and choices that will chart her life course. Thankfully she lives within an environment and a country where she will be able to make those decisions based on the merit of her efforts rather than how she looks, or her gender.

Thoughts on Service

I’ve been thinking a lot this week about the service industry. Having grown up in it, my parents owned a grocery store for 30+ years, and having spent my career in it, it’s not a foreign concept to me. Still, I am often surprised (even today) when I have an amazing experience at one of my favorite restaurants, salon’s, coffee shops etc. On the flip side, I am actually still (even today) surprised when things go sideways and I’m left with disappointment after what would otherwise be a perfect experience – aside from the service.

In my family, we often frequent our favorite restaurants and find ourselves looking forward to seeing the servers there. They are our friends, our extended family, and really what makes our experience special. Whether it’s Shawna or Meg at Spinasse, Seth at How to Cook a Wolf or Matthew at Canlis.

Spinasse restaurant, great service and amazing food in Seattle

Each of these individuals has made our experience so special, that we remember them. And they remember us. They welcome us with warm enthusiasm and open arms every time we arrive at their establishment. They make us feel special. They get to know us, and they anticipate what we need. Most importantly, we trust them. We trust them with our time, our dollars and our experience. With this crowd, we just say, “bring us what you think we will love.” And they always do. That is the key in the service business. This trust that is established – over time – as clients and servers get to know each other is a magical balance of understanding where each other is coming from, and trusting one another to deliver. It is what makes restaurants, coffee shops, salons, stores, and agencies – great. It is what differentiates the great from the good.

Which gets me thinking about my business, Rational. Rational at its core is a service-based business. In our four-year history we have had the good fortune of working with some of the most wonderful clients, friends and colleagues in the business today. Our goal is to make sure they feel the same when working with Rational, as I feel when dining at Spinasse. They should feel taken care of, that their needs are anticipated and met before they ask, and they should trust that what we deliver not only meets their needs, but also exceeds them. They should feel like a member of our family, because they are. We would not be here without them! We must never lose sight of that fact, across our full team, no matter what role.

Our service offering relies on that careful balance of trust and expertise. If it’s not there, then the whole thing falls apart. To put ones self in service of others is something that is not easy. It’s the most challenging yet most rewarding job out there. It’s one that can become incredibly rich when both parties trust, respect and enjoy each other. I so appreciate those in my life who make my experiences so much richer, beneficial and meaningful. And for Rational, our goal will always be to make our client experiences the best they have ever had, and that the work we deliver continues to build on our relationship and the careful balance between a client and a server.

I thought I loved you Steve Jobs

This subject is a little tired for me. Unfortunately as people within my network get through Walter Isaacson’s biography on Steve Jobs, the discussion continues on.

First and foremost, I love Apple products. I’ve always loved Apple products. I financed my first computer, a Macintosh Classic, at the University of Washington bookstore. It took me a year to pay for it but it was worth every penny. That computer changed my life! It gave me the tools to be a designer, a communicator, an artist. Today, my company Rational Interaction, is a multi-platform interactive agency. In our studio, we have our share of PC’s, but Apple is our favorite, our preferred platform. For design, for development, for our own personal use. There is no way around it – we heart Apple. With so much love for a company, for it’s products, for it’s leader, it was devastating when I started hearing excerpts from the bio “Steve Jobs” about how Steve was as a person and how he operated his company.

So now, with a bit of time removed from his death and the biography, I’m actually pretty annoyed to hear Steve continually being idolized and “quoted.” Steve was a brilliant entrepreneur and self-promoter. He had an unflinching and intuitive design aesthetic that was a driving force within Apple. But he also stole the vast majority of “his” ideas from those closest to him, claiming ideas just told to him as his own.

I won’t even go into how he was as a father or a friend. Suffice it to say, in the end Steve was a jerk. Not just a jerk, but a BIG JERK. He intentionally made people cry. He belittled them. He exploited their weaknesses and took advantage of their kindness. Steve was a bully.

Understood Steve was a flawed individual. Really, we all are. But it’s the “meanness” in Steve I can’t quite get over. For somebody who brought so much delight and happiness with the products he delivered, I just wished he could have been a better person. Maybe it’s the glass half full in me, the eternal optimist, but I can’t help imagine what he could have done in the world if he actually had been kind, a decent guy.

I think the New Yorker summed it up well in this article by Malcolm Gladwell. Steve’s life was “messy”, and while he changed technology and product design forever, he was a “tweaker”, someone who didn’t create but rather refined other peoples ideas.

I will no longer idolize the person that is Steve. Instead, I will idolize the team that was behind him at Apple, the amazingly talented designers and engineers that are the “true” creative geniuses in the story of Apple.

Apple Desktop

My Apple Desk