Inspirational Italian entrepreneur and women’s rights expert Paola Diana is a self-confessed glass-ceiling breaker. She heads up a trio of highly successful companies. As a committed advocate of women’s rights and bestselling author of the insightful female empowerment book Saving the World. Women: The Twenty-First Century’s Factor for Change, she’s a tireless campaigner for female welfare and equality. Interview by Angela Sara West.
In 2007, Paola Diana’s first-hand experience of the difficulties of finding high-quality childcare and home help inspired her first business venture and Nanny & Butler was born. The leading global bespoke search consultancy now operates from offices in Rome, Milan, New York and London’s Notting Hill, providing high-end services to royals, dignitaries and ultra-high-net-worth individuals in countries including Switzerland, Russia, the Middle East and the US. “I took the UK’s business model for nanny services and used it in Italy. I was surprised by the demand when I launched my website,” she explains.
Nanny & Butler has set the standard in recruitment for private household staff, and her company has been recognised in The Spear’s 500 2019 as one of London’s most influential service providers for high-net-worth individuals. There will always be a huge demand for a ‘Mary Poppins’ in high-end households, and the company’s phenomenal success prompted Paola to found Sigillus, an exclusive luxury lifestyle management company which, she says, occurred organically following enquiries at Nanny & Butler. “People would ask for the best interior designer or access to an exclusive event … I saw a huge demand for requests above and beyond household staff recruitment and childcare.”
The world-class company offers discerning clients and busy entrepreneurs the most exclusive, extraordinary, one-of-a-kind lifestyle experiences with the utmost discretion, providing concierge services and professional advice, assistance with developing businesses sustainably, and everything from VIP entry to premium real estate and wedding planning. No mean feat. Whether it’s the latest ‘hard-to-get’ supercar, off-market Picasso art, wedding proposals by helicopter or tracking tigers in India … even space flights, “We make ‘The impossible possible’ for our members,” says Paola.
Recently launched Supreme PA, meanwhile, is a leading secretarial recruitment agency, covering all industry sectors from banking and professional services, to theatre and retail, and specialises in headhunting highly experienced executive and personal assistants.
Flying the flag for female entrepreneurs
Paola is particularly passionate about equal rights for women and feels it’s her mission to ensure women are represented equally in both business and life. In building her booming business empire, she overcame numerous barriers. As a mother of two, she encountered sexual prejudice on her way to the top. “I struggled to find a job in Italy. I got into politics via a professor I’d previously worked with and then decided to become an entrepreneur so that I could be my own boss and not have to face sexism in my career. What does not kill me makes me stronger. Women are the biggest change agent of the twenty-first century.”
A thought-provoking politician
Over 12 years ago, she founded PariMerito (Equal Merit), a game-changing association and think tank which lobbies and campaigns for female empowerment, and was instrumental in the passing of an Italian law requiring every company board to have at least 30% female representation. “The idea to start PariMerito came very naturally to me. There’s a real gap between opportunities for men and women. We have to network as a society and come together to create this change.
“Female leaders set an iconic image in society with strength, education, ability and capability in professional life. More support is needed for women at the top of the career hierarchy, to make a revolution of the glass ceiling. A successful and sustainable business stems from a gender-balanced board of directors. Highly educated women have a huge capability for taking strategic and management responsibilities, as well as providing professional advice in many corporations. Sometimes, women have strengths in certain areas that men don’t, which indicates that successful businesses need both women and men on the board.”
A bestselling author
Paola has established herself as a profound figurehead for defying all laws of gender supremacy. She has relayed her experience of working closely with the Italian government in her books, and has established herself as a leading light in the literary world as a result of her bestselling book Saving the World. Women: The Twenty-First Century’s Factor for Change.
Already a bestseller in Italy, the book is being translated into English and extensively revised to incorporate recent events that impinge on female conditions and the struggles to achieve meaningful equality. “I write about history to free us from the past, I write about the present to strive for alternative destinies and I write about the future because the world we live in is not the only one possible.”
Paola’s polemic style of writing is aimed at inflicting impactful modifications in governments, industries and cultural institutions. “We can’t close our eyes anymore to the enormous social emergency that is the conditions for women and girls worldwide. The time has come to take a leap and help those left behind. Our governments can’t act as if nothing is happening when women’s rights are constantly disrespected,” she says.
“I think my experiences have led to me making the fight for women’s rights my mission. Female empowerment is much more than a secondary issue or the issue of a minority; it is a disruptive power that will change the social system in which we all live. It is a creative force that will shape our society to follow a completely different path, where inclusion, empathy, respect, happiness and peace will flourish. Feminist and humanitarian diplomacy should be based on the principle that women’s rights are inalienable universal rights and, as such, cannot be denied because of religion, culture or tradition.”
Unsurprisingly, proactive Paola works relentlessly, splitting her time between her native Italy and the UK. “I have a home in Rome and an apartment in Mayfair, London … enjoying both countries’ cultures and weather!” She’s hands-on with her businesses, directing the teams and overseeing the day-to-day business operations and strategies.
With the big 5-0 the next milestone for Paola, does age matter to her? “I love myself more now than ever. Before, I was more insecure and spent a lot of time dealing with stupid issues, not focusing on the important things. Now, I feel powerful, strong and successful and definitely don’t care about age! Honestly, age is just a numerical figure, but the mind matters a lot. I feel very young inside and even my daughter’s friends love me and connect with me on social media. I surround myself with happy, positive and energetic people to boost optimistic energy, which makes me happy and feel young. It all comes from within.”
A large slice of her market is the over-50s category and she feels she understands this age group extremely well. “Women this age are our best clients as they appreciate life more, know what they want and are more open to enjoy things to the fullest.
“Years ago, I gave up feeling guilty and started enjoying the food I want. We only have one life and I feel comfortable with myself. That’s all that matters. I disagree with modern culture, which wants us to all be skinny and young forever. Women can be beautiful with all of their curves and signs of ageing … we don’t all have to fit the stereotypical cookie-cutter image.”